Celebrating Farm & Ranch Families

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Beer Ranch Family

 

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

Pulling back a thick layer of crop residue with his bare hands, Mike Beer digs into the earth and holds up a black clump of soil alive with earthworms.

"This is heavy clay and when I first started farming, it was hard as a rock. Now, look at it - it's like a vegetable garden," says the Keldron rancher. "I'm a soil person. Even as a kid I was always playing in the dirt, digging holes. I was curious."

He goes on to explain that even as a young teen, he would go out onto the range and dig deep holes.

"Everyone has something and for me, it is soil," Mike explains. "I remember seeing the different horizons and understanding that they were different soil types - long before I ever read that in a textbook."

To read more, click here

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Hanson Farm Family of Sisseton

By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union

 When it comes to his farm, it doesn't take much to make Gary Hanson smile.

 "I just enjoy going out and putting in fence. The posts are straight, the wires are tight - it gives me joy," explains the fourth-generation Sisseton farmer. "I tell people that when I was a college student, farming was my distraction. I loved it and knew that I could return to the farm, so that's what I did."

 At 67, Hanson's passion for farming has not dwindled, but his focus has expanded beyond his crops and cattle.

 Today, his son, Cody, 42, is making most of the decisions Gary and his brother, Paul, used to make.

 "Like my dad, I liked tractors and cattle - I played farmer when I was growing up - I enjoy what I do," explains Cody, who lives on the farm, next door to his mom and dad, with his wife, Shawn, and their four school-age children, Reece, 16; Parker, 14; Kennedy, 10; and Scarlett, 6.

To read more, click here

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Schiley Ranch Family

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

 It's a hot June day and Hope Schiley is on Chico, riding out past the tree belt. When her mom and dad drive out to check on their 5-year-old, she is smiling.

 "Just this summer she really started to enjoy riding. It's fun to see her confidence," says Karin, a fourth-generation cattle producer, who like her husband, Roy John "R.J.," has been riding horses since childhood.

 Once Hope is safely home, Karin, 38, and R.J., 39, head out over the open range to check on a group of pairs grazing in a pasture nearby.

 "The best part of the ranching lifestyle is your kids are always with you," Karin says. "We do rotational grazing, so most days the kids and I will go out to check mineral and water or move the cattle from one pasture to the next."

To read more, click here 

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Springer Farm Family

By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union

Rock hound and fourth-generation Dixon farmer, Terry Springer, 65, says when he’s outdoors he’s always on the lookout for a stone that catches his eye.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been walking around with my head down,” explains Terry, who over a lifetime has amassed a rare and extensive rock collection.

Terry’s collection boasts ancient arrow heads, mammoth bones, fossilized wood, rose quartz, moss rock and other unique geologic specimens.

Many of the rocks were discovered on the land his great-grandparents and uncle first farmed in the early 1900s. The land where today, he and his brother, Wayne, 60, continue the family’s farming legacy. Together they raise corn, small grains, forage and a cow/calf-to-finish-direct-marketing beef operation, Springer Farms.

To read more, click here

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Martinmaas Farm Family

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 No. 1 industry and help feed the world. This month we feature the Martinmaas farm family from Orient.

By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union

During a blizzard nearly 65 years ago, a neighbor knocked on Bill and Wanelda Martinmaas' door. His wife was in labor and things were not going well. Bill started up his John Deere A and drove with his young wife the half mile to help.

 On Bill's way home, his tractor got stuck. It was dark. Driving wind mixed with snow made it impossible to see. Bill was lost.

 "I had the young kids at home. I thought of those kids in the house and knew I needed to get home to them or they would freeze," says Bill, who at 90, vividly recalls the story.

 "Dad walked for quite a while, then he tripped over something. He realized he tripped over the top wire of a barbed wire fence and figured out where he was. He followed that fence and made it home," says Ray, 67, Bill's oldest son.

 At the time, Ray was 3, his brother, Randy, was 2 and their sister, Sandy, was just a baby.

 In the end, the neighbor and her baby survived. And the three Martinmaas kids? They eventually became 12. Six boys and six girls ­ Ray, Randy, Sandy, Kathy, Paulette, Rick, Lonnie, Lori, Julie, Mike, Marylynn and Brad.

 Today, standing outside the farmhouse Ray shares with his wife, Becky, father and son recall the early years.

