HURON, S.D. - Ranching is deeply rooted in Mark Hollenbeck's family. His great-grandparents homesteaded in Dakota Territory, however, as one of seven children, Hollenbeck grew up understanding that if ranching was in his future, he would have to take an unconventional route to get there.
"It took a lot of unconventional ideas in order for me to get into the ranching business because unlike the vast majority of people who are ranching these days, inheriting the land wasn't an option available to me," explains Hollenbeck, who runs an organic cow/calf-finisher herd and a vacation rental property, Sunrise Ranch Lodge, near Edgemont.
Two S.D. Farmers Union members were appointed by Sec. of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack Dec. 22, 2015, to serve on the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, they are Union Center rancher, Tammy Basel and Frederick cattleman, Eric Sumption.
"Secretary Vilsack made a good choice. Tammy and Eric live and breathe the cattle industry. Combined, they have extensive experience in all areas of the cattle industry as well as experience in promoting the industry by serving on state and national boards," said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.
Farmers Union is one of the organizations which nominated Basel and Sumption, the two South Dakotan cattle producers appointed to serve with 100 producers from across the nation.
We are 100-years-old and have a lot to celebrate, said S.D. Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke of the organization's Centennial State Convention where nearly 500 members turned out to celebrate and provide policy direction for the future, Dec. 9-10, 2015, in Huron.
"Celebrating 100 years is amazing, especially in this day and age when many organizations are struggling with membership numbers just trying to survive and we continue to thrive," says Mary Ellen Cammack, a cow/calf producer from Sturgis, who ranches with her husband Randy and drove to Huron with her adult daughters, Shelby Cammack and Paige Komes, who remain actively involved in production agriculture, managing their own cattle herds on their family's ranch and working as AI technicians.
The Cammacks are currently participating in the 2016 Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program, which was developed to substantiate and empower future leaders for rural America and Farmers Union by providing training and hands-on experiences that enable couples to become knowledgeable leaders
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 number one industry and help feed the world.
By Alica P. Thiele for South Dakota Farmers Union; Photos by Darcy Krick Photography & Kecia Beranek, SDFU Communications Specialist
The Yost family of Gann Valley are dedicated to ranching for the long haul.
In hard times and good, four generations have pushed on, raising cattle and growing crops to sustain their herd.
Ben and Anastasia “Stacey” Knippling settled on the family ranch in 1930 with their only child, Paul. When Paul married Margaret Lobban in 1948, they built their home next to Paul’s parents and raised four children on the ranch. Paul and Margaret’s oldest daughter, Kathy, and her husband, Chuck Yost, joined the operation in 1973 and raised their five children on the ranch.
Now their boys Charley, Wade and Rodney Yost ranch with their parents and are looking forward to one day passing the land on to their children.
“In ranching, you get satisfaction in knowing you’re leaving something behind,’ Rodney said.
It’s not always easy. In the Dirty Thirties and the farm crisis of the 1980s, and more recently, during the Great Recession years, family members have made necessary sacrifices to keep the ranch running and thriving.
In the 1980s, some land purchased 10 years earlier needed to be sold, Kathy said. Chuck took day work and she got her degree in education so she could teach school. The couple’s daughters, Christie and Stacey, were top hands on the ranch until they married. They now ranch with their husbands. The boys all have outside incomes, but the land is “the heart of what it’s all about,” Rodney said.
Ben Knippling created the distinctive ax design that the family continues to use as their brand, and that is the reason the ranch is affectionately known as the Broadaxe Ranch. To learn more about the Yost family, and view a photo gallery, click here.
S.D. Farmers Union Davison County Education Director, Nancy Mueller was recognized for her years of dedicated service to South Dakota Farmers Union Youth Programming with the Minnie Lovinger Esteemed Educator Award during the Centennial Convention held Dec. 9-10, 2015 in Huron.
"Nancy Mueller has made great contributions to the success and longevity of the South Dakota Farmers Union Youth Program," said Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director during the presentation ceremony.
Four agriculture producers were selected to represent South Dakota's family farmers and ranchers during the South Dakota Farmers Union centennial convention held in Huron last week Dec. 9-10.
"Farmers Union is a grassroots organization, all policy - state and national - begins with our members at the state level. These delegates will represent South Dakota during the National Farmers Union Convention," explained Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.
Elected by the membership, these delegates will represent the states more than 17,000 Farmers Union members during the National Farmers Union Convention held March 5-8, 2016 in Minneapolis. The delegates include: Lorrie Hanson, , Britton; Jason Hanson, Animal Science major at North Dakota State, Britton; David Reis, cow/calf producer from Reliance and Steve Harwood, cattle producer, Union Center.
Doug Sombke was elected by the members of South Dakota Farmers Union to serve a sixth term during the organization's centennial convention held in Huron Dec. 9 and 10, 2015.
