HURON, S.D. — Zach Ducheneaux, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Administrator was among the thought leaders to discuss food security with farmers, ranchers and other fairgoers today, (September 4) during Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair.
“In light of what happened to our pork and cattle markets and overall food supply during the pandemic, the current Administration issued an Executive Order making food security a top priority of the USDA. This is good news for family farmers, ranchers and the consumers we serve,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.
Appointed Administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency in February, Ducheneaux previously served as the Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the largest, longest-standing Native American agriculture organization in the United States. Ducheneaux operates his family’s ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota with his brothers.
“Zach is a South Dakota rancher, so he is no stranger to the producer’s role in food security,” Sombke said.
South Dakota Farmers Union hosted the panel discussion and along with Ducheneaux, the state’s largest agriculture organization also invited National Farmers Union President, Rob Larew and Oren Lesmeister, a Parade rancher, small business owner and District 28-A State Representative to serve on the panel.
“Food security is not just a rural thing,” explains Lesmeister.
Fairgoer and fourth-generation De Smet cattle producer, Bob Montross agreed.
“Everyone is concerned about the food supply, and they want to know where their food comes from,” Montross says.
And food security is top of mind for farmers and ranchers year-round, Sombke explains. “Food security has been a focus of our policy for years. Because the family farmers and ranchers who set our policy, understand how the market consolidation that impacts their bottom-line can also impact processing capacity and distribution.”
To this point, Larew said, “We have a marketplace dominated by just a handful of folks – just four packers have 85 percent control of cattle market. That is not just bad news for cattle producers, but also consumers. When so much power is concentrated, and there is a disruption like the pandemic, consumers’ experience price gouging in grocery stores and farmers suffer huge profit losses. For the sake of our food supply, we need fair markets.”
Ducheneaux shared how the USDA Farm Service Agency works to protect food security by helping producers following disasters. “It is important that we provide the income stream they need to help them weather market disruptors,” Ducheneaux explains. “The Secretary of Agriculture often shares a statistic that 89 percent of producers make a majority of their income off the farm. No wonder the average age of farmers is creeping toward 65.”
Ducheneaux also says that if the current Farm Service Agency programs are not meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers, when they are faced with a disaster, he wants to know. “My e-mail address is Zach. Ducheneaux@usda.gov and I answer all my own e-mail. Please reach out.”
The market’s impact on food security was also evident today, during Farmers Union Farmer’s Share Lunch, where fairgoers enjoyed lunch for .25 cents. This lunch highlights the large difference between grocery store prices and what farmers and ranchers receive for the crops and livestock they raise.
Volunteers from Erwin, Winner, Black Hawk, Kimball and Wessington Springs recognized
Farmers Share Lunch and the Food Security panel discussion are among several events and activities South Dakota Farmers Union hosted today. A premiere sponsor of the State Fair, Farmers Union also recognized rural citizens who volunteer their time giving back to their communities with the Rural Dakota Pride Award. The 2021 Rural Dakota Pride Honorees include Doug Kazmerzak, Erwin; Liz Farley, Winner; Shirley Mallow, Black Hawk; Kayla & Kelly Konechne, Kimball and Ryan Jensen, Wessington Springs. To learn more about these volunteers, visit www.sdfufoundation.org.
$25,000 in scholarships awarded
Twenty-five scholarship recipients were also recognized during Farmers Union Day at the State Fair. The South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation, in cooperation with Farmers Union Insurance, awarded $1,000 Insuring a Brighter Tomorrow Scholarship to each student to put toward their postsecondary education at a South Dakota college, university or technical school. Over the past 14 years, the Foundation has awarded more than $350,000 in scholarships to students.
Scholarship recipients include Abigail Mayer, Sioux Falls Washington High School; Courtney Turck, Redfield High School; Ella Wittmuss, Vermillion High School; Elle Hoops, Huron High School; Everett Paul, Sunshine Bible Academy; Hannah Whitney, Armour High School; Hayley Hanson, Winner High School; Isaac Suchor, Redfield High School; Jessie Lux, Eureka High School; Josh Hoffman, Leola High School; Kayla Van Osdel, Gayville-Volin High School; Kelcey Butler, Philip High School; Kennedy Leiferman, Kimball High School; Kyle Peterson, Northwestern High School; Lane Miller, Howard High School; Lauren Weishaar, Lemmon High School; Layton Eide, Deuel High School; Lindsey Grabowska, Ipswich Public High School; Logan Wagner, SF Roosevelt High School; Madison Weishaar, Lemmon High School; Mitchell VanderWal, Northwestern High School; Reilly Hoops, Huron High School; Sadie Streff, Clark High School; Samantha Hubert, New Underwood High School and Shaley Dirk, Newell High School.
To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union and the work this grassroots organization does to support family farmers, ranchers and rural communities, visit www.sdfu.org.