Posts for April 2019

Farmers Don’t Have to Suffer or Lose Sleep – Ask Professionals for Help

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By Lura Roti for S.D. Farmers Union

If a friend or loved one has diabetes or high blood pressure and their current diet or medications aren’t working, you wouldn’t tell them to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it.” More than likely, you’d suggest they meet with their doctor.

The same thoughtfulness should apply when a neighbor or family member is struggling with anxiety or depression, explained Karl Oehlke, a Physician Assistant with Avera Medical Group University Psychiatry Associates.

“You can’t just grit your teeth and bear it. If you have pneumonia, I will prescribe an antibiotic for you. If you have sleep disturbance, I will give you something for sleep. Farming is never without stress. Right now, farmers are faced with a lot of stressors out of their control, which may be causing bonafide anxiety or depression. A medical professional can provide medication or counseling options to help with that too,” Oehlke said.

Oehlke speaks from experience. He is a third-generation Hartford farmer. “I farm myself, so I know that typical stresses are heightened right now, with concerns over significant fall off in profitability caused by issues with China, flooding and drought. And, the loss of income is pervasive right now. It’s not just the row crop guy or the dairy guy, it’s everyone in agriculture.”

In fact, Oehlke is concerned enough over farmers and ranchers’ mental health due to magnified stressors, that he suggested Avera launch the Farmer’s Stress Hotline.

Completely confidential and free, farmers, ranchers, their family and friends can call in 24/7 to visit with trained specialists to better understand where they can go for help. The Farmer’s Stress Hotline number is: 800-691-4336.

“There is a level of trepidation about going to the doctor for anxiety or depression. And, if you live in a small community, maybe you go hunting or to church with your primary care doctor and you’d rather keep things confidential. Call the hotline and we can refer you to someone outside your community,” Oehlke explains.

A professional, Oehlke explained, can provide farmers or ranchers with the medicine and other resources they need to get a good night’s sleep or more healthfully deal with depression and anxiety.

“When I visit with farmers who call in, I hear the words, “fear” and “anxiety,” quite a bit,’” Oehlke said. “When you’re not making money, you start to lose sleep because you’re worried about getting the kids through school or, as a third, fourth or fifth generation farmer, you don’t want to be the guy who loses the farm.”

And, unfortunately, lack of profits is currently an issue for many South Dakota farmers and ranchers, explained Nate Franzen, President of Ag Banking Division of First Dakota National Bank. “If you look across the agriculture landscape, it’s been really tight, with low commodity prices, a lot of volatility in the markets and livestock. It’s a tough environment to make money,” Franzen said.

Two years ago, 52 percent of First Dakota National Bank’s agriculture customers made a profit. Whereas, four years ago 60 percent of agriculture customers made a profit. “Tough economic times in agriculture are tough on everyone. It not only wears on farmers and ranchers, it wears on lenders, and others who serve them,” Franzen said. “The ag industry is a close group of folks, with lots of great leaders. We will be fine as long as we lean on each other, and we are there for each other.”

Signs you or a loved one needs mental health support

So, how do you know if someone you know, or love is battling anxiety or depression? Andrea Bjornestad, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist shares some symptoms to watch for among family and friends:

  • Depression, hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from people or activities they ordinarily enjoy
  • Negative thoughts, including frequent talk about disappearing or death
  • Strong feelings of guilt or low self-esteem
  • Decline in hygiene or appearance
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Stockpiling medication
  • Easy access to firearms

And, Bjornestad said if you see the above symptoms or assume someone is struggling, don’t hesitate to get involved. “If you see someone struggling, socially withdrawing, behavioral changes, don’t hesitate to ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves,” Bjornestad said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. You asking will not impact a person’s response or thoughts.”

Approaching a friend or family member to discuss their mental health is not easy, Bjornestad offers some advice for this as well. She suggests talking to the person alone and in a private location.

“It is important to describe any changes you’ve observed in the person and to let them know that you care about them,” Bjornestad says. “After describing changes, you may need to ask tough questions directly including, “Have you had any recent thoughts of death and dying?” or, “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?’” 