To read more, click here

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Mendel Farm Family of Doland

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 highlight the Mendel farm family of Doland.

By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union

Don Mendel was 9 when his dad first let him drive the grey Ford Ferguson tractor across the field. He wasn’t unsupervised. His dad, Joe, was beside him pulling a two-bottom plow with a team of five work horses.

“Dad liked horses and kept them around longer than lots of the neighbors,” explains the 83-year-old Doland farmer. “He put me on that Ford tractor and would let me drive as fast as he was going with those horses. We would plow together and thought we were turning over a lot of ground.”

Retired since 2000, Don can still be found driving machinery across the fields that his twin sons, Merrit and Miles, 45, now manage with the help of his grandsons and four employees.

“Farming is in our blood,” Don says.

His brother, Dave agrees.

Don’s farming partner since 1972 and now, also retired, Dave, like Don, spends most days on the farm helping his nephews out. “I always enjoyed working on the farm,” says Dave, 67.

Although he was pursuing a teaching degree, when he returned from serving in Vietnam, he decided he’d rather farm. “I saw more of a future in agriculture. Even back then, South Dakota was very near the bottom of the teacher pay scale,” says Dave, who together with his wife, Judy raised their three, now-grown children, Jason (deceased), Audrey and Seth; and now-grown grandson, Jason, on the farm.

When the brothers formed the partnership they each retained ownership of their own land but shared equipment and labor.

To read more, click here

S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates the Lee Farm Family from De Smet

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 No. 1 industry and help feed the world. This month, we celebrate the Lee farm family who raise crops and cattle near De Smet. Pictured here: Kaitlyn, Landon, Roger, Rob and Mary.

By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union

Farming brings the Lee family joy. Enjoying the work and time together on the land is essential for this De Smet farm family.

“We have told our kids this for years, as long as we can farm and have fun with it, we will continue to do it,” explains Roger Lee, 62, who farms with his wife, Mary, and their three grown children, Rob, Landon and Amanda.

Forty years ago, fun would hardly be the term an outsider would use to describe the beginning of Roger’s farming career.

Only a few years into farming fulltime, his dad, Ephriam, passed away, leaving Roger, at 21 to milk the family’s dairy herd and farm with his mom, Dorothy. It was 1976. A year later a drought and lack of feed forced him to sell their dairy herd.

Roger’s affection for farming kept him going, even when interest rates reached 23 percent.

“I always knew I wanted to farm. I liked farming. It wasn’t the money-making part of it, I just knew I wanted to be on the farm. If I didn’t like it, I would have been gone,” says the third-generation farmer, who instead of heading off to college after high school, bought his first half section of land from his parents.

At 18, he bought his second half section from a neighbor. “(At the time) I was the youngest FHA (Farmers Home Administration) real estate borrower in Kingsbury County,” Roger says. “Dad had to sign a form saying I could use his barn and equipment. Dad and Mom were always fair to me.”

With farm income nil, Roger and his wife, Mary, were able to keep up with land payments by working off the farm.

To read more, click here.

South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Kenzy Ranch Family

By Lura Roti, for S.D. Farmers Union

 Ralph Kenzy used to tell his sons, “You can’t put it all in your pocketbook.”

 “He meant that agriculture is a lot more than money,” explains his oldest son, Brett, 45. “You get to be on the land, raising your kids. You get to work with crops and cattle. You’re never going to get rich ranching … there’s more than dollar bills that make you rich.”

 Brett has worked on the family ranch since childhood ­except for a short break to serve in the Army and attend college. “I came back because I missed the community, the home base, this tie to the land,” Brett explains.

 His brother, George, 40, adds:  “My dream was always here.”

 Like his older brother, George only left the Gregory ranch long enough to get a degree ­ and even when they were college students, the fourth-generation cattle producers drove home to work every weekend.

 Listening to the brothers/business partners visit about raising their children and cattle on the family’s ranch, it is clear that Ralph’s philosophy lives on through his sons. Ralph passed away in 2012.

 “I kind of figured they would come home to ranch because they were home every weekend to work,” says their mom, Millie.

 To read more, click here.

South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Mehling Farm Family 

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.

 To read more, click here.

South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Rocking Z Acres Farm Family

 By Lura Roti for S.D. Farmers Union

 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.

Click here to read more 

Schaefers Farm Family

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.

