Farmers Union 2015 Camp Season Begins!

May 20, 2015

 The first time, Jason Hanson, 17, attended Farmers Union camp; he was holding his dad, Lorrie's hand.

 "It was important to dad that I attend camp because he grew up going to Farmers Union camp and wanted me to share in a similar experience," said Hanson, who will graduate from Britton/Hecla High School this May and plans to attend North Dakota State University to study Animal Science.

 Hanson is one of six teens who are involved in planning the 2015 camps as a member of the Farmers Union Junior Advisory Council.

 "Camp is something I look forward to attending each summer because it is so much fun and I've met some of my best friends there," Hanson said. "Now I get to help younger kids learn and have fun at camp."

 This summer's camp season is gearing up for the 2,000-plus rural youth ages 6 through high school seniors who will be attending one or more of the 58 county day camps; three, three-day district camps and one state leadership camp.

 "We make sure camp is fun, but also informational. It's our hope that through camp, youth learn more about themselves, gain confidence, make friends and glean a clear understanding of the cooperative system, agriculture and farm safety," says Bonnie Geyer, South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director.

 Helping Geyer with camp preparations is a team of dedicated district and county education directors, top-notch high school students who make up the Junior Advisory Council and select Torchbearers, who serve as the Senior Advisory Council, along with a team of four energetic summer interns.

 "This is a real team effort," Geyer says.

 Although preparing for camp is a real task, volunteers like Denise Mushitz, District 1 Education Director, says the positive impact camp has on youth makes all the work worth it.

 "It is so rewarding to see a young person come to district camp as a 6-years-old and then watch them develop leadership and social skills as they go through all the stages of the youth program. And, eventually, because I have been involved in many of these young people's lives, they invite me to their weddings," Mushitz explains.

 A third-generation Farmers Union member, Mushitz started attending camp at 6 and credits Farmers Union camp with giving her confidence and a life-long bond with the organization.

 "I was a shy kid, but Farmers Union camp was a place where I could go and be myself. It gave me skills that I use in my job every day," says the middle school teacher who farms and ranches with her husband, John, near Geddes.

 Each year, Mushitz sees kids like her pulled out of their shell and develop life-long friendships. "There are many kids who say they are closer to their Farmers Union friends than their friends from high school."

 Although she is a generation younger than Mushitz, Tyana Gottsleben can relate. Attending Farmers Union camp from the time she was 5, the Philip High School senior cannot wait for the 2015 camp season to begin.

 "I look forward to meeting all the campers as they arrive at camp," says Gottsleben, who will be attending Northern State University this fall pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education. "As a young camper I enjoyed meeting new friends and participating in all the fun activities the counselors had planned for us."

 The last few summers Gottsleben, like Hanson, has been the one planning activities as a District camp counselor and is currently one of two college students to serve on the Senior Advisory Council. In this role, she serves as a mentor to the Junior Advisory Council and helps them plan State Leadership Camp.

 "It's always a challenge to find enough time for all the activities we plan for the campers - but somehow we squeeze it all in," Gottsleben says. "Through the Farmers Union camp and serving on the teams who plan camp, I have developed many skills that have helped me be a better leader and have become an independent person.  This will continue to serve me as I leave home for college and pursue a career in education."

 More about 2015 Camps

County Camps: All youth, ages 6 to 13, are invited to attend county Farmers Union day camps. Through interactive activities and crafts, day campers will learn about cooperatives, leadership and agriculture - including farm safety. This year, camps will also focus on activities which celebrate Farmers Union's centennial year.

 The cost is $5 for non-Farmers Union members' children; members' children attend for free.

 During the day camp, campers will participate in games, crafts and other fun activities. Plan for a hands-on fun day that will focus on cooperatives and South Dakota's agriculture industry. 

 Campers are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes for activities.  All campers will receive a free T-shirt, courtesy of the Farmers Union Insurance Agency.

 County camp dates and registration forms can be found online at; click on the Calendar tab. You can also pick up registration forms at your local Farmers Union Insurance office or your local cooperative.

 For more information, contact Farmers Union State Education Director, Bonnie Geyer, at 605-352-6761 ext. 125 or email her at

 2015 District 3-day Camp Registration Deadlines: District 1 & 2 is May 15, 2015; District 3 & 7 is July 20, 2015; District 4, 5 & 6 is July 24, 2015.

 All children ages 6-13 are invited to attend South Dakota Farmers Union's District Summer Camps. This year's theme celebrates Farmers Union's centennial year, Growing Stronger with Cooperation, Celebrating 100 Years.

