News > General

From Toy Tractors to the Real Deal: S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Shares His Farm Story & Thoughts on Current Crisis

 – By

By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


Schaefers Siblings Say Growing Up on the Farm Prepared Them to Serve

 – By


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.

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Schaefers Farm Family

 – By

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

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.

To read the complete article, click here.

Read More

Last Modified:


Farmers Union Feeds Farmers During Harvest

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Greenway Farm Family

 – By

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. 

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Family Farmers and Ranchers Join 275 Farmers Union Members in D.C. for Fall Legislative Fly-In

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


Panelists Discuss Amendment T during Voice of the Voters Event at the State Fair

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


Fairgoers Eat a Great Meal Today for Just $1

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


2016 Rural Dakota Pride Award Honorees Recognized Today During Farmers Union Day at the S.D. State Fair

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


2016 Farmers Union Quiz Bowl Encourages Youth to Think about Farm & Ranch Safety

 – By

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.

Read More

Last Modified:


S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates our State's Family Farmers & Ranchers, Rural Youth & Community Heroes During the 2016 S.D. State Fair

 – By

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. 

Read More

Last Modified:


2016 Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow Scholarship Winners Announced

 – By

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. 

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Vedvei Farm Family

 – By

Emerging from the show ring with a big smile, first time 4-Her, Hadlee Holt, 9, was greeted by her parents, Corrie “Vedvei” and DJ Holt, with a big hug and sighs of relief.

 It was nerve-racking to watch, but seeing that smile was priceless,” explains Corrie of watching her daughter show for the first time.

 A third-generation 4-H alumnus, Corrie says it’s exciting to see her daughter continue the family legacy of 4-H involvement and showing registered Charolais cattle.

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke Wishes Noem Remained on the House Agriculture Committee

 – By

I was quite surprised when I read quotes made by Representative Kristi Noem in a recent Watertown Public Opinion article where she attempts to justify her move from the House Agriculture Committee to the powerful Ways and Means Committee. She stated, "all of the ag organizations in the state advocated and supported me getting on the Ways and Means Committee."

 I am confused by this comment, because although I knew Noem was making the move, and I understand that for her political career this is a great move for her, as a representative of one of the state's largest agriculture organizations, I did not and do not support her move because it is not in the best interest of South Dakota's number one industry of agriculture.

Read More

Last Modified:


S.D. Farmers Union is Disappointed in Lack of Support for Hurting Dairy Farmers

 – By

South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke is disappointed in the 2016 Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) and its inability to provide a safety net for dairy producers in a current commodity crisis.

 "Congress needs to act quickly to fix what is wrong with the Margin Protection Program for Dairy - similar to how they reacted to the cotton industry crisis earlier this spring," said Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer. "After talking with South Dakota dairy farmers, many will not even receive $200 from this disaster payment."

Read More

Last Modified:


Farmers Union 2016-2017 Junior Advisory Council Members Selected to Serve

 – By

The 2016-2017 Junior Advisory Council members include: AJ Schoenfelder, Parkston; Abbey Tschetter, Huron; Cole Van Gorp, Stickney; Jonah Murtha, Parkston; Shaun Snedeker, Woonsocket; and Madelyn Kline, Huron.

 During the 2016 State Leadership Camp, a six-member Junior Advisory Council was selected by the Youth and Education Council to serve as leaders, role models and representatives in planning and conducting the 2017 State Leadership Camp.

 The 2016-2017 Junior Advisory Council (JAC) who were announced during State Camp include: Cole Van Gorp, Corsica; Shaun Snedeker, Stickney; AJ Schoenfelder, Parkston; Madelyn Kline, Huron; Jonah Murtha, Parkston; and Abbey Tschetter, Huron.

Read More

Last Modified:


30-For-30 Celebrates Home-Grown, Renewable Fuel in Pierre

 – By

South Dakota Farmers will be hosting a 30-For-30 event at Cowboy Country Store in Pierre (1619 N. Harrison Ave) August 3, 2016 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to celebrate the benefits of fueling up with Premium E30.

 During the 30-For-30 event, drivers receive .30 cents for every gallon of Premium E30 purchased.

Fueling up with 30 percent blend of ethanol not only saves folks money, but it supports South Dakota's family farmers who market their corn to the state's many ethanol plants," explained Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

 Sombke adds, "Premium E30 gives drivers of all makes and models a higher octane, renewable fuel resulting in increased fuel economy without the dangers of Benzene, a carcinogenic used to increase octane levels."

 Since the beginning, South Dakota Farmers Union has been a strong advocate for the ethanol industry. "We're a grassroots organization who is focused on supporting family farmers and ranchers," explains Kecia Beranek, SDFU Communications Specialist.

Read More

Last Modified:


Farmers Union State Leadership Camp Promotes Friends, Self Confidence, Leadership & Cooperative Education

 – By

South Dakota Farmers Union State Leadership Camp is a summer tradition for Jonah Murtha, 17. 

 Since he was 12, the Parkston High School senior has made the trek west to Storm Mountain Center just outside Rapid City to spend a week engaged in hands-on cooperative education, personal leadership development and reconnecting with friends he has made from across South Dakota.

 "The people I have met here have become life-long friends," explains Murtha, who gained leadership experience serving as president of the camp's coffee cooperative. "Leadership camp has also given me a better understanding of cooperatives. I think they are very interesting because they help solve problems and provide necessities to rural communities."

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Painter Ranch Family

 – By

South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Painter Ranch Family

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

Running cattle on Harding County grasslands has been a part of the Painter Family legacy since 1895 when great-grandpa, Lewis Levi Painter, rode the open range as a horse wrangler for the CY Cattle Company of Texas.

“He ran a few cows with the main herd and squatted on this land until about

1910 when he filed homesteading paperwork,” explained Lewis’ great-grandson, Joe Painter, 56.

Like the four generations of Painters before him, Joe continues to run cattle and ride the range along with his wife, Cindy, and their two daughters, Jessica and Joey, and their families. Their son, PJ, 29, works as an attorney in Louisville, Ky.

“Having our kids return to the ranch is the best thing in the world,” says the Harding County rancher. “Otherwise, all those years of working extra hard to buy land and cattle would be for nothing. When you have the kids return home, you have someone to pass it on to and that makes everything worth it.” “It’s what we worked for all our lives,” Cindy adds.

When Joe mentions hard work, he’s not stretching the truth. It was 1983 when he and Cindy returned to ranch fulltime after college. “Interest was 18 to 24 percent. Money was impossible to come by. We didn’t spend a nickel unless it was absolutely necessary,” Joe says. “A neighbor’s ranch came up for sale, $30 an acre, but we had no money to buy it. That’s how tight it was in the 80s.” Cindy shared another example of a time that the bank loaned them money to purchase sheep but then wouldn’t loan them money to buy feed.

To read more click here 

Read More

Last Modified:


South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation Offers $2,500 Agricultural Graduate School Scholarship

 – By

Applications for the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation Graduate School Scholarship are now available at www.sdfufoundation.org.

 The Farmers Union Foundation Scholarship is designed to help retain talent in South Dakota to support South Dakota's agriculture industry. It is open to students from South Dakota, pursuing a graduate degree in research, animal science, agriculture business or agriculture education at an accredited South Dakota school.

Read More

Last Modified: