South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke discusses how the EPA's proposed Renewable Enhancement and Growth Support rule would hurt both the ethanol and agriculture industries.
This op-ed originally ran in the Ethanol Producer Magazine July 13, 2018
The news we get out of Washington these days lies somewhere between incredible and laughable, particularly with our Environmental Protection Agency. There is no precedent for the anti-ethanol, pro-oil actions of a federal agency like we are seeing from EPA. And this is from an administration and an agency that professes to be a friend to ethanol. It reminds us of the old saying: "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" But let's be clear: They are not friends to ethanol or, for that matter, agriculture.
In this last display of "support," led by technocrats in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the agency has proposed to make the use of ethanol blends above 15 percent volume illegal and restrict such blends to flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs). This comes on the heels of recent waivers granted by EPA to refiners who have failed to comply with the law of the land-the Renewable Fuel Standard-requiring the petroleum industry to include a modest percentage of fuels derived from renewable resources.
A previously established market of at least 15 billion gallons has been whittled down by 2 billion gallons, effectively reducing corn demand by nearly 700 million bushels. With many of our farmers already operating below the cost of production, this is another blow. It also comes at a time when EPA is grappling with federal fuel economy standards and the need for high-octane, low-carbon fuels-a job description ethanol fills perfectly when used in higher blends. The Department of Energy has long endorsed the use of blends between 25 and 40 percent as the sweet spot for ethanol in terms of price, octane and emissions. Here in South Dakota, a joint effort by corn growers and ethanol producers continues to demonstrate E30 blends in conventional vehicles with tremendous success and no problems whatsoever. And that is important because, in another ironic twist to this story, FFVs have been put out to pasture thanks to EPA. Automaker incentives to produce such vehicles have been all but eliminated and the fact is, the higher blends are more efficient in conventional vehicles.
EPA has all the legal authority it needs to extend the vapor pressure rules to allow year-round use of E15 and higher blends, but has not included such a rule or even proposed to do so. Nor has it approved an E30 certified fuel by which auto manufacturers can vigorously test new models to enable them to optimize and provide warrantees. Yet, EPA has the time and resources to pull out an Obama Administration proposed rule that the Trump Administration should throw away.
The rule proposed by EPA is called Renewable Enhancement and Growth Support and is the answer to a question no one in the ethanol industry asked. But one does not need to be a master detective to conclude who would ask for such an action: the petroleum industry. Is there any precedent for an industry to have a federal agency cap its competition? It is so outrageous it is hard to really grasp.
Not only does such an action cap the volume of ethanol but it relegates it to its lowest value. Its highest value is to provide octane and reduce the toxic carcinogens in gasoline while offering consumers a significant cost savings at the pump. Left unchallenged, the oil industry would have a guaranteed 85 percent of the motor fuel market for light-duty vehicles. The 15 percent share left for ethanol would be used for octane but the oil industry would continue to make a huge profit off the lower price it pays for that ethanol, all the while continuing to unnecessarily poison the air all Americans breathe.
The ethanol industry, farmers everywhere, environmentalists and health advocates should share a common goal of having this rule scrapped. Proponents of a free market should be appalled at the intervention of a federal agency in the market. Consumers should be outraged that a lower-cost, healthier fuel is intentionally being denied to them by the very government agency charged to protect them. In fact, anyone other than someone who makes a profit off gasoline should make defeating this rule a high priority.
Doug Sombke is President of South Dakota Farmers Union and a fourth-generation Conde farmer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This Wednesday (June 13,2018), South Dakota Farmers Union fed hundreds of South Dakota families who gathered in Belle Fourche for the South Dakota State High School Rodeo Finals, among them is the Pirrung family of Hartford.
Payton, 16, qualified in team roping - an event he and his brother, Braden, 20, and dad, Dan, have been competing in since he was 6.
"I'm pretty competitive, so rodeo and competing with my friends, is something I enjoy," says Payton, who also qualified in the tie down event.
Although he says he could have participated in basketball, football, baseball ... Payton never gave much thought to any sport other than rodeo.
And, it's no wonder - rodeo is in his blood.
His mom, Cathy (Smith) Pirrung, grew up trailering horses to shows and playday rodeos. As a teen, barrel racing became her life.
Renewable energy has intrigued Hans Breitenmoser since childhood.
