It was the first day of school 2006 and LeAnn's phone rang. Her son, Chet's, preschool teacher was calling.
"She said, 'LeAnn I think we have a problem. At the end of the day Chet packed up his bag and said, 'Thanks Mrs. Lanners. I had a great day, but I won't be back.'"
Taking the conversation in stride, LeAnn (Neugebauer) Moe met Chet as he got off the bus and set about showing the four-year-old the value of education by making connections between school and their family's Alexandria farm.
"We asked him to count the cows in the pasture, reminding him that in school he will learn how to count. We asked him if he wanted to help the guys spray in the field and then explained that he needed to learn science to do that.
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 feature the Mehling family who raise crops and cattle southwest of Wessington.
by Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union
Ask Greg Mehling, 53, what his favorite Christmas gift was as a child and without hesitation he names the miniature thrashing machine his dad built for him.
“The summer Greg was 6 we took him to Prairie Village. He came home needing a thrashing machine, so I worked in the garage every night until Christmas,” recalls Greg’s dad, Roy, 74.
The fourth-generation farmer’s early introduction to farm equipment didn’t stop with toys. By 7, Greg was driving a tractor. “Farming’s kinda in my blood. I enjoy it,” he explains.
After a brief detour to Lake Area Technical Institute and a few job interviews, Greg knew that even though times were tough, farming was the only career for him.
“It was the 80s, so the farming deal wasn’t really good, but after a few job interviews, I knew that farming was the only work I wanted to do,” Greg explains.
During the 2016 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention, held in Pierre Dec. 8-9, South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation awarded three $500 scholarships to young people committed to attending a South Dakota college, university or technical school; and are children of parents who are current dues-paying members of South Dakota Farmers Union.
The scholarship recipients are Haley Bialas, Dimock; Reece Schulte, Orient; and Samuel Schumacher, Stickney.
When it comes to providing opportunities for McCook county youth, the 2016 recipient of the S.D. Farmers Union Minnie Lovinger Esteemed Educator Award, Tracy Chase, doesn't say 'no.'
She said 'yes' when the High School Agriculture Education Instructor, Terry Rieckman, asked the science teacher to take on some agriculture education classes. "He said, 'What do you think about us working together?' FFA provides great opportunities for students, so I began teaching Animal Science, Agriculture Foods and Natural Resources classes,'" recalls Chase, who grew up on a McCook County dairy farm.
Twelve years ago, she also said 'yes' when Farmers Union District 2 President, Jim Wahl, asked if she would serve as the Education Director for McCook County. "You have to provide opportunities for kids and South Dakota Farmers Union does just that," says Tracy, of why she accepted the additional responsibility.
Rural youth were recognized today for their commitment to community and leadership skills with the Torchbearer Award during an awards banquet held during the 2016 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention, held in Pierre, Dec. 8-9, 2016.
Torchbearer is the highest level for South Dakota Farmers Union Education Achievement. This achievement showcases the time and dedication campers have given over the years to the education department as well as the communities they have served. A special thanks to their families whom supported this process and ensured campers were able to attend camp and other activities.
"South Dakota Farmers Union invests in youth starting at a young age to ensure the next generation of leaders in our rural communities. We appreciate these youth and their families who have invested in this program and are dedicated to the traditions and skills the program embeds in the students," said S.D. Farmers Union Education Director, Rachel Haigh-Blume.
The 2016 Torchbearers include; Madelyn Kline, Huron, daughter of Neal and Kristin Kline; Jonah Murtha, Parkston, son of Becky and Kevin Murtha; Shaun Snedeker, Woonsocket, son of Mark and Lisa Snedeker; Cole Van Gorp, Stickney, son of Randy and Jan Van Gorp; Abbey Tschetter, Huron, daughter of Lisa Tschetter; Braeden Walton, son of Scott and Lisa Walton, Mitchell and Reece Schulte, son of Mark and Jil Schulte, Orient.
