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 rforman@sdfu.org.

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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 www.sdfu.org 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 sdfu.org or call Rachel Haigh-Blume at 605-450-1000.

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Farmers Earn 25 Cents from $12 State Fair Lunch

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South Dakota’s number one industry of agriculture is hurting. In addition to dealing with extreme weather during 2019 calving and planting seasons, grain and livestock prices are down. While at the same time, grocery store prices hold steady. 

To help South Dakotans who don’t work on farms and ranches gain a better understanding of the wage gap between what they pay in the grocery store and what a South Dakota farm or ranch family earns, South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) hosts its annual Farmer Share Lunch during Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair, Aug. 31.

Fairgoers pay only 25 cents for a lunch valued at $12.

“We fed more than 1,000 today,” says Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director. “This is our largest educational event. Farmers Union board members, who are farmers and ranchers, and staff spend a lot of time visiting with folks waiting in line, answering questions, helping them understand what the family farmers and ranchers of our state are going through right now.”

Friends, Taylor Feddersen and Savannah Krogman said they knew prices were low, but they were still surprised when they learned the farmer and rancher who raised the ingredients for the lunch, which included milk, chips and pulled pork sandwich, only received 25 cents.

“We live in a small town, and know everyone who does farm,” explains Feddersen, who traveled to the State Fair from Murdo.

“But it’s still surprising – farmers don’t make enough,” adds Krogman.

Farmer Share lunch is an annual event hosted by S.D. Farmers Union. And although there has been a large gap between what shoppers pay and what farmers and ranchers earn, in recent years the difference has become extreme.

“Farmers and ranchers are used to dealing with unpredictable weather, and somewhat volatile markets, but the recent trade war and the 2017 dissolving of governmental oversight with the closure of USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) who facilitated the marketing of agriculture products, means our farmers can’t even get fair markets within the U.S.,” explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation farmer.

Winner farmer, Joel Keierleber, appreciates the organization’s effort to education. “When consumers buy a pound of burger at the store and pays $4, they think I’m making $4 a pound for the cattle I raise. This simply isn’t the case. Consumers really don’t understand that most of their food dollars go to the middleman. For example, I only receive $1.73 for that pound of burger, and that is not counting how much it cost me to produce and market the cow.”

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2019 S.D. Farmers Union Day at the State Fair Supports South Dakota’s Family Farmers & Ranchers & Rural Communities

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Recognizing rural heroes, awarding more than $25,000 in scholarships, feeding more than 1,000 fairgoers and discussing industrial hemp with policy makers and much more – 2019 South Dakota Farmers Union Day at the State Fair, August 31, focused on supporting South Dakota’s family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

“We work all year to make this day’s events relevant and educational for South Dakotans involved in agriculture and those who aren’t,” explains Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director.

As one of the state’s largest agriculture organizations, and a premier sponsor of the South Dakota State Fair, members of the grassroots organization recognized those who give back to rural communities across the state with the Rural Dakota Pride Award. The 2019 Rural Dakota Pride honorees include Rich Bakeberg, Frederick; Jeannie Hofer, Huron; Jim Lane, Groton; Angie Mueller, Ethan and Franklin Olson, Pierpont.

“South Dakota’s agriculture producers and their communities are closely connected. In good economic times they both prosper. When the economy is down, like today with the trade war, low commodity prices and extreme weather conditions, they both feel the pain,” says Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation Conde farmer. “The Rural Dakota Pride honor is one of many ways SDFU works to show our support for both.”

Providing hands-on educational opportunities for fairgoers, SDFU hosted its annual Farmers Share Lunch and Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl.

Feeding more than 1,000, the lunch is designed to help those not involved in agriculture understand the gap between the price paid for food in the grocery store and what a South Dakota family farmer or rancher earns. The lunch, which would retail for $12, only cost fairgoers 25 cents. Learn more, visit www.sdfu.org.

Educating youth about farm safety is a large part of SDFU educational programming. The organization’s interactive Farm Safety Trailer is on display throughout the entire fair, and during Farmers Union Day. Four qualifying FFA teams put their farm safety knowledge to the test, competing in the Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl. FFA Chapters competing included Wolsey Wessington, Hoven, Howard and Dell Rapids. Learn which team won by visiting www.sdfu.org.

