SD Farmers Union Meets with Leaders in D.C. to Advocate for Family Farmers & Ranchers

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HURON, S.D. – Presidents of South Dakota and North Dakota Farmers Union, met with policy makers in D.C. to discuss commodity transportation costs, crop insurance alternatives and renewable fuels on behalf of family farmers and ranchers.

“Times are tough throughout production agriculture, so we are working to do what we can to make a positive impact on policy for our family farmers and ranchers,” said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.

Sombke explained that whether a family’s income relies on crops, livestock or a combination of crops and livestock, 2019 low market prices, combined with extreme weather events have a lot of farmers and ranchers anxious over the sustainability of their business.

“We’re looking at the third season of market prices that make it nearly impossible to bring home profits,” explained Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

Sombke was joined by North Dakota Farmers Union President, Mark Watne. During their time in D.C., the leaders met with the Service Transportation Board to discuss concerns related to increased commodity shipping costs.

“Rail transportation is becoming a large expense for farm operations, and farmers have no tools to pass this expense on. We met with the Surface Transportation Board today to get oversight on the monopolistic practices the rail industry is using, now that we only have four major rail companies in the U.S.,” explained Watne, who raises wheat, soybeans, canola and corn.

Sombke, together with South Dakota Farmers Union member, Craig Blindert, a Salem farmer and crop insurance agent, met with Natural Resource Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency (RMA) staff as well as congressional leaders to advocate for Inventory Management Soil Enhancement Tool (IMSET). A farmer-led solution to poor markets, IMSET was developed by Blindert and tested by North Dakota State University economics professors. The men urged the organizations to consider IMSET, which incentivizes soil health building, as a product for RMA to release to farmers to use alongside crop insurance.

“The feedback we received was positive. Those we spoke with appreciated our outside-the-box thinking,” Sombke said.

During their meetings with congressional leaders, Sombke, Watne and Chris Christiaens, Montana Farmers Union Special Projects Director, requested their congressional leaders speak up for the disaster needs of family farmers and ranchers, and request financial assistance.

They also discussed recent Environmental Protection Agency interpretation of RVP rule. “Not only does it have a negative impact on the air we all breath, but it has a negative impact on the family farmers who depend upon ethanol demand for the corn they raise, but it has a huge impact on air quality,” Sombke said. “Higher ethanol blends means cleaner-burning fuel with fewer carcinogens. And, ethanol actually makes gasoline better.”

Looking back on the time spent in D.C., Sombke is encouraged. “I appreciated our meeting with Senator Rounds, he gets it when it comes to ethanol and gasoline blends. In fact, all the meetings were productive networking opportunities – perhaps we are one meeting closer to solutions that will have a positive impact on the family farmers and ranchers we serve.”

To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports family farmers, visit

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New E15 Rule: Read the Fine Print

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by Doug Sombke, President South Dakota Farmers Union & Jim Seurer, CEO, Glacial Lakes Energy

In 2008, the movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was released.  It was a bizarre story of a man who, once reaching full maturity, began to age backwards.

An unusual premise, but perhaps not all that farfetched.  Didn’t see the movie?  No problem, if you are in the agriculture business, you’re experiencing it now. Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency and their friends in the oil industry, the U.S. ethanol industry is going backwards. 

It began with EPA granting discriminatory waivers to petroleum refiners excusing them from obeying Renewable Fuels Act laws resulting in decreased ethanol demand to the tune of 2.5 billion gallons.

Many of us, viewed the Renewable Fuels Act as a springboard for growth.  But like Mr. Button, waivers propelled the ethanol industry backwards.  

The recent announcement that EPA would permit 15% ethanol blends year-round was met with great joy by an industry that does not want to read the fine print.  It does in fact, propose to provide year-round exemption from vapor pressure limits for blends of 15% ethanol, but does no more.

The EPA proposal does not extend to higher blends. The anticipated increase in demand, is not enough to make up the loss from waivers.  So why would any industry sign up for a program that guarantees it cannot grow past a certain point? They shouldn’t, at least not the way the proposal is currently written.

And, before you buy the nonsense EPA will spew that this isn’t true, and the industry can apply for a waiver for these higher blends, get your calendar out.  In November of 2009 the EPA was expected to approve E15 blends.  While they ultimately did, 10 years later, the delay effectively stymied industry expansion.