South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke supports today's
announcement that the Farmer Fair Practices Rules have been released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).
"These rules are designed to level the playing field for family farmers and ranchers who raise livestock and poultry. These rules give producers protection against unfair or discriminatory contract practices and two proposed rules that provide oversight for pricing and payment practices," Sombke explained. "Across the board these rules are designed to provide fair price protection, but especially for those farmers who raise poultry or swine, which are heavily concentrated."
He explains that today, 51 percent of all boiler markets and 57 percent of turkey markets are controlled by four processors.
Sombke's comments echo those of National Farmers Union President, Roger Johnson.
"For too long, family livestock producers and poultry growers have endured a heavily concentrated market with little protection against unfair, anti-competitive practices. We are glad that this important set of rules is finally moving forward," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "While the Farmer Fair Practice Rules do not fix all of the fraudulent practices in the livestock and poultry industries, these rules are certainly an important step in the right direction."
A provision was included in the 2008 Farm Bill, authorizing USDA to improve GIPSA regulations; however, until recently, lawmakers repeatedly blocked the funding needed for USDA to finalize these protection rules for family farmers.
"Both producers and consumers benefit when the markets are competitive and the practices and process are transparent. We look forward to thoughtfully reviewing the published rules and providing feedback to ensure the final rules will work for family farmers," Johnson said.
Moving forward, Sombke said the question will be whether the Trump Administration will follow through and support the Farmer Fair Practice Rules.
South Dakota Farmers Union members donated $5,000 to Make-A-Wish and helped make Toby’s wish to go to Walt Disney World come true.
Toby is 11 and lives with his family in Lower Brule. Toby faces dilated cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening medical condition. He is among 53 other South Dakota youth who had their wishes granted in 2016 thanks to the generosity of South Dakotans, explains Paul Krueger, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish South Dakota.
“We really believe that wishes are essential for kids with life-threatening medical conditions. Wishes give hope, strength and joy to those children and their families,” Krueger explains.
Like Farmers Union, Make-A-Wish is a grassroots organization which relies heavily upon a volunteer network of nearly 200 and donations from individuals and organizations to keep granting wishes.
The phrase, “That will never work,” doesn’t slow BJ McNeil down.
Not when he converted 4,000 acres of his grandpa’s conventionally tilled land to no-till. Not when he was among the first Wessington farmers to plant Roundup Ready soybeans. Not when he decided to plant cover crops.
If anything, hearing the expression has only motivated the fourth generation farmer.
“I am confident in my own decisions and what I want to accomplish it’s just my nature,” BJ, 46, explains.
His aunt and business partner, Jonnie Zvonek, says it’s in his genes. “You have your grandpa’s attitude. You just don’t quit.”
BJ’s grandpa, John Wilmer Zvonek, is the reason both Jonnie and BJ farm today.
When Jonnie was born, she was the third of four daughters and his namesake.
“I was always with dad I was basically his ‘son’ John,” Jonnie recalls.
After high school Jonnie tried working off the farm. She moved to Sioux Falls and worked for the Argus Leader as a typesetter for nine months.
“I felt claustrophobic,” she explains. “I always loved getting my hands in the dirt and watching things grow - so, I asked dad if I could come home and farm full-time.”
Working side-by-side with her dad, Jonnie was involved in every aspect of the farm: planting, harvesting and bookwork.
In the summer, her sister Sheryl’s son, BJ, would spend much of his time on the farm.
BJ says although he didn’t know it at the time, it was those summer vacations spent on the farm that instilled in him a passion for working the land. This passion eventually led him to pursue a degree in Agriculture Engineering from Texas A&M.
“I first tried aerodynamics because I wanted to be a Navy pilot. Then I transferred to business. I had no passion for any of the classes. So, I asked myself, ‘What do I love?’ The answer was, ‘I loved farming,’” BJ explains.
Shortly after BJ graduated from college, Wilmer passed away. BJ asked Jonnie if he could come back and farm with her. She said yes.