Policy makers discuss industrial hemp

Industrial hemp has been on the minds of South Dakota legislators this summer as they work to develop a bill Governor Noem will sign in 2020. And today Farmers Union hosted two legislative members of the Summer Industrial Hemp Study to discuss with fairgoers what they learned from visiting with leaders from other states where the agriculture crop is legal.

“We’re working to come up with legislation everyone can be comfortable with,” explains Lee Qualm, House Majority Leader and Chair of Industrial Hemp Summer Study.

After the South Dakota Senate failed to override Governor Noem’s veto of House Bill 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp, a group of legislators, including Minority Whip and District 28A Representative, Oren Lesmeister began meeting with officials from states where industrial hemp is grown and processed, to learn how state departments of agriculture work with law enforcement, farmers and citizens.

“We are seeing that these states have strict rules in place, but we also see that the fear industrial hemp is a backway to produce the drug, marijuana, is unwarranted,” Lesmeister, a Parade rancher and small business owner explains. “We have also learned farmers can make money from this.”

New marketing opportunities from the hardy crop that can be grown in nearly every region of South Dakota, are the reason Qualm and Lesmeister voted to legalize growing the crop during the 2019 Legislative Session.

“Industrial hemp is the first new crop that has come along in decades,” says Qualm, a Platte farmer. “It provides the opportunity to add value to a crop before it leaves the state. We are so used to shipping out raw commodities instead of processing them here.”

“Industrial hemp would give South Dakotans opportunities,” adds Lesmeister. “I say South Dakotans, not just farmers or ranchers, because it’s the business as a whole, through manufacturing opportunities that could benefit the entire state.”

Support for legalizing industrial hemp became part of SDFU policy in 2018. The organization will continue to lobby Pierre to legalize the crop during the 2019 Legislative Session. Learn more about SDFU policy at www.sdfu.org.

Supporting rural youth through scholarships

The South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation, in cooperation with Farmers Union Insurance, recognized recipients of the Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow $1,000 scholarship.

Over the past 12 years, the Foundation has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships to students attending South Dakota post-secondary schools. Farmers Union Insurance agents throughout the state fund this scholarship program administered by the Farmers Union Foundation. “Our insurance agents are committed to building a brighter future in South Dakota,” says Jason Wells, Regional Manager of Farmers Union Insurance. “This is a remarkable group and they make me excited about the future of our great state. We’re choosing to invest in these outstanding individuals to help them pursue their goals and aspirations.

Recipients include the following students: Abbie Bratland, daughter of Curwin & Kim Bratland, Willow Lake High School; Bayden Schneider, son of Jason & Velda Schneider, Chester Area High School;Benjamin Sees, son of Mike & Kris Sees, Irene-Wakonda High School; Brandon Volmer, son of Todd & Rona Volmer, Winner High School; Brittany Delzer, daughter of Glen & Cheryl Delzer Sturgis Brown High School; Caleb Nugteren, son of Darin & Lisa Nugteren, Canistota High School; Conner Edelman, son of Kevin & Lisa Edelman, Menno Public High School; Elise Heesch, daugher of Loran & Yvette Heesch, Sisseton High School; Emily Buse, daughter of Gary & DeeAnna Buse, Lennox High School; Jaedyn Oplinger, daughter of Linda Oplinger, Menno Public High School;  Justin Edelman, son of Del & Brenda Edelman, Menno Public High School; Justin Goetz, son of Trent & Goetz & Patricia Pudwill, Selby Area High School; Kaitlyn Carlon, daughter of Ronald & Nancy Carlon, Canton High School; Kendra Johnson, daughter of Wayne & Nancy Johnson, Webster Area High School; Kristin Kotes, daughter of Greg Kotes & Angel Eddy, Bridgewater-Emery High School; Liza Schoenbeck, daughter of Loren & Lisa Schoenbeck, Webster Area High School; Morgan Feddersen, son of Chris & Beth Feddersen, Jones County High School; Paydon Casper, son of Eric & Laurie Casper, Lake Preston High School; Spencer Lund, son of Brian & Kari Lund, St. Thomas More High School; Sydney Hoffman, daughter of Jeff & Deanna Hoffman, Bridgewater-Emery High School; Sydney Smith, daughter of Jay & Sherry Smith, Redfield High School; Tess Oplinger, daughter of Linda Oplinger, Menno Public High School; Tessa Menzel, daughter of CJ & Mandie Menzel, Philip High School;  Trevor Frost, son of Travis & Kaylin Frost, Redfield High School and Trista Frost, daughter of Travis & Kaylin Frost, Redfield High School.

