South Dakota's Matt Birgen Recognized for Years of Service to Agriculture with National Farmers Union Meritorious Service Award

March 8, 2018

Beresford farmer, Matt Birgen was recognized for his leadership and service to agriculture with the National Farmers Union Meritorious Service Award during the organization's 116th national convention held in Kansas City, Missouri March 4-6, 2018.

The National Farmers Union Meritorious Service Award recognizes members for their outstanding leadership and service to family agriculture and to Farmers Union over the course of their lifetimes.

 "Matt is unselfish and very forward focused. He is always looking out for the common good," said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President. "His vision and leadership on the Farmers Union Industries board is exactly why we are in a position to continue to support the future of South Dakota's family farmers."

 Birgen served on the board of directors for Farmers Union Industries for nearly two decades. The organization owns several businesses, the dividends of which go to help fund South Dakota Farmers Union along with four other Farmers Union organizations as well as National Farmers Union programming. Today, Birgen's son, Larry sits on the Farmers Union Industries Board.

 "Dad's influence encouraged me to give back and serve agriculture - he influenced all of us kids to get involved," said Larry, one of seven children Matt and his wife Maureen raised on their diversified family farm. "Being involved was just natural for dad. It is just something he does."

 At 88, Matt remains involved with the family farm, together with Larry and his nephew, Steve.

 Along with Farmers Union Industries, throughout his lifetime, Matt, a Korean War Veteran, has remained actively involved in his local VFW, serving in many leadership positions over the last six decades; he served on the Clay County Farmers Union board of directors for more than 50 years; served on the North Central American Milk Producers Inc. board; served as President of the Clay County Board of Mutual Insurance Association board; served on the board of directors of Trucktown Cooperative; and has made several trips to Washington D.C. to advocate for agriculture.

 "Our voice needs to be heard. Whether it's as a veteran or a farmer, I believe that if I don't participate, who will? My dad belonged to Farmers Union, he served on the board of directors, that is why I got involved," explained Matt.

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Last Modified: 03/08/2018 7:56:19 am MST

South Dakota Farmers & Ranchers Travel to Kansas City for National Farmers Union Convention

March 8, 2018

More than 30 South Dakota family farmers and ranchers traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to develop policy advocating for agriculture during the organization's 116th national convention held in Kansas City, Missouri March 4-6, 2018.

"As a grassroots organization, Farmers Union truly gives family farmers and ranchers a voice," said Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer and President of S.D. Farmers Union.

 He explains that the policy South Dakota delegates bring to the national convention was developed at the county level then voted on during South Dakota Farmers Union state convention. "What's voted on at the national level will be the policy our organization lobbies for in D.C.," Sombke explained.

Advocating for the future of South Dakota's number one industry is the reason Union Center rancher, Tammy Basel and her husband, Dallis left feeding and lambing chores in the hands of their adult sons and made the 12-hour drive.

 "Times are tough across ranch and farm country, we need to make our voice heard in D.C. and work together to make positive change here at home," said Basel who raises sheep and cattle.

 Other South Dakotans to attend the convention include: Doug Sombke, SDFU President, Conde; Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director, Huron; Christina Dexter, SDFU Legislative Specialist, Huron; Rachel Haigh-Blume, SDFU Education Director, Huron; Wayne Soren, SDFU Vice President, Lake Preston; Kirk Schaunaman, Aberdeen; Larry Birgen, Sioux Falls; Matt Birgen, Beresford; Hannah Sumption, Aberdeen; Dalton Gerlach, Stickney; Karly Schaunaman, Aberdeen; Jennifer Hanson, Britton; Brenna Johnson, Groton; Jim Brockel, Shadehill; Joseph Nugteren, Canistota; Bill Chase, Wolsey; Hank Wonnenberg, Dallas; Becky Martinmaas, Orient; Gail Temple, Clark; Lisa Snedecker, Woonsocket; Mark Snedecker, Woonsocket; Lynn Frey, Lemmon; Rocky Forman, Huron; Melissa Wonnenberg, Dallas; Taylor Sumption, Frederick; Marissa Holinka, Watertown and Lorrie Hanson, Britton.

 In addition to policy debates, South Dakota members celebrated Beresford farmer, Matt Birgen, 88, recognized for his leadership and service to agriculture with the National Farmers Union Meritorious Service Award.

 To learn more about the National Farmers Union Convention visit

More than 30 South Dakota family farmers and ranchers traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to develop policy advocating for agriculture during the organization's 116th national convention held in Kansas City, Missouri March 4-6, 2018.

