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National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives Introduces Students to Purpose & Diversity of Co-ops

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When Lake Area Technical Institute Agriculture Business student, Alexa Olson, thinks about cooperatives, she immediately pictures the grain elevator in her hometown.

 Until recently.

 Today, the image in her mind is much more diverse. Olson just returned from the National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives held Feb.19-21, 2016, in Minneapolis.

 "During the conference we visited a grocery store that was a cooperative. I was impressed by the fact that cooperatives are much more than grain and agriculture focused," she said.

 Her classmate, Jeffrey York, agrees.

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S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Wienk Charolais Farm Family

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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. This month, we’re highlighting the Wienk and Eschenbaum farm family who operate Wienk Charolais near Lake Preston.

Thumbing through a recent Wienk Charolais sale catalogue, Arnold Wienk, 78, recalls what it was like in the early years, “When I first sold bulls, the only number we gave buyers was the birthdate.” The glossy flyer is filled with photos of breeding stock and several columns of numbers representing EPD data - genetic information which today’s cattle producers count on to make breeding decisions. EPD data is standard issue with the sale of all purebred cattle thanks to the efforts of breeders like Arnold and Carol Wienk who, a generation ago, understood the value of genetic data.

 The Wienks are among the breed association pioneers who encouraged purebred breeders across the country to collect and catalogue genetic data because they understood the role it would play in improving commercial cattle herd genetics - and ultimately enable the cattle industry to quickly respond to consumer demands.

 “We do what we can to promote the industry and the product,” says Arnold, a third generation Kingsbury County farmer. “This herd has more records on file with the association than any herd in the U.S. - or is one of the herds with the most records - because we were keeping records with the S.D. Beef Improvement Association before the Charolais Association kept members’ performance records.” The Wienks transferred their performance records to the Charolais Association once the association began processing and maintaining members’ performance records.

 To read the rest of their story, click here.

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South Dakota Farmers, Ranchers & Rural Youth Visit Legislators Today for South Dakota Farmers Union Legislative Day

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When you're 15 politics can be confusing. South Dakota's Legislature is now more understandable for the South Dakota teens who attended the South Dakota Farmers Union Legislative Day today. They joined family farmers, ranchers and rural business owners who also participated in the annual event.

 "It's cool to see the process first hand and really understand what happens behind the scenes," says Hannah Sumption, 15 and a student at Frederick Area High School. "I have heard about it on the news, but until I got to sit in on committee meetings and Session today, I didn't really understand how everything worked."

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Sturgis Rancher attends National Farmers Union 2016 Women's Conference

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Initials and brands cover the inside wall of a barn on the Sturgis ranch Mary Ellen Cammack operates with her husband, Randy.

 "It started back when my dad was doing daily chores. If you helped him milk and feed bucket calves, he would carve your name or initials into the barn wall," she explains.

The family continues the tradition of raising quality Hereford cattle on the ranch. When family and friends visit, they ask to contribute to the wall - it's become a tradition of sorts. After attending the National Farmers Union Women's Conference recently, Cammack says the barn will be getting some new text - her family ranch's mission statement.

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Jr. REAL: South Dakota Farmers Union Continues to Cultivate Leaders in South Dakota's Youth

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Six Wolsey/Wesssington High School students learned how to protect their credit score and earned a cash prize from South Dakota Farmers Union as winners of the Making $ense of Credit and Finance PSA Competition.

 The winning team includes the following students: Devon Metter, Jamie Cutshaw, Zach Reilly, Matt Larsen, Justin Clark and Judd King.

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S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Birgen Farm Family

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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 Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union; Photos by Kathy Birgen

 Like most South Dakota farm families 50 years ago, the Birgen’s farm resembled that of the Old McDonald nursery rhyme.

 “We raised cattle, chickens, sheep, had milk cows and stock cows ­ but back then, everyone did. You sold cream and eggs,” recalls Matt Birgen, an 86-year-old Korean War Veteran, who together with his wife, Maureen, farmed and raised their seven children on the land he bought near Beresford with combat pay in 1955.

To learn more about the Birgen family, and view a photo gallery, click here.

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S.D. Farmers Union Young Producers Event Encourages Next Generation to Explore Sustainability

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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.

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Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack Appoints two South Dakota Farmers Union Members to Serve on Cattlemen's Beef Promotion & Research Board

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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.

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A Century Strong! Members Turn Out for 2015 Centennial State Convention

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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

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Ranch Family sees Past as Part of the Future

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Ranch Family sees Past as Part of the Future

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.

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Nancy Mueller Receives Minnie Lovinger Esteemed Educator Award

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 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.

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Agriculture Producers from Reliance, Britton & Union Center Elected to Represent at National Farmers Union Convention

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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.

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Doug Sombke Elected to Serve Sixth Term as South Dakota Farmers Union

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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.

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South Dakota Famers Union Responds to EPA's Decision to Issue RFS Targets Below Statutory Levels

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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."

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South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Sumption Farm Family

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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 

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Meet the 2015 South Dakota Farmers Union Torchbearers

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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.

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Public Invited to Hear Temple Grandin Speak During 2015 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention in Huron Dec. 9, 2015

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- 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.

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NFU Opposes Proposed Rule to Allow Beef Imports from Namibia, Cites 2015 Outbreak of Highly Contagious FMD

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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."

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More than 40,000 Signatures Collected & Delivered to Put an End to Gerrymandering in the State

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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."

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SDFU expresses concerns over recent JBS Acquisition: Rapid Concentration in Agriculture Hurting Family Farmers and Ranchers

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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.

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