If the answer is yes, the following resources are important:

  • Help the person get immediate mental health assistance.  Offer options such as the Helpline (dial 211) or Farmers Stress Hotline numbers; call a family member to come help and potentially take the person to the hospital; call a local mental health crisis team; call for emergency medical services. Do not leave the person alone.

“Remember, there are so many things right now that farmers and ranchers cannot control. We can’t control the prices. We can’t control the weather. But you can control whether or not you reach out for help to treat anxiety or depression symptoms,” Oehlke said. “By asking for help, farmers and ranchers are not only helping themselves, but they can help those around them. As farmers, we may not realize how many people we touch. Not only the many people we help feed, but our friends and family members are connected to our actions as well.”

For more information, call the Avera Farmer’s Stress Hotline at 800-691-4336 or, or contact Bjornestad at 605-688-5125 or

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FUE Led Coalition Calls on EPA to Go Beyond E15

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HURON, S.D.  A broad coalition of farm, ethanol, and clean fuel advocates today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to open the market to a wider range of fuels in order to provide consumers with healthier choices.


Farmers Union Enterprises filed comments with EPA following the agency's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to extend the current reid vapor pressure allowance to blends of 15% ethanol in gasoline. While applauding the proposal, the commenters challenged EPA on their limiting the rule to just 15% and presented a detailed legal and technical argument as to why higher blends are permissible.


FUE President Doug Sombke said if the rule is finalized as proposed it would limit the broader use and availability of ethanol, contrary to the intent of Congress when it established several programs to cap toxic carcinogens currently in gasoline. Higher blends could achieve that goal, according to Sombke, such as E30 which has been successfully used in South Dakota and is planned to be demonstrated by both South Dakota and Nebraska state fleets.


The comments support EPA's finding that E15 is substantially similar to E10 in all respects but oppose the proposed requirement that any blend above E15 would be required to apply for similar approval.


""EPA continues to rely on outdated and biased historical models and studies that penalize ethanol," said Sombke.  "With the designation of E10 as a certification test fuel, the time has come to put ethanol on equal footing with other fuels and additives.  Higher volumes of ethanol reduce vapor pressure, dilute toxics and sulfur, and provide low carbon, clean octane.

The proposed rule does not meet the objectives of existing law, Congressional intent, and fails to recognize best available science."


Joining Farmers Union Enterprises on the comments are the National Farmers Union, South Dakota and Nebraska Farmers Union, Urban Air Initiative, Clean Fuels Development Coalition, and Glacial Lakes Energy.


"EPA is doing the right thing, but not enough of the right thing.  If we are forced to file new applications for higher fuel blends and wait nearly ten years like we did with E15,  the ethanol industry, and the agriculture industry that supplies it, will be severely damaged and is likely to never grow beyond the depressed levels we are seeing now," said Sombke.


Copies of the FUE Coalition comments can be accessed at the South Dakota Farmers Union website at Comments can also be found on the National Farmers Union website at, and the Clean Fuels Development Coalition at


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SD Farmers Union Meets with Leaders in D.C. to Advocate for Family Farmers & Ranchers

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HURON, S.D. – Presidents of South Dakota and North Dakota Farmers Union, met with policy makers in D.C. to discuss commodity transportation costs, crop insurance alternatives and renewable fuels on behalf of family farmers and ranchers.

“Times are tough throughout production agriculture, so we are working to do what we can to make a positive impact on policy for our family farmers and ranchers,” said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.

Sombke explained that whether a family’s income relies on crops, livestock or a combination of crops and livestock, 2019 low market prices, combined with extreme weather events have a lot of farmers and ranchers anxious over the sustainability of their business.

“We’re looking at the third season of market prices that make it nearly impossible to bring home profits,” explained Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

Sombke was joined by North Dakota Farmers Union President, Mark Watne. During their time in D.C., the leaders met with the Service Transportation Board to discuss concerns related to increased commodity shipping costs.

