Her blue corduroy FFA jacket is a conversation starter, explains South Dakota State FFA Secretary Marie Robbins.
"When we travel for chapter visits, we typically eat in small town diners. We're wearing our official dress and many former FFA members will come up and visit with us about their FFA experience," explains the South Dakota State University freshman.
Together with her five teammates, Robbins traveled the state of South Dakota this year to meet with the more than 4,000 junior high and high school members who make up the South Dakota FFA Association. Established in 1928, FFA is a premier youth organization that prepares members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.
During FFA month each February, S.D. Farmers Union celebrates South Dakota FFA by highlighting the current South Dakota FFA state officer team.
State FFA officers are selected by a nominating committee during the state FFA convention each spring. These college freshmen and sophomores spend the next 12 months advocating for agriculture and developing teen leaders throughout the state.
While attending college, they host leadership camps and workshops, meet with industry leaders and visit most of the state's 82 FFA chapters.
"We are always working to exceed expectations," Robbins says. "Agriculture is our state's No. 1 industry, and advocating for it is important because, we need it. It is something that cannot go away because we need it to feed everyone. Not everyone is a farmer, that is why we need sustainable agriculture."
Growing up, Robbins learned a lot about agriculture and FFA from her dad, Dan. "My dad is an agriculture education teacher. So, I knew I was going to be in FFA since I was in the third grade," she explains.
Although her dad got her started in FFA, it was the friendships she made with members from across the state that kept her involved.
"Whenever I would go to an FFA event, I would look forward to seeing friends," says Robbins, who graduated from Elkton High School in a class of 31. "Many of my FFA friends ended up going to SDSU. College is such a big adjustment, it was nice to have that foundation of friends started so I was not swimming in a big ocean alone."
And, she says FFA gave her a strong communications background.
"Through leadership development events, like public speaking, extemporaneous speaking and job interview, I gained a lot of communication skills and confidence. As a college student, these skills give me the confidence to reach out to professors with questions and be clear in emails. I've also learned how to interact with different communication styles," Robbins says.
When it comes to college, her teammate Colton Riley says FFA played a large role on the college major he chose. The agriculture education major explains that prior to joining FFA his freshman year of high school, he was considering a career as a biologist. Then, he got to know his FFA advisers.
South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) strongly encourages South Dakota's legislative body to continue discussions on House Bill 1191, which legalizes raising industrial hemp across the state.
The 2018 farm bill legalized growing industrial hemp at the federal level, now it's up to individual states to determine if they will legalize it or not.
"This is a timely issue that cannot be tabled because it keeps South Dakota's farmers competitive with the rest of the nation," explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation Conde farmer. "Our neighbors, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, have already made it legal for their farmers to grow industrial hemp. We don't want South Dakota's farmers left behind."
Sombke is responding to the February 8, 2019 request Governor Noem made to legislators to table HB1191.
Representative and Minority Whip, Oren L. Lesmeister who represents District 28A, is the author of House Bill 1191. The Parade rancher introduced the bill because he sees industrial hemp as a hardy crop, ideally suited to growing conditions on both sides of the river.
"This is an opportunity for South Dakota farmers to plant a low-input crop that is vigorous, returns nitrogen to the soil and crowds out weeds," Lesmeister explains, of the bill which came out of the House Ag Committee unanimously in favor to pass the bill. "I'm confused by Governor Noem's request for us to table this item when all the members of the Ag Committee passed this."
SDFU encourages South Dakotans to reach out to their representatives asking them to continue discussions on HB1191.
"This is good for agriculture. And, in South Dakota where agriculture is our number one economic driver, if it's good for agriculture, it's good for South Dakota," Sombke said. "If our legislators grant Governor Noem's request, they will leave South Dakota farmers with less opportunity than neighboring states who are already poised to take advantage of this new opportunity, created by 2018 federal farm bill."
Noem's request to legislators to table industrial hemp bill
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Kristi Noem is asking lawmakers to shelve efforts this session to allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in South Dakota.
The Republican governor said in a Friday statement that South Dakota isn't ready for production of industrial hemp. Noem says questions remain about enforcement, taxpayer costs and effects on public safety.
Noem says officials need to see federal rules once they're issued and decide if hemp is as "promising as they say it will be." The governor's office says the crop isn't currently authorized for growth in South Dakota.
A House panel voted unanimously Thursday to advance a measure legalizing industrial hemp. Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister, the sponsor, says there's an industry ready in South Dakota to start processing hemp products.
The 2018 federal farm bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Estate or transition planning needs to be a part of every agriculture producer’s farm or ranch management plan, said Blaine Carey, an instructor with the South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management at Mitchell Technical Institute during the recent South Dakota Farmers Union Young Producer’s Event held in Deadwood.
