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Today is the Day for Yes

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De Smet farmers, Darcie and Rob Lee with their children, 3-year-old Everett and 6-month-old
By Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director

“Yes” is a powerful word. And, like De Smet farmer, Rob Lee says, there is no real good time to says “yes.” But the benefits often outweigh the obstacles when it comes to making time for a good cause or purpose you believe in.

In Rob’s case, it is dedicating five weekends, together with his wife, Darcie, to further develop their leadership and advocacy skills as they represent South Dakota as members of the 2019 Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program.

“We can always come up with reasons not to do things. But we accepted the fact that there will never be a good time to give up five weekends, so we prioritized this and we’re going to make it work because it is worth it,” Rob explains about the program developed to substantiate and empower future leaders for rural America and Farmers Union through leadership, citizenship and policy development training.

When we ask members of South Dakota Farmers Union why they invest $50 a year and their time participating in policy development at the county and state level or attending Legislative Day or the D.C. Fly-In – the most frequent response we receive is, “as farmers and ranchers, we need a voice, and SDFU gives us this voice.”

And, the state SDFU staff and board of directors work hard to make your voice heard – here in South Dakota as well as in D.C. But, we need your input. Share your thoughts and help us develop policy for 2020 by attending the State Policy Meeting, held in Huron, July 24 at the Crossroads Convention Center (100 4th St SW).

Another great opportunity to share is during the Young Producers Event, held July 19-20 in Oacoma – if you’re a member it’s free and if you’re not, it’s only $50 and that includes a year membership!

Want to learn more, give me a call, 605-352-6763 ext: 114 or e-mail:

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Advocate for Safe Air – Sign This Petition

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By Doug Sombke, SDFU President & fourth-generation South Dakota farmer

As farmers who have advocated for ethanol for nearly four decades, we understand the impact higher ethanol blends can have on our farm economy.

Higher ethanol blends, like E30 would create $42 billion in economic activity to sustain the agricultural-based economies in the United States by increasing demand for corn by 5 billion bushels.

However, have you given much thought to the impact higher ethanol blends, like E30, can have on the air we breath and our children’s health?

Research shows, the additives in fuel are proven carcinogens. Yup, Benzene, Toulene, Ethyl Benzene and Xylene - they all cause cancer, and we’re all breathing them in! And, these additives CAN be removed from gasoline if higher ethanol blends are added to gasoline.

In fact, if these harmful additives were removed from gasoline and replaced by higher ethanol blends, it would decrease premature deaths by 50,000 – because 50,000 deaths in the United States are associated with pollution from transportation fuels.

What can you do? Sign the Make Gasoline SAFE! Petition, launched by the Clean Fuels Development Coalition asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove cancer-causing additives from gasoline.

Please sign today. Simply click here

Want to learn more, watch this video and share it with your friends: Do You Know Jack? Part 1@

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How to Help Your Friends & Loved Ones When Challenges Impact Mental Health?

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It’s no secret that markets are down … for the third consecutive year in a row. And, the weather is less than cooperative. So, what do you do when financial stress or other factors out of our control catches up to a friend, loved one or you?

South Dakota Farmers Union reached out to experts to find out.

Don’t wait to get help. 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. 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.

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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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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Senate Bill 68 Supports Truth in Labeling

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Senate Bill 68 (SB68) will ensure that only meat harvested from animal carcasses can be labeled as meat
Petri-dish protein may soon be prohibited from being labeled as meat in South Dakota, thanks to South Dakota’s state senators unanimously passing Senate Bill 68 Feb. 20, 2019.

Currently under review with the House Ag Committee, if passed by the House, SB68 will ensure that only meat harvested from animal carcasses can be labeled as meat.

In a state where more than 3 million cows outnumber the state’s 869,666 citizens, SB68 not only supports consumers’ right to know where their food comes from, but it supports South Dakota’s number one economic driver.

“Agriculture is our number one industry by a long way. SB68 will positively impact our industry in a big way,” said Karla Hofhenke, S.D. Farmers Union Executive Director.

A third-generation cattle producer, Hofhenke says she is proud of the state’s leaders taking a stand. “South Dakota is among the states leading the nation to ensure truth in labeling for their citizens.”

Hofhenke says that beyond truth in labeling, SB68 protects the trust livestock producers have built among consumers that when they purchase U.S. meat products, consumers know are buying a quality, safe product. “Livestock producers of all kinds – beef, lamb, pork, poultry and others – spent generations perfecting the quality and safety of their product. We’ve worked hard to earn consumer trust. A new, lab-manufactured food product, cannot ride on our coattails and put our industry at risk.”

SB68 amends the adulterated and misbranded food chapter of the South Dakota Codified Law code section 39 - 4 to further define the term “meat.” Read the amendment here:

Truth in labeling is a policy focus of South Dakota Farmers Union. In October 2018, Hofhenke traveled to D.C. with members to testify before the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encouraging the organization to reserve the term meat for protein harvested from animal carcasses only – and not allowing lab manufactured protein products to use the term.

USDA has yet to reach a decision. Which makes SB68 and bills like it in other states, timely.

“If it matters to the states, we hope our congressional leaders will take note and encourage the USDA to follow suite. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating,” Hofhenke explains.

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Hope isn’t an Estate Plan

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Estate or transition planning needs to be a part of every agriculture producer’s farm or ranch management plan, said Blaine Carey, an instructor with the South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management at Mitchell Technical Institute during the recent South Dakota Farmers Union Young Producer’s Event held in Deadwood.

“Hope is not an estate plan,” says Carey, who works with producers of all ages and stages, to help them streamline their recordkeeping and provide practical management strategies to help them improve their bottom line.

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Beyond A Reasonable Doubt – Ethanol is THE Safe Option

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As fuel prices decrease, farmers are seeing corn ethanol markets drop. What to do? Well, let’s hope we don’t see the price at the pumps go up. Instead, let’s use more ethanol.

What I’m suggesting is oil companies increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline – from the mandatory 10 to 30 percent.

And, my reasons are not purely economic. Without higher ethanol blends, a century of research shows the only way to better octane ratings is more carcinogens.

Let me explain. There’s no such thing as pure gasoline. Typical gasoline is made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent other petroleum products. And, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent are classified as highly toxic carcinogens. These aromatics include: benzene, toluene and xylene or BTEX.

These facts concern me. My mom passed away from cancer in 2008. Was it caused by benzene, toluene and xylene? We will never know.

And, the government knows all about it. In fact, in the 1990 Clean Air Act, in an effort to minimize specific aromatic pollution or mobile source air toxics, Congress directed the EPA to control hazardous air pollutants to the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable.

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Product of the U.S.A: Why Does the USDA Allow False Advertising for Meat?

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