We reject this proposal by EPA, if it will stunt future growth beyond E15. Ethanol should be permitted to be used in any quantity, at any time of year, by anyone who chooses. 

If EPA has concerns, let them do the testing and prove otherwise, as citizens have done in Northeast South Dakota through the E30 Challenge.  How un-American is it for oil companies threatening to sue over EPA removing regulations that result in more consumer choice?

American agriculture is teetering. Trade wars, an EPA colluding with oil companies, and shaky ethanol industry leadership put us in a dangerous position. 

Farmers everywhere should join us and oppose this proposal.

Let the EPA know the ruling needs changes. The comment period is now open, comment here

All ethanol blends should be treated equally. President Trump promised to open the market for ethanol. That should not come with limits, conditions, or restrictions. 

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South Dakota Farmers Union: Say No to E15 Rule Farmer Leader Says We Can Do Better

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On the eve of a public hearing to receive comments on the long awaited ruling to allow year round rvp relief for E15, the South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) called the rule a backdoor effort to limit ethanol blends.

 In a call with supporters today, SDFU President Doug Sombke said the rule would limit the allowable volume to 15% when higher blends such as E30 significantly reduce vapor pressure and would provide far greater benefits in reduced emissions and displacement of toxic compounds refiners put in gasoline.

 "While we certainly want to see E15 in the marketplace we have the ability to produce and use far greater volumes. There is no justification for granting this waiver to E15 but not to E20 or E30, particularly given the successful demonstration of E30 we have seen here in South Dakota," said Sombke.

 Sombke explained that the U.S. EPA is relying on a complete misinterpretation of what is called the substantially similar (sub-sim) provision of the Clean Air Act. This requires additives to be tested and approved as not altering or affecting the characteristics of gasoline. SDFU and many others have previously appealed to EPA to recognize that ethanol is now considered part of the base, or certification fuel in the US and therefore is not subject to volume limits under sub-sim.

 The proposed rule by EPA would require blends above E15 to go through lengthy and costly testing that based on EPA's history, might never be approved. What makes this such a critical issue, according to Sombke, is the fact that EPA has granted waivers to the refining industry resulting in a demand loss of billions of gallons of ethanol and hundreds of millions of bushels of corn. E15 alone will never make up this loss in volume according to numerous private and government studies.

 "With regard to the proposed rule, this isn't a question of whether EPA is doing the right thing-it's a question of not doing enough of the right thing. More ethanol is better -better for everyone if we reduce the carcinogens in gasoline, better for the energy security of our country, and better for farmers and the rural economy. Don't limit us by unnecessary regulations that can easily be changed, " he said.

 Sombke also referenced several provisions of the Clean Air Act that clearly illustrated the intent of Congress to not limit ethanol blends, particularly with respect to displacing the cancer causing benzene and benzene derivatives in gasoline.

 "This is not that complicated-- Stop the waivers. Open the market to higher blends. Fix this rvp rule and recognize that all ethanol blend are an improvement over toxic gasoline. We call on farmers to join us and oppose this rule until they do so. Otherwise we are going to look back 10 years from now with a smaller share of the market and loss of demand for corn and ethanol and wish we had fixed it when we had the chance."

 If you'd like to comment on the EPA E15 ruling, visit this link:

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South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates Wessington Farm Family

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By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union 

 Breeding cattle with larger, more muscular frames is a Johnsen family tradition.

 "I grew up hearing genetic talk about how cattle finish and how cattle feed from my dad, grandpa and great-grandpa," explains Chris Johnsen, a fourth-generation Wessington cattle and crop farmer.

 And, even though the specific breeds varied, Chris' dad, Lynn, raises Charolais and Chris raises Simmental, the end goal remains the same. "Our family has always tried to stay away from smaller, more moderate type cattle because we've always believed that pounds sell. And, with a good frame, you are going to get more pounds of muscle."

 Chris sees raising more pounds of muscle per animal as his way of helping feed a growing population. "It's always been my goal to gain more pounds on the land I have," Chris explains. "I believe that as the world population grows, we as livestock producers need to produce more with the same amount of land. It takes the same amount of land to finish cattle at 1,200 or 1,300 pounds as it does to finish cattle at 1,600 or 1,700 pounds."

 To accomplish this, Chris works to improve not only his herd's genetics, but other cattle herds' genetics as well. The Johnsen family markets bulls and heifers.