Learn more about SDFU educational programming at www.sdfu.org.

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Wolsey-Wessington FFA Chapter Wins 2019 Farmers Union State Fair Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl

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Putting their farm safety knowledge to the test, four South Dakota FFA Chapters competed in the Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl Championship today, August 31, 2019, during South Dakota Farmers Union Day at the State Fair in Huron.

Wolsey-Wessington FFA Chapter won the quiz bowl. Team members include Trayce Haeder, Paige Snyder, Mark Hamilton and Jacob Kahre. Their FFA Advisor is Andrew Boersma. Each member receives a monetary prize.

 “This quiz bowl is a fun way to make youth aware of farm safety and educate them on how to keep themselves and their friends safe,” explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation Conde farmer. “As an organization, South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) is dedicated to supporting family farmers and rural communities. We invest in keeping our rural youth and families safe. Just the simple fact that most farms in South Dakota are family farms, means many South Dakota youth either live on farms or have friends who do.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 million youth, under the age of 20, live on farms in the U.S. Over half of them do farm-related work. Sombke points out that agriculture is often listed among the most dangerous occupations in America. Farm workers face many risks because of the large machinery they work with, along with chemical hazards, unpredictable livestock and enclosed spaces like grain bins that hold thousands of pounds of grain.


Wolsey-Wessington is one of four teams to qualify for the championship quiz bowl during the South Dakota State FFA Convention held in April on the campus of South Dakota State University. Other qualifying teams include Hoven, Howard and Dells (from Dell Rapids).

Creating an opportunity for youth to learn about farm safety in a fun way, is why Sara Colombe encourages students to participate in the SDFU Farm Safety Quiz Bowl.

“The quiz bowl makes learning about farm safety fun. And the contest builds momentum for some other farm safety educational opportunities, like participating in our local cooperative’s grain bin simulator that demonstrates how to help get people out of grain bins safely,” explains the Hoven FFA Advisor/Agriculture Education Instructor. “The students are really into the fact that if they win, there is a cash prize. Competing in a farm safety contest, versus taking a test is much more effective.”

In addition to the annual Team Up for Safety Quiz Bowl and farm safety education implemented into the curriculum of SDFU summer camps, in 2018 SDFU invested in and designed a customized Farm Safety Trailer. This Farm Safety Trailer is at the State Fair engaging youth and families in fun, farm safety education.

“The hands-on nature of the Farm Safety Trailer allows us to make the message of farm safety real,” explains Rocky Forman, SDFU Member Services Coordinator.

To learn more about SDFU Farm Safety Trailer or other youth education opportunities, visit www.sdfu.org.

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Industrial Hemp Summer Study Meets with North Dakota Commissioner of Ag in Pierre Today

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Industrial hemp has been on the minds of South Dakota legislators this summer as they work to develop a bill Governor Noem will sign in 2020. And today (August 19, 2019), several legislators met in Pierre with Doug Goehring, North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture and leaders from other states where the agriculture crop is legal.

“We’re working to come up with legislation everyone can be comfortable with,” explains Lee Qualm, House Majority Leader and Chair of Industrial Hemp Summer Study.

After the South Dakota Senate failed to override Governor Noem’s veto of House Bill 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp, a group of legislators, including Minority Whip and District 28A Representative, Oren Lesmeister began meeting with officials from states where industrial hemp is grown and processed, to learn how state departments of agriculture work with law enforcement, farmers and citizens.

“We are seeing that these states have strict rules in place, but we also see that the fear industrial hemp is a backway to produce the drug, marijuana, is unwarranted,” Lesmeister, a Parade rancher and small business owner explains. “We have also learned farmers can make money from this.”

