Rural Ramblings News from Ag United. Sat, 23 Oct 2021 02:19:07 -0500 Featured Farmer: Improving Soil Health Benefits Crops, Cattle and the Bottom Line Doug Sieck tour 1.JPG

Featured Farmer: Improving Soil Health Benefits Crops, Cattle and the Bottom Line

Doug Sieck is the fourth generation of his family to ranch in north central South Dakota, raising cattle and crops on Deep Root Ranch. He combines the legacy of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, with new ideas and innovative management practices to benefit the land, animals and his business.

“We were a pretty conventional operation until about 2007 or so,” he said.  Sieck began looking into practices like reducing tillage and planting cover crops to help keep more moisture in the soils. 

After touring other farms and talking to farmers and experts about the potential, they moved to 100% no-till, and added soybeans and cover crops to their crop rotation.  Since then, he has adopted a number of practices including rotational grazing, grazing of full and partial season cover crops, livestock integration, as well as rotating cover crops and deep-rooted perennials with more traditional corn, soybean and wheat crops.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can make sure that the rain we do receive stays in the ground instead of running off and going back into the creeks,” he said.  (Watch Doug demonstrate how healthier soils can hold water and nutrients in this video.)

These new practices follow the five principles of soil health, which include

  1. Soil cover: keeping plant residues on the soil surface
  2. Limited disturbance: minimize tillage as much as possible
  3. Diversity: try to mimic nature
  4. Living roots: keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil
  5. Integrating livestock including fall/winter grazing of cover crops and crop residue

“I farmed for years without really being interested in what the soil is actually made of.  We thought of it as just dirt, not living soil.  Now I’m aware that there are probably 5,000 pounds of living microbes per acre that we have to feed and manage,” he said.  “The soil has an abundance of nitrogen and phosphorous, but they are in a form that plants can’t absorb.  Microbes are the tools that we use to convert those forms of nitrogen into forms that plants can use.”

These practices are a long-term investment, said Sieck. Over the long term, producers will see payoffs with better holding of water, being able to get into fields earlier in the spring and reducing fertilizer and other input needs.  The more moisture that is held in the soil will help support growing plants during drought years as well.  But there is also trial and error and a learning curve to find out what works best on each farm and each field.

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Sieck raises beef cattle, including a cow herd with calves born each spring. He practices rotational grazing. Instead of allowing cattle to graze on an entire pasture all season, a pasture is divided into smaller sections called paddocks.  Cattle graze in one paddock at a time, allowing the other sections of the pasture to regrow and preventing over-use of areas. 

Sieck is just one of many South Dakota farmers and ranchers focused on soil health. He was a board member of the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition for a few years, and was part of the founding group and board of the producer-led South Dakota Soil Health Coalition when it was founded in 2015.  He served as board chairman and is currently a board member. 

The SD Soil Health Coalition focuses on hosting events, programs and sharing information with farmers and ranchers to improve soil health across the state.  They host an annual meeting and soil health conference each winter which attracts around 400 people, whether it is in person or via video conference. The coalition also hosts a series of farm and demonstration plot tours during the growing season and a Soil Health School in the fall.

“We’ve had the most success with events where we include both professional and technical experts who can talk about technologies and management practices and the research behind them, along with the producers who can share their own real-world experiences,” said Sieck.  “The combination of technical expertise and on-the-ground perspective has built credibility and helped us provide valuable information.”

Learn more about South Dakota Soil Health Coalition on their website.

Tue, 12 Oct 2021 14:37:00 -0500
Big Sioux River Project raising awareness, improving water quality buffer strips.jpg

Big Sioux River Project raising awareness, improving water quality

Thinking out of the box and building new partnerships are key to protecting and preserving one of South Dakota’s most precious resources: water. 

The Big Sioux River Project is a non-government project of the East Dakota Water Development District and Minnehaha Conservation District that works to improve water quality in the Big Sioux River and the entire watershed.  The program also raises public awareness of water quality issues and monitors the health of the river and its tributariesBarry Berg, senior watershed project coordinator, has been focused on improving and preserving water quality for more than 20 years. He grew up in rural Minnesota and earned his bachelor’s degree at Mankato State, and his graduate degree at South Dakota State.  In 2020, Berg was also named to the U.S. EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Committee (FRRCC).

The program that is now the Big Sioux River Project started in the late 1990s as an assessment and testing project for the Big Sioux River watershed, and has evolved over the years to include important partnerships and collaborations with cities, farmers and government agencies.

“We are all in this together.  We all want to improve water quality,” said Berg.

Alexa Kruse joined Big Sioux River Project in 2020 as watershed project specialist to work on the project’s public presence through education, information and outreach.  She grew up outside of Brandon, SD, and graduated in 2018 from the University of South Dakota with a degree in Biology and Sustainability.  After working for a year in New Zealand, she returned to South Dakota. 

“I’m excited about the work that is happening with Big Sioux River Project because it sets a great example for other watersheds,” she said.  “The work we do with farmers and livestock producers has a direct and measurable positive impact on the environment and therefore the health and wellness of the people using the river downstream.”

Since 2011, hundreds of partnerships with producers and landowners have been formed, through the Big Sioux River Project and over $19 million invested in water quality, making a big difference in quality of water and protecting health of animals, people and soils. The program currently has 3,110 acres of riparian buffer programs protecting 85.7 miles of rivers and streams.  Other states are also adopting a similar approach to watershed management, including Minnesota and Kansas. 

A key element of the program is designing and implementing BMPs, or Best Management Practices, for agricultural land adjacent to or near the river.  The goal of most of these projects is to reduce the levels of bacteria and sediment in the river and streams.