 "We breed cattle that will be compatible for commercial herds. So, we are not targeting just one area. We try to fill a wide range of genetic needs," Chris explains.

Read more here

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South Dakota Farmers Union Disappointed with Noem's Veto of Industrial Hemp

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HURON, S.D. - South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, used the words, "a crushing defeat" to describe the South Dakota Senate's failure to override Governor Noem's veto of House Bill 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp.

 As one of the state's largest family farm and ranch organizations, South Dakota Farmers Union lobbied in favor of House Bill 1191 because of the much-needed market opportunities industrial hemp would provide to producers on both sides of the river.

 "The failure of the South Dakota Senate to override the Governor's veto on House Bill 1191, is a crushing defeat for farmers and ranchers across South Dakota," said Sombke, also a fourth-generation Conde farmer. "It doesn't make sense.

Why would Governor Noem veto a bill legalizing industrial hemp, when as a representative, she voted for it in the 2018 farm bill?

When agriculture is our state's number one economic driver, this veto shows a lack of forward thinking.

Companies were ready to purchase South Dakota's hemp crop. This new crop would have provided new jobs and opportunities for South Dakotans during a time when many commodity markets are down, and family farmers and ranchers are looking for new opportunities.

It's a sad day when South Dakota's Governor's does not understand the differences between hemp as a viable crop and marijuana an illegal plant.

As one of the state's largest farm organizations, South Dakota Farmers Union will work to educate the legislature and the governor on these differences in hopes that an industrial hemp legislation will pass in 2020." 

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SD Farmers Union Urges Gov. Noem to Sign House Bill 1191 to Provide New Crop Option for South Dakota's Farmers & Ranchers

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South Dakota Farmers Union applauds the South Dakota State Legislature for passing House Bill 1191 today, March 11, 2019, and urges Governor Kristi Noem to sign the bill which legalizes raising industrial hemp.

 House Bill 1191 passed with a vote of 58 to eight with four excused. Currently waiting for the Governor's signature to become law, the bill supports the 2018 farm bill which legalized raising industrial hemp at the federal level.

 "Passing House Bill 1191 is forward thinking. If the Governor would sign this bill, it will open the door to processors and allow our family farmers and ranchers to remain competitive with surrounding states which have passed similar bills," said Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation Conde crop and cattle farmer.

 Industrial hemp is a hardy, drought-tolerant plant, well suited to growing conditions on both sides of the river. Agriculture states surrounding South Dakota have already legalized raising industrial hemp, opening the doors for farmers and ranchers to explore production and marketing opportunities.

 House Bill 1191 incorporates nearly all amendments suggested by Governor Noem.

 "Montana farmers and ranchers are expected to plant 75,000 acres in 2019. It's the law in North Dakota and Wyoming's governor signed it into law last week. As an organization committed to supporting South Dakota's family farmers and ranchers, we urge Noem to sign the legislation which will put South Dakota on par with every surrounding state - maintaining a level playing field for our producers," Sombke said.


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Legislature Passes Senate Bill 68 in Support of Truthful Labeling & Livestock Industry

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South Dakota Farmers Union thanks the South Dakota State Legislature for passing Senate Bill 68 today, March 4, 2019. A win for South Dakota's livestock industry and consumers, the bill prohibits labeling cell-cultured protein as meat in South Dakota.

 "Senate Bill 68 sends the message that our state's leaders care about protecting our livestock industry as well as South Dakotans' right to know where their food comes from," said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President and a fourth-generation cattle producer.

 Truth in labeling is a policy focus for South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU). In October 2018, the organization sent livestock producers to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in opposition to labeling cell-cultured protein as meat. SDFU is among the state's largest family farmer and rancher organization.

 At the same time, SDFU launched an effort to educate their members and the general public on the potential dangers labeling cell-cultured protein as meat would have on consumers' right to know what they are eating as well as the devastating impact it would have on the state's livestock industry.

Senate Bill 68 sponsor, District 17 Sen. Art Rusch, credits SDFU's efforts with motivating him to sponsor the bill. He first learned about the issue by reading Farmers Union and the South Dakota Stockgrowers newsletters.

"I'm not a cattleman. I don't raise livestock. But, I think it is important that South Dakota take a position to protect our livestock industry," explained Rusch, a retired circuit judge and writer who represents Clay and Turner counties.