 Through hands-on crafts and interactive games, youth will learn about how cooperatives work, develop team work and leadership skills, and also learn about South Dakota's agriculture industry. During the three-day camp, campers will participate in interactive games, singing, crafts, canoeing, camp fires and many other camp traditions.

 Each child will also receive a free T-shirt courtesy of the Farmers Union Insurance Agency.

Registration forms can be found online at; click on the Calendar tab. You can also pick up registration forms at your local Farmers Union Insurance office or your local cooperative.

 For more information, contact Farmers Union State Education Director, Bonnie Geyer, at 605-352-6761 ext. 125 or email her at

 State Leadership Camp Registration Deadline is May 15, 2015: State Leadership Camp, June 7-12, 2015, provides the opportunity for Senior Youth (those who have completed the seventh grade through the summer following senior year in high school) to attend the week-long State Leadership Camp at Storm Mountain Center just outside Rapid City.

 During this camp, youth organize and operate five cooperative businesses. They learn about Farmers Union, cooperative businesses, participate in leadership workshops, listen to guest speakers and participate in talent night activities.

 A tour of the Black Hills, hiking, volleyball, basketball and fun cooperative games complete the camp experience and leave campers with lasting memories and many new friends.

 Everyone is welcome and invited to participate.

 Registration forms can be found online at; click on the Calendar tab. You can also pick up registration forms at your local Farmers Union Insurance office or your local cooperative.

 For more information, contact Farmers Union State Education Director, Bonnie Geyer, at 605-352-6761 ext. 125 or email her at

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Last Modified: 05/20/2015 7:30:22 am MDT

Golf Tournament Funds Leadership Education for Agriculture's Next Generation

May 19, 2015

Fun and raising funds for the next generation of agricultural leaders is the focus of the 2015 Farmers Union Foundation Open Golf Tournament which will be held June 16 at the Lakeview Country Club in Mitchell (3300 N Ohlman St). The tournament will be a four-person, best ball format. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. (CDT); tee off is at 9 a.m.

 "Investing in rural youth is investing in the future of South Dakota's number one industry," said Jim Wahle, SDFU board member and the event's organizer.

 Wahle farms near Salem and serves as District 2 Farmers Union President. He hopes to raise $10,000 for Farmers Union leadership educational programming which includes several leadership-focused activities designed specifically to provide South Dakota's rural youth, ages 6 through 18, with leadership and life skills, as well as insight into South Dakota's number one industry of agriculture.

  More than 3,000 youth participate in Farmers Union educational programming each year. Youth like Keely Thompson, who grew up on a ranch near New Underwood.  

 If you were to meet 19-year-old Thompson today, you wouldn't guess that the South Dakota State University Animal Science major, who is on the Dean's List and is a member of the university's honor society, Alpha Lambda Delta, was once a shy girl who was content to sit on the sidelines.

 When asked what brought her out of her shell, Thompson doesn't hesitate. "Farmers Union youth programs; they helped me break out of my shell, gave me social skills and gave me the confidence to speak in front of people," Thompson says. "I've enjoyed all the opportunities it's provided to me and now that I'm a camp counselor, I'm able to mentor younger kids."

 Golf for rural youth

Thompson and rural youth like her are the reason Wahle volunteers to organize the event.

"Along with leadership development, Farmers Union education programs also teach rural youth about the cooperatives which play an integral role in many rural communities," Wahle says. "Those of us who live in rural South Dakota depend heavily upon cooperatives and it's important our youth understand how they work. I bank at a cooperative, I get my phone and internet service from a cooperative, I purchase most of my farm inputs from a cooperative, I buy my fuel from a cooperative and I sell most of my grain to a cooperative."

 Wahle is currently looking for team and hole sponsors. To learn more, contact the state Farmers Union office at 605-352-6761 ext. 114 or

For tournament sponsorship info click here 

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Last Modified: 05/19/2015 2:51:31 pm MDT

Letter to the Editor: Keeping COOL Under Pressure

May 19, 2015

Summer meals for many begin on the grill. What if I told you the sanctity of throwing a burger or steak on the grill is under attack? And, this attack is specifically directed at your rights as a consumer?

 Currently, members of Congress are attempting to undermine an integral piece of American legislation, Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

 This legislation requires food sellers to label their products based on where the product was born, raised and processed. The attempts by members of Congress are made in conjunction with allegations from Canada and Mexico in a current case at the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

 These opponents are using unwarranted claims and, in some cases, scare tactics to erode consumer rights and food safety in the U.S.