“In 2012, we started thinking out of the box and started hosting meetings and discussions with farmers to find new ways to improve water quality in the area,” said Berg. 

A program that came out of these conversations was finding ways to limit livestock standing in streams and rivers while grazing in pastures.  They developed a pilot Seasonal Riparian Area Management program with South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource to limit ability of livestock to access water during the summer when rivers are used for recreational activities and temperatures are warmer.  By adding water tanks to pastures and providing shade with trees or alternative structures, cattle can stay cool while grazing away from the water, then can be moved back to pastures near the water when temperatures are cooler.

“There are lots of tools and resources available to farmers and landowners to be tailored to their needs and land,” Berg said, noting options and programs for educational resources, cost shares and tools through Natural Resource Conservation Service and other agencies.

Other practices that have a positive impact on water quality include planting grass along waterways, adding filter strips and adding terraces to fields to minimize water runoff.  Cleaner water downstream also means that less resources need to be used to treat water for other uses. 

Berg said positive progress has been made in working together with cities like Sioux Falls whose leaders understand that everyone involved is both part of the challenge and the solution of water quality in the state. 

“A producer may have land along the river where you can see that direct input, but a homeowner in town isn’t so far removed from water as they might think,” said Kruse.  “Storm drains are everywhere and they drain from driveways, lawns and gutters directly into streams and rivers.  Since we all have an impact, we all have a hand in improving and protecting water quality, just in different ways.”

As part of its efforts to increase awareness of water quality and actions that can be taken by farmers, livestock producers and city residents, the Big Sioux River Project has launched several new communications and education programs over the last year including a new website and social media channels.

“We need to have more people part of the conversation, because everyone brings new ideas for what will work,” said Berg.  “Working together with neighbors and across communities is the key to water quality.”

Tue, 14 Sep 2021 10:22:00 -0500
Teen strives to raise awareness for mental health awareness during South Dakota State Fair. Teen strives to raise awareness for mental health awareness during South Dakota State Fair.

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Statistics indicate 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, and 1 in 6 U.S. youth between the ages of 6 and 17 are affected by a mental health disorder. Additionally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34. Those staggering statistics have prompted one South Dakota teen to lead efforts to create more awareness for mental health.

"I want to help people of all ages simply be aware of the importance of caring for their mental health and reaching out for help when they need it," says Matea Gordon, whose involvement with 4-H and FFA has helped her recognize the resources available for those needing help.

She notes that because 4-H green will be a prevalent color worn by 4-H youth at the 2021 South Dakota State Fair in Huron, Sept. 2-6., she thought it was a great opportunity to spotlight green for another reason - the green ribbon is the international symbol for mental health awareness.

Working with the South Dakota State Fair and Avera Farm and Rural Stress hotline, Gordon will be placing posters with encouraging messages to overcome challenges, as well as the Farm and Rural Stress contact information, in the restrooms across the State Fairgrounds in an effort to raise more awareness for mental health. She will also be working with several state ag organizations to hand-out mental health resources at their booths to fairgoers - from stickers and bookmarks to green ribbon vehicle magnets and stress balls. These items will be offered at the Farmer's Union, South Dakota Pork Producers and 4-H booths, as well as several others.

"Stress is a regular part of life, but we all need to find ways to care for our mental health through quiet time, talking through challenges with a friend, and allowing our bodies and minds to rest. But, from time to time we may need to reach out and ask for extra help, and I want people to realize that is O.K," states Gordon, who will be a senior at Sturgis Brown High School and through involvement in 4-H and FFA has attended the South Dakota State Fair for 14 consecutive years. For individuals seeking more mental health resources contact the Avera Farm and Rural Stress hotline at 1-800-691-4336. The call is free and confidential and available 24 hours a day.

Wed, 25 Aug 2021 10:45:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Matt Meier Matt Meier’s love of farming and raising crops started young and has evolved into a custom farming business that involves the entire family.  His daughter, Ellie, has also found a passion in raising and showing livestock.

Matt grew up near Mount Vernon, SD, and started renting land to raise crops when he was a senior in high school. When he and Angie married, they moved to Letcher, and he farmed with his dad and brother until 2015 when he shifted his focus and started Meier Custom Farming. He owns planting, spraying and harvesting equipment, and is hired by other farmers or landowners to plant, apply crop protection products or harvest crops on their land. 

He typically works with farmers within 60 miles of Letcher, but has occasionally traveled further if it is a good opportunity for both himself and the landowner. He plants and harvests a variety of crops from corn and soybeans to spring and winter wheat and sunflowers. 

Matt and Angie have two daughters: Ellie is 16 and Maggie is 6. They are both active in school activities.

Angie works for the City of Letcher and also helps operate combines and equipment with Meier Custom Farming, and Ellie helps with moving equipment as well. Matt also has several parttime seasonal employees that help when needed. 

He enjoys the variety and opportunity to learn new things with custom farming. 

“It’s a great way to meet new people and see how each farmer manages his land and crops differently, and the new things they are trying to increase yields or to take better care of the soils and water,” he said.

Meier notes that there are a number of reasons that farmers or landowners hire a custom farmer instead of doing the work themselves.

“Timeliness is a big reason. If they get behind and need a little extra help finishing up planting or harvesting, I’m happy to help them out,” he said. Farmers who raise both crops and livestock may need help with spraying or other tasks when they are busy with animals. Meier can either harvest a crop for a farmer completely, or run his equipment along with the farmers’ own equipment to make things move more quickly. 

