Posts for September 2019

Farm Safety is a Year-Round Focus for S.D. Farmers Union

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South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) invests in farm safety year-round, because it has a direct impact on family farmers, ranchers and their communities, says Doug Sombke, SDFU President.

“South Dakota’s rural communities are tight-knit. So, if someone is injured in a farm or ranch-related accident, it impacts not only their family, but the entire community. Through our farm safety education efforts, we hope South Dakota youth and families think about safety. And ultimately prevent injuries all together,” explains Sombke, who farms with his sons near Conde.

Sombke says today with his sons working on the farm and his young grandkids playing on the farm, farm safety is something he thinks about a lot more than when he first started farming more than 30 years ago. 

Keeping farm safety top of mind is the goal of programming SDFU develops for their annual summer camps, held across the state and attended by more than 1,000 youth each summer and the Farm Safety Trailer they designed and began taking to schools, fairs, community, 4-H and FFA events, explains Rocky Forman, SDFU Member Services Coordinator. “Kids learn best by doing,” Forman says. “So, we made sure each safety lesson exhibited in this trailer engages youth in a hands-on activity.”

For example, youth can try on a safety harness while learning about grain bin safety; drive an ATV simulator to learn how to safely drive an ATV and through the 3-D model farm, they can learn about high-risk areas of the farm and how to be safe.

“When learning is hands-on, it engages students’ thought processes, so they understand what they are learning,” explains Tracy Chase, a science and agriculture education teacher at McCook Central High School.

More than 7,000 South Dakota youth have visited the Farm Safety Trailer since it hit the road in 2018.
“The trailer took more than a year to design and develop, but the result is worth it,” says Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director. “The hands-on nature of this trailer enhances our educational mission and allows us to provide farm safety education to youth year-round.”

Team-Up for Safety Quiz Bowl
In addition to farm safety programming geared to elementary and middle school-age youth, SDFU hosts an annual Team-Up for Safety Quiz Bowl during the SD State FFA Convention, where high school youth test their farm safety knowledge, competing to qualify for the championship round held annually during the South Dakota State Fair.

“Farm safety is a very important aspect of farming that is underestimated at times and if you take it for granted, it can be the difference between preventing an accident or serious injury or even death,” explains Logan Zemlicka, a member of the Wolsey Wessington FFA Chapter when they qualified for the State Fair championship. 

To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union farm safety programming, or to reserve the Farm Safety Trailer for your next event, contact Rocky Forman at (605) 352-6761 or

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South Dakota Family Farmers & Ranchers Visit with USDA Officials in D.C.

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More than 30 South Dakota farmers and ranchers met with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials in D.C. today as part of the 2019 National Farmers Union Annual Fly-In.

“Due to the trade war and weather challenges, many of our state’s family farmers and ranchers will not see a profit this harvest. We are here to share our story with D.C. policy makers. Hopefully they understand the decisions they make, impact real people and families,” explains Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President and fourth-generation Conde farmer.

In his role as president of one of South Dakota’s largest farm and ranch organizations, Sombke has made the trek to D.C. several times. Based on the feedback he receives from Congressional leaders and their staff, the time these family farmers and ranchers have set aside to meet with leaders from across the U.S. pays off.

“Grassroots advocacy gets noticed. In some cases, our fly-in visit is the first time some staff, from more urban areas of the country have had an opportunity to visit with farmers and ranchers,” Sombke explains. “National Farmers Union has lobbyists, who carry our message to policy makers. However, meeting with the people behind that message leaves a strong impact.”

Providing a voice for South Dakota family farmers and ranchers is the reason farmers, Shane and Julie Fastnacht traveled from Wessington Springs to participate in the Fly-In.

“We are here to speak up for ourselves and other South Dakota ag producers. With the state of the agriculture economy, we’ve been facing market issues for several consecutive years now. This will be the fourth or fifth year, producers like us, are working hard to hit breakeven,” explains Shane, a third-generation cow/calf producer. “I plan to visit with policy makers about expanding ethanol consumption and country of origin labeling.”

The Fastnachts are among more than 30 South Dakota farmers, ranchers and supporters of agriculture who traveled to D.C. The other Fly-In participants include Wayne Soren, SDFU Vice President, Lake Preston; Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director, Huron; Larry Birgen, Sioux Falls; Kirk Schaunaman, Aberdeen; Doug and Julie Bruckner, Wessington Springs; Brian and Lindsey Cain, Miller; Gail Temple, Clark; Lisa Snedeker, Woonsocket; Caroline Blatchford, State FFA Reporter, Brookings; Sarah Kroeger, State FFA Vice President, Lennox; Jason Wells, SDFU Insurance Manager, Huron; Rocky and Mandi Forman, Huron; Dallas and Tammy Basel, Union Center; Mark and Schmidt, Gary; Richard and Beverely Rubel, Dallas; Ryan Leischner, Mitchell; Mitch Richter, , Rapid City; Cody Wilson, , Parkston; George and Michelle Kenzy and children, Tyler, Nicholas and Brooklynn, Gregory; Cameron and Jessica Lux, Aberdeen; Darwin and Latham, Camp Crook; along with Matt and Stephanie Cavenee, Miller.