"I can remember climbing up our 80-foot silo when I was a kid and thinking we should put up a wind turbine," says the Merrill, Wisconsin, dairy farmer.
His renewable energy daydreams became a reality in 2012 when he installed solar panels on the main freestall barn of his 430-cow dairy.
The panels produced about 10 percent of his dairy's energy needs. Which, he explains are substantial. "Even though today's dairy uses much less energy than we did in the past thanks to energy efficient technology, dairies use a lot of energy," he says, explaining energy is used to do everything from cool milk and run a parlor's milking equipment to powering ventilation fans, lagoon pumps and alley scrapers.
So, in 2016, when Breitenmoser was drawing up plans for a new barn, he decided to increase his farm's solar energy footprint. This time, instead of financing the project on his own, the Wisconsin Farmers Union member worked with Farmers Union Enterprises to help him fund the installation that, coupled with the 2012 panels, now covers 25 percent of his farm's energy needs.
"In the state of Wisconsin, we don't have any coal, we don't have any natural gas, so I think it's silly that in 2018 more than 60 percent of the electricity our citizens consume is produced by burning coal that has to be transported to our state from more than a 1,000 miles away," Breitenmoser says.
Investing in renewable energy not only aligns with Breitenmoser's moral compass, but it saves him, on average, more than $330 each month on his electric bill.
"The Wisconsin dairy industry is really hurting right now - corn and beans aren't worth much either - so, if solar energy can help farmers save money, and maybe provide an opportunity to sell extra energy back to the grid, all the while decreasing our use of fossil fuels, which we don't own, I think it's a good deal," Breitenmoser explains.
Darin Von Ruden agrees. "Every year we continue to see farmers leaving the land because they don't have a steady income," says the President of Wisconsin Farmers Union.
As state Farmers Union president, Von Ruden sits on the board of directors for Farmers Union Enterprises (FUE), the multi-business cooperative which helped Breitenmoser finance the solar panel installation.
The other Farmers Union state organizations which make up FUE include: South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. All funds raised through FUE businesses go to support the National Farmers Union and the five state's Farmers Union organizations.
"We are always looking for ways to keep our farmers farming," says Von Ruden, who also has solar panels on his barn roof - saving him, on average, $625 in electricity each month.
FUE collaborated with North Wind Renewable Energy Cooperative to encourage Wisconsin farmers to consider solar energy.
"Farmers understand the long-term investment on equipment, like these solar panels," says Josh Stolzenburg, President of North Wind Renewable Energy Cooperative, an Amherst, Wisconsin, farmer and a Wisconsin Farmers Union member.
Doug Sombke, President of the South Dakota Farmers Union was joined by National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson today (June 11, 2018) in calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to abandon plans to finalize an Obama era rule that would cap ethanol blends at 15%.
In a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sombke and Johnson criticized the Renewable Enhancement and Growth Support (REGS) rule that would deny higher ethanol blends in conventional vehicles. Originally proposed in 2016, the National Farmers Union and a number of its state chapters (Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) submitted comments in opposition to the REGS Rule, arguing that EPA has misinterpreted the substantially similar provision of the Clean Air Act and that ethanol is now the nation's base certification fuel and is not limited as to volumes.
EPA has not put a specific timetable on the rule but has indicated it proposes to submit it for final approval to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which reviews all rules before being finalized.
The letter states that, "If EPA chooses to regulate ethanol content-i.e., such as prohibiting the use of E30 in legacy (non-FFV) vehicles-it must do so under Section 211(c), which puts the burden of proof on EPA, not the fuel ethanol industry. A vast amount of Department of Energy and national lab studies, as well as real world experience, conclusively proves that the use of high octane mid-level ethanol blends (E25 - E40) in legacy vehicles does NOT impair the performance of emission control systems, nor does it exacerbate harmful emissions. In fact, because mid-level ethanol blends like E30 reduce the level of carcinogenic aromatic compounds (BTEX) in gasoline, and promote more efficient combustion, the opposite is true."
"This has a direct impact on South Dakota Agriculture and could be worth $1.5 billion to our economy," said Sombke. "Here we are demonstrating that E30 blends are high performance, high value fuels and EPA is considering denying this option."
Sombke noted that EPA has not only failed to help increase the domestic ethanol market but is taking it backwards with the recent refinery waivers and ignoring the vapor pressure waiver requests for higher blends. FlexFuel Vehicle credits have all but been eliminated by EPA and there is simply no pathway for expanding the ethanol market, he added.