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Last Modified: 03/08/2018 7:52:12 am MST

South Dakota Farmers Union Kicks Off Campaign to Raise Awareness of Farm Bill

February 13, 2018

Fourth generation Frederick farmer, Taylor Sumption (second from left) with dad, John and brothers, Warren (far left) Chris, Eric and Mark. Sumption is among several family farmers asked to share their family's farm story as part of Farmers Union campaign to raise awareness of the need for a 2018 farm bill. To view the video, click here.

Enduring the worst economic slide in generations, South Dakota farm and ranch families need Congress to pass a farm bill in 2018 to strengthen the farm safety net.

"When it comes to the commodity markets, this is one of the worst years we have had in a long time," explained Taylor Sumption, a fourth-generation Frederick farmer who, together with his dad and four brothers, raise crops and livestock.

 Sumption's comments are echoed among farm and ranch families nationwide said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

 "Commodity prices are low, and net farm income is projected to be down $4.3 billion nationally this year. We need Congress to start working on a farm bill immediately," said Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer and President of South Dakota Farmers Union. "Agriculture is South Dakota's number one industry - and it's hurting right now. Family farmers need to be certain of crop insurance and other programs in the farm bill, so they can plan accordingly with their lenders in this time of low prices."

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Last Modified: 02/13/2018 10:44:33 am MST

FFA Provides Personal & Professional Development

February 8, 2018

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

The original article ran in the February 2018 issue of the SDFU Union Farmer newsletter.

 More than 4,500 South Dakota FFA members will celebrate National FFA Week Feb. 17-24.

 Founded to provide farm boys with leadership skills in 1929, the organization continues to be among the premier leadership organizations for high school youth - but today, it serves urban as well as rural youth from a diversity of backgrounds.

 To understand how this 89-year-old organization continues to attract members and impact the lives of South Dakota's youth, South Dakota Farmers Union asked four members of the 2017-2018 state FFA officer team a few questions.

 The current officer team includes: President Dalton Larson; Vice President Clayton Sorum; Secretary April Hamilton; Treasurer Aaron Linke; Reporter Avery Gilchrist and Sentinel Elle Moon.

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Last Modified: 02/08/2018 7:15:05 am MST

Coffee: It's Good For The Soul A Look at This Time Honored Tradition

February 5, 2018

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

The original article ran in the February 2018 issue of the SDFU Union Farmer newsletter.

 As an agriculture journalist, I've been driving through rural communities across South Dakota for more than two decades. If I pull into a fuel station before noon and step inside, I nearly always witness coffee.

 Coffee, as defined in this article, is quite simply a group of men, dressed for the workday in coveralls or T-shirts - depending on the weather of course - hands around steaming mugs or pop cans visiting.

 When I, an out-of-towner, walk in, conversations nearly always wane. And, even though I don't say a word, I always feel as though I am interrupting an important meeting of sorts. Kind of the feeling I get if I arrive late for church.

 Other than that uncomfortable feeling, I didn't give these coffees much thought until I spent a November morning visiting with Peter Bisgard and his adult sons, Bob and Randy. While interviewing them about their family's Day County farming operation, the men mentioned that coffee with neighbors is part of their daily routine.

 They explained to me that this daily ritual has value beyond the social. "We used to meet every morning at a bachelor neighbor's house. After he died, and we didn't meet for about six weeks. We all missed it and realized that we get a lot of information by talking to neighbors," Peter said.

 He explained to me that whether it was discussing a new piece of machinery before making a purchase or sharing a bit of local news, the men felt their day went better when it began with coffee. Today, the men meet up in the basement of their rural church.

 After talking with the Bisgards, I began to think about the role coffee has in the lives of South Dakota's farmers and ranchers. The more I thought about it, the more eager I was to visit with other farmers and ranchers to learn about this time-honored tradition that I believe dates back to homesteading.

 Just last winter when I was reading the Little House series to my 7-year-old daughter, Parker, I noticed that several chapters included comments about the Ingalls family waiting for Pa to return from coffee at the General Store to provide them with information.

 Staying connected, especially during the winter months, is the reason Salem farmer, Jim Wahle heads to T & C's Pit Stop each morning.

 "It's the social aspect. I stop out here first thing in the morning, have coffee, catch up on current events and what is going on in the community," said Jim of the morning coffee routine he's kept nearly all his adult life.

 Brian Heinecke, agrees. A Sisseton crop and livestock farmer, Heinecke has been going to coffee with his dad, Richard, for as long as he can remember.