In addition to meeting with USDA officials, during the three-day Fly-In, participants will meet with Congressional leaders from across the nation and their staff. Family farmers and ranchers will share their personal stories on how the current challenges are impacting them, their neighbors and their South Dakota communities. They will campaign for policies that strengthen the farm safety net, reduce chronic overproduction, help farmers and ranchers implement climate smart practices, restore competition to the agricultural economy, resolve ongoing trade disputes, and expand the market for homegrown biofuels.

To learn more about the 2019 Fly-In, visit or follow South Dakota Farmers Union on Facebook.

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Ethanol Advocate & Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle Meets with Farmers Union Members in D.C.

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It’s a critical time for the ethanol industry said former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle today when he met with more than 300 farmers, ranchers and agriculture supporters today in D.C. as part of the National Farmers Union Fly-In.

“It’s a critical time, not only for agriculture, but for rural America,” said Daschle, calling hardship waivers granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oil refineries, including Exxon Mobile and Chevron (85 since 2016) as “the most devastating thing to happen to ethanol in the last 40 years.”

When oil refineries receive EPA Small Refinery Exemption (SREs) also referred to as hardship waivers, they are no longer required to comply with renewable fuel blend laws put in place by the Renewable Fuels Standard – eliminating their need to blend ethanol and other renewable fuels.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher, we have 276 million light utility vehicles on the road… emitting over 1 billion tons of carbon,” said Daschle, a longtime ethanol advocate. “For the last 40 years we have been able to make a case that ethanol is a national security issue, a jobs issue, an ag issue and is, darn right, an environmental issue.”

The solution, Daschle said is found in opening the market to higher ethanol blends. “There is absolutely no better solution in doing exactly that, than E30,” said Daschle of the high-octane, low-carbon renewable fuel. “The path forward involves, remaining determined to reduce all regulatory barriers that exist, to allow ethanol to play in the free market – to allow it to do what it is meant to do. Doug Sombke and South Dakota Farmers Union have been strong advocates for this.”

Recognizing the road forward will not be an easy one, Daschle encouraged farmers to have resilience, and to continue to engage with Congressional leaders, like Farmers Union members are doing this week during the Fly-In. “I talk to frustrated people who throw up their hands and say they don’t want anything to do with Washington or politics. But we need to be more engaged than ever. Someone once said, “difficulty is an excuse that history never accepts,’” Daschle said. “We are sure at a difficult time. But that can’t be a reason for giving up.”

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REAL Fosters Leadership, Looking for 2019 Participants

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South Dakota Farmers Union Rural Economic and Leadership Development (REAL)

fosters leadership among rural leaders, business owners and agricultural operators. 

In small towns and rural communities, leaders wear a lot of hats. They are not just running businesses and going to school events. They are sitting on boards, volunteering, fundraising and mentoring. REAL’s purpose is to give current and future leaders an opportunity for professional development. 

Rachel Haigh-Blume, Education Director, South Dakota Farmers Union explains, “The REAL groups have fun and make connections that last. It gives individuals a group of people to run things by and a chance to just learn from each other. It’s also a great resource builder to reach out to and gain insights from.” 

Alan Roth of Sabers Farmers Union Insurance Agency in Sturgis participated in this year’s REAL program where he had the opportunity to sit in on Senate and House sessions at the State Capitol. “I would strongly suggest REAL to anyone who is just getting started in their career or anyone who thinks they could use a little boost in their current position,” says Roth. 

Participants bring what they’ve learned from REAL back to their communities. Kelli Erickson of Full Circle Ag in Britton recently joined her local Chamber of Commerce. “The REAL program has definitely helped me gain the rural economic and leadership skills needed to help me succeed on the board,” says Erickson. “Opportunities like this remind me how to be a good communicator and a strong leader when working with teams.” 

Full Circle Ag believes the REAL program has impacted their employees in numerous positive ways. The company has made a commitment to offer their staff the opportunity to apply for the REAL program each year. 

Are you interested in participating in REAL or do you have employees you would encourage to apply? We are looking for our next class of rural leaders from all walks of life. Go to or call Rachel Haigh-Blume at 605-450-1000.

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