Some farmers also choose to hire custom farmers for specific jobs rather than own equipment themselves. 

“As equipment is more expensive, sometimes it makes sense to hire a custom operator,” he said. “Farmers also have fewer hired hands and employees, so don’t have the people to help run additional equipment.”

Just as Matt found his interest in agriculture at an early age, his daughter, Ellie, began showing animals at the county 4-H achievement show when she was about 10 years old. She has started raising her own small herd of sheep to raise lambs to show at the county show as well as South Dakota State Fair and several other regional livestock shows.

She is also involved in FFA, volleyball and basketball at Sanborn Central High School. 

“Being involved in 4-H and raising animals builds a great work ethic, responsibility and leadership,” said Meier. “She is always working to find better ways to feed and care for animals so they are healthier and perform better.”   

While custom farming means long days and busy schedules, Meier sees a lot of benefits in his farming business.

“It’s in my blood. I like being outdoors and learning about how farmers approach things differently,” he said. “At the end of the day, farmers are all alike, we’re all looking for new ideas and new ways to grow crops and care for the land to feed the world.”

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A planter (left) and sprayer (right) are some of the equipment that Matt uses for his custom farming business.


Matt and his daughters, Ellie and Maggie at Sanborn County Fair with Ellie's meat goat.

Wed, 11 Aug 2021 14:37:00 -0500
The Farmer's Daughter: County Fairs are a Summer Highlight As we are halfway through July, it is getting closer to the days where youth and adults are preparing for county fairs to take place across South Dakota. Growing up as a kid, I remember the county fair being the highlight of the summer. You got to have delicious food, hang out with your friends, but most importantly, showcase all the hard work that you have done over the past year. When I was a member in 4-H I was involved with many things, some which included exhibiting projects, attending camps and leadership conferences, fashion revue and special foods, and preparing livestock to show.

Being involved in 4-H has shaped me into the person I am today. I gained leadership and practical life skills and have been able to apply them to daily tasks. Building relationships with people from across the state is another opportunity I have gained from 4-H. Because of my relationships I have built over the years, I have been able to network and learn from others. Also, my involvement and responsibilities of raising, taking care, and preparing  livestock for showing has deepened my desire for agriculture.

My passion for agriculture started on the farm but grew because of 4-H. I wish all the youth preparing for county fairs the best and hope the fair can be a highlight of their summer. Make sure to check us out at South Dakota Farm Families on Facebook for interesting events, articles, and facts.

April Hamilton

Thu, 15 Jul 2021 12:07:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Scot Eisenbraun, Diverse Crops Benefit Soil and Bottom Line Adapting their farming and ranching business to meet consumer and food processor needs has enabled the Eisenbraun family to not only farm the same land near Wall, South Dakota, for seven generations, but also to preserve and improve the soils for the future.  

Scot Eisenbraun was raised on his family’s farm and began operating it in 1991.  He now farms with his sons Tyrel, Taran and Tate. They raise a number of crops – winter wheat and spring wheat, corn, millet, yellow edible peas and three types of sunflowers – as well as beef cattle.

Tyrel and his wife, Kassidy, have three sons, Landon, Declan and Griffin, and Taran and his wife, Tayah, have a daughter, Tinley. The grandchildren are the eighth generation to grow up on the farming and ranching operation. 

Wheat has always been an important crop in western South Dakota, but Eisenbraun has looked for other crops that can be included in the rotation. He began planting sunflowers 15 or 20 years ago.

“Without sunflowers, we probably wouldn’t be farming anymore. It provided an opportunity for higher profits if the sunflower crop meets the quality requirements for the confectionery market,” he said. They have continued to grow acreage and now raise sunflowers for a variety of uses.

Confectionery sunflowers are sold directly to processors and used for food markets, including the bagged sunflower seeds we all see at grocery and convenience stores. The Eisenbrauns also raise high oleic sunflowers that are used for cooking oils and other food industry applications, and conoil sunflowers that are a hybrid of the confectionery and oil types and used to produce sunflower kernels for baking or salad bar toppings.

For the past five years, they have also grown yellow field peas, which are a high protein edible legume which can be sold for human consumption or livestock feed. Yellow field peas are used in a number of the plant-based protein products that have been introduced in recent years. The Eisenbrauns raise field peas for food markets, and also raise certified seed for sale to other farmers. 

“We have a five-year crop rotation for each of our fields. We start with planting winter wheat, then the following years that field is planted to sunflowers, then spring wheat, then corn, and finally yellow field peas,” said Eisenbraun.  “The rotation between broadleaf crops like sunflowers and peas to grass crops like wheat and corn help break disease cycles and build soils and crop productivity. If you grow the same crop on the same field year after year, it can lead to issues.”

Rotating crops is especially important in the Eisenbrauns’ no-till farming system. By not using tillage after a crop is harvested, crop residue remains on the surface to better hold water and nutrients and protect soil structure.

Scot is a board member of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, which he credits for conducting research that has allowed no-till farming to be possible in the region.  The farm is a non-profit entity owned by farmers and managed by board members, with a goal of identifying, researching, and demonstrating methods of strengthening and stabilizing the agriculture economy. 

“Dwayne Beck and the research farm have been working on ways to preserve and make soils better for 40 years,” he said.

The family also raises black Angus and red Angus cattle. They have a small registered herd to sell bulls to other ranchers to grow their herds, but the majority of cattle raised go to beef production. They raise all-natural beef, meaning that cattle do not receive additional growth hormones or antibiotics.

Scot is also a partner in Red Rock Restaurant in Wall that features locally-raised beef and pork dishes. The restaurant sources meat from Eisenbrauns and other local ranchers and livestock producers and processes animals at Wall Meat Processing.

He is a board member of the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, as well as active in his church council and in promoting agriculture in the community.

“Everything we put in our mouth comes from the ground, whether is wheat, sunflowers or peas used in food market, or livestock feed that eventually becomes beef, pork or other meats,” he said.

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Mon, 12 Jul 2021 12:34:00 -0500
Farmer's Daughter: National Grilling Month Hi y'all, April Hamilton with Ag United. If you haven't heard already, July is national grilling month! I don't know about you, but for me, nothing beats a meal where I can cook a burger or steak on the grill! I work at the SDSU meat lab while I attend SDSU and have learned many things with one of the most important things is food safety. Practice food safety while grilling by using separate plates and utensils between raw and cooked products. Also, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the meat to make sure it is fully cooked. Ground beef and ground pork should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. After taking the meat off of heat, let it rest 3 minutes for it to reach its peak temperature. 

For more interesting information, check us out on Facebook at South Dakota Farm Families.

Fri, 02 Jul 2021 12:01:00 -0500

Ode family opens doors to community

BRANDON, SD – The Ode family is celebrating June Dairy Month by hosting the 14th Breakfast on the Farm at Royalwood Dairy near Brandon, on Saturday, June 19 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. The free, family-friendly event will provide guests with an opportunity to see firsthand where the dairy products they enjoy get their start. The open house event has become a tradition for the Ode family, as well as many families in the Brandon and Sioux Falls metro areas.

Visitors can participate in guided tours of the dairy to learn more about dairy farming and how milk gets from the farm to the store. Enjoy free pancakes and delicious dairy treats. Listen to children’s entertainer, Phil Baker provide entertainment for kids at 10:30am and 11:30am. Kids can make crafts as a part of Hood Magazine’s Make N’ Take activity, jump in a bouncy combine and participate in other family friendly activities.

Since 2008 the Ode family has hosted an open house at their dairy every June in celebration of Dairy Month.  “We appreciate the Ode family’s willingness to open up their farm to their neighbors and folks from the surrounding communities,” said Heidi Zwinger, Outreach Director for Ag United.  “It is a great opportunity for people to see firsthand how committed South Dakota dairy farmers are to their cows and the environment,” added Zwinger.

Royalwood Dairy is located south of Brandon, 48176 266th St. Brandon, SD 57005. Parking for the event will be located 1 mile east of the dairy. Look for the signs. Shuttle busses will be running continuously from the parking lot to the farm. Follow South Dakota Farm Families on Facebook for more details.

The event is sponsored in part by Undeniably Dairy, South Dakota Farm Families and Prairie Farms.

Tue, 08 Jun 2021 16:34:00 -0500

Moes family opens doors to community


GOODWIN, SD – South Dakota Farm Families and the Moes family are celebrating June Dairy Month by hosting an open house at the Moes’ family farm, MoDak Dairy, near Kranzburg. The event will be on Saturday, June 12th from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Guests attending the free, family-friendly event will see firsthand where the dairy products they enjoy get their start.

Visitors to the farm will have the opportunity to tour the dairy, pet baby calves, and eat free grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream. Guests will learn more about how farmers care for the environment, their cows, and how milk travels from the cow to the grocery store.

The Moes family is no stranger to opening their farm for tours. This will be the ninth time the family has hosted an open house for June Dairy Month. “We appreciate the Moes family’s willingness to open up their farm to their neighbors and folks from the surrounding communities,” said Heidi Zwinger, Outreach Director for Ag United.  “There’s nothing like giving people the opportunity to see firsthand how committed South Dakota dairy farmers are to their cows and the environment,” added Zwinger.

MoDak Dairy is located North of Kranzburg.  From Interstate 29 go eight miles east on Hwy 212. Turn North onto 466th Ave. for 1 mile. Then turn right onto 171st St. for ¾ mi.  The farm is located at 46516 171st St. Goodwin, SD.

The event is sponsored in part by Ag United/South Dakota Farm Families, Undeniably Dairy, Midwest Dairy, and Valley Queen Cheese.  

Tue, 08 Jun 2021 16:29:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Preparing the Next Generation of Ag Leaders College experiences prepare next generation for farm, ranch and professional roles 

As college graduates around the country begin their new jobs, several recent South Dakota State University alumni are excited about how their classroom, internship and networking experiences at college have prepared them for their roles at family farms and ranches and the agriculture industry.

Matthew Sperry is the fifth generation to farm on his family’s farm near Bath, South Dakota, where they raise corn, soybeans and hogs.  As the youngest of five siblings, he grew up helping in a number of ways on the farm.  He also was active in 4-H and his Catholic faith, which provided opportunities for leadership programs and networking.  

“Through 4-H, I was able to see a different side of agriculture.  I always had my eye set on coming back to the farm and those different perspectives were helpful,” he said.

He attended South Dakota State University and graduated in May with degrees in Precision Agriculture, Agronomy and a minor in Agricultural Business. 

“Precision Ag and agronomy are a perfect pair,” said Matthew.  “Precision ag is focused on using data from technology tools to make better decisions, but it is still important to have an understanding of the agronomy of crops in order to make the best use of the information the technology provides.” 

In addition to college education that provided classroom training on a variety of crop and livestock production, he was also active in several clubs on campus, including Agronomy Club and Precision Ag Club.  The networking opportunities in these groups are valuable, as many students will take professional roles in the companies, cooperatives and organizations across the state, said Matthew.

He is now working full-time on the family farm along with his father Scott Sperry, and looking forward to understanding more about the decisions that are made, and especially how new technologies can help them be more productive and sustainable.

“My goal is to learn as much as I can and take everything in. I may have my college degree, but the on-the-job training has just started,” he said.

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Matthew Sperry reassembling a spray nozzle after cleaning the sprayer. 

Jacob Rausch and Peter Rausch are part of the fourth generation at Rausch Herefords, a family ranch near Hoven, that is currently owned and operated by three generations, including their grandfather, great uncle, father and three brothers.

The family raises breeding stock, selling animals to other ranchers and beef producers to improve the genetics of their herds. Each year they have a production sale where they sell about 100 two-year old bulls, 50 yearling bulls and 250 replacement heifers. 

“With seven kids in the family, there was always plenty of work to do and lots of fun co-workers to do it with,” said Jacob.  

Both brothers knew they wanted to be involved in agriculture and the family business as they grew up.

“As the youngest, I was always looking forward to working on the ranch,” said Peter.  “I was on a horse before I started school, and wanted to build the strong work ethic I needed to come back to the ranch.”

In high school, Peter was involved in activities like FFA that helped build work ethic and leadership and teamwork skills. He attended SDSU and earned an Ag Science degree this May.  He is currently working in an internship with Jorgenson Land and Cattle Company, then plans to return to Rausch Herefords on January 1. He will be working as a herdsman caring for livestock and herd management.

“When you stay at one operation, you are more likely to continue with the same traditions and not innovate,” said Peter. “College and internships provide new skills, perspectives and experiences that we can take back to improve our own operations,”

 Jacob graduated in May with a degree in Animal Science and minors in Ag Marketing and Ag Business.  He is working as a feed consultant for Dakotaland Feeds, working with livestock producer clients in eastern South Dakota. 

“I want to continue to grow my expertise in cattle nutrition and learn everything I can about the feed industry, while staying connected to the family business and helping them out when I am able,” said Jacob.

He was also involved in college organizations including SDSU Livestock Judging Team and was a manager of the Little International Livestock Expo.

“It became evident pretty quickly that not only was I learning in the classroom, but I was surrounded by some very intelligent and motivated classmates that I learned a lot from as well,” he said. 


Jacob Rausch (left) and Peter Rausch (right) preparing for their family ranch's sale day.

On behalf of South Dakota’s farm and ranch families and our partner organizations, we wish Matthew, Peter, Jacob and all of the recent graduates the best as they begin their careers in South Dakota agriculture. We are in great hands with these talented and motivated young people as the next generation of South Dakota ag leaders!

Tue, 08 Jun 2021 11:00:00 -0500
Farmer's Daughter: April Hamilton Hi, I’m April Hamilton. I grew up on my family’s farm near Hitchcock, SD, where we have both crop and cattle. Agriculture has always been a part of my life, from helping out on the farm to being members of both 4-H and FFA. Currently I’m studying Agricultural Leadership with minors in Spanish and Leadership & Management of Nonprofit Organizations at South Dakota State University, where I hope to go into the career field of agritourism. Between classes, I keep myself busy with my involvement in Navigators, a campus ministry, multiple agricultural clubs, and working at the SDSU Meat Lab.

This summer I am interning with Ag United to help plan and organize events, like MoDak Dairy Day on June 12th and Breakfast on the Farm on June 19th, as well as, run the social media pages. I am very excited for this opportunity to grow, learn, and to build new relationships and networking opportunities with others.

Make sure to check us out on Facebook at South Dakota Farm Families or our website,


Mon, 24 May 2021 08:50:00 -0500
Farmer's Daughter: Beef Plays a Foundational Role in Nutrition Olivia Amundson.JPG

I’m Olivia Amundson and I’m the farmer’s daughter. Join me in celebrating Beef Month this May.

Based on my lifestyle, as an avid runner, beef plays a foundational role in my personal nutrition.  Growing up on a cattle farm, I developed a love for not only the animal, but also the protein it provides us.  The same farm I grew up on is where my husband and I raise our three boys today.  Along with protein and amino acids, beef provides multiple nutrients in my diet, such as, iron, B-vitamins, selenium, niacin, and zinc.  These nutrients in beef help me build a strong mind, body and immune system.  These are all important when considering my diet as a runner.

Beef is not only important to me as runner, but also a mother.  Ensuring that I fuel my boys with protein that provides them with energy, physical strength, as well as mental strength, is important as they grow.  Teaching them the importance of nutrition along with physical activity will provide them with a proactive mindset about their health. 

Beef has also provided family time together as we prepare and eat meals as a family.  This has allowed us to build strong relationships that then help promote emotional health, physical health and wellbeing.  Therefore, beef is what’s for dinner in our house!

Thu, 13 May 2021 13:55:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Farm Life Creamery FLC chad laura.jpeg

Featured Farmer: Farm Life Creamery

Artisan cheese, milk and ice cream help family share dairy experience with the public.

Did you know that May is American Cheese Month?  South Dakotans have a lot to celebrate, as cheesemakers of all sizes are growing across the state, we have an amazing variety of delicious, diverse, locally-made cheeses to enjoy!  Farm Life Creamery is one of the artisan cheesemakers that is making a name for itself with cheese products and has recently expanded to include bottled milk and ice cream.

Farm Life Creamery products get their start with milk from the dairy farm owned and operated by Gary and Amy Blase near Ethan, South Dakota. Both Gary and Amy grew up on dairy farms and started farming together in 1972.  They currently milk about 100 cows with two robotic milkers on the grade A dairy farm.

The idea for an on-farm creamery had been talked about for years as a way to add more value to the milk produced on the dairy farm.  It became a reality when their son, Chad Blase, and his partner, Laura Klock, learned that the owners of Valley Side Farm Cheese LLC near Crooks, SD, were looking to sell their equipment.  Chad and Laura learned the cheesemaking trade and bought equipment from Kris and Scott Swanson at Valley Side, and began production of Farm Life Creamery cheeses in late 2018. 

“Finding out about the opportunity to buy cheesemaking equipment changed our original direction from building a new facility to bottle milk and make ice cream to retro-fitting the existing dairy to house cheesemaking, then adding bottled milk and ice cream later,” said Klock.

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The creamery and farm store are located about three miles away from the Blase family dairy farm that supplies all the milk for cheese, ice cream and bottled milk products.  Surplus milk from the farm is sold to AMPI.

At the creamery, Chad and Laura handcraft small batch cheese, including fresh cheese curds and block cheddar and Colby cheeses.  Cheese curds are made when cheese is separated from the whey during the cheesemaking process.  Instead of being put in a mold to age and be packaged later, the curds are packaged fresh and sold right away.  They offer more than 35 flavors of cheese curds, as well as artisan block cheddar cheeses like five pepper, coffee and sesame.  They also produce Gruyere, mozzarella, Colby and chocolate cheddar cheeses.  

“We enjoy hearing how pleased customers are with our products, and love having families spend time at the creamery and farmstead store learning, touring, interacting and having fun,” said Klock. 

Farm Life Creamery cheeses are available through their online store, at farmers markets and at about 20 retail locations in South Dakota and Nebraska.  Bottled milk and ice cream are available at their farm store.

Wearing so many hats as a small, family-run business can be challenging, as they have taken on everything from production to sales and marketing, and accounting to product distribution. Farm Life Creamery is a Grade A licensed milk plant, so the creamery undergoes a full inspection every three months, and the requirements are the same as for large plants. 

"Inspectors test temperature accuracy on our vat pasteurizer, the cleanliness of everything, how our bottles are stored, our piping, how our cleaning supplies are marked, how our records are kept … all of it,” she said.  “We have worked very closely with our inspectors throughout the licensing process.”

They also see the direct connection to their customers as a way to share information about dairy farming and agriculture. 

In addition to dairy products, the families offer tours and are making additions for a stop at the store to be a full farm experience.  Holstein calves from the herd are housed on the property along with goats, a pet pig, a horse, mini-pony, donkey, llama, chickens, a Highland calf, farm cats and a very friendly St. Bernard named Rex.  They are planning special activities to celebrate National Dairy Month in June, including a mini-golf course, tractor tire playground and a food truck on site.

Tue, 11 May 2021 14:28:00 -0500
School Lunch Hero Day School Lunch Hero Day on May 7, provides an opportunity to thank those who provide healthy meals  for South Dakota’s students each school day. Below are just a handful of the 170 School Lunch Hero nominations that we received. 

Justine “Charlie” Giannonatti, Harding County School District

“Justine Giannonatti, also known as Charlie to our student body, is our head cook.  She always has a smile on her face and goes out of her way every day to make sure our students are happy and eating healthy, delicious food.  She stretches her dollars as far as she can and works to incorporate local food sources when available.  She is best known for her cinnamon rolls and the smell of bread baking throughout the building.  She is willing to help anyone and everyone.  She cooked and then helped deliver lunches last spring when we went to online learning without a second thought.  We can't imagine our school without her!”  Elizabeth Henderson


Becky Eisenbarth, Lemmon School District

“Aside from serving nourishing food, Becky serves up a welcome environment with her positive attitude and friendship.” Kim Anderson


Beth Hanson, Rutland

“The whole staff went above and beyond during the changes that have taken place during the last year. From extra cleaning duties to adjusting serving practices to preparing sack lunches, even after the school year was dismissed for summer break. It takes a lot of hard work to feed so many kids!” Jen DeVaney


Jenni Glenn, Horace Mann Elementary, Sioux Falls

“Jenni is responsible for seeing that all items are available and sets up the tubs for the teachers to pick up.  She has a "sparkling" personality and a great sense of humor.  She works in the background doing things many of us take for granted.  She is a super hero at our school.  Her laughter and positive attitude is infectious.  We are blessed to have her as part of the Bridges team.  Go Jenni!!” Janet Monlux


Erica Bratland, Willow Lake School District

“Erica started her first year in the lunchroom and was thrown into figuring out meals for our rural district during Covid. She was creative and organized and made everything work without a hitch.” Lindsey Tellinghuisen


Deb Miles, Montrose School District

“Deb has gone over and above during the pandemic. When school shutdown she prepared hot lunches for the kids each day of the week. She prepared menus that could be transported and would still be hot when the students received them. She is a true lunch hero!!” Cindy Christensen

Wed, 05 May 2021 11:10:00 -0500
Featured Partner: Tara Pirak, Valley Ag Supply Planning, Technology and Focus are Key to Managing Busy Planting Season


For basketball fans, “March Madness” means the annual NCAA basketball tournament with fast-paced weekends of back-to-back games and the excitement of bracket-busting upsets. 

In agriculture, the madness of March takes on a new meaning, especially for farmers getting ready for spring planting and for agricultural retailers like Tara Pirak, owner of Valley Ag Supply in southeast South Dakota. 