Like many young farm boys, long before Mike Jaspers was harvesting a crop in the field, he was on his hands and knees, harvesting off the floors in his parents’ home.
“If dad was out harvesting, I was in the basement with my toy combine harvesting,” recalls the fifth-generation Marshall County family farmer, ‘88-89 State FFA President, former legislator and current South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture.
As he reflects on the journey which led him to accept Governor Daugaard’s request to serve as Secretary of Agriculture starting July 5, 2016, Jaspers explains that although his passion for public service was developed in college, his passion for agriculture was nurtured from the start. It started long before he was old enough to drive a tractor.
“I’m a typical kid who grew up on a farm. You live your mom and dad’s business. It’s just part of who we are as South Dakota ag producers. You grow up with it and that passion for agriculture becomes part of who you are,” explains the 1993 South Dakota State University graduate.
Mature enough to remember the ag economy of the late 70s, Jaspers is no stranger to the current challenges facing South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers.
Schaefers siblings – farm kids and soldiers: Sam, Paivi, Josie and Paul. Their youngest brother, Jacob, is pictured right.
By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union
Growing up actively involved in their family’s fourth-generation South Dakota farm prepared Josie Ries and four of her siblings well for military service.
“There are so many times on the farm or in our small farming community of Polo when we did things bigger than ourselves not just on our family’s farm, but for others in our community,” explains Josie, who joined the Army National Guard as a junior in high school. “Being a soldier is similar. You develop a strong sense of family and community with the people you serve with and you have this awesome sense of doing something bigger than you.”
When she signed up in 1996, Josie was the first of five Schaefers siblings to serve. The second oldest of seven children, Josie said she was inspired by older cousins and neighbors who served, as well as the fact that in their small community of Polo, patriotism is celebrated.
“We always had the best Fourth of July and Memorial Day celebrations,” Josie recalls.
She was only 17, so her parents, Fred and Cheryl Schaefers, had to sign for her.
Her brother, Paul, adds that in Polo, the Legion is one of only a few buildings left in the town. “Our Legion plays a big role in the community; making donations to local ball programs and helping with funerals and celebrations,” explains Paul, 31, who deployed to Iraq in 2006 and now farms full-time. Paul and his wife, Blair, a registered nurse, live in Polo.
Paul was a recent high school graduate when Josie deployed to Iraq in 2003.
He and his other siblings all credit Josie, in part, with inspiring them to serve. “It felt like the right thing to do,” explains Paul, who didn’t wait to be called up, but instead volunteered to deploy in 2006 with an infantry guard unit from Michigan. “I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines. I wanted to do my part.”
By 2012, his brother, Sam, and sister, Paivi Stone, and their youngest brother, Jacob, were also enlisted.
As the youngest of seven, Jacob says even though he was the baby, he wasn’t coddled at home on the farm. “Once they all left I had to do a lot of work on the farm, plus help my mom with her catering business.”
Jacob says the work ethic and ability to stick with a job until it was done that he developed on the family’s crop and livestock farm served him well in his role as a Marine. “When something breaks on the farm, you may not know what is wrong or how to fix it, but you will get it figured out,” Jacob says.
When Cheryl and Fred Schaefers tied the knot 40 years ago, the two farm kids shared a strong passion for farming. And, along with crops and livestock, the couple wanted to raise a large family.
“We originally wanted 12 kids. Fred is the youngest of 9 and I am the second oldest of six we wanted a house full of noise and love,” Cheryl says.
Today, the active grandparents reflect on raising their seven children on the farm and say they wouldn’t change a thing. Their children include: Belle Schaefers, Josie Ries, Maureen “Mo” Wernsmann, Sam Schaefers, Paul Schaefers, Paivi Stone and Jacob Schaefers.
“What better way of life is there?” Fred asks.
“The kids all learned to care for life and that every life is important because they understood that it mattered to the farm’s bottom line,” Cheryl added.