Greenway Farm Family

This month, we’re highlighting the Greenway family who raise crops and operate a wean-to-finish hog and cow/calf operation near Mitchell.

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. 

Vedvei Farm Family

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.

 “When I look back and think about all the life lessons I learned growing up on the farm, showing cattle and working alongside my sisters to help my mom and dad ­ DJ and I want those same experiences for our girls,” Corrie says of daughters Hadlee, 9, Bentlee, 5, and Cambree, 1.

 At 35, Corrie has not missed a single South Dakota State Fair. Her parents, Al and Deb “Wienk” Vedvei, recall bringing their firstborn to the state fair as a young baby ­ the family camping in a tent.

 Today, they camp in air conditioned campers, which made Corrie’s decision to pack up her firstborn, Hadlee, and bring her to the State Fair four days after she was born, an easy one.

 “We all grew up showing,” says Deb, 57. “The State Fair is our chance to reconnect with friends we only get to see once a year.” “It’s like a big family reunion,” Al, 58, adds.

 Today, the family is working cattle together on their farm near Lake Preston. Hadlee and Bentlee watch a safe distance from the chute.

 “Helping on the farm is my happy place - working calves with my family is one of my favorite days of the year,” explains Corrie, who splits her time between the farm, a full-time career with Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) as a Soil Technician and recently launching Ag Buddy, a publication all about agriculture for kids.

 DJ works for Al full-time ­ a career he began a few months after meeting Corrie at a National Charolais Show in Texas. Corrie and DJ met in 2000 and married in January 2002.

 “I’m grateful to Al for this opportunity to work with cattle full-time.

 Without him, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” explains DJ, who grew up in Ozark, Arkansas.

 Like Corrie, he spent his teen years showing registered Charolais cattle. “I moved here in January, so a lot of their friends gave me a hard time, asking why I’d move to South Dakota.”

 “I remember the first week DJ was here; it was negative 20 outside and he was sitting across from dad at the kitchen table and asked, ‘Do we go out on days like today?’” Corrie remembers, laughing.

 Al says employing DJ just made sense.

 “This is how I’ve secured my legacy,” explains Al, a third generation Kingsbury County farmer and cattle producer. “It’s our opportunity to pass this operation down to the next generation. My legacy won’t be left by what I do or have done, but by what the next generation does on this farm ­ whether it’s with crops or cattle.”

 Al added that he was given a similar opportunity by his father-in-law, Arnold Wienk, when he and Deb got married. “When we started dating Arnold offered me a summer job to work for him custom baling. I got paid $1 a bale.

To read more click here

Painter Ranch Family

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

Symens Farm Family

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 Symens family who raise crops, purebred Limousin cattle and a feedlot near Amherst.

"It's a garden spot ... if we get rain," says Paul Symens, 72, when describing the land his grandpa, Harm Symens, purchased in 1910 near Amherst.

For more than a century, the Symens family has cared for and farmed the land, which today supports a diverse farming operation that includes cropground, purebred Limousin cattle and a feedlot managed by Paul, his two brothers, Irwin, 80, and John, 69, Irwin's son, Brad, 46, and Paul's son, Warren, 38.

Since the beginning, rain - the lack of or over-abundance of - has played a significant role in the management decisions made by the Symens family.

For Harm and his son, Wilbert, the Dust Bowl days made soil conservation and erosion control a focus of their field management.

Irwin recalls a 1936 story of his dad planting corn in May which didn't sprout until September when it received its FIRST rain ... only to be killed by frost at 6-inches. "That same year dad mowed 160 acres of ground and all that grew was thistles. He stacked the thistles, mixed them with molasses and that's what he fed the cattle. That was the year I was born," says Irwin, who is the second oldest of nine children raised on the farm by Wilbert and his wife, Inga.

Implementing novel conservation techniques, like tree belts and strip tilling, earned the family some fame when in 1936 Harm was featured in Cappers Farmer magazine under the headline, "Uncommon Effort Won Over Drought."

Today, the Symens continue the legacy of conservation, managing their fields with minimal-till techniques to increase water infiltration and leaving half of all corn stubble in the field to build organic matter. The stubble removed from fields is used as bedding for cattle. It is then reapplied once it's been utilized as bedding. "At this point it's partially decomposed and has added nutrients of the manure," Warren explains.

To read more click here

Wonnenberg Ranch Family

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.

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 Wonnenberg family who ranch near Dallas.