“Hope is not an estate plan,” says Carey, who works with producers of all ages and stages, to help them streamline their recordkeeping and provide practical management strategies to help them improve their bottom line.
Farm and ranch couples from across South Dakota gathered in Deadwood for Farmers Union Young Producers Event.
"We invest in young producer events because the next generation needs all the resources and information they can get. Farming and ranching is a tough and challenging business," explains Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director. "And, as South Dakota's No. 1 economic driver - the success of our state depends on these family farmers and ranchers."
The weekend event was beneficial, says Matt and Stephanie Cavenee. The Miller farmers say they will implement the information they received on farm finances and transition planning.
"Farmers Union had a good diversity of speakers providing us with expert views on a number of different topics," Stephanie says.
Matt adds, "My dad passed away just a year and a half ago and I inherited the land, so I understand the value of estate planning."
Blaine Carey, the speaker who discussed estate planning and balance sheets, explains that understanding cost of production is part of planning for life's "what ifs."
"Hope is not a marketing plan," says Carey, who is an instructor with the South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management at Mitchell Technical Institute.
Carey explains that understanding cost of operation is a key component to recovering a profit. "Changes in today's agriculture industry are the biggest reason for knowing your costs. Things are a lot tighter. The margins are not there."
According to Joel Keierleber, flexibility is the key to success on his and Audrey's Colome farm. "I am flexible and do what looks to be the most profitable way to use our farm ground," explains the third-generation South Dakota farmer, of the strategy that has kept his farm more or less in the black the last 40 years. "Instead of trying to get bigger, I work to add value to the acres I already own. This has been my philosophy all along."
It's late fall, and Joel walks out into a field of cover crops to explain. "This was crop ground two years ago. Then, I put in cover crops and a good stand of alfalfa and hayed and grazed it this year. I will probably do that again next year. After that, it will go into corn."
He doesn't plant just one corn hybrid. "I always have to try something different. I want to plant several and see what will do the best. Some guys are content to do the same thing over and over - even for generations - not me," Joel says.
This mindset carries over to his cow/calf herd. In the early '90s he started finishing out his own cattle. But, if the feeder market was higher than fat cattle, he would sell at the feedlot.
"I never have one plan and stick to it. I sit down and pencil it out to see what will be the most cost-effective way to farm. That is what I go with," he explains. When it comes to his family and his farm, Joel is resolute to "stick to it." "I knew I wanted to farm from the time I was 5," he explains.
Growing up on a dairy farm near Clearfield, the fifth of nine children, Joel was driving the the pickup to help dad feed small bales before he started kindergarten. "Back then, you got started early. I also had the calf chores."
After high school, he took a course in diesel mechanics and returned home to help his dad, who was in poor health. About that time, his older sister introduced him to Audrey, a college student. Her first teaching position happened to be in the area. Four years later, they were engaged.
With a plan to save up money to buy their own farm, the couple eagerly anticipated their June 1977 wedding. Then, in March, Joel was in a serious farm accident - his arm was caught in a silo unloader.
Joel was home alone and had to drive himself to the neighbors.' "I met him on the road. The son was in the National Guard and in the medic unit. They took me to the hospital, 25 miles away," Joel recalls.
His injuries were severe. "They told me when I was in the hospital that I would never lift my arm above my head again. They told me to go back to school so I could get a desk job.”
But, Joel wouldn't listen. He was determined to farm. "I figured I had not failed yet. You have to fail two or three times to see if you can succeed."
As fuel prices decrease, farmers are seeing corn ethanol markets drop. What to do? Well, let’s hope we don’t see the price at the pumps go up. Instead, let’s use more ethanol.
What I’m suggesting is oil companies increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline – from the mandatory 10 to 30 percent.
And, my reasons are not purely economic. Without higher ethanol blends, a century of research shows the only way to better octane ratings is more carcinogens.
Let me explain. There’s no such thing as pure gasoline. Typical gasoline is made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent other petroleum products. And, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent are classified as highly toxic carcinogens. These aromatics include: benzene, toluene and xylene or BTEX.
These facts concern me. My mom passed away from cancer in 2008. Was it caused by benzene, toluene and xylene? We will never know.
And, the government knows all about it. In fact, in the 1990 Clean Air Act, in an effort to minimize specific aromatic pollution or mobile source air toxics, Congress directed the EPA to control hazardous air pollutants to the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable.
Today, corn producers out-yield demand. What can be done?
"Use more ethanol," says Jim Seurer, during the 2018 State convention presentation to SDFU members.
And how do we increase ethanol consumption? The CEO of Glacial Lakes Energy, LLC had an answer for this as well- the E30 Challenge- a clever, consumer education campaign initiated by Glacial Lakes Energy with some financial support from the Urban Air Initiative.