EPA is also proposing new fuel economy rules that Administrator Pruitt has acknowledged would be well served by higher octane fuels, octane that ethanol blends like the E30 being used throughout South Dakota can easily and economically provide.
"For an administration that professes to support removal of rules and regulations that impede domestic energy production - not to mention supporting American agriculture - this is the opposite of that promise. Our message to EPA is to open the market and remove these barriers to higher blends and help us create new markets for our corn.
HURON, S.D. - The South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation, in cooperation with Farmers Union Insurance Agency, announces the Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow scholarship recipients. Each of the scholarship recipients will receive $1,000 to put toward their post secondary education at a South Dakota college, university or technical school. Over the past 11 years, the Foundation has awarded more than $275,000 in scholarships to students attending South Dakota post-secondary schools. The recipients were chosen from among a large pool of applicants. They were scored based on a combination of academic record, activities and awards, financial need and an essay relating to how they will "Insure a Brighter Tomorrow" in South Dakota. Farmers Union Insurance agents throughout the state fund this scholarship program administered by the Farmers Union Foundation. "Our insurance agents are committed to building a brighter future in South Dakota," says Jason Wells, Regional Manager of Farmers Union Insurance Agency. "This is a remarkable group and they make me excited about the future of our great state. We're choosing to invest in these outstanding individuals to help them pursue their goals and aspirations."
Scholarship recipients include the following: (Click on youth's name to link to a high resolution photo)
Jenifer Fjelstad, graduate of Groton Area High School and daughter of Clint & Tara Fjelstad;
Matthew Sperry, graduate of Aberdeen Roncalli and son of Scott & Kathy Sperry;
Sage Pulse, graduate of Kimball High School and daughter of Lee & Nicole Pulse;
Anne Knoff, graduate of Yankton High School and daughter of David & Jozette Knoff;
Trew DeJong, graduate of Philip High School and son of Travis & Pamela DeJong;
Riley Calhoon, graduate of Winner High School and son of John & Jodi Calhoon;
Ellie Holmes, graduate of Brandon Valley High School and d,aughter of Mike & Val Holmes;
Taylor Gall, graduate of Scotland High School and daughter of Fred & Tricia Gall;
Savannah Krogman, graduate ofJones County High School and daughter of Neil Krogman & Kathy Krogman;
Kaylee Hart, graduate of Mitchell High School and daughter of Troy & Andrea Hart;
Katie McManus, graduate of Lyman High School and daughter of Don & Melinda McManus;
Eric Olson, graduate of Watertown High School and son of Jim & Julie Olson;
Brianna Mount, graduate of Webster Area High School and daughter of Randy & Stacy Mount;
Erica Koster, graduate of Armour High School and daughter of Dean & Bonnie Koster;
Saraya Bronson, graduate of Wilmot High School and daughter of Colin & Renae Bronson;
Zachary Severson, graduate of Canton High School and son of Brad & LuAnn Severson;
Dalton Howe, graduate of Redfield High School and son of Lance & Shirley Howe;
Carter Larson, graduate of Vermillion High School and son of Eric Larson & Laurie Larson;
Chastin Mohr, graduate of Parker High School and daughter of Scott & Jenia Mohr;
Sadie Vander Wal, graduate of Northwestern High School and daughter of Jeff & Beth Vander Wal;
Kylee Guindon, graduate of Plankinton High School and daughter of Rayne & Jen Guindon;
Nathan Rook, graduate of Aberdeen Central High School and son of Kevin & Brenda Rook;
Emily Oswald, graduate of Yankton High School and daughter of Jason & Sherri Oswald; and
Kaylee Becker, graduate of TF Riggs High School and daughter of David & Denette Becker.
Dawn (Gilman) Cable was shorter than the barrels she raced around when she began competing at area playday rodeos.
Her daughters, Jimmi and Kari, could say the same for the sport that also captured their hearts.
After chores were done on the family's cow/calf and club calf ranch north of Pukwana, the Cable women practiced together on a barrel patch Dawn's husband, Harley, disks up each spring for them.
On the weekends, the family raced to wrap up chores so they could head off to rodeos together. In their teens, through college and into adulthood, Dawn and her daughters continued to barrel race together.
"It's one thing the three of us did together since they were teeny, tiny girls," Dawn says.
"It gave us something we all enjoyed and got to spend time outside of the ranch together and we made so many friends," adds daughter, Kari, 27, who today is the lead MRI technician at Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Because of all the good memories the family created barrel racing together, when a tragic car accident took Jimmi's life four years ago, Harley, Dawn and Kari decided a memorial barrel race would be a fitting way to remember Jimmi; her love of horses and passion for barrel racing, livestock and their Pukwana ranch. And, most of all, her love for her family and friends.
As the state director of the South Dakota Barrel Horse Association, Dawn knew how to organize the event. Friends and family members also chipped in and July 2015 the family hosted the first Jimmi Rose Memorial Barrel Race.
"I was hoping for 50 entries and 200 showed up," Dawn says of the event that has become an annual tradition, held each year during the last Sunday in July in Huron on the Beadle County 4-H Rodeo Grounds.
All funds raised go to support organizations and events Jimmi and her family hold dear: a belt buckle for the winner of round robin at the 4-H round robin at the Brule County Achievement Days; jackets for grand champion Sim-Angus heifer at the Spotlight Livestock Show; prizes for all the peewee barrel racers at the memorial barrel race and many other events.
"It's a good feeling knowing you still support what she loved. Another part of the memorial barrel race is, it's a way to bring all my family and all of her friends together to remember her," Kari says. "It's a bittersweet day. We all enjoy getting to see each other and to honor her memory. The support from each other keeps you going." Kari says.
Her mom agrees.
"It's the comradery. I tell you, when we lost Jimmi, I found out who my real friends are - and my barrel racing friends are definitely in that category. They have stuck beside me through it all," Dawn explains.
The ranch, with its wide open spaces, cattle who need caring for and a few good horses always ready for a ride, also helps. "If I have a bad day, I get on my horse and ride the creek," says Dawn, of Crow Creek which runs through the property.
Harley grew up on the ranch, and says he never wanted to do anything else. "I like cattle and I like breeding superior livestock."
In addition to raising commercial cattle, since his teens, Harley has been raising sought after livestock, selling Sim-Angus bulls and club calves to commercial cattle producers and show youth who exhibit the calves in livestock shows across the nation.
Only 15 when his dad died, Harley made ranching his full-time career, building on the 2,500 acres and 25-head of cattle his dad left to him.
Their overall breeding program has a strong focus on maternal traits - sound udders, good feet and legs and, "of course, good rate of gain," Harley explains.
"Makes a guy feel pretty proud to see the calves we raise, do well in the show ring. There are a lot of people breeding club calves who buy high-dollar donors, and most of the time we can do it through cows we raise and AI-ing them," Harley explains.
Also raised on a ranch, Dawn has worked beside Harley since they married 32 years ago.
"I've always preferred to be outdoors working. The first time I brought Harley home to meet my parents, he was having coffee with my dad and I was out feeding cows," Dawn says.
She then asks Harley. "What did you think of when you were having coffee with my dad while I was feeding cows?"
With a twinkle in his eye, Harley answers, "She was trying to impress me."
Although the couple has been through unimaginable grief together, there is a lot of jesting and laughter when they discuss working together as a family on the ranch. Before they were school-age, the girls spent their days outdoors with their parents.
As S.D. Farmers Union (SDFU) enters its 84th camping season its focus remains the same. Priority is placed on shaping the leaders of tomorrow, fostering engagement in rural communities and introducing youth to the many opportunities in agriculture.
"Camp is a place where kids can come to learn and grow as leaders in an engaging positive atmosphere," said Rachel Haigh-Blume, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director. "The lessons they learn today will stick with them for years to come as they take on leadership roles in their communities and future careers."
SDFU hosts nearly 50 camps across the state each year for children ages 5 to 18. These camps work to fulfill a vital purpose for the future of rural communities by educating children on agriculture careers that often help them return home to their rural communities.
Farmers, ranchers and their spouses are invited to the 2018 S.D. Farmers Union Young Producer Event to be held in Sioux Falls July 13 and 14 at no cost to members and $50 to non-members.
"This event is one of the best programs we sponsor," says Chad Johnson, 45, a crop and cattle farmer and District 7 board member.
