The Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers (MAWG) has a five-decade track record of attracting talented, forward-thinking advocates.
Serving three-year terms, the MAWG Board of Directors supports seven members – two representing District 1; a pair representing District 2 and three at-large positions serving the entire state.
Farmer-directors gather six times annually to discuss important policies and initiatives. Along with board meetings, directors participate in lobbying trips to St. Paul and Washington, D.C., attend the MAWG Annual Convention during the Prairie Grains Conference and travel to National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) meetings. MAWG appreciates that family and farming are top priorities for directors; thus, time commitment outside of regular board meetings is up to each individual board member.
This year, two directors – Mike Gunderson and Kevin Leiser – are running for reelection in District 2, while outgoing Director Steve Lacey’s departure leaves an At-Large position open. To learn more about becoming an At-Large director, please call the Minnesota Wheat office at 218-253-4311 ext. 1.
“We thank Steve for his commitment to our organization and highly encourage anyone who’s interested to contact us and learn more about the position,” Gunderson said.
Mike Gunderson – District 2
Serving on the MAWG board provides farmers like President Mike Gunderson a unique opportunity to host legislators and display the unique farming practices of Minnesota wheat producers. In summer 2023, the Bejou farmer hosted Sen. Tina Smith, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, for a private visit on his farm.
“I got to show her the characteristics of wheat and explain a little bit more about wheat farming,” he said in October during soybean harvest. “It was good rapport-building. She’s open to learning, and if I wasn’t part of MAWG, Sen. Smith wouldn’t have been out to my farm to have a conversation on what’s affecting wheat growers. That’s why it’s important to be affiliated with ag groups – it gets you to the table.”
Gunderson’s two-year presidential term is expected to conclude at MAWG’s annual meeting at Prairie Grains Conference, but he’s running again for his District 2 position.
“I believe in serving in your community, whether it’s ag or something else,” said Gunderson, who’s been a MAWG director for about five years and previously served 12 years with Minnesota Farm Bureau. “It was how I was raised.”
Gunderson also represents MAWG on the national board. Despite numerous climate and political challenges both at home and abroad, 2023 was a successful year.
“It turned out pretty good,” he said. “I was really happy with the wheat.”
Kevin Leiser – District 2
For the past few years, Fertile farmer Kevin Leiser has juggled positions on both MAWG and the Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council while also representing Minnesota on NAWG.
“I think somebody has to be able to tell our story,” said Leiser, who’s MAWG’s current first vice president. “What they don’t realize in D.C. is every farmer is different – their operations, how they do things – everything is a little different. What we do is different than what they do in Oregon or Kansas, so we try to make sure the policies fit the Upper Midwest and Minnesota.”
Leiser senses a similar disconnect at the state capital in St. Paul.
“Our Minnesota Legislature is dominated by urban populations that have no idea how things work out here,” Leiser said. “Something can sound good but the practicality of it isn’t there, and we have to get our message through that it doesn’t always work in real-time.”
As a longtime farmer-leader, Leiser said his activity not only helps his industry, but he also builds relationships and improves his operation through his affiliation with Minnesota Wheat.
“The biggest thing I see is we get to meet different farmers and you’ll get to see how their operation works and learn how every operation is so different,” he said. “Then, you end up meeting some good friends and people you can discuss things on the state and national level with.”
Leiser hopes that a farmer from the southern area of Minnesota’s wheat country is interested in the at-large position.
“We have about four guys within about 30 miles,” Leiser said, “so while we’re encouraging any wheat farmer who’s interested to apply, we’d love to find someone in a different area, so we have a bit more diversity.”
Leiser and his brother, Kurt, raised eight different crops in 2023: spring wheat, corn, soybeans, black beans, sunflower, rye, oats and field peas. A dry growing season didn’t spoil Leiser’s spring wheat harvest; he also heard many favorable reports from fellow farmers and is looking forward to following up with his colleagues during the 2023 Prairie Grains Conference.
“We must’ve got just enough rain, and it was cool when it was flowering and filling out,” he said. “That must’ve been able to do it, because otherwise it was very hot.”