New marketing opportunities from the hardy crop that can be grown in nearly every region of South Dakota, are the reason Qualm and Lesmeister voted to legalize growing the crop during the 2019 Legislative Session.

“Industrial hemp is the first new crop that has come along in decades,” says Qualm, a Platte farmer. “It provides the opportunity to add value to a crop before it leaves the state. We are so used to shipping out raw commodities instead of processing them here.”

“Industrial hemp would give South Dakotans opportunities,” adds Lesmeister. “I say South Dakotans, not just farmers or ranchers, because it’s the business as a whole, through manufacturing opportunities that could benefit the entire state.”

The men hope what they learned from today’s discussions will help their committee develop legislation that will pass in 2020. Other members of the Industrial Hemp Summer Study include Committee Vice Chair Rocky Blare, Ideal; Representatives Shawn Bordeaux, Mission; Bob Glanzer, Huron; Tim Goodwin, Rapid City; Randy Gross, Elkton; Nancy York, Watertown and Senators Red Dawn Foster, Pine Ridge; Joshua Klumb, Mount Vernon and Reynold Nesiba, Sioux Falls.

Learn more during South Dakota Farmers Union State Fair panel discussion
Members of one of the state’s largest farm and ranch organizations are watching the progression of the new industrial hemp bill closely. “Legalizing the growing of industrial hemp has been part of our policy since 2018, because our family farmers and ranchers need new opportunities. And industrial hemp is a new, potentially high-value opportunity,” explains South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

The delay caused by the Governor’s veto troubles Sombke and Lesmeister because they are concerned neighboring states, will race to develop processing infrastructure ahead of South Dakota.

Qualm shares the concern, but believes opportunities still exist. “We are a bit behind the 8-ball, we will see some rules in September or October from USDA, and the FDA may take longer than that. I don’t think we are too far behind,” he says.

Which is the reason, today’s discussion is so important. “Due to a stressed ag economy, producers are losing money year-after-year. South Dakota producers need more options to diversify and be profitable, they need more tools in their tool belts. The legalization of industrial hemp production will tell our producers that we want them to succeed,” says Luke Reindl, Communications & Policy Specialist with S.D. Farmers Union. “As a grassroots organization our members set our policy, and many of our family farmers and ranchers would like to be able to grow industrial hemp, so legalizing industrial hemp will be a priority for us as we approach the 2020 Legislative Session.”

And, today’s discussion showed there’s still a lot of work to be done if an industrial hemp bill will pass Legislative Session 2019, explains Mitch Richter, S.D. Farmers Union Lobbyist. “We heard from North Dakota and Montana on how they dealt with issues around licensing, law enforcement and testing, yet South Dakota’s State Dept. of Ag as well as Public Safety brought up the same questions they had during Legislative Session. They are still stuck on the fact that hemp and marijuana are similar, but they have not moved beyond that with plans for how they will deal with testing, licensing and fee structure. I know the legislators on the Summer Study have done the legwork and research, but it looks like they have a long way to go before the Governor will sign legislation to legalize hemp in South Dakota.”

As South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers wait on lawmakers, Lesmeister encourages them to begin researching today. “Don’t wait for someone to hand you the information. Don’t wait until legislation is passed. Farmers need to be doing their research today, because the minute a bill does pass legalizing industrial hemp, things will move quickly and growers need to be prepared,” explains Lesmeister, who began researching industrial hemp opportunities a few years ago after the 2014 farm bill opened the door for states to grow industrial hemp on a trial basis.

“The U.S. has been the biggest user of hemp in the world for years. Now, that we are growing it here, we have years of research to pull from Europe and other countries where they’ve been growing and processing industrial hemp for years,” says Lesmeister, who is most excited about the opportunities to add value to industrial hemp by processing it in South Dakota. “Depending on where they plan to market it, and the variety they plant, industrial hemp can bring farmers between $1,000 to $14,000- an-acre.”

Lesmeister references a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pointing to industrial hemp as an ingredient used in more than 17,000 products – ranging from granola bars, healthcare, cosmetics and clothing to cattle feed and hempcrete, a stronger, lighter-weight, industrial-grade concrete.