 As its mother protectively stands guard, her newborn calf, supported precariously by its wobbly legs, looks curiously at its surroundings and then begins nursing. For four generations, this heart-warming scene has signaled spring on the Wonnenberg Ranch near Dallas.

 And, even though it's been a part of his life for as long as he can remember, Steve, 61, still enjoys calving season.

 "From the time I was really small I enjoyed working with cattle and doing chores," explains Steve, who raises a registered Black Angus herd, which his dad, William, began in the 60s.

 "For their FFA project, my older brothers decided to get into raising registered Black Angus," Steve explains. "My dad liked them so much that he kept expanding the herd after my brothers left the ranch."

 Like his father before him, the third-generation rancher still does business with a handshake. "Our family still has the old mentality where a shake of the hand still means a lot," explains Steve and Joan's daughter, Casey Wonnenberg King. "When my dad sells registered Angus bulls, he always tells buyers that if something doesn't work out, he will make it right - and he always holds true to his promise."

To read the rest of their story, click here.

Wienk Charolais Farm Family

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 Wienk and Eschenbaum farm family who operate Wienk Charolais near Lake Preston.

 Thumbing through a recent Wienk Charolais sale catalogue, Arnold Wienk, 78, recalls what it was like in the early years, “When I first sold bulls, the only number we gave buyers was the birthdate.” The glossy flyer is filled with photos of breeding stock and several columns of numbers representing EPD data - genetic information which today’s cattle producers count on to make breeding decisions. EPD data is standard issue with the sale of all purebred cattle thanks to the efforts of breeders like Arnold and Carol Wienk who, a generation ago, understood the value of genetic data.

 The Wienks are among the breed association pioneers who encouraged purebred breeders across the country to collect and catalogue genetic data because they understood the role it would play in improving commercial cattle herd genetics - and ultimately enable the cattle industry to quickly respond to consumer demands.

 “We do what we can to promote the industry and the product,” says Arnold, a third generation Kingsbury County farmer. “This herd has more records on file with the association than any herd in the U.S. - or is one of the herds with the most records - because we were keeping records with the S.D. Beef Improvement Association before the Charolais Association kept members’ performance records.” The Wienks transferred their performance records to the Charolais Association once the association began processing and maintaining members’ performance records.

 To read the rest of their story, click here.

Birgen Farm Family


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. By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union; Photos by Kathy Birgen

 Like most South Dakota farm families 50 years ago, the Birgen’s farm resembled that of the Old McDonald nursery rhyme.

“We raised cattle, chickens, sheep, had milk cows and stock cows ­ but back then, everyone did. You sold cream and eggs,” recalls Matt Birgen, an 86-year-old Korean War Veteran, who together with his wife, Maureen, farmed and raised their seven children on the land he bought near Beresford with combat pay in 1955. For more on the Birgen Family click here

Yost Family

Ranch Family sees Past as Part of the Future

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.

By Alica P. Thiele for South Dakota Farmers Union; Photos by Darcy Krick Photography & Kecia Beranek, SDFU Communications Specialist

 The Yost family of Gann Valley are dedicated to ranching for the long haul.

In hard times and good, four generations have pushed on, raising cattle and growing crops to sustain their herd.

Ben and Anastasia “Stacey” Knippling settled on the family ranch in 1930 with their only child, Paul. When Paul married Margaret Lobban in 1948, they built their home next to Paul’s parents and raised four children on the ranch. Paul and Margaret’s oldest daughter, Kathy, and her husband, Chuck Yost, joined the operation in 1973 and raised their five children on the ranch.

Now their boys ­ Charley, Wade and Rodney Yost ­ ranch with their parents and are looking forward to one day passing the land on to their children.

To learn more about the Yost family, and view a photo gallery, click here.

Sumption Farm Family 

Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, each month South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families. This December, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Sumption family who farm together near Frederick.

 Mark Sumption’s 9-year-old daughter, Morgan, often asks him to tell her stories about his life as a child. Recently she asked him how he spent his time after school each day.

 “I tell her that when I got home from school I went to work on the farm,” answers the fourth generation farmer.

 His dad, John, says he and Margaret relied heavily on help from Mark and their other four sons, Chris, Eric, Taylor and Warren, to get work done on the family’s Frederick farm. “Our sons were always active workers on the farm. Actively involved from a young age because Margaret and I couldn’t get all the work done ourselves,” John, 67, explains. “I grew up working on my family’s farm and so did Margaret.” By the time their sons were old enough to consider farming full-time, John and Margaret encouraged each of them to get an education and work off the farm.