 Representative K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture in the House of Representatives, is using his position on the committee as a pulpit to spread unwarranted claims and attack consumer rights. For example, Rep. Conaway argued that COOL is not about food safety, but rather about consumer information. Yet, Rep. Conaway ignores the fact that consumers can use the information gained from country of origin labeling to protect themselves from beef imported from countries dealing with outbreaks of animal diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or otherwise known as mad cow disease).  These kinds of half-truth attacks are both an oversimplification and misrepresentation of COOL.

  What Rep. Conaway again neglects is the fact that COOL is an issue of consumer rights as well as a food safety concern.

 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) operates on a $4.3 billion budget addressing those very concerns. If cost suddenly trumps safety than we might as well save the American taxpayers $4.3 billion by eliminating the FDA!

 Yet, in the Declaration of Independence it is stated, in reference to government, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

 These issues are simply invaluable and certainly shouldn't be leveraged against their cost.

Even more concerning is the fact that COOL opponents are attempting to use the support of a coalition of businesses - both domestic and international - to address a consumer rights issue.

 Last I read, the U.S. Constitution did not say "We the businesses," the Gettysburg Address did not say "a government of the businesses, by the businesses, and for the businesses," rather, these fundamental documents refer to the will of the PEOPLE of this great nation; and the people of this great nation have shown overwhelming support for COOL over the last decade.

 A May 2013 survey by the Consumer Federation of America found 90 percent of consumers agree that food sellers should be required to indicate on the label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell.  

 Our delegations would be wise to remember that they are elected to serve the will of the PEOPLE, not of the BUSINESS sector.

 In a further effort to defeat COOL, opponents have resorted to using the scare tactic of a WTO authorized retaliation by Canada and Mexico. However, in order for such a retaliation to take place, the parties would need to prove a significant economic impact due to COOL. Such proof, according to Dr. Robert Taylor of Auburn University, does not exist.

In a 2015 recent study available to the public, Dr. Taylor concluded that COOL had no significant impact on the export markets of Canadian beef. Without a smoking gun, our trade partners would have no warrant for retaliation.  Yet, COOL opponents in Congress are using this scare tactic in an effort to preempt the WTO process.

 Members of Congress have already prepared legislation for the repeal of COOL. This would be an unprecedented move, intervening in the WTO process before its completion. Such a repeal would be a significant blow to American sovereignty.

 Currently, we have labeling laws that require origin labeling on products like fruits, vegetables and even the shirts on our back. Shouldn't our beef and other meat products meet a similar if not higher standard?

 Ultimately you must ask yourself, "Do I as a consumer have the right to know where my food comes from?"

 If you believe you do, I urge you to contact your Congressional delegation and tell them to keep COOL.

 If you want to keep COOL a federal law, contact your Congressional representatives by calling the switchboard to the Capitol at (202) 224-3121 and encourage them to leave COOL in our federal law. To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union, visit


Doug Sombke, South Dakota Farmers Union President

Fourth generation crop and cattle farmer, Conde, S.D

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Last Modified: 05/19/2015 9:02:30 am MDT

South Dakota Farmers Union Supports COOL Locally & in D.C.

May 12, 2015

South Dakota Farmers Union hosted a COOL rally May 8, 2015, in Watertown during President Obama’s visit to remind the Administration to maintain Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) as a federal law.

“We are working to keep COOL on people’s minds so they will remind Congressional leadership of the important role it plays in food safety,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “COOL is a law that is important to everyone who wants to know where their food comes from.”

Along with the recent rally, Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde crop and cattle producer, will join National Farmers Union in D.C. the week of May 18 for a COOL Fly-In. He will be accompanied by Farmers Union members, Dick and Janet Kolousek, who raise cattle near Wessington Springs with their son, Scott, and his family.

“Farmers Union is a grassroots organization. Members from across the U.S. are going to attend this Fly-In so we can meet one-on-one with members of Congress and their staff about the value of keeping COOL a federal law,” Sombke explained.

If you want to keep COOL a federal law, contact your Congressional representatives by calling the switchboard to the Capitol at (202) 224-3121 and encourage them to leave COOL in our federal law. To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union, visit

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Last Modified: 05/12/2015 11:13:38 am MDT

Quiz Bowl Encourages Youth to Think about Farm & Ranch Safety

May 6, 2015

Four FFA Chapters placed in the Farmers Union Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl held in conjunction with the 2015 South Dakota State FFA Convention and will be advancing to the state competition held during the South Dakota State Fair.