To learn more, attend the South Dakota Farmers Union Industrial Hemp panel discussion, held on the Freedom Stage at the South Dakota State Fair, at 1 p.m. August 31 during Farmers Union Day at the State Fair.

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S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates Community Heroes, Farmers & Ranchers During SDFU Day at the State Fair

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South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) will celebrate community heroes, family farmers and ranchers and educate consumers on current challenges facing our state’s No. 1 industry of agriculture during the 2019 Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair, Aug. 31.

“State Fair is a celebration of the people who make up our state’s No. 1 industry of agriculture,” explains Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President and fourth-generation Conde farmer. “It’s an industry, whose people are really struggling right now because of uncooperative weather and markets. So, this year, I see the state fair as a good place for those of us who work the fields and care for livestock to support one another and feel the support from our many friends, neighbors and supporters throughout the state.”

Clark farmer Gail Temple would agree. “State Fair is like a family reunion. It’s a statewide gathering that supports farmers. It’s where farmers from across the state bring all their best crops and livestock and 4-H kids bring their best displays.”

Temple, and her husband, Brad, raise crops and cattle. Temple also serves as District 3 board member. She will be among a group of Farmers Union volunteers to help host the organization’s annual Farmer’s Share Lunch.

Farmer’s Share Lunch is designed to educate consumers on the current low prices facing South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers. During the lunch hour, Farmers Union will only charge fairgoers the price a South Dakota farmer or rancher would receive for the ingredients used to make a $12 lunch.

This year the organization will only be collecting 25 cents. “When consumers buy a pound of burger at the store and pays $4, they think I’m making $4 a pound for the cattle I raise. This simply isn’t the case,” explains Joel Keierleber, who farms near Winner. “Consumers really don’t understand that most of their food dollars go to the middle-man. For example, I only receive $1.73 for that pound of burger, and that is not counting how much it cost me to produce and market the cow.”

And, like every cow/calf producer in South Dakota, Keierleber is responsible for the health and welfare of the cattle day-in and day-out until they are sold to a feeder or processor.
“As farmers or ranchers, we’re the ones taking care of the critter for up to two years and receiving a very small fraction of the grocery store price,” Keierleber explains.
Each year the farmers share lunch feeds more than 1,000.

“This is one of our largest education events,” says Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director. “Education is a mission our grassroots organization takes seriously.”

Throughout the year, SDFU hosts education events for youth, rural professionals and community leaders and farm and ranch couples. They also provide youth with farm safety education through the SDFU Farm Safety Trailer. The trailer will also be at the fair. A mobile, interactive classroom designed to provide rural youth with farm safety training.
Fairgoers will have an opportunity to go through the trailer during the state fair.

Team up for Farm Safety Quiz Bowl
Another way the organization emphasizes farm safety is through the Team Up for Farm Safety Quiz Bowl.

Sombke and Hofhenke invite everyone to watch rural youth in action by attending the 2019 S.D. Farmers Union Team Up To Safety Quiz Bowl championship, held at 2 p.m. on the Freedom Stage across from the Farmers Union Tent.

“The quiz bowl is a fun way for high school students to learn about safety on the farm or ranch,” says Hofhenke, of the competition that asks FFA members questions on farm and ranch safety.

The following FFA chapters qualified to compete during the 2019 State FFA Convention: Wolsey Wessington, Hoven, Howard and Platte-Geddes.

Community heroes honored with Rural Dakota Pride awards
At 10:30 a.m., Farmers Union will recognize five South Dakotans for their selfless contributions to rural communities across the state with the Rural Dakota Pride award.
The honorees include Rich Bakeberg, Frederick; Jeannie Hofer, Huron; Jim Lane, Groton; Angie Mueller, Ethan; and Franklin Olson, Pierpont.

As an organization which supports South Dakota farmers and ranchers, Farmers Union understands the integral connection between those who work in South Dakota’s No. 1 industry and their rural communities.

“One cannot survive without the other,” says Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director of S.D. Farmers Union. “Without thriving communities, it’s difficult to encourage young people to return to their family’s farm or ranch. Rural communities are key to the future of South Dakota’s agriculture industry, which is why we like to recognize those individuals who help them thrive.”