 “Dad said to go to college and see the rest of the world, experience things, work for someone else,” explained Chris, 44. “It was good experience to work for other people and see what it was like to be on the other side of the counter.” After high school, Chris became a diesel mechanic and worked for John Deere for a short time. In 1992 he returned to farm full-time with his dad and mom.

 Like him, each of his four brothers left the farm and received degrees.

 Eventually each of them made their way back home to the family farm.

 Today the five men farm together raising crops and cattle. “I never dreamed they would all come back to farm. It’s a dream come true,” says John, who gave control over to his sons in 2000 and spends most days helping his sons on the farm.

 To learn more about the Sumption farm family and view a photo gallery, click here 

Sombke Family

Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families each month. This November, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Sombke family who farm together near Conde.

 By Lura Roti, for SDFU; Photos by Kaylee Speck Photography

 In 1978, when Doug Sombke made the decision to farm fulltime after high school, times were tough.

 "To explain how broke we were, I tell people that when Mel and I got married we couldn¹t afford an oven. We cooked on a hotplate," Sombke recalls.

 But he was determined to make a go of it. Starting with 38 acres and the 4-H flock of 150 registered Suffolk ewes he and his brother, Dean, had built, Sombke stuck with it. He leased from neighbors, share cropped and eventually purchased land.

 Along with sheep, the fourth generation Brown County farmer started a cow/calf herd and eventually expanded to operate a feedlot.

 "Everything Mel and I earned went back into the farm." Together the couple raised four, now grown children: Nikki, Brett, Bryan and Bryce

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Meeks Ranch Family

Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families each month. This October, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Meeks family who ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Land is sacred in the Lakota culture which Jim and Elsie Meeks were both raised.

For almost four decades the ranch couple has worked hard to care for their Pine Ridge Reservation ranchland and make the family ranch sustainable for the next generation.

“The land is sacred. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. This is a belief that most Natives and, I believe, ranchers of all backgrounds share,” explains Elsie.

Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, as youngsters both Jim and Elsie developed a strong affection for horses, the sport of rodeo and began to dream of one day owning and operating their own ranch.

In the early 80s Jim and Elsie got their start ranching on land that included 320 acres  the federal government allocated to Jim’s grandfather, Todd Randall, in the 1930s.

They began buying long horn cattle and providing rough stock for rodeos. To build up their cattle herd, they would keep back the best heifers. “We would breed them back to a good bull and kept doing that year after year,” explains Elsie, who supplemented the ranch income through various off-ranch careers.

Today the Meeks ranch more than 12,000 acres and run a 450-head cow/calf herd.

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Clark Ranch Family


Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota’s farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights members who farm or ranch with their families each month. This September, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Clark family who ranch 40 miles southeast of Lemmon.

Middle of Nowhere might be the best way to describe the location of Pat and Barb Clark’s ranch, which is located on native rangeland 40 miles southeast of Lemmon and 30 miles east of Meadow.

Homesteaded in 1915 by his grandfather, Avery Clark, and great-uncle, Harry, the Clarks, along with their children, Tayte, 21; Trig, 19; Cassidy, 15; and Teigan, 14; raise cattle, hay and somehow make time for their hobby of rodeo.

“I tell people I love my job. Ranching is what I always wanted to do. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid,” Pat, 52, explains. “I’ve always enjoyed livestock and working with horses.”

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Reis Ranch Family

Two ranch kids raised on horseback, David and Brenda Reis, both take great joy in ranch work. Since the beginning, the couple made a point to foster an environment on their Lyman County ranch where the entire family could enjoy time working together.

 “Time with family is the whole idea,” explains David, the third generation Reis to raise cattle and kids on the rangeland located near the mouth of the White River. “Before we were even married we talked about the fact that we wanted this to be a family ranching operation where the kids would feel like they fit right in ­ where we all can have fun together.”

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Kolousek Family

Shadowing an engineer for a few days his sophomore year of college was all the exposure Scott Kolousek needed to realize he would be happier building a career on his family's Wessington Springs cattle and crop farm.

"That experience saved me a lot of time pursuing the wrong degree. I quickly figured out that I didn't want an office job, so I switched degrees and graduated with a General Agriculture degree from South Dakota State University," says the fifth generation farmer.

