HURON, S.D. — During his keynote address, South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, challenged family farmers and ranchers to take a moment to reflect and ask themselves: “What am I doing to help mankind?”
Of course, the answer is unique for each of the many South Dakota family farmers and ranchers gathered in Huron December 16-17 for the 2021 South Dakota Farmers Union State Convention. But a common thread of advocacy for grassroots policy to support fair prices for farmers, ranchers and consumers could be found among convention goers.
“Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our state’s economy and its rural communities. If our family farmers and ranchers cannot see stable profits, we cannot expect that they will stay on the farm,” said Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer who was reelected during convention to serve another term as President.
Ipswich farmer and small business owner, Lance Perrion agrees.
“We need to get some fair prices for livestock. Not just beef, but all sides of livestock,” said Perrion, 30. “If you want these small towns to stay together and young people to be around, we need to have value in these animals. And it needs to get back to the farm to keep towns alive and keep ag alive.”
Perrion and his wife Sarah, 27, have three young daughters. Together the couple raise crops and manage a cow/calf and feedlot operation. They also own and operate several agriculture businesses on their farm near Ipswich. 2021 State Convention was the first the couple has attended.
“This was the first meeting I have attended where there were positive-thinking people who are putting policy in place to make a difference in Pierre and D.C.,” Perrion said. “I have attended too many meetings where people whine and complain about what is going on. And when the meeting is over, nothing has been done to change things. At this convention, people came together to set policy to take action and be a positive voice for South Dakota and South Dakota agriculture.”
Fair prices for livestock producers is the focus of a Special Order that supports the enforcement of present laws and regulations including and not limited to GIPSA and dealing with misinformation in truth in labeling. The grassroots policy written by members and voted on during convention, will guide the organization’s lobbying efforts in Pierre and Washington, D.C.
“There are three things that keep me in Farmers Union. Support for MCOOL, research and support of ethanol and IMSET (Inventory Management Soil Enhancement Tool),” explained Polo farmer, Cheryl Schaefers. “These are all programs that don’t need government checks to help farmers. If the law is made and upheld, farmers would receive fair prices.”
Establishing policy to support fair prices for farmers and ranchers not only protects producers, but it also helps consumers, explained Aberdeen farmer, Kirk Schaunaman. “Consolidation of the packing industry is not only a food security issue, it is a national security and consumer issue,” Schaunaman said.
“Consumers care where their food comes from, and Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) does just that.”
Along with agriculture-specific policy, another Special Order passed by membership supports Medicaid expansion in South Dakota. “As someone who falls in the donut hole, I am pro-Medicaid expansion because it is tough to have young children and be a young adult ranching and not have options for affordable health insurance,” explained Shilo LaMont, a Union Center rancher. “I like to pride myself and my family for being hard workers. We work hard for everything we have. But having affordable health insurance is still an issue.”
Farmers Union joined with more than 40 other South Dakota organizations, including Avera Health and Sanford to support Medicaid expansion which will be on the South Dakota ballot in 2022.
Ensuring the organization’s policy is relevant and clearly represents issues facing family farmers and ranchers is the primary purpose of this annual meeting of the state’s largest agriculture organization. But it is not the only reason many South Dakotans turned out for the event. After a year of virtual workshops, meetings and conventions, 89-year-old Webster farmer Franklin Olson said he was eager to see his friends again.
“I enjoy Farmers Union and I want to see my friends – some I have not seen in two years now,” he said.
His sentiment was echoed by former North Dakota Senator and convention speaker, Heidi Heitkamp. “Aren’t we sick of doing Zoom meetings?” she asked. “Talking about rural voices, many times you read national articles about what is happening in rural America, and you think, “that is not what I think is happening, or this is not my perspective.”
Heitkamp’s message was one of setting aside politics and making a point as farmers, ranchers and rural citizens to speak up for rural America and agriculture. “We need to ask the question, who gets to talk for rural America?””
Heitkamp encouraged farmers, ranchers and rural citizens to ignite conversations. This was also a focus of Wayne Soren’s talk. The Lake Preston farmer and SD Farmers Union Vice President said, “If you have an idea that could help, share it,” he said. “Some thing’s work, and some don’t but you need to at least try them. And that is what our policy discussion is for,” said Soren, who was reelected to serve another term.
Grassroots representation of farmers and ranchers was also the focus of National Farmers Union President, Rob Larew’s State of the Union address. “This is an organization dedicated to success of family farmers, ranchers and communities. It is an organization that recognizes a bigger theme that is bigger than my farm, bigger than my neighbors’ farms, it is all of us trying to make a situation better,”
Larew said. “Farmers know the way to do the right thing themselves. They don’t need corporations to tell them how or what to do.”
Larew shared that because of Farmers Union’s efforts to support fair prices for livestock producers and enforce laws that prohibit price fixing, not only has the new Administration asked the Department of Justice to look into the issue, but there may be an opportunity for MCOOL. “If you asked me what the chances were of reinstating MCOOL before, I would say it was a long haul. In short, the pandemic helped us on this. Consumers are now on this. They want to know where their food comes from. They understand the food system has huge problems,” said Larew, explaining that because of Farmers Union’s dedication to fair prices, the organization has been called upon to provide insight for Congressional leaders.
To provide a roadmap for federal lobbying efforts, South Dakota Farmers Union will send 13 delegates to the National Farmers Union Convention held in Denver, February 27-March1, 2022.
National Farmers Union lobbies on behalf of policy that comes from state organizations, like South Dakota Farmers Union. This policy is then voted into national policy during the National Farmers Union Convention. The 2022 South Dakota national convention delegates are: Jeff and Rachel Kippley, Aberdeen; Lance and Sarah Perrion, Ipswich; Tammy Basel, Union Center; Shilo LaMont, Union Center; Lorrie Hanson, Britton; Hank and Melissa Wonnenberg, Dallas; Taylor and Cassie Sumption, Frederick and Rob and Darcie Lee, De Smet.
“Our delegates understand the issues and challenges facing family farmers and ranchers, because they are family farmers and ranchers,” Sombke said. “It’s powerful to see what can be accomplished for South Dakota agriculture when a group of producers unite to have their voice heard.”
In addition to National Convention Delegates, elections were held for state board leadership. Results are as follows: Doug Sombke, President; Wayne Soren, Vice President; Scott Kolousek, District 2 Director; David Reis, District 4 Director and Oren Lesmeister, District 6 Director.
To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union and the work the organization does to support family farmers, ranchers and rural communities, visit www.sdfu.org.