The qualifying teams are, in order of highest score, the Viborg/Hurley FFA Chapter; the Parker FFA Chapter; the Deuel FFA Chapter and the Howard FFA Chapter. The Wolsey/Wessington FFA Chapter ranked fifth in points and will be the alternate team for the final round at the State Fair competition.

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Last Modified: 05/06/2015 4:22:57 pm MDT

Rally to Support Country of Origin Labeling This Friday May 8 in Watertown

May 6, 2015

South Dakota Farmers Union is hosting a rally to support Country of Origin Labeling or COOL, Friday May 8, 2015 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Belmont Park in Watertown, (on the northeast corner of Third Avenue & 9th St.).

All farmers, ranchers and citizens are encouraged to attend to show their support of clearly identifying where food, specifically meat products, are raised and processed.

Purpose of the COOL Rally: The Administration looks to be waning in its support of COOL.

“Until now, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack supported COOL. Now, it looks like he and the Administration are pulling their support for COOL,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “Farmers Union joins with a multitude of other agriculture organizations in asking Congress to leave COOL as a federal law.”

Sombke’s comments reference a recent decision by the Administration to rely on a study that is nine-plus years old to determine whether COOL should remain a federal law versus conducting a fresh study as they promised Farmers Union leadership following Farmers Union providing financial support which defended the USDA’s position to maintain COOL as a federal law in a 2014 law suit.

Sombke explains that COOL is important to U.S. farmers, ranchers and consumers.

“America holds our cattle producers, farmers, food manufacturers and processors to some of the highest food safety and quality standards in the world. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and COOL ensures this right,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

To show your support for COOL, attend the May 8, 2015 COOL Rally and contact your Congressional Representatives encouraging them to leave COOL in our federal law by calling the switchboard to the Capitol at (202) 224-3121.

Doug Sombke, President, South Dakota Farmers Union
Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director, South Dakota Farmers Union
Matt Sibley, Legislative Specialist, South Dakota Farmers Union

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Last Modified: 05/06/2015 11:55:28 am MDT

Does Everyone Get To Know Where Their Food Comes From Except Americans? Column by Doug Sombke,President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

May 4, 2015

Column by Doug Sombke,President of South Dakota Farmers Union

On a recent trip to Italy, I was struck by the fact that the menus in nearly every restaurant I patronized labeled all ingredients by their country of origin.

Although the U.S. has a Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, which was passed in 2008, our law differs from its European cousin in the fact that COOL only requires the labeling of meats and a limited list of fruits, nuts and vegetables sold in retail outlets.

COOL is a common-sense law which allows consumers to know where their food is sourced. I would like to think that everyone in the world cares where their food and water comes from. COOL ensures Americans know the source of their food.

While reviewing Italian menus, I was struck by the irony of food labeling. While other countries around the world have adopted, or are moving to adopt, food labeling laws, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is contemplating penalizing the U.S. and forcing Americans to remove food labeling laws. In fact, COOL has even been under attack domestically by the multinational meat packers, who would prefer consumers remain uninformed about where their meat comes from. Without country of origin labeling, multinational meat packers would be able to mix imported meat with quality meat raised in the U.S. To prove this point, the two chief trade competitors, Canada and Mexico, have filed the suit at the WTO and oppose COOL.

Lawsuits against COOL have lost all rounds in U.S. courts, so all sides are waiting for the WTO decision coming in mid- to late-May.

Where the rubber meets the road
When proving their case against COOL to the WTO, Canada likes to say the labeling law has hurt their U.S. meat export market. Proving COOL has had a negative impact on Canadian exports to the U.S. will not be easy, given the results of a recent study by Auburn University which found it was the economic collapse of 2008 – not COOL – that softened consumer demand in the U.S., resulting in a reduction in Canadian cattle exports to the U.S.

It will be up to the Canadians to prove otherwise.

If Congress takes any action in regards to COOL before the WTO ruling, it would have negative implications. Historically it would be unprecedented for Congress to make any changes to a law in the middle of a lengthy WTO appeals process, so I hope Congress doesn’t start now.

We need to remind Washington that it would be a slap in the face to both American agriculture producers and consumers - who, according to a decade’s-worth of consumer polling, support the law by a margin of 90 percent.

I’m very proud of the beef I produce. As a fourth-generation farmer, I understand the labor and investment that goes into producing safe, quality meat. I don’t understand why labeling its country, origin or even the farm where it was raised would be such a big deal.

As American cattlemen, we believe that we produce the best beef in the world and we’re proud to have “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the U.S.” on the label.