 Typically, the men meet up at a local C-store, but a few years back, when Richard was undergoing chemo and was confined to a wheelchair, a few guys would meet up in the Heinecke's kitchen.

 "It really meant a lot to dad. We're a small community where everyone checks in on everyone."

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Last Modified: 02/05/2018 9:14:10 am MST

S.D. Farmers Union Urges Leadership to Vote with Senators Thune & Rounds to Make Section 199A of Tax Code Permanent

January 29, 2018

South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke urges Congressional leadership to follow Senators Thune and Rounds' lead and vote to make section 199A of the tax code permanent.

"As it is written, section 199A is scheduled to sunset in 2025 - it needs to be permanent if our farmers and cooperatives are to remain competitive in the global marketplace," Sombke said.

Under previous tax law, farmers using Sec. 199 were entitled to a deduction of up to 9 percent of net farm income. The overall limit was 50 percent of wages paid and a final limit of taxable income. It could not create a net operating loss.

"The Section 199A deduction is designed to level the playing field between corporations-which are now taxed at 21 percent while pass-through farmers, would be taxed at 37 percent," Sombke said. He added that corporate tax rates are now permanent, while rates for individuals and other small businesses, including co-ops, is temporary.

"199A expires in 2025. The goal of the current negotiations is keep the competitive balance," Sombke said. "Returning to Sec 199 is not an acceptable outcome, it must be enhanced to maintain the balance. There is no reason businesses of all types get a boost from reform, but coops must maintain what they previously had. Congress must also make Sec. 199A permanent."

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Last Modified: 01/29/2018 10:41:14 am MST

South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Christensen Ranch Family

January 29, 2018

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

 Recalling his youth, Wessington seedstock producer, John Christensen says school wasn't really his thing.

 His lack of interest didn't go unnoticed.

 "My teacher caught me staring out the window one day, I was probably daydreaming about cattle. She moved my desk to face the wall. To this day, I can still see those gray boards of that one-room schoolhouse," says the 64-year-old.

Classroom learning may not have captured John's attention - cattle genetics on the other hand - for more than 50 years, they have driven an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

 "Cattle are my life," John explains. "I've been making the mating decisions for this herd since I was 11."

 His passion is most obvious when you're among the offspring. Point to any yearling bull or heifer in John's winter feedyard and he recites their genetic strengths and bloodlines.

 Calving out 600 cows most years, if John needs a reminder, he simply pulls out a worn calving notebook from his shirt pocket. He's been keeping careful calving records since childhood. "I have only lost one book in all these years. I have 50 years-worth of books saved," he explains.

 Although maintaining pen and paper records may be a bit old fashioned, it is not an indicator of John's attitude toward technology and genetic tools.

 In the mid-'60s his dad, Jens, was among South Dakota's early adopters of AI (artificial insemination). At 14, John went to AI school.

To read more, click here 

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Last Modified: 01/29/2018 10:26:16 am MST

Farmers Union Opposed to Repeal of Tax Provision for Co-ops

January 29, 2018

Efforts by U.S. senators to reform a tax provision passed into law December 2017 may not be in the best interest of farmers or the viability of cooperatives, said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

 The provision in question involves Section 199 of the tax code which applies to agricultural products marketed through cooperatives. Section 199 allows cooperatives to keep a tax deduction or pass it through to their farmer members.

 Under the new tax code, passed Dec. 2017, farmers can deduct up to 20 percent of their total sales to a cooperative to offset the loss of the previous Section 199. Private businesses get a tax benefit from a lower tax rate and a lower corporate tax. 

Before taking a position, Sombke took the time to visit with leadership from a traditional South Dakota cooperative (one where all patrons who do business with the cooperative receive patronage) and a closed cooperative (where patrons have to meet specific qualifications in order to receive dividends).

 "My understanding is, this newly passed cooperative tax reform measure is unclear how it will affect our cooperative and their members," Sombke explains. "The only way we will support further action on Section 199 is to see it revised to the way it was prior to December 2017 or left alone. Anything else puts our farmers and cooperatives' tax position in jeopardy."

 Sombke said he is aware that Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) are working on a solution, collaboratively.

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Last Modified: 01/29/2018 7:53:49 am MST

South Dakota Farmers Union Calls USDA Report on Agriculture and Prosperity a Missed Opportunity

January 18, 2018

Calling it a "swing and a miss," the South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) criticized a recent report by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in an editorial published this week in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader for failing to highlight the critical role of agricultural derived ethanol.

