Eric Aasmundstad remembers exactly where he was when he decided to run for North Dakota Farm Bureau President.
“I was a mile east of Penn, on a township road, waiting for a train; in a combine. We had just finished combining. And the board was looking for someone to run for president of North Dakota Farm Bureau. I was waiting for that train, back in the days of the old bag phones, you know, and thinking about who I could get to run, so I called John Bollingberg.”
Bollingberg, a former NDFB District 4 Board member and semi-retired farmer from Wells County turned him down.
“John said to me, ‘Who ever sits in that chair has to have farming biting him in backside every day. I don’t,’ ” Eric remembers. And, as he sat there, waiting for the train, he thought, ‘Well, if no one else is going to do it, I may as well give it a shot.’ ”
That was in 1999. Twelve years later, Eric Aasmundstad has chosen to step down as president.
“I really took what John said to heart,” Aasmundstad says. “I truly do believe that whoever does this has to be a full-time farmer. I’m not a full-time farmer anymore.”
Circumstances have short-circuited Aasmundstad’s full-time farming plan. The rising waters of Devils Lake have inundated most of the family’s farm. This past summer, Aasmundstad had to move from the home where he and his wife, Corrine, raised their children.
“We are moving because we feel we have no choice,” he wrote in his column to NDFB members in June. “We are moving because we have no sewer, no safe road to our home for our kids and ourselves to drive, and no future left farming in what was one of the finest farm communities in the state of North Dakota.”
Besides not being a full-time farmer anymore, Aasmundstad says that he also thinks it’s important for other people to step into leadership roles.
“After a certain amount of time, and I think it’s different for everybody, it’s very important that new people do these things so you get new ideas. I’m not saying we take a 180 degree turn in direction, because that’s never good, but there might be new ways to keep moving in the same direction, and you never find out unless you have new people do it.”
When Aasmundstad became president, he had specific goals in mind. He wanted to improve the relationship between the organization and its affiliated company Nodak Mutual Insurance.
He also wanted to see the organization become more political, which was accomplished through the formation of the organization’s state and national political action committees.
“Not more partisan. More political,” Aasmundstad clarifies. “One of the duties of every Farm Bureau member is to become involved politically in the party of their choice. That’s not only our duty as a Farm Bureau member, but our duty as citizens. We can’t sit and watch the world go by. The politics of the world around us, whether it’s local, state or national affect us every day, somehow. If we’re not part of that, other people are going to be making the decisions for us.”
Although Aasmundstad will no longer be NDFB President, he says he plans to stay involved.
“I have to be involved. I have too much skin in this,” he laughs. “With everything that went on in the fourteen years I served on the board, there were a lot of changes, a lot of sleepless nights and anxiety, but a lot of satisfaction and gratification too. You end up with that when you get through the tough things.”
One initiative that he plans to see to completion is the petition drive to put a measure on the November 2012 ballot safeguarding modern farming and ranching in the North Dakota Constitution.
“Over the next year, I’m going to dedicate a lot of my time as chairman of the Feeding Families Committee to getting that initiative passed. That’s truly something that I want to see happen.
“Probably the hardest part about this is going to be missing the people,” he adds. “I have gotten to do things and meet people I never would have gotten to meet had I not been NDFB President. There is no way I can ever give back what I have gotten out of this. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
North Dakota Farm Bureau is the most effective general farm and ranch organization in the state of North Dakota, with more than 27,000 members and 50 organized county Farm Bureaus.