Scholarships Awarded
The organization will also announce the South Dakota students who receive $1,000 scholarships for post-secondary education as part of the Farmers Union Foundation and Farmers Union Insurance Agency 2019 Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow Scholarship.

Since 2008, SDFU Foundation has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships to students attending South Dakota post-secondary schools.

The recipients were chosen from among a large pool of applicants. They were scored based on a combination of academic record, activities and awards, financial need and an essay relating to how they will “Insure a Brighter Tomorrow” in South Dakota.

Farmers Union Insurance agents throughout the state fund this scholarship program administered by the Farmers Union Foundation.

“Education is one of the three pillars upon which Farmers Union is built. Year-round, Farmers Union invests in providing leadership, cooperative and farm safety educational programming to school-age rural youth across South Dakota,” Sombke explains.

Recipients include the following students: Abbie Bratland, daughter of Curwin & Kim Bratland, Willow Lake High School; Bayden Schneider, son of Jason & Velda Schneider, Chester Area High School;Benjamin Sees, son of Mike & Kris Sees, Irene-Wakonda High School; Brandon Volmer, son of Todd & Rona Volmer, Winner High School; Brittany Delzer, daughter of Glen & Cheryl Delzer Sturgis Brown High School; Caleb Nugteren, son of Darin & Lisa Nugteren, Canistota High School; Conner Edelman, son of Kevin & Lisa Edelman, Menno Public High School; Elise Heesch, daugher of Loran & Yvette Heesch, Sisseton High School; Emily Buse, daughter of Gary & DeeAnna Buse, Lennox High School; Jaedyn Oplinger, daughter of Linda Oplinger, Menno Public High School;  Justin Edelman, son of Del & Brenda Edelman, Menno Public High School; Justin Goetz, son of Trent & Goetz & Patricia Pudwill, Selby Area High School; Kaitlyn Carlon, daughter of Ronald & Nancy Carlon, Canton High School; Kendra Johnson, daughter of Wayne & Nancy Johnson, Webster Area High School; Kristin Kotes, daughter of Greg Kotes & Angel Eddy, Bridgewater-Emery High School; Liza Schoenbeck, daughter of Loren & Lisa Schoenbeck, Webster Area High School; Morgan Feddersen, son of Chris & Beth Feddersen, Jones County High School; Paydon Casper, son of Eric & Laurie Casper, Lake Preston High School; Spencer Lund, son of Brian & Kari Lund, St. Thomas More High School; Sydney Hoffman, daughter of Jeff & Deanna Hoffman, Bridgewater-Emery High School; Sydney Smith, daughter of Jay & Sherry Smith, Redfield High School; Tess Oplinger, daughter of Linda Oplinger, Menno Public High School; Tessa Menzel, daughter of CJ & Mandie Menzel, Philip High School;  Trevor Frost, son of Travis & Kaylin Frost, Redfield High School andTrista Frost, daughter of Travis & Kaylin Frost, Redfield High School.

Visit www.sdfu.org to meet the scholarship winners who represent more than 20 South Dakota communities.

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S.D. Farmers Union Celebrates Camp Crook Ranch Family

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By Lura Roti for SDFU

Someone once asked Darwin Latham’s grandpa Frank about his heritage. His answer? “Texan,” says the Camp Crook rancher.

As the story goes, Frank’s uncles, Doc and Willie, were among the area’s early settlers, first arriving in the 1880s, driving herds for Texas cattle companies.

They trailed up herds from Texas. “They worked for both the CY Cattle Company and the 101 Cattle Company,” Darwin explains. “Then they began ranching. For a time, Doc was part-owner of the famous bucking horse Tipperary.”

Born in Texas, Frank’s dad died when he was only 2, so his uncles, Doc and Willie encouraged his mom, Mattie, and stepdad, along with his younger brother John, to relocate from Texas.

It wasn’t easy. They tried homesteading several claims and moved around trying to make a go of it. After Frank’s stepdad’s death, Mattie and John moved to a small ranch just north of Camp Crook which is still in the family today.

