Norm Dalsted was strapping lad of 8 when he first drove a grain truck on his parents’ farm in North Dakota.
“My mother was furious with my dad, but he said I was ready,” Dalsted recalled with a laugh. “Of course, I had to sit on a couple of pillows so I could see over the dashboard, but I got the grain where it needed to be.”
Quite simply, Dalsted has farming in his blood. Other than a stint in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, his entire life has been spent either farming, learning about farming or teaching about farming. He has spent the past 42 years at Colorado State University, first earning his Ph.D. before becoming a professor specializing in agricultural economics.
By any measure, his career in academics has been exceptional. He has written dozens of scholarly papers and chapters for several books, and has been an expert witness in hundreds of family farm/ranch bankruptcy proceedings.
“Norm has shaped so many of our students’ paths – he was a very impactful and beloved teacher,” said Hayley Chouinard, head of the CSU’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “At the same time, Norm has been so much more than a teacher. He’s been incredibly impactful in the ag community on so many levels.”
Dalsted’s love of agriculture – and his determination to help family farms and ranches thrive – simply would not allow him to spend his career exclusively in a classroom. He has spent the past four decades working to directly impact ag families, and he has always been willing do the work necessary to help them succeed.
Among the initiatives he has worked on are the Colorado Agrability Project, farm succession and creating individual financial plans to help struggling operations continue. And he never hesitates to talk with families or groups about another issue central to modern ag operations: mental health.
“You see this strong farmer guy up there talking about mental issues and it really is impactful,” said Rebecca Hill, a former student who now teaches at CSU. “He’s very passionate about making sure people get the help they need, whether it’s physical, mental of financial.”
The Agrability Project, which he helped establish in 1991, partners with Goodwill Industries in Colorado to help farmers and ranchers with disabilities continue to work and keep their operations. He talked about helping a man in Fort Morgan who was fully disabled and on the brink of losing his farm.
“We were able to get him a tractor that he could operate, even with his disabilities, and within five years he was fully independent and receiving no assistance,” he said. “Those are the stories that make you feel good.”
He’s also widely known for meeting face-to-face with farm and ranch families and helping them create a succession plan. He estimated that he had helped 200 or more families find ways to make sure operations are successfully handed down. Now retired at age 76, he admits he’s still helping families whenever called upon.
All of that work earned him a spot in the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Norm is just a generous spirit, and he wants to make a difference in people’s lives,” Chouinard said. “He’s the true embodiment of the land-grant mission – teaching and helping families across the state.”