Agriculture is South Dakota's No. 1 industry. In 2017, USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated livestock value of production in South Dakota at more than $2.8 billion (value of production is primarily derived from a market year average price multiplied by weight of animals marketed).

Senate Bill 68 passed unanimously. The bill reserves the term, "meat," to be used only for protein harvested from animal carcasses, by amending the adulterated and misbranded food chapter of the South Dakota Codified Law code section 39 - 4 to further define the term "meat." Read the complete amendment here:

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National Farmers Union Recognizes Amherst Farmer Paul Symens with Meritorious Award

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National Farmers Union recognized Amherst farmer, Paul Symens with the organizations highest honor during the 117th National Convention held in Bellevue, Washington March 3-5, 2019.

The award for Meritorious Service to Farmers Union and American agriculture is designed to recognize individuals and families who have made a major contribution to the betterment of family farm agriculture through their involvement in the National Farmers Union.

"Throughout his adult life, Paul Symens has served South Dakota's family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. He made time for service, while at the same time, he was busy working with his family on their farm," explained Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.

Not one to wait for others to do what needs to be done, Symens began serving South Dakota's agriculture community as a young farmer when his neighbor, who also happened to be the Marshall County Farmers Union President, was ready to step down from office. He asked Paul to run.

 "I agreed with what Farmers Union stood for and how they backed cooperatives and were involved in policy and rural communities," Symens said.

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Senate Bill 68 Supports Truth in Labeling

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Senate Bill 68 (SB68) will ensure that only meat harvested from animal carcasses can be labeled as meat
Petri-dish protein may soon be prohibited from being labeled as meat in South Dakota, thanks to South Dakota’s state senators unanimously passing Senate Bill 68 Feb. 20, 2019.

Currently under review with the House Ag Committee, if passed by the House, SB68 will ensure that only meat harvested from animal carcasses can be labeled as meat.

In a state where more than 3 million cows outnumber the state’s 869,666 citizens, SB68 not only supports consumers’ right to know where their food comes from, but it supports South Dakota’s number one economic driver.

“Agriculture is our number one industry by a long way. SB68 will positively impact our industry in a big way,” said Karla Hofhenke, S.D. Farmers Union Executive Director.

A third-generation cattle producer, Hofhenke says she is proud of the state’s leaders taking a stand. “South Dakota is among the states leading the nation to ensure truth in labeling for their citizens.”

Hofhenke says that beyond truth in labeling, SB68 protects the trust livestock producers have built among consumers that when they purchase U.S. meat products, consumers know are buying a quality, safe product. “Livestock producers of all kinds – beef, lamb, pork, poultry and others – spent generations perfecting the quality and safety of their product. We’ve worked hard to earn consumer trust. A new, lab-manufactured food product, cannot ride on our coattails and put our industry at risk.”

SB68 amends the adulterated and misbranded food chapter of the South Dakota Codified Law code section 39 - 4 to further define the term “meat.” Read the amendment here:

Truth in labeling is a policy focus of South Dakota Farmers Union. In October 2018, Hofhenke traveled to D.C. with members to testify before the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encouraging the organization to reserve the term meat for protein harvested from animal carcasses only – and not allowing lab manufactured protein products to use the term.

USDA has yet to reach a decision. Which makes SB68 and bills like it in other states, timely.

“If it matters to the states, we hope our congressional leaders will take note and encourage the USDA to follow suite. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating,” Hofhenke explains.

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Farmers Union Enterprises Launches Ag-Based STEM Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms

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Farmers Union Enterprises recently released STEM: IT AG, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum focused on agriculture, food and natural resources for kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

 "Talk about making science relevant - all students eat," said Doug Sombke, president of Farmers Union Enterprises and South Dakota Farmers Union. "We are excited to share this curriculum which integrates STEM-based information into interactive units about agriculture and where food comes from with educators and students throughout the nation."

The curriculum is a joint effort between five Farmers Union state organizations (South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Wisconsin), which comprise Farmers Union Enterprises, based in Redwood Falls, Minn. Farmers Union Enterprises partnered with the design group, STEM Fuse to produce and distribute the curriculum.

"Collaborating with the Farmers Union Enterprises team, we designed the curriculum to easily integrate ag-based STEM education in any unit teachers are focusing on," explained Carter Tatge, founder, and CEO of STEM Fuse. "You don't need a STEM background or an agriculture background to provide STEM: IT AG to students. In fact, the curriculum requires little guidance from educators."

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