The early years were busy, but happy. All seven of their children were born two years apart. “Whatever we were doing, I’d just pack up the kids and bring them along. We even put a swing in the milk parlor so the baby could watch us and swing while we milked,” Cheryl says.
The couple began milking their first Holstein just 10 days after they married. It was 1976 and Fred says Hand County was full of small 50 to 75-cow dairies. “There was money in dairying. It was a good steady income.
At one time there were at least 30 to 40 dairies in Hand County.” Slowly, they expanded their dairy herd to 80 cows.
The entire family helped with milking. As a young kid, Paul recalls carrying buckets of grain to each stanchion. “Then we installed an automatic feeder,” Paul remembers.
“You were replaced by technology,” his wife, Blair, jokes.
Paul and Blair celebrated their first anniversary this May. Like Paul, Blair grew up on a farm. “This way of life isn’t new to me,” explains Blair, who works as a nurse for Faulkton Area Medical Center and Good Samaritan nursing home in Miller.
Paul says the farming lifestyle was one reason he wanted to return to his family’s farm full-time after completing a deployment. Paul and four of his siblings are veterans.
During harvest, mornings come early for South Dakota farmers like Greg Mehling.
By 7 a.m. the Wessington farmer and his son, Cole are greasing combines or they are behind the wheel en route to the local elevator to unload trucks. By mid-morning they are in the field combining soybeans. That's where Greg and Cole will be until about 9 p.m.
"Sure the days are long, but this is my favorite time of year," says the fourth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans and some wheat.
Working within a small window of time allocated by Mother Nature to get the crop harvested before the weather turns, Mehling explains that there is no time to stop - even for meals. So, when Mehling was handed a sack lunch as he was unloading at Wheat Growers' Wolsey elevator the other day, he says it was appreciated.
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 Greenway family who raise crops and operate a wean-to-finish hog and cow/calf operation near Mitchell.
By Lura Roti for SDFU
A $200 scholarship from the Davison County Pork Producers in 1984 launched Mitchell farmer, Brad Greenway, on an ag advocacy journey which has placed him in front of thousands of consumers coast-to-coast and around the world sharing his story.
“That scholarship got me involved,” explains the third-generation pork producer.
Brad’s engagement in Davison County Pork Producers motivated him to become active in the S.D. Pork Producers Council (he served as president from 2005-2007), as well as the National Pork Board and the advocacy training program called Operation Main Street.
After providing Brad with training on how to share his farm’s story and how to put together presentations, Operation Main Street took the legwork out of advocacy by scheduling speaking engagements with local civic organizations, dietetic groups, county commissioners, and schools, as well as national and international sharing opportunities.
Since he started sharing his story in 2005, Brad has presented to more than115 groups.
Brad explains that putting a face to the food produced makes all the difference.
“I spoke to a big anti-ag/anti-big ag group, and following my presentation a woman in the back stood up to say that after hearing me speak, she trusted me when I said that animal comfort is a priority for us and we take care of our pigs. Then she asked, ‘How do I know that other farmers are doing the same thing?’ This is why advocacy is so important.”
“Even though we're very busy, it's important for farmers to share with consumers how we are growing food and why we do what we do," explains Peggy, who makes time to post photos on Facebook and Twitter as well as serve as a spokeswoman with Soybean Council’s Common Ground advocacy group.
“Terms like ‘factory farming’ are put on farms like ours because of misperceptions. We need to dispel myths and remind consumers that 98 percent of all farms are still family-owned.”
Brad adds that even farmers and ranchers who don’t feel they have the time or feel comfortable presenting, can do their part by making sure their neighbors and friends understand what they do on the farm. “Zoning issues come up because our neighbors simply don’t know what is going on,” Brad says.
He adds, “Today there is such a disconnect among consumers as each generation is farther removed from the farm. Even here in South Dakota - we drive 8 miles off the farm to Mitchell and there are plenty who don’t know what we are doing here on the farm.”