His dad, Dick, also an SDSU graduate, can relate. In 1976, he returned to farm with his dad, Pete, and brother, Raymond. "I enjoy the independence farming provides. I'm able to make my own decisions, work in the fresh air and watch crops and calves grow - this has been a good career for me - so much better than an office job."

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Ries Family Farm

In 1950, Donald and Armella Ries purchased some farmland a few miles southeast of Watertown and began milking four cows. A year later, their son, Mel, was born. Today Mel, his wife Orla, and three of their five grown children continue to milk cows on the farm.

“I was raised with it, so I guess dairying stays in your blood,” explains Mel, who began buying his own cows as a teen and farming full-time with his dad right out of high school.

In 1990 he purchased the farm from his folks.

His sons, Jason, Deric and Todd, joined the family farm much the same way; first buying cows in high school, then renting farm acres and today operating a 300-head cow/calf herd as well.

Now with families of their own, the brothers continue to slowly expand the farm’s diversified operations.

“This is a family farm. Anyone and everyone who wants to be involved, is involved,” explains Orla, as she rocks her young grandson, Walker, who is sleeping on her lap.

Three years ago, Orla retired from her off-farm job to babysit. She and Mel have 15 grandchildren and three on the way.

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Christensen Farm Family

Ask Marlow Christensen and his three sons, Dale, Don and Doug, why they chose farming as a career and their responses are similar. "It's all we've ever known," explains Dale, who, like his younger brothers, joined the family operation full-time right out of high school.

His brother, Don, adds, "I didn't think about doing anything else. I enjoy working with the cattle, basically every bit of the work involved - even things like scraping the yards in the mornings."

Celebrating 51 years of marriage this year, Marlow and his wife, Donna, got their start in farming a year after they married. They rented the farm southwest of Beresford from Marlow's mom, Lucille (Jensen) Christensen, in 1965. Lucille's grandpa homesteaded the land in 1887.

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Schaunaman Family Farm

Brothers and business partners, Craig, 55, and Kirk, 54, Schaunaman joke about their farm partnership, "Sometimes we work together and sometimes we work apart."

The third generation farmers have been farming together since the early 1980s when their dad, Don, welcomed them home to join him on the farm that has been in their mom, Hazel Wendt's family, since the early 1900s. Their official partnership dates back to 1993 when their dad retired.

Raising crops and a commercial cow/calf herd, the Schaunamans have slowly expanded their acres and herd size to support their growing families and support two employees, one of whom is their nephew, Chad, 42, who is the son of their oldest brother, Mark.

"We've grown the operation efficiently and conservatively. We have tried not to make any rash changes or big leaps and bounds," Kirk explains. "After our dad retired, we stayed the course."

Along with implementing technological advancements in their inputs and equipment, probably the two biggest changes facing the farm in the last 22 years was their transition to no-till farming and Craig accepting President Obama's appointment to serve as State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in 2009. Even though Craig works off the farm five days a week, he continues to participate in daily farm decisions remotely.

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Kippley Family

Like all business owners, farmers are always crunching numbers, so the fact that John Kippley, 69, and his son, Jeff, 35, both have accounting degrees works well for the Aberdeen farmers. "The two go hand-in-hand because you're always trying to figure out what crop to plant based on cash flow," John explains.

The oldest of eight boys, John grew up on a diversified farm in Iowa. Because his family's farm could not support more than one family, his parents encouraged him and his younger brothers to find careers off the farm right after high school.

However, this didn't detour John from dreaming of someday owning a farm of his own. He attended a two-year business school in Sioux Falls and graduated with a degree in tax preparation.

In 1975, only five years after H&R Block sent John and his wife, Geraldine, to open an office in Aberdeen, he purchased his first 40 acres of land.

A few years later Jeff was born. "I never knew life without the farm," explains the second generation farmer, who followed a very similar career path to his father.

Today, Jeff and his wife, Rachel, own the H&R Block and farm with John, who operates Kippley Tax Service.

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Dieter Farms

When Roger Deiter returned to join his brother, Doug, on their family's diversified crop and livestock farm in 1979, the men were the fourth generation to farm the land near Faulkton.

While pursuing an Animal Science degree at South Dakota State University, Roger had participated in collegiate livestock judging. The activity further sparked his interest in the cattle industry.