Johnson shares how the Young Producers Event he and his wife, Michelle, attended a few years back made a positive and lasting impact on their family farm. During the event, they listened to an expert discuss farm and ranch transition and estate planning. After the event, Johnson invited the speaker to his farm to visit with his dad and mom.
"Prior to the event, every time I brought up the topic of a transition plan with my parents, my dad would get uncomfortable and change the subject. It was kind of taboo," Johnson explains. "After we learned about the tax ramifications of not having a plan, we shared those with Dad and he was open to a discussion."
More discussions and official paperwork followed. "We had our succession plan set up and some wills drawn up in case something happened," Johnson says. "It was a good thing too, because my dad passed away this July of cancer. I'm glad we had those talks out of the way, and out in the open with the family ahead of time, so we didn't have to worry."
As we reflect on the women who raised us this Mother's Day, South Dakota Farmers Union would like to celebrate the many women who support the state's No. 1 industry - farm and ranch moms!
by Lura Roti for SDFU
"It's such a short time in their life and yours when you get to be with your kids and have an influence in their life. It feels like you blink and they are grown."
Karli McCance, Dallas, South Dakota, farm wife, and small business owner, mother of three, exchange mom to three
The more the merrier" would be a good phrase to describe Karli McCance's take on children.
"The more kids around the better," McCance says. She explains that when her mostly grown children were young, many of their friends would want to spend time out in the country so, there were always a lot of kids hanging out on the family's Dallas farm.
In fact, for several years, the McCance family welcomed exchange students through Education First. "Hosting an exchange student gives you a bond from across the world and brings other cultures into your home - we have gained several family members for life," says McCance, who serves as the local exchange coordinator, helping place students from other countries with families in their community.
Column by Doug Sombke, President of S.D. Farmers Union
As South Dakota family farmers and ranchers we work each day to feed the families of millions of Americans. And yet, when I review our current Farm Bill, I am disappointed because it does not provide the protections we need to ensure that in disaster we are able to earn enough to feed our own families.
Although many throughout the agriculture industry agree, some are afraid to say anything because they don't want changes to the current Farm Bill to take away what minimal protections are in place.
I call on all of us to EXPECT MORE OF OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. Agriculture is South Dakota's No. 1 industry and critical to our nation's national security. South Dakota Farmers Union, together with National Farmers Union calls upon our elected officials to create a Farm Bill that supports the population it is intended to serve.
First, I ask Representative Kristi Noem to VOTE NO on the House farm bill in its current form. Please work to change the Farm Bill to better serve South Dakota's family farmers and ranchers.
Together with Noem, I also call on South Dakota's Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune to encourage changes to the farm bill so that it does the following:
Kristen Gonsoir's first horse was a small, naughty pony a neighbor offloaded for the horse-crazed 5-year-old to love. When its cantankerous nature didn't deter their daughter's affection, Kristen's parents bought her the real deal - a mare named Cinnamon.
Kristen trained Cinnamon for 4-H reining competitions and by the time she was 12, the bourgeoning horsewoman was ready to try her hand at horse breeding.
"I insisted my parents take me to a special equine reproduction clinic at SDSU. Here I was, not quite a teen, in a room full of adults. I took notes and asked questions," recalls the AQHA Professional Horseman, AQHA Specialized Judge, POAc Judge and Quarter Horse breeder.
Her parents helped her locate a stallion and Kristen found her calling.
"I have always loved horses, but it's the breeding that is my favorite part because it's the science aspect combined with horse aspect," explains the high school chemistry instructor and young grandma, who enjoys sharing her first love with her greatest love - her family - husband, Tim, son, Stan, 29, his wife, Madeleine, and grandson, Dayton, 2, and daughter, Joellen Miller, 22, and her husband, Jordan. "It was fun family time together, whether it's riding together or we're going to a horse show or rodeo."
Farm safety is not a topic to take lightly, explains high school junior, Peter Rausch.
"I know from firsthand experience how dangerous working on a farm can be. I lost a friend to a farm accident," says Rausch, who holds his OSHA certification thanks to a course he took as part of his high school's Agriculture Education class. "It is always good to be aware of your surroundings and be as safe as you can for yourself and others."
Rausch, a member of the Hoven FFA Chapter, was among more than 80 FFA members who participated in the S.D. Farmers Union Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl during the 2018 S.D. State FFA Convention held in Brookings, April 14-16.
Hoven FFA Chapter quiz bowl team is one of four that qualified to compete in the championship quiz bowl which will be held at the 2018 South Dakota State Fair during Farmers Union Day.
The other teams who qualified include the following FFA chapters: Parker FFA, Tri-Valley FFA and Wessington Springs.
HURON, S.D. - During the Sturgis Rally, Jeff Kreun, the owner of Kreun Kustom, an upholstery shop that specializes in customized motorcycle seats and auto interiors, can be seen visiting with thousands of bike enthusiasts and taking orders. But to Kreun, custom upholstery is more than an income, he also uses his talents to engage teens.
For several years now, Kreun has been involved in bike build projects designed to spark teens' interest in mechanics. He also helps engineering students from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology with contests.
When asked why a small business owner makes time to help youth learn the skill of sewing he says, "I guess I see the world around us and most kids have a screen in front of them. I am appalled by this. It's exciting to see kids passionate about something tangible. When I see a kid light up when he creates something with his hands, it reminds me of myself when I was young."
During the 2017 S.D. State Fair, S.D. Farmers Union (SDFU) recognized Kreun with the Dakota Rural Pride Award. Today, SDFU asks South Dakotans to nominate folks like Kreun, who give back to their communities, for the 2018 Rural Dakota Pride Award. Nominees do not need to be members of SDFU.
Each year, SDFU recognizes five individuals who give back to their rural communities with the Rural Dakota Pride Award.
"Rural communities depend on these everyday heroes. They are the people who do what needs to be done," says Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director of South Dakota SDFU.
As an organization which supports South Dakota farmers and ranchers, Hofhenke explains that SDFU understands the integral connection between those who work in South Dakota's number one industry and their rural communities.
"One survives with the other," she says. "Without thriving communities, it's difficult to encourage young people to return to their family's farm or ranch. Rural communities are key to the future of South Dakota's agriculture industry; which is why we like to recognize those individuals who help them thrive."
HURON, S.D. - Times are tough on South Dakota's family farms and ranches and politics aren't helping, says S.D. Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke.
"As a farmer, I've been told to get my prices from the market, yet this administration is creating an atmosphere that reduces demand, pushing down prices for my commodities and launching a trade war with one of our largest soybean importers that will further hurt prices. All the while, the protections we do have in the current Farm Bill are being threatened," Sombke says.
Sombke's comments are a response to the Environmental Protection Agency April 3 decision to exempt one of the nation's largest oil refining companies from complying with the Renewable Fuels Standard regulation, which will have a negative impact on the state's corn producers; the current trade war with China and, a threat made on federally secured crop insurance.
As president of one of the state's largest agriculture organizations, Sombke visits daily with family farmers and ranchers who make up the state's number one industry of agriculture - and the conversations are discouraging.
"The farm economy is bad, really bad right now. Farmers are going backwards fast. We need this administration to stop developing policies and strategies that create economic pain for our family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities," says Sombke, who understands what is happening to farmers because He is also a fourth-generation crop and livestock producer whose grown sons now manage the day-to-day activities of the family's Conde farm.
HURON, S.D. - Traditionally, when cooperatives come to mind most people think agriculture. For Bailey Miles and other students attending the College Conference on Cooperatives (CCOC) in Minneapolis that is far from the case.
"This conference reminded me that cooperatives have so much variety and serve so many different purposes," says Miles, who is pursuing a commodity merchandising degree from Lake Area Technical Institute.
Hosted by National Farmers Union, the three-day seminar works to accomplish just that.
"Cooperatives play an important role in strengthening rural and urban economies and communities across the country. NFU's CCOC engages tomorrow's agricultural leaders in applying cooperative business principles and learning about opportunities available to them through the cooperative model," says NFU President Roger Johnson.
National, regional and state associations and groups, including South Dakota Farmers Union, have signed on to a letter urging Agriculture Committee leaders and members in both the House and Senate to support the inclusion of the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program with increased or maintained mandatory funding in the next Farm Bill.
S.D. Farmers Union President Doug Sombke issued the following statement in support of the program:
“REAP has made tremendous impact on South Dakota family farmers, ranchers, small business owners and their ability to produce clean energy, cutting energy cost and stimulating development in previously struggling rural communities. Rural economies are being faced with a multiyear slump in the farm economy, so it is vital optional revenue streams are available to increase farm incomes. Increasing or maintaining REAP helps ensure that the programs benefits will be available to more rural South Dakotan in years to come.”