"I feel truly honored to serve the membership of this great organization - these are South Dakota's farmers, ranchers and rural citizens," explained Sombke, a fourth generation Conde crop and cattle farmer who has served as the organization's President since 2005.
South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, is concerned by the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to issue final renewable fuel volume targets which are well below their statutory levels.
"This is not good for South Dakota's family farmers and rural communities," said Sombke, a fourth generation crop and livestock farmer from Conde. "Since its emergence the ethanol industry has helped breath life back into rural America by increasing commodity prices and through the competitive jobs it has created."
South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Sumption Farm Family
By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union photos by Kaylee Speck Photography
Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, each month South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families. This December, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Sumption family who farm together near Frederick.
Mark Sumption’s 9-year-old daughter, Morgan, often asks him to tell her stories about his life as a child. Recently she asked him how he spent his time after school each day.
“I tell her that when I got home from school I went to work on the farm,” answers the fourth generation farmer.
His dad, John, says he and Margaret relied heavily on help from Mark and their other four sons, Chris, Eric, Taylor and Warren, to get work done on the family’s Frederick farm. “Our sons were always active workers on the farm. Actively involved from a young age because Margaret and I couldn’t get all the work done ourselves,” John, 67, explains. “I grew up working on my family’s farm and so did Margaret.” By the time their sons were old enough to consider farming full-time, John and Margaret encouraged each of them to get an education and work off the farm.
“Dad said to go to college and see the rest of the world, experience things, work for someone else,” explained Chris, 44. “It was good experience to work for other people and see what it was like to be on the other side of the counter.” After high school, Chris became a diesel mechanic and worked for John Deere for a short time. In 1992 he returned to farm full-time with his dad and mom.
Like him, each of his four brothers left the farm and received degrees.
Eventually each of them made their way back home to the family farm.
Today the five men farm together raising crops and cattle. “I never dreamed they would all come back to farm. It’s a dream come true,” says John, who gave control over to his sons in 2000 and spends most days helping his sons on the farm.
To learn more about the Sumption farm family and view a photo gallery, click here
Eleven South Dakota youth will receive the Torchbearer award during the South Dakota Farmers Union Centennial Convention held Dec. 9-10, 2015.
The highest award the organization bestows upon youth, these teens are recognized for their commitment to community and leadership skills.
Torchbearers have completed all levels of the Famers Union youth achievement awards.
"These youth have exhibited leadership and given back to their communities and the industry of agriculture through participation in Farmers Union leadership training, camps and volunteering their time for community development," explains Bonnie Geyer, South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director.
Torchbearers will be recognized during the Thursday, Dec. 10 South Dakota Farmers Union State Convention luncheon which begins at 11:45 a.m. in Huron at the Crossroads Convention Center (100 4th St. SW). Read on to learn about the 2015 Torchbearers and what this award means to them.
- Dr. Temple Grandin, the renowned animal handling researcher, livestock facility designer and author, is the keynote for the South Dakota Farmers Union State Convention held Dec. 9 and 10, 2015 in Huron at the Crossroads Convention Center (100 4th St. SW).
"When Farmers Union brought Temple Grandin to the state in 2014 the response was so amazing, we wanted to bring her back," says Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director.
Grandin will speak at 1:30 p.m. December 9. The public is invited to attend at no charge.
South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, supports the National Farmers Union (NFU) in urging the administration to oppose a proposed rule that would make Namibia an eligible country to export meat to the United States. Namibia just this year experienced an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
"When you consider the devastation FMD would cause if it were to infect cattle herds in the U.S., it is an unwise risk," said Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde crop and cattle farmer. "Farmers Union is always on the side of family farmers and ranchers - when you look at the number of South Dakota family farmers and ranchers who raise cattle, an outbreak of FMD in South Dakota would devastate our agriculture economy."
His comments echo those NFU President Roger Johnson submitted Nov. 17, 2015 to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). "An outbreak would have devastating consequences on our domestic livestock industry. NFU calls upon the administration to defend U.S. farmers and ranchers by opposing imports of live animals and processed or frozen animal products from countries or regions with a history of FMD."
In 2006, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed to add Namibia to the list of regions that are considered free of FMD with the exception of north of the country's Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF). "Earlier this year Namibia had an outbreak of FMD north of the VCF," said Johnson. "The Namibian government has said repeatedly that it would like to remove the VCF due to the social and economic inequalities it has created and perpetuated. If the government removes the VCF prior to elimination of all contagious animal diseases, such as FMD, then the U.S. could potentially import infected meat from the country."
Johnson noted that the U.S. has been very fortunate that an outbreak of FMD has not occurred in the states since 1929, but that other countries have not been so lucky.
"In recent memory, the outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom (UK) resulted in the slaughter and/or burning of nearly 3 million animals," said Johnson. "This outbreak was so severe, it delayed the national elections. The epidemic was costly both to farmers and the economy. The total losses to agriculture and the food chain amounted to over $4 billion. Prior to the 2001 outbreak, the UK had gone 34 years without an outbreak."