 According to SDFU President Doug Sombke, the report references renewables but  does so in the most general way imaginable, and lumps the need to produce renewables in rural America with coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power.  The word ethanol  is not mentioned despite the fact that it is a multi billion dollar domestic industry and in South Dakota alone it contributes nearly four billion dollars to the state's economy

 "Agriculturally derived biofuels, primarily ethanol, have single-handedly reversed a decades long trend of rising oil imports and a staggering flow of American dollars to foreign countries that support drugs, terrorism, and other activities. While we are struggling to see commodity prices above the cost of production, I shudder to think of where we would be without the 15 billion gallon ethanol market,"  said Sombke .

 Sombke noted that the report failed to not only pinpoint the contributions to date but the untapped potential of the future.  "Ironically, the report keys on the need for regulatory reform in order to "unleash the potential" of rural America when there is no industry held back more from expansion than ethanol.  We need USDA to lead the charge to break down the barriers at EPA and let us grow this market," he said. 

 "We can thrive in a free market if given access and we can play a key role in protecting public health through higher blends like E20, E25, and even E30."

 To Read the Full editorial, click here (LINK:

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Last Modified: 01/18/2018 10:51:41 am MST

Torchbearers Youth Leaders Recognized with 2017 S.D. Farmers Union Torchbearer Award During State Convention

December 21, 2017

A group of devoted Farmer's Union campers were recognized for their commitment to community involvement and leadership development with the Torchbearer Award during an awards luncheon hosted at the 2017 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention held in Huron, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2017.

 For campers, receiving the Torchbearer Award symbolizes the highest level of achievement for the South Dakota Farmers Union Education Program. This award is given once the camper has reached five years of committed service, showcasing the time and dedication campers have committed over the past years to the education department, as well as the rural communities they have served.

Continuing the tradition of S.D. Farmers Union Camp is often times a priority for youth who are eligible for the Torchbearer Award.

  "Torchbearers have taken the time and effort to follow the path many have set before them," said Rachel Haigh-Blume, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director.  "For years Farmers Union has been committed to educating youth on legislation, cooperation and leadership. Many of the Senior Youth have had family members go through the program and the goal is that they continue on, that this ceremony is the foundation to build and challenge themselves to meet the next steps in Farmers Union such as Young Producers group, becoming a County or District leader, and many other opportunities.."

 The 2017 Torchbearers include: Jim Brockel, Shadehill, son of Kelvin and Jean Brockel; Skylar Cox, Fredrick, daughter of Jeff Cox; Dalton Gerlach, Stickney, son of LaRon and Roxann Gerlach; Jennifer Hanson, Britton, daughter of Lorrie Hanson; Marissa Holinka, Watertown, daughter of Rick and Gwen Holinka; Brenna Johnson, Groton, daughter of Chad and Michelle Johnson; Haley Keizer, Plankinton, daughter of Lance Keizer and Miranda Keizer; Taylin Montague, New Underwood, daughter of Brad and Lawonza Montague; Joseph Nugteren, Canistota, son of Darin and Lisa Nugteren; Jackie Nuss, Tripp, son of Jarrod and Ronda Nuss; Karly Schaunaman, Aberdeen, daughter of Kirk and Kim Schaunaman; Samuel Schumacher, Mt. Vernon, son of Greg and Sherry Schumacher; Hannah Sumption, Fredrick, daughter of Eric and Stacey Sumption; Rowdy Thompson, New Underwood, son of Dana and Roxona Thompson; and  Gabriella Weidenbach, Canistota, daughter of Joel and Becky Weidenbach.

A group of devoted Farmer's Union campers were recognized for their commitment to community involvement and leadership development with the Torchbearer Award during an awards luncheon hosted at the 2017 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention held in Huron, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2017. 

 Left to Right: Back Row: Skylar Cox, Frederick; Dalton Gerlach, Stickney; Brenna Johnson, Groton; Jim Brockel, Shadehill; Karly Schaunaman, Aberdeen; Jennifer Hanson, Britton. Front Row: Rachel Haigh-Blume, Samuel Schumacher, Mt. Vernon; Joseph Nugteren, Canistota; Marissa Holinka, Watertown; Hannah Sumption, Frederick; Haley Keizer, Plankinton; and Gabriella Weidenbach, Canistota. Not pictured: Jackie Nuss, Tripp; Taylin Montague, New Underwood; Rowdy Thompson, New Underwood.

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Last Modified: 12/21/2017 7:35:23 am MST

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