Rocky Forman recently joined South Dakota Farmers Union as the Member Services Coordinator.
"We are excited to have Rocky join our team. He has enthusiasm for service to South Dakota's agriculture producers and agribusiness people," says Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director.
As Member Services Coordinator, Forman will organize the S.D. Farmers Union Young Producers Program, facilitate Farm Safety Trailer programming and engage in other outreach programming for members and non-members throughout South Dakota.
"I enjoy helping people and look forward to sharing the South Dakota Farmers Union message of farm safety, as well as other agriculture-based programming with agriculture producers, their families and individuals throughout South Dakota," Forman says.
For Angela Hawkinson, the investment her community of Britton, South Dakota, made in her, has had a large impact on her life. She credits Britton with helping shape her into the person that she is today.
"I was raised in my community and now I live in it and have built my life here," explains Hawkinson, who works in human resources and bookkeeping for Full Circle Ag. "This community has given me so much and I'm proud of this place. Now I feel like it's my turn to give back to it and invest in its future like it did in mine."
To help her invest in her rural community, Hawkinson is furthering her leadership skills through the professional development program, Rural Economic and Leadership Development (REAL) program. Developed by South Dakota Farmers Union, REAL is designed to encourage and support rural professionals, like Hawkinson, by providing them with professional and leadership development.
The second oldest of seven, Dennis Feickert grew up on a traditional 1950s South Dakota farm. His dad, Elvin, and mom, Christina, raised pigs, chickens, a cow/calf herd, a 30-cow dairy herd and corn, oats, wheat and hay.
It was on this 1,200-acre McPherson County farm that a strong desire to work on the land and care for livestock was instilled in Dennis.
"My passion and my love has always, absolutely been with the cattle and the land and the machinery. That is where my entire energies have always been focused," he says.
Although the only career Dennis ever wanted was to be a farmer, when he graduated from high school, the family farm was too small. His dad was young yet and had a large family to support. "So, I moved to Aberdeen and began working for Dakota Farmer magazine and hated it - absolutely despised it," Dennis says.
To emphasize how farmsick he was, Dennis tells this story. "It was summer. I would lay in our small apartment with the windows open to catch a breeze and I would smell alfalfa and I would go wacko, absolutely wacko."
Because he couldn't change circumstances and he had a young family to support, instead of farming fulltime, at 21, Dennis joined the Aberdeen City Fire Department and built up a cow/calf herd as time, income and opportunity allowed.
"I bought about 20 heifers at the sale barn and kept them at the kids' grandpa's farm. Then, we bought some 4-H heifers for the kids to show in 4-H and I rented some land and took a guy's cows on shares and kept a few of those heifer calves," explains Dennis, of the slow-but-sure way he built up the cow/calf herd to today's 180-head that he runs together with his son, Jason and daughter, Rebecca's cows.
To have enough pasture and hay ground, Dennis rented or purchased small pieces of land close to Aberdeen. Then, in the mid-'70s, 40 acres of land just five miles from Aberdeen came up for sale. Dennis sold a duplex he had renovated and built a house and barn. He finally had his farm.
Improving the entire rural landscape through research that enables farmers to take a holistic approach to field management is the bold vision that drives Mike Bredeson, a South Dakota State University doctorate student and the recipient of the $2,500 South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation Graduate Student Scholarship.
"Our rural communities are struggling for many reasons. Agriculture is the foundation of rural communities. If we can bolster our agricultural producers by helping them to diversify their operations, conserve natural resources and improve profitability, the result will be invigorated farm economies," explains Bredeson, a south-central Minnesota farmboy who is currently pursuing a doctorate in agroecology in the Natural Resource Management Department at SDSU.
Supporting students, like Bredeson, is the reason South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation awards a graduate school scholarship each year.
"Education is a focus of S.D. Farmers Union Foundation because it is key to the sustainability of agriculture and rural communities," says Doug Sombke, SDFU President and a fourth-generation Conde farmer.
A full-time student, married to a full-time student, Bredeson said the scholarship means a lot to him and his family.
"t's enormous. Although I do receive a stipend for my research work, it's small. My wife is also a graduate student, so this scholarship means a lot to us as we pursue our dreams," he says.