Tara and her husband, Greg, founded Valley Ag Supply in 2000, and grew the business to an agronomy center that provides information, fertilizer, seed, crop protection products, and custom application from their locations in Gayville and Spink.  Valley Ag Supply currently has 19 full time employees and was ranked 89th in CropLife's 2020 ranking of the top 100 largest ag retailers in the nation.  After Greg died suddenly in August 2018 from a fatal blood clot, Tara and the Valley Ag team have continued their focus on customer service and expanded facilities and services.  The company has been recognized for their work in the industry and for sharing the story of modern agriculture at its annual Field to Table event for area students.

Over the winter months, ag retailers like Valley Ag Supply are busy working with farmer customers to develop plans for the coming growing season and to get their equipment and employees ready to manage the rush that comes with spring planting each year.

“Each customer sits down with our agronomist and makes a plan for their fields,” said Pirak.  “They look at results of soil sampling and talk about how that field performed in previous seasons including yields, weed pressure and fertility problems, then make a plan for each acre.”

Farming today is very precise and very targeted, she said.  Valley Ag agronomists tap into an extensive database to identify the best seed product for each acre and develop planting maps to make the most of the entire field.  For example, more seeds can be planted in high potential areas, while fewer seeds are planted in more marginal areas.  

A successful crop requires a steady supply of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil, however each field also has its own pattern of areas with varying nutrient levels. 

“We work with farmers to take grid samples of soil throughout a field, then use those results to create maps and prescription files that are loaded into application equipment to apply precisely what is needed in each area of the field,” she said.  ““We want farmers to raise a good crop, make a profit and be responsible stewards of the land and water. Seeds, fertilizer and other inputs are expensive, and there’s no incentive for us to spray or spread anything more than is needed for each acre.”

While farmers spend winter months repairing and updating equipment for the busy spring season, retailers are doing the same. Employees in the Valley Ag shop have spent several months inspecting, fixing and updating all of the equipment, from sprayers to fertilizer carts, pickups and trucks. 

“We’ve kept 8 or 9 guys busy going over every piece of equipment to make sure it is ready to go for spring season,” she said.

Winter months also provide the opportunity to learn about new programs and products and update necessary training and certifications.

“All of our employees are completing continuing education programs to refresh safety trainings, renew their applicator licenses, update CDL licensing and learn about any new products or updates from manufacturers,” she said.  “All of those classes have moved online this year. We haven’t had any in-person meetings, but the education has continued.”

Unlike basketball games with a scheduled tipoff time, farmers and retailers depend on a variety of factors to determine when to start spring fieldwork and planting, including soil temperature and moisture.  Some seeds, like wheat, will germinate and begin growing in cooler soils, while corn and soybeans are warm season crops that require the soil temperatures to be 50 degrees or higher to germinate.  And, Mother Nature can play havoc with schedules with rain or a cold snap.

Fertilizer is typically applied in the spring just before planting, which means long hours for equipment operators to make sure that all fields are ready to go when each farmer is ready to plant.

“We’re grateful to have a wide range of customers – some who want to get started planting as early as they can, and others who like to wait until around Mother’s Day,” she said.  “Many times, farmers are in their tractors at the edge of the field waiting for our equipment to finish so they can plant right away.”

Once the crop is planted, Valley Ag teams work with farmers to make sure crops are protected from weeds, disease, and insects that could impact yield potential or quality of the crop.

“The pace is a little less frantic, but still critical to make sure we are applying the right products at the right time to control weeds and insects,” she said.  “It is often a race against Mother Nature and growing weeds.” 

Just like successful basketball teams, farmers combine careful planning, a trusted group of advisors and team members, and well-timed execution to raise their crops each season.  However, instead of knowing the result in a few hours, it will take several months of growing, watching and waiting for fall harvest and final yields.  

Tue, 13 Apr 2021 10:30:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Lee Friesen  



Children’s Book Tells Story Every Farmer Knows

What happens when a farmer gets a new-to-him pickup?  South Dakota author and farmer Lee Friesen shares the story of a young farmer and everything that happens to him after his initial purchase in his first children’s book “If A Farmer Gets A Pickup.”

Friesen and his wife, Michelle, and children, Seth, Aidan and Addisyn, live on a small farm near Olivet.  They grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and hay on 250 acres and raise cattle, sheep and goats.  

FriesenFamilyat SDSU~2.png

“The idea of one purchase leading to another strikes a chord with every farmer,” he said.  “It seems like there are always things at every auction or farm supply store ad that we really need, then require more purchases down the line.”

Friesen also writes a comic series named “Murphy’s Law Farm” which follows the adventures of a small farmer with a nearly-always positive attitude on a farm where things just don’t seem to go right.

His experiences on his own farm, time teaching ag education and growing up with his dad as a veterinarian in Menno, South Dakota, all have provided perspective and stories for the comic series and book.  Friesen graduated from South Dakota State University and worked as an ag education teacher, and is now working in the crop insurance industry.

The idea for the “circular tale” story in “If a Farmer Gets a Pickup” came to Friesen after a conversation with his son.  He was in a hotel room traveling for work and began building out story ideas in a PowerPoint document.  As the story came together with clipart and stapled pages, he thought it had potential to develop into a book.

That launched into a circular tale of his own as Friesen worked through the process of finishing copy, finding and working with an illustrator, then creating layout files that could be sent to a printer.  The first copies of the book were printed in late 2020 and can be purchased on the website

Friesen has also attended farm shows and events to promote the book and enjoys getting feedback from readers.

“It is fun to hear people react to the book and laugh about how true to life the story can be,” he said.

The book includes fun details such as a rubber chicken image hidden on every page, and is supplemented with activities on the website.