"With an increasingly global agricultural economy, the U.S. should remain vigilant and adequately weigh the risks and benefits when seeking to expand imports," said Johnson. "NFU encourages USDA to delay the FSIS approval of Namibia as an exporter of beef until APHIS reevaluates the status of FMD in the country, given the latest outbreak."
Voters will have a voice November 2016 thanks to the efforts of South Dakota Farmers Union and volunteers statewide who worked tirelessly to collect 40,400 signatures for the Independent Redistricting Commission.
"This was truly a grassroots effort," says Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. "Collecting signatures in order to give voters an opportunity to end gerrymandering wasn't easy - but there was buy-in from South Dakotans, regardless of party, because it is the right thing to do."
South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke expressed concern over the rapid consolidation in agriculture after the Department of Justice approved the purchase of Cargill Inc.'s pork unit by the Brazilian pork packer JBS.
"Growing concentration in agriculture is cause for concern," said Sombke, a fourth generation Conde farmer. "Department of Justice has shown that it is not willing to stand in the way. With each acquisition, the voice of the family farmer becomes more diluted leaving family farmers and ranchers at a significant disadvantage."
National Farmers Union President, Roger Johnson also weighed in on the recent acquisition. "It's time for the Department of Justice to wake up and realize that simply rubber stamping every merger and acquisition request that comes before it is directly undermining our nation's already vulnerable family farmers and small producers," said Johnson.
Johnson is especially troubled by the fact that the Department of Justice has not asked for a single restriction on this deal. "While they have argued that family farmers are free to comment if they have any concerns, the unfortunate fact is that most producers are afraid to speak out, fearing retribution by the handful of meatpackers who run the show," Johnson said.
After the deal is complete, more than 70 percent of pork processing ability within the United States will be controlled by just four companies.
With this acquisition, JBS becomes the second-largest pork packer in the nation, second only to Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods.
Taking a break from soybean harvest, Tyler Gerlach climbs into a John Deere 9430 and begins planting winter wheat. Well into the rhythm of planting, Gerlach, 31, begins visiting about the double life he leads that of a Stickney farmer and the former Company Commander of the 1742nd Army National Guard Transportation Company.
As foreign as the two careers may seem from one another - Captain Gerlach was recently responsible for the lives of 160 National Guard soldiers whereas Farmer Gerlach, along with his brother, LaRon, are stewards of the land, raising 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat - Gerlach says there are many circumstances when his background in farming makes him a better soldier and being a soldier makes him a better farmer/business owner.
"Farmers learn not to make rash decisions. Just like planting corn. You don't plant when it's muddy because it won't grow as well. As a soldier I analyze everything and take all conditions into consideration before making a decision," says Gerlach, who returned from a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan last October.
His years of leadership experience and training in the Army National Guard taught him the value of planning ahead. "In the military we plan for everything well ahead of time," he explains. "If something doesn't pan out, we don't get upset, we move on to the next plan. Sounds a lot like farming doesn't it?"
Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families each month. This November, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Sombke family who farm together near Conde.
By Lura Roti, for SDFU; Photos by Kaylee Speck Photography
In 1978, when Doug Sombke made the decision to farm fulltime after high school, times were tough.
"To explain how broke we were, I tell people that when Mel and I got married we couldn¹t afford an oven. We cooked on a hotplate," Sombke recalls.
But he was determined to make a go of it. Starting with 38 acres and the 4-H flock of 150 registered Suffolk ewes he and his brother, Dean, had built, Sombke stuck with it. He leased from neighbors, share cropped and eventually purchased land.
Along with sheep, the fourth generation Brown County farmer started a cow/calf herd and eventually expanded to operate a feedlot.
South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, urges cooperative patrons to weigh in on CHS proposed bylaw changes.
"If the suggested bylaw changes are passed, they will significantly alter the philosophy of CHS which could have a negative impact on family farmers and could result in changes to the local cooperative business structure," explained Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer who belongs to several local cooperatives.
Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families each month. This October, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Meeks family who ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Land is sacred in the Lakota culture which Jim and Elsie Meeks were both raised.
For almost four decades the ranch couple has worked hard to care for their Pine Ridge Reservation ranch-land and make the family ranch sustainable for the next generation.
"The land is sacred. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. This is a belief that most Natives and, I believe, ranchers of all backgrounds, share," explains Elsie.
For many of South Dakota's rural communities, cooperatives have served as a lifeline to technology, products and services which have allowed local farmers, ranchers and businesses to grow and thrive.
"Co-ops have played an important role in our state's progress," explains Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. "When companies didn't want to invest in the infrastructure necessary to bring electricity, telephone service, fuel and agriculture inputs to the countryside, our state's farmers and ranchers banded together to form member-owned cooperatives."