The E30 Challenge is a marketing campaign launched in 2016 in Watertown to motivate drivers to try Premium E30. In return for every gallon sold, GLE donated 30 cents to the local Boys and Girl Club, up to $50,000.
At the same time, Glacial Lakes Energy shared testimonials from drivers who tried Premium E30. "We (GLE) can talk all day long, but if your neighbor says that had a good experience, that carries weight," Seurer says.
Today, consumption of E30 is up by 600 percent in Watertown.
During the 2018 South Dakota Farmers Union State Convention in Pierre, held Nov. 29-30, three college-bound youth were awarded scholarships.
SDFU annually gives recognition to young people who commit to a South Dakota college, university, or technical institute, and whose parents are current members of the Union.
Rachael Haigh-Blume, South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director, says, "Farmers Union starts investing in youth at age 5 and that investment is never ending as they progress through their education. We are excited for our youth as they transition into the next chapter and are thankful to continue our support for their future."
This year, the Leadership Scholarship and the Cooperative Scholarship, both $500, were awarded to Justin Goetz and Caleb Nugteren, respectively. The $500 Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Cassidy Keller.
South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke adds, "Supporting the future education of our rural youth is key to the future of our rural communities."
Caleb Nugteren Cooperative Scholarship: Canistota, S.D. ~ McCook County ~ District II; Son of Darin & Lisa Nugteren. Future Plans: Attend BlackHills State University, major undecided.
Cassidy Keller Memorial Scholarship: Canistota, S.D. ~ McCook County ~ District II; Daughter of Chad & Mandy Keller. Future Plans: Attend a post-secondary institution majoring in Nursing.
Justin Goetz Leadership Scholarship: Selby, S.D. ~ Walworth County ~ District VII; Son of Trent Goetz and Patricia Pudwill. Future Plans: Attend a post- secondary institution majoring in political science and economics.
One-year-old grandson Carter Schnabel climbs onto Cheryl Dethlefsen's lap just minutes after the Aurora County Farmers Union Education Director received the 2018 Minnie Lovinger Award for her years of dedicated service to the grassroots organization's educational programming.
"I enjoy helping kids learn things about animals, farming and cooperatives," explains Dethlefsen on why she dedicates time each year to helping organize county camps. "A lot of the kids are town kids and don't understand everything about farming life. I want them to know a cow is more than meat and what the byproducts are. I don't want our kids growing up thinking meat comes from a grocery store."
Growing up on a farm near Woonsocket, Dethlefsen's parents were active Farmers Union members. Her mom, Pat Larson Carsrud, has served as an Education Director for 35 years."I have been involved in Farmers Union camps since I was five or six. 4-H and Farmers Union were the two main things we were involved in," Dethlefsen says. "All four of my kids have received their Torchbearer Award, and made lifelong friends through Farmers Union Camps."
She adds that her four children, Jared Hettinger, Gina Schnabel, Jackie Lindeman and Abby Dethlefsen, all gained confidence and developed public speaking skills by attending camps.
More about Minnie Lovinger Award Established in 2004, the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation instituted the Minnie Lovinger Award in recognition of the founder of all Farmers Union education programs.
Minnie Lovinger passed away 70 years ago, but not before she laid the foundation for all subsequent Farmers Union education efforts. As historian Lyn Oyos wrote in his history of South Dakota Farmers Union, Minnie Lovinger "snatched the thorny chance and broke the trail that others followed. Her soul has never left them in their sowing and reaping."
This award is given to individuals who have made great contributions to the success and the longevity of the South Dakota Farmers Union youth program.
SDFU Education Director Rachel Haigh-Blume presents Cheryl Dethlefsen, Aurora County Farmers Union Education Director, with the 2018 Minnie Lovinger Award for her years of dedicated service to the grassroots organization's educational programming.
Suicides among South Dakotans are on the rise, and farmers and ranchers are not immune.
"What is happening to producers is very serious," says Andrea Bjornestad, Sout Dakota State University Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist, during her presentation to family farmers and ranchers attending the 2018 South Dakota Farmers Union State Convention.
She referenced 2017 data showing 192 South Dakotans committed suicide. And, although the state does not keep statistics on the careers of victims, due to the rural nature of our state, it is assumed that many of the 192 victims live in rural communities and may work in agriculture.
The reason the numbers are up? Bjornestad explained there are quite a few factors including chronic stress, limited access to mental health support and isolation.
"Agriculture sustains one of the highest mortality rates from chronic stress," Bjornestad says. "Suicide among farmers and ranchers is an international concern."
To prove this point, she showed the following data: * Australian farmers die by suicide every four days. * One farmer per week takes his or her own life in the United Kingdom. * One farmer dies by suicide every two days in France. * More than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995 in India.