Brad and Peggy have a lot to share. To learn more about the Greenway family and view a video as well as an online photo gallery, click here.
Twenty-six family farmers, ranchers and Farmers Union members from South Dakota joined with some 275 farmers and ranchers from across the nation in Washington D.C. for the National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 12-14, 2016.
"We are facing some challenging times on farms and ranches across South Dakota right now. This Fly-In provides an excellent opportunity for those of us who are actively involved in the day-to-day operations on our farms and ranches to visit with Congressional leaders about the issues we face and ways they can provide support," explained Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.
The annual event allows Farmers Union members from across the country to meet directly with lawmakers, USDA leaders and other administration officials to discuss issues important to family farmers and ranchers.
On Election Day 2016 South Dakota voters will have an opportunity to vote for fair elections by voting 'yes' for Amendment T.
Amendment T is a ballot measure sponsored by #SDRightThing2Do Coalition which South Dakota Farmers Union supports. Amendment T puts voters back in charge of their elections, explains Matt Sibley, South Dakota Farmers Union Legislative Specialist during a panel discussion hosted by the agriculture organization today at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron.
Fair food is known for its tempting aromas - not its bargain prices. Today however, more than 1,000 fairgoers filled their bellies for just a $1 during the South Dakota Farmers Union Farmers Share Luncheon held at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron.
The hearty meal, consisting of a pulled pork sandwich, baked beans, potato chips and milk, is designed by Farmers Union to clearly demonstrate to fairgoers how much of the grocery store price tag South Dakota's farmers and ranchers take home after harvesting the crops or livestock they raise.
Each year, South Dakota Farmers Union recognizes individuals who give back to their communities with the Rural Dakota Pride Award. Today, during Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair, the following South Dakotans were recognized:
Bryan Breitling, Miller; Doug Edwards, South Hand County; Sharon Wilson, Black Hawk and Tim Pravecek, Winner.
McCook Central FFA Chapter won the championship round of the Farmers Union Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl held today during Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron.
McCook Central FFA Chapter is one of four FFA Chapters which placed in the Farmers Union Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl held in conjunction with the 2016 South Dakota State FFA Convention this April in Brookings.
Team members of the McCook Central FFA Chapter include: Cole Grasma, Melissa Lauck, Jordan Scheier and Leslie Kolbeck: Other FFA Chapters who competed and their team members include: Viborg/Hurley FFA Chapter, team members include: Alison Knutson, Logan Slack, Abby Hora and Annie Wirth: Sunshine Bible FFA Chapter, team members include; Chris Hass, Evan Lopez, Shelby Belmare and Titus Deal: and the Lyman FFA Chapter, team members include; Sage Mowery, Conrad Mohr-Eymer, Eli Fanning and Grant Stewart.
Farmers Union Day at the 2016 South Dakota State Fair, Saturday Sept. 3, is a great opportunity to showcase South Dakota family farmers and ranchers and all they do for the state's economy, rural communities and the world.
"In the tradition of the State Fair, Farmers Union Day honors the cream of the crop," explains Doug Sombke, South Dakota Farmers Union President.
"Whether it's honoring those who give back to rural communities with the Rural Dakota Pride Award, recognizing the work that our family farmers and ranchers put into raising food and fuel through the Farmers Share Luncheon or youth who will compete in the Team Up For Safety Farm Safety Championship." Rural Dakota Pride Awards The 2016 Rural Dakota Pride Award goes to four individuals to recognize their selfless contributions to rural communities across the state.
The South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation, in cooperation with Farmers Union Insurance Agency, have announced the recipients of the annual Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow scholarships.
Twenty-five high school seniors from across South Dakota will share $25,000 in scholarships to be used to further their education at a South Dakota post-secondary school. Over the past eight years, the Foundation has awarded more than $175,000 in scholarships to students attending South Dakota post-secondary schools.
Each of the 25 scholarship recipients will receive $1,000 to put toward their post-secondary education at a South Dakota college, university or technical school. 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," said 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.