“Rail transportation is becoming a large expense for farm operations, and farmers have no tools to pass this expense on. We met with the Surface Transportation Board today to get oversight on the monopolistic practices the rail industry is using, now that we only have four major rail companies in the U.S.,” explained Watne, who raises wheat, soybeans, canola and corn.

Sombke, together with South Dakota Farmers Union member, Craig Blindert, a Salem farmer and crop insurance agent, met with Natural Resource Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency (RMA) staff as well as congressional leaders to advocate for Inventory Management Soil Enhancement Tool (IMSET). A farmer-led solution to poor markets, IMSET was developed by Blindert and tested by North Dakota State University economics professors. The men urged the organizations to consider IMSET, which incentivizes soil health building, as a product for RMA to release to farmers to use alongside crop insurance.

“The feedback we received was positive. Those we spoke with appreciated our outside-the-box thinking,” Sombke said.

During their meetings with congressional leaders, Sombke, Watne and Chris Christiaens, Montana Farmers Union Special Projects Director, requested their congressional leaders speak up for the disaster needs of family farmers and ranchers, and request financial assistance.

They also discussed recent Environmental Protection Agency interpretation of RVP rule. “Not only does it have a negative impact on the air we all breath, but it has a negative impact on the family farmers who depend upon ethanol demand for the corn they raise, but it has a huge impact on air quality,” Sombke said. “Higher ethanol blends means cleaner-burning fuel with fewer carcinogens. And, ethanol actually makes gasoline better.”

Looking back on the time spent in D.C., Sombke is encouraged. “I appreciated our meeting with Senator Rounds, he gets it when it comes to ethanol and gasoline blends. In fact, all the meetings were productive networking opportunities – perhaps we are one meeting closer to solutions that will have a positive impact on the family farmers and ranchers we serve.”

To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports family farmers, visit

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New E15 Rule: Read the Fine Print

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by Doug Sombke, President South Dakota Farmers Union & Jim Seurer, CEO, Glacial Lakes Energy

In 2008, the movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was released.  It was a bizarre story of a man who, once reaching full maturity, began to age backwards.

An unusual premise, but perhaps not all that farfetched.  Didn’t see the movie?  No problem, if you are in the agriculture business, you’re experiencing it now. Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency and their friends in the oil industry, the U.S. ethanol industry is going backwards. 

It began with EPA granting discriminatory waivers to petroleum refiners excusing them from obeying Renewable Fuels Act laws resulting in decreased ethanol demand to the tune of 2.5 billion gallons.

Many of us, viewed the Renewable Fuels Act as a springboard for growth.  But like Mr. Button, waivers propelled the ethanol industry backwards.  

The recent announcement that EPA would permit 15% ethanol blends year-round was met with great joy by an industry that does not want to read the fine print.  It does in fact, propose to provide year-round exemption from vapor pressure limits for blends of 15% ethanol, but does no more.

The EPA proposal does not extend to higher blends. The anticipated increase in demand, is not enough to make up the loss from waivers.  So why would any industry sign up for a program that guarantees it cannot grow past a certain point? They shouldn’t, at least not the way the proposal is currently written.

And, before you buy the nonsense EPA will spew that this isn’t true, and the industry can apply for a waiver for these higher blends, get your calendar out.  In November of 2009 the EPA was expected to approve E15 blends.  While they ultimately did, 10 years later, the delay effectively stymied industry expansion.

We reject this proposal by EPA, if it will stunt future growth beyond E15. Ethanol should be permitted to be used in any quantity, at any time of year, by anyone who chooses. 

If EPA has concerns, let them do the testing and prove otherwise, as citizens have done in Northeast South Dakota through the E30 Challenge.  How un-American is it for oil companies threatening to sue over EPA removing regulations that result in more consumer choice?

American agriculture is teetering. Trade wars, an EPA colluding with oil companies, and shaky ethanol industry leadership put us in a dangerous position. 

Farmers everywhere should join us and oppose this proposal.

Let the EPA know the ruling needs changes. The comment period is now open, comment here

All ethanol blends should be treated equally. President Trump promised to open the market for ethanol. That should not come with limits, conditions, or restrictions. 

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