Frank served in France during World War I as a truck driver. After the war, he put his heavy-equipment experience to work as a “cat skinner” driving a dozer helping build state highways. The money he earned helped him get a start ranching on his own.

In 1928, Frank and his young wife, Esther (Bickerdyke), started ranching on land north of Camp Crook along the Little Missouri River. Their oldest child, Erwin, Darwin’s dad, remained on the ranch.

Darwin and his sons, John, 33, and Jason, 30, continue to ranch there today.

“There are two stories about why we still have the place. One is we are too stubborn to give up and leave. The other is we were too broke to leave. Maybe the real truth is, it is a good place to be, so why go anywhere else,” Darwin says.

And, thanks to these efforts, Darwin, his wife, Kay, and their sons are the fifth generation of Lathams to ranch in the Camp Crook area. The family raises a commercial herd of black Angus/Hereford-cross cattle and sell some registered bulls.

Originally, like all their neighbors, the Lathams raised Hereford cattle. Then black became the preferred color and sale barn prices changed their allegiance.

“We’d get $50 less. Our cattle were the same weight and everything. It was their color, so we switched to black Angus bulls and put them on our Hereford cows,” Darwin explains.

Then, they noticed the bulls weren’t holding up. “They were overdeveloped and couldn’t make it on just grass. Their feet would go bad and they’d break down when we turned them out with the cows on the forest service allotment in the summer,” John explains.

As a result, John bought some registered Angus cows at a dispersion and began raising his own bulls. “We figured the bulls needed to be developed on the same feed as our cows – grass, hay and cake. That will allow them to develop slower but last longer and remain sound,” John says.

“We hand-feed the bull calves because we had some temperament issues with purchased bulls as well. Our main bull-feeding crew are Jason’s sons, my mom and my daughter,” John says.

John’s daughter, Joy, is 3 and Jason and his wife, Kaeloni, have two sons, Jaydon, 4, and Jarrett, 2.

To keep fresh genetics in the herd, John AI’s his registered cows and buys cleanup bulls. “I review catalogues extensively to get just what I’m looking for,” he explains.

In addition to temperament, strong maternal traits and feed efficiency top the list. “Fertility, moderate frame, weaning weights and growth round out the rest of the list,” Jason explains, their cattle need to gain well on rangeland as well as the forest service land they lease in the Custer National Forest.

Their focus has been working. For the last two decades, the Lathams have sold calves right off their ranch, direct to the same Sisseton feeder.

“He is very happy with how our calves perform for him, and we settle on a price ahead of time so we know there won’t be a market wreck on shipping day,” Darwin explains.

Like his grandfather, keeping things going for the next generation still takes gumption and creativity.

During the most recent drought, 2016- 17, the Lathams weren’t able to put up hay at home and lost some cattle to salinity poisoning when the water in their dams went bad.

Because access to water impacts pasture rotation, since 2003, the men have worked to install miles of waterlines, tanks and solar-pumped wells.

“We’ve worked hard to get live water everywhere,” explains John.

For the solar wells, the family was able to get some cost-sharing help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds and Emergency Conservation Program. The funds were made available during recent drought years when they had to haul water.

Even on overcast or snowy days, the solar-powered wells run continuously – keeping tanks thawed out on the coldest of days.

“They are easy to put in now, because we know what we’re doing,” Darwin explains.

Thankfully, there’s been plenty of moisture this year, “Our Little Missouri River is up longer than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime. Typically, by this time of year you can walk across without getting your feet wet, but today, it’s 10-feet deep. The best clover year we’ve ever had.”

“We’re pretty well watered up. It allows for better utilization of pastures,” Darwin adds.

“And the cows and calves look much better,” says Jason.

The Lathams manage their summer pastures on a seasonal rotation. If they go into a pasture in the spring one year, they use it in the fall the next year. “It gives the cool- and warm-season grasses a break and as long as there’s moisture, it works pretty well,” Darwin says. “I can remember from an early age, my granddad Frank and dad told me, ‘if you take care of the ranch, it will take care of you.’”

Darwin’s focus on water began when he returned to ranch full time with his dad, Erwin, in 1994. He and his wife, Kay, had been working as teachers. They jumped at the opportunity to raise their sons on the ranch.

