HURON, S.D. — As South Dakota family farmers and ranchers wrap up meetings with congressional leaders and staff September 14, the last day of the 2018 National Farmers Union Fly-In, Wessington farmer, Chris Johnsen says these conversations are a good first step.
“But a lot more needs to be done. We need to keep constant pressure on those leading our country so they understand how bad the situation is, and know that things need to change,” explains Johnsen, after a day of meeting with congressional staff from South Dakota as well as other states.
Aberdeen farmer, Kirk Schaunaman agrees. “The agriculture economy has lost 50 percent of our income over the last five years. All commodities are suffering from these depressed markets. We need support for rural America, production agriculture and all farmers.”
Like many of the more than 30 South Dakota agriculture producers and supporters who traveled to DC for the Farmers Union Fly-In, Schaunaman raises soybeans. And, like all soybean growers, he is concerned over the dramatic drop in prices due to the current trade war with China.
South Dakota is home to more than 11,000 soybean growers. In the current market, many are losing more than $2 on every bushel of soybeans they raise this year.
Each year, nearly 70 percent of the 255 million bushels of soybeans harvested in South Dakota are exported. As of January 2018, China was the largest importer of South Dakota soybeans.
Schaunaman shared his concern with a congressional staff member from Florida.
“We are just starting to harvest and there is already a little carry over from 2017, so when this glut of soybeans hits elevators and has nowhere to go, it will be a mess if we don’t get change on this trade deal,” Schaunaman says.
He added that passing a farm bill before the end of October would help the situation by providing some security. The staffer didn’t sound optimistic, saying that Congress is considering an early recess so members can campaign.
Visiting with congressional staff from states, or districts less dependent upon agriculture than South Dakota is important, explained Justin Goetz, a high school senior from Selby who traveled with the South Dakota group as a member of the Farmers Union National Youth Advisory Council.
“What we say is even more important when someone comes from a non-agriculture background or doesn’t understand farming or ranching, because when they already understand what we are saying and agree with us, our time with them didn’t impact change,” Goetz said.
Goetz’ message even rang true during the group’s meeting with Sen. Thune’s staff.
Thune’s staff mentioned they were not hearing too much concern from South Dakota’s farmers.
Aberdeen farmer, Jeff Kippley was quick to respond. “That’s because farmers don’t ask for help. Whether it is being stuck in the field or going bankrupt,” he explained. “We are a prideful group and don’t easily admit our failings to others. I’m proud of this group, that they are willing to tell you exactly how it is out there.”
Compared to years past, this year saw the largest number of young farmers to make time to travel to DC to share their story, said Doug Sombke, SD Farmers Union President.
“They are concerned enough to leave the beginning of fall harvest on their own operations and understand that someone has to step up and address the issues with leadership,” Sombke said. “And, these young farmers not only had to find someone to fill in for them to feed livestock and run combines while they were gone, but they had to find someone to watch their children.”
Their three young children were among the many reasons, Houghton farmers, Nathan and Samantha Miller, say they felt they had no choice but to share their story.
“The low prices and then the tariffs, we need a farm bill,” explained Nathan, 30, who farms with his dad, Brent and brother, Jordan.
“It’s a big worry right now,” adds Samantha. “Because, no matter what, we still have to feed and clothe our children. We have no choice – there are some things you can’t cut costs on.”
And, sharing their story along with 350 farmers and ranchers from across the nation helps, says De Smet farmer and veteran, Rob Lee, 32.
“Thirty people don’t have the impact that 350 do,” he said.
Terry Sestak, SD Farmers Union board member and a farmer from Tabor agreed. “Advocating for farming and ranching is never ending. That is why we are all members of Farmers Union, because that is what they do for us, in D.C. and at home in Pierre, when we are busy farming and ranching.”
South Dakota farmers, ranchers and supporters who traveled to D.C. include the following: Doug Sombke, Conde farmer and SDFU President; Wayne Soren, Lake Preston farmer and SDFU Vice President; Karla Hofhenke, SDFU Executive Director, Huron; Larry Birgen, Beresford farmer; Kirk Schaunaman, Aberdeen farmer; Terry and Eileen Sestak, Tabor farmers and Terry serves as an SDFU board member; Rob Lee, De Smet farmer; Oren and Tracy Lesmeister, Parade ranchers; Brett and Jessica Kenzy, Iona farmers and their children, Sierra Rencountre, and Sapphire Kenzy; David Sigdestad, Pierpont farmer; David and Brenda Reis, Oacoma farmers; Rocky Forman, SDFU Member Services Coordinator, Huron; Mandi Forman, small business owner, Huron; Chris and Ronalee Johnsen, Wessington farmers; Craig Blindert, Salem farmer and Insurance Agent; Luke Blindert, Salem farmer and Insurance Agent; Jeff and Rachel Kippley Aberdeen farmers; Mitch Richter, SDFU lobbyist, Rapid City; and Nathan and Samantha Miller, Houghton farmers.
The group of South Dakota high school and college youth, who serve on Farmers Union National Youth Advisory Council, also traveled with the group to DC. They include: Jim Brockel, Shade Hill; Caleb Nugteren, Canistota and Justin Goetz, Selby.
— South Dakota Farmers Union
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