Once he returned home, Roger's primary interest was on the livestock side, and Doug was diversified in all aspects of the farm.

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Eckmann Family Farms

Like many South Dakota farm families, the Eckmanns raise corn, soybeans and cattle. And, like many of their peers, brothers Rick and Scot own separate farming operations but share labor and equipment. What makes this family’s farm story unique is the fact that while Scot manages his farm conventionally, Rick’s operation is all-natural.

While Rick applies commercial fertilizer and herbicides to his fields, he also applies many natural, soil building products and raises GMO-free crops. He finishes all his own cattle, feeding them the GMO-free grains and forages he raises, and he maintains a drug-free/hormone-free herd.

Some may think this difference in management styles would impact the brothers’ relationship or alter their ability to work together, but it doesn’t.

“We talk about what we each do on our own farms, but it’s not an issue. Even though our farming practices are different, we face many of the same challenges – looking for ways to make it in a year like this when input costs are high and commodity prices are down,” Scot explains.

“We’ve worked together for more than 35 years. I don’t know what we’d do without each other’s help. We are both valuable and play an integral role to each other’s farming operations,” Rick says.

Their dad, Marvin, 82, also helps out the fourth-generation farmers, as does Rick’s son, Colton, 26, who also works full-time off the farm as a diesel mechanic for James River Equipment in Huron.

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Mueller Family Farms

Farming near Mitchell for almost130 years, the Mueller family traces their South Dakota farm roots back to Great-Grandpa Adolf. A Wisconsin carpenter and farmer, Adolf packed up his young family and moved to the Ethan area after friends wrote him of the rich soil and farming opportunities South Dakota offered. That was in 1885.

Five generations later, Delmar Mueller, 63, and his sons, Jay, 35, and Derek, 31, continue the family farming tradition.

Supporting three families on the farm has not been simple. To make things work, Jay has an off-farm job and the men run quite the diversified operation. They grow corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. They also raise a cow/calf herd, do some custom farming and silage work and operate custom feeding operations, which include backgrounding cattle and finishing feeder pigs.

Since the time Delmar began farming full-time in 1986, conservation has played an important role in their field and land management. Over the years Delmar and his sons have planted shelter belts and returned marginal acres to pastureland. The fields have been no-till since the early ‘90s and the Muellers follow small grain harvest with cover crops, which include millet, Sudan grass and a mix of legumes and root crops to maintain soil health, prevent erosion and improve water infiltration.

“If you don’t take care of the land, it won’t take care of you. Plain and simple,” explained Derek. “The land is our livelihood and we are conscious of how we treat it.”

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Bush Angus

Among the first South Dakota families to raise and sell purebred Angus genetics, the purebred herd they started in 1927 continues to provide commercial cattle producers with the genetics they need for herd success, making the annual Bush bull sale one of the more successful sales in the country.This month South Dakota Farmers Union features the Bush family. A five-generation farm/ranch family from Britton, the Bush family continues to raise crops and cattle on the land Joseph Bush homesteaded in 1883.

Building their herd with the commercial cattle producers’ future needs in mind, for three generations the family has maintained impeccable records and kept a close eye on market trends to determine what those needs will be.

Although 131 years later their farm today looks nothing like it did in Joseph’s time, Jim, 71, his son, Scott, 44, and their spouses, Carol and Jo, continue the family tradition of doing business with integrity, honesty and the philosophy that if you treat customers the way you want to be treated they will return.
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Nagel Farms

The month of August South Dakota Farmers Union features the Nagel family of Gettysburg, S.D. The farm family operates a cow/calf and backgrounding operation as well as raises corn, wheat, soybeans, sunflowers, alfalfa and other forage crops. Today, two generations – seven families in all - work together and continue to farm the land their great-grandfather plowed up in 1907.

Who the family and their farm are today was shaped by the early death of John Adam Nagel in 1956. By this time, the farm had grown to encompass more than 1000 acres of land in Potter County. At the time of his death, John Adam’s oldest son, Herman was 18. Many didn’t think he, and his five teen brothers were capable enough to manage such a large farming operation.

The brothers knew better. With staunch determination and a passion for the land, they worked together day and night to keep their family’s farm.

More than 60 years later, their now grown children join them in raising crops and livestock. With a strong foundation of hard work, determination and selflessness, the Nagel farm remains in the family. It is four generations old and growing strong.

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