A large crowd of Lyman County family farmers and ranchers gathered for a Farmers Union listening session April 3, 2017.
"Times are tough in agriculture right now. We saw a need to remind everyone of the voice we have through Farmers Union," said David Reis, a third-generation Reliance rancher and Lyman County Farmers Union President. "We also needed a little pick-me-up membership-wise."
Reis explains that Lyman County membership in the state-wide farm organization had waned. The Farmers Union Elevator traditionally had paid annual memberships. "During the good years, people didn't feel the need for farm organizations like Farmers Union and membership declined," he said. "With the recent downturn in the Ag economy, farmers and ranchers realize membership is more important than ever."
Several members renewed their membership during the meeting. "We know Farmers Union is our voice, not only in Pierre but in Washington D.C.," Reis said. "We need this voice. If we don't tell our leadership what we need, they will assume we don't need anything or they will decide for us - and that does not usually work out well for South Dakota's farmers and ranchers."
E30 & New Farm Bill
"In order to be the voice of our members, we need to listen and clearly understand the issues impacting them - not only on their farms and ranches, but in their rural communities as well," Sombke said. "Family farmers and ranchers are struggling right now. Anything that we can do as an organization to support them and policy that will drive up demand and commodity prices - we will do."
President of Lyman County Farmers Union, David Reis (far right), presents during a recent quarterly meeting. Also pictured, Doug Sombke (far left), President of S.D. Farmers Union and Joel Keierleber, S.D. Farmers Union board member.
Sixty-eight years ago, during a Farmers Union Local 738 meeting, Verna Holter's husband, Julian, asked a question that would change her life.
"I heard Julian ask, "could my wife be an insurance agent?' I could hardly believe my ears,'" recalls Verna, who was a rural school teacher at the time. "The speaker was explaining to us how Farmers Union was recruiting members to sell insurance. He looked just as surprised as me. But, he said, "yes.'"
Verna became the first female Farmers Union insurance agent in South Dakota and perhaps the nation.
She sold insurance for 56 years, retiring in 2005.
Prompted by a bad personal experience she and Julian had encountered with a crop insurance agent just a few years prior, Verna set out to do the best for her clients. "I always made sure they understood what they were buying."
S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Mendel Farm Family of Doland
South Dakota Farmers Union has served South Dakota farm and ranch families for more than a century. Throughout the year, we share their stories in order to highlight the families who make up our state's No. 1 industry and help feed the world. Thismonthwe highlight theMendel farmfamily of Doland. Pictured here left to right: Dave, Judy, Don, Lavonne, Grace, Miles, Jill, Merrit, Shem, 4, and Leon Brondsema.
By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union
Don Mendel was 9 when his dad first let him drive the gray Ford Ferguson tractor across the field. He wasn't unsupervised. His dad, Joe, was beside him pulling a two-bottom plow with a team of five-work horses.
"Dad liked horses and kept them around longer than lots of the neighbors," explains the 83-year-old Doland farmer. "He put me on that Ford tractor and would let me drive as fast as he was going with those horses. We would plow together and thought we were turning over a lot of ground."
Retired since 2000, Don can still be found driving machinery across the fields that his twin sons, Merrit and Miles, 45, now manage with the help of his grandsons and four employees.
"Farming is in our blood," Don says.
His brother, Dave, agrees.
Don's farming partner since 1972 and now, also retired, Dave, like Don, spends most days on the farm helping his nephews out. "I always enjoyed working on the farm," says Dave, 67.
Although he was pursuing a teaching degree, when he returned from serving in Vietnam, he decided he'd rather farm. "I saw more of a future in agriculture. Even back then, South Dakota was very near the bottom of the teacher pay scale," says Dave, who together with his wife, Judy, raised their three, now-grown children, Jason (deceased), Audrey and Seth; and now-grown grandson, Jason, on the farm.