Oddly, two of the third parties who joined in the dispute over COOL at the WTO are the European Union (EU) and Australia. These two parties have either already enacted, or are in the process of enacting, a similar labeling law. Of course, meat labeling didn’t happen in Europe until consumers found out that they were eating horsemeat instead of beef! Another reason COOL should remain on the books here.

Who knows what the WTO might decide. Globally, the political environment is clearly shifting towards more information for consumers, not less. So in the end, pressure will continue to mount within the WTO to recognize and accept the right of consumers to increased information such as is provided by COOL. Until then, we need to make sure Congress stays out of it and lets the process run its course.

If knowing where your food comes from is important to you, contact our Congressional Leadership and ask them to leave COOL alone.

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Last Modified: 05/04/2015 10:56:21 am MDT

Farmers Union Now Taking Nominations for 2015 Rural Dakota Pride Awards

April 28, 2015

Helping women in her community has been Cindy Wilk's calling for more than 30 years. It began when her mother, Jan Manolis, was among a group of women to open a domestic violence shelter in Huron.

"Domestic violence is something that is very dear to my heart. Years ago there was no place for women to go for help. If they didn't have help from family or friends, there was nothing - no shelters or no counseling," explains Wilk, who serves as a volunteer advocate.
Today, thanks to the Jan Manolis Family Safe Center and numerous volunteer advocates, not only do victims and their children (the shelter also helps men who are abused) have a safe place to stay if they are in an abusive situation, but they also have an advocate to help them move forward. "We make sure they are not alone," Wilk says.
As an advocate, she carries a shelter cell phone for two weeks at a time, answering calls from victims and helping them with anything they need. "We are there to let them know we are on their side."

In 2014, Farmers Union recognized Wilk with the Dakota Rural Pride Award.

"Rural communities depend on these unsung heroes. They are the people who do what needs to be done," says Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director of South Dakota Farmers Union.

Each year, the Rural Dakota Pride Award recognizes five individuals who give back to their rural communities.

As an organization which supports South Dakota farmers and ranchers, Hofhenke explains that Farmers Union understands the integral connection between those who work in South Dakota's number one industry and their rural communities.

"One survives with the other," she says. "Without thriving communities, it's difficult to encourage young people to return to their family's farm or ranch. Rural communities are key to the future of South Dakota's agriculture industry; which is why we like to recognize those individuals who help them thrive."

2015 Nominations Due July 1, 2015
South Dakota Farmers Union is currently accepting nominations for the Rural Dakota Pride Award. Nominations can be submitted via the Farmers Union website,, or by contacting Hofhenke at 605-352-6761 ext. 114 or click here. The five awards will be presented during Farmers Union Day at the 2015 South Dakota State Fair.

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Last Modified: 05/26/2015 10:02:16 am MDT

Cooperatives Provide a Local Voice in A Global World

April 27, 2015

Like many farmers with deep roots in South Dakota, the Dirty Thirties weren’t kind to David Kayser’s family. His grandpa, Felix Kayser, lost his Emery farm and his grandpa, Art Jarding, had to invest his own money to save the local cooperative he helped establish.

“Those were tough times for agriculture,” says Kayser, 55, who raises corn, soybeans and cattle with his sons near Alexandria.

In the end, both grandpas saw their sacrifices pay off. Felix was able to get a fresh start in 1943 when he purchased a farm near Alexandria and Art saw the local cooperative thrive.

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Last Modified: 04/27/2015 4:32:03 pm MDT

Celebrating Farm & Ranch Families: Ries Family Farm

April 26, 2015

In 1950, Donald and Armella Ries purchased some farmland a few miles southeast of Watertown and began milking four cows. A year later, their son, Mel, was born. Today Mel, his wife Orla, and three of their five grown children continue to milk cows on the farm.
"I was raised with it, so I guess dairying stays in your blood," explains Mel, who began buying his own cows as a teen and farming full-time with his dad right out of high school.
In 1990 he purchased the farm from his folks.
His sons, Jason, Deric and Todd, joined the family farm much the same way; first buying cows in high school, then renting farm acres and today operating a 300-head cow/calf herd as well.
Now with families of their own, the brothers continue to slowly expand the farm's diversified operations.
"This is a family farm. Anyone and everyone who wants to be involved, is involved," explains Orla, as she rocks her young grandson, Walker, who is sleeping on her lap.
Three years ago, Orla retired from her off-farm job to babysit. She and Mel have 15 grandchildren and three on the way…

Click here to read more

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Last Modified: 04/26/2015 9:31:21 pm MDT