“We felt this was a great place to raise kids. You don’t have a lot of violence and crime here, not like a lot of places,” Darwin says.

The boys attended the multi-grade school in Camp Crook through the eighth grade. “I loved it,” says John, comparing it to the traditional elementary school experience he had prior to moving to the ranch. “You are with kids above and below you, so you learn a lot from your peers, and you get to help the younger kids. We all had combined recess and played kickball together. We even worked on subjects like history, social science and science projects together.”

“In a country school, you don’t have clicks because there are only about 20 kids in the whole school, so everyone needs to get along,” Jason adds.

Like their dad, John and Jason enjoyed working on the ranch and, after college they both planned to return home to ranch. The time was right in 2012. Darwin needed extra help because their grandpa Erwin was fighting cancer and wanted to stay on the ranch. “We were able to honor that and take care of him here,” Jason says.

Jason was the first to return home. He had and had been able to save up some money to build up the herd he began as an elementary student. Jason’s wife, Kaeloni, does billing and payroll for a local construction company. John, after teaching and coaching for several years, returned to the ranch in 2018 and works as a loan officer for Pioneer Bank.

Jason and John have slowly built their own commercial herd and were fortunate enough to recently buy some pasture close to the main ranch. Both men agree, having off-ranch income helps them survive the weather-related events as well as volatile markets.

While John got his first heifer calf from Grandpa Erwin, Jason actually received his first calf as part of a local program, established by Ludlow rancher, Claude Olson, to help kids get their start with cattle. Through the Olson Livestock Foundation, first-graders in Harding County can apply for a heifer calf. Then, three years later, they donate back one of her heifer calves.

The Olson Foundation is just one example of the strong community the Lathams belong to, and, yet another reason the men wanted to return to the ranch.

“We’re so sparsely populated, but because we only have one high school in Buffalo, we know people from all over Harding County – we have people who are good friends and we consider as neighbors even if they live 25 to 50 miles away,” Darwin says.

“In the spring and fall we do a lot of neighboring, trading work, branding and working cattle. There are about seven families in our crew who rotate around and help each other,” Jason explains.

Branding, the men explain, is a social event everyone looks forward to each spring. “After being cooped up all winter, it’s nice to get out and see people,” Jason says. “When you feel like you have had a crap winter, you hear about the one guy who buried his tractor in the snow and had to climb out his back window. It makes the day that you had all the pickups buried in the snow not seem quite so bad.”

Beyond the good times, community members watch out for one another in small ways, like delivering parts. “One challenge of living rural is the distances you have to go to get parts. Getting parts when you break down during haying can take one to four hours, depending on where you need to go for the part. At the Case-IH dealership 65 miles away there’s a sign on the counter asking in-store customers if they are from one of the towns listed, would they be willing to drop a part off for a neighbor in that community waiting for a part,” Darwin explains.

And in big ways. Darwin shares about a time a few years ago when an area ranch had a TB outbreak in their herd. “Everyone who shares a fenceline with them had to test. It happened right before calving season. It was a terrible deal. You don’t want to work cows before calving, but we had to. We had phone calls from our bankers, feed salesmen, insurance salesmen and others asking if they could come out and help us work cattle,” Darwin says. “Relationships you develop in agriculture are like nothing you can find in any other field.”

To give back, the Lathams are all actively involved in the community. Jason and Kay serve on the fair board, John and Jason serve on the church council, Darwin has served on the school board and is president of the EMT association. John currently serves on the Harding County Economic Development board and Jason has served as a director of Stockgrowers. Darwin, Kay and Jason are volunteer EMTs and John and Kaeloni are drivers for the Harding County Ambulance Service. ”We feel that part of leaving a legacy for your children and grandchildren is leaving not only a sustainable ranch, but a strong sustainable community. We have benefited from a great community and we want to give back and pay it forward to the next generations,” says Darwin.

“We have a lot of history here. I know it because I grew up with Granddad Frank, and although he wasn’t one of the first ones, he knew all the first ones,” Darwin explains. “This area was, is and will continue to be a great place to live and raise a family.”

To view more photos of the Latham family, click here.

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