This past month, we lost a lifelong fighter for the family farmer. Kelly Shockman of rural Grand Rapids, North Dakota, passed away on Dec. 11, 2021. He was 96 years old. He died at home on the farm, surrounded by family. Kelly was born on June 26, 1925, in LaMoure County. He grew up on the family farm near Grand Rapids and graduated from Grand Rapids High School. In 1949 he married Maxine Rasmusson. They were married for 72 years. Kelly and Maxine had thirteen children and Kelly would joke that the pitter patter of little feet turned into a stampede. Kelly, like many farmers of his generation, was a resolute steward of the land. What made him stand out beyond the call of duty for agriculture was his volunteer work as an advocate for the American farmer.
Kelly was a past president of the North Dakota National Farmers Organization (NFO). He also went on to serve on the organization’s national board of directors. The mission of the NFO was to advocate for better grain prices for the farmer. In other words, the NFO worked to solve the problem for farmers described by President John F. Kennedy when he said, “The farmer is the only person in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” The NFO sought out innovative cropping and marketing strategies that would force real change for farmers. In its early years, the NFO’s philosophy, objectives, methods, and tactics immediately set it apart from the other major farm organizations. The organization, in its infancy, made an immediate impact and led its members into two major national commodity holding actions to force collective bargaining contracts upon food processors. The NFO also initiated other such agreements in hopes of changing the marketing structure of American agriculture.
As a leader in the NFO, Kelly never shied away from being straightforward with state and national policymakers. During a formal hearing he once told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Wheat, Soybeans, and Feed Grains that the 1985 Food Security Act should have been more accurately named, “The Family Farm Destruction Act.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s Kelly made national headlines in his work with the NFO to drive down global wheat surpluses and acquire a more reasonable price for farmers’ product. His proposal was a bold move to drive down the planted acreage of wheat and to have farmers participate by holding back part of the harvest of that year’s crop. He worked to involve Canadian farmers in the initiative that would be the first step in a global movement. Kelly publicly acknowledged the risk that farmers would be taking on in this strategy. Always quick witted, he addressed the risk by stating, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” This, of course, invoked Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote from before he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Because he was such a strong advocate for the local farm, Kelly was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives and served the LaMoure area district from 1983 to 1990. Kelly was also known for his staunch pro-life advocacy. He was a proud protector of the unborn and a leader at both the state and national levels for Right to Life. Kelly’s daughter Monica Berry of Fargo said of her late father, “It was easy to tell his passions in life: family, fighting for the unborn, and fighting for the farmer.”
He farmed his entire life in the Grand Rapids area and worked in the fields well into his nineties. He often joked his tombstone should read, “I farmed for many years, made good decisions and bad ones, but I sure went in the hole on this one.”
Thanks for all you did for farmers, Kelly Shockman. Rest in peace.