Looking ahead, Friesen would like to develop more of the circular tale stories that highlight real-world adventures of today’s farm families in a fun, simple way.  The narrator in “If a Farmer Gets a Pickup” is Old Ben, who Friesen believes could have a recurring role in future books. 

“I think Old Ben has a lot more stories to tell,” he said.  

Wed, 10 Mar 2021 08:10:00 -0600
Featured Partner: East River Electric Cooperative EERtruck.jpg

Tailgate Huddle photo: East River crews huddle together for a safety tailgate discussion before beginning repairs to the transmission system that was damaged during an April 2019 spring storm.


Starting with the passage of the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, Rural Electric Cooperatives (RECs) were critical to improving both the quality of life and productivity of farm and ranch families in South Dakota and across the country.  Nearly 85 years later, electric cooperatives are still committed to serving and bringing new opportunities to rural South Dakota. 

Local rural electric cooperatives began forming in the late 1930s when farmers came together to bring electricity to their homes and farms.  Those local RECs were purchasing electricity from private utility companies, however as the local systems grew, they began looking for other options.

“As the dams and hydropower plants were built on the Missouri River, a group of individual distribution cooperatives formed East River Electric Power Cooperative in 1949, which was a transmission cooperative to build the infrastructure to bring power from the dams to the countryside,” said Chris Studer, Chief Member and Public Relations Officer, East River Electric.   

As demand outpaced capacity from hydropower plants, East River Electric and other similar transmission co-ops in the region created Basin Electric Power Cooperative as their generation cooperative to procure power, which over the years included coal, natural gas, wind and other sources. They will add utility-scale solar to their portfolio over the next few years including what will be South Dakota’s largest solar farm near New Underwood.

East River Electric sells and transmits electricity to 25 members – 24 RECs and one municipality — in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota.  In addition, the members share resources such as radio, phone, cybersecurity and other support systems to increase efficiency and improve service for their member-owners. 

“We work together to enhance the value of our member systems, doing things together to save money and create efficiencies,” he said.  “We also work together to forecast demand and future growth to ensure that we will always have the capacity to serve new homes, farms or commercial needs.” 

With more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines and 250 substations, East River Electric has the largest infrastructure of any utility group in the state. Studer noted that they are typically planning at least 20 years out, even purchasing land for substations years before they expect to build, to ensure that infrastructure is in place for new homes, farms or businesses.

East River Electric is governed by a 22-person Board of Directors, which is made up of representatives from the local distribution systems’ boards of directors.  This ensures that the needs of members and rural consumers are represented.

“Bringing electricity to rural America was the foundation to strong farms and communities, and it was built on neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.  “It is still important for members to have a voice in their electrical rates and be able to control the future of their power supply.”

Since their founding, East River Electric and members have followed the universal cooperative principles to invest in the future of rural communities, including strong support for rural development, youth outreach and leadership programs.

The cooperative’s Rural Electric Economic Development (REED) Fund was established in 1996 and has invested more than $100 million in revolving loan funds to businesses, nonprofits and communities for more than 340 projects across South Dakota and western Minnesota.  East River Electric was involved in programs to launch and support regional ethanol plants in the 1990s, including creating a program that allowed local farmer members to use their capital credits in the cooperative to invest in ethanol plants. 

East River has partnered with Ag United to host several workshops for farmers and ranchers to learn more about livestock production and expansion, including opportunities, regulatory and zoning, financing and more.

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Livestock Seminar: Ag United and East River Electric, in collaboration with other associations, hosted a series of livestock development seminars in 2019.

“We recognize that livestock production is important for rural economies.  It provides an opportunity for farmers to enhance or expand their businesses and can provide an opportunity for the next generation to return to the farming operation,” said Studer.  “It is a benefit to everyone.  It helps communities with economic development, diversifies farmers’ businesses, and helps our local member cooperatives keep electric rates stable for all consumers.”

Youth and leadership development programs have always been a high priority, said Studer, noting that young people are not only the future of farms and rural communities, but also future board member leaders for the cooperative system.


Co-ops in the Classroom: East River Education and Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Gross presenting to a group of grade school children in 2019 as part of the Co-op in the Classroom program.

East River Electric has supported college and technical school scholarships and an annual youth tour to Washington, DC, for many years. Additionally, they are planning a Virtual Ag and Rural Economy Conference for FFA, technical college and university students to focus on the inner-workings of rural economies, highlighting job and economic development opportunities and impact for young people who stay or return to rural areas. The event will be held virtually on Wed. Feb. 24 from 9 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. Visit to learn more and to register for this free event.

Tue, 09 Feb 2021 08:49:00 -0600
Featured Farmer: Zane and Sandy Williams Williams 2020 AgVocate Award .jpg

Featured Farmer: Zane and Sandy Williams, 2020 Agvocates of the Year

The Ag United board of directors named Zane and Sandy Williams of Irene, S.D., as the 2020 AgVocate of the Year in recognition of their commitment to promoting agriculture and livestock production and role in founding a new advocacy group in Yankton County.

The seventh annual AgVocate Award recognizes South Dakotans for their work in sharing their story of modern farming with the public. The Williamses were involved in the founding of Families Feeding Families – AGvocacy! which is a group of family farmers in southeastern South Dakota who work together to host events and share information about how they raise animals and care for the land they farm.

“I’ve known Zane and Sandy for a number of years and have admired their tireless commitment and drive to share information about modern day agriculture,” said Richard Vasgaard, Centerville, S.D., farmer and president of Ag United. “Agriculture and livestock production are critical to our state’s economy and rural communities, and voices like theirs are important to telling our story.”

The following profile, originally published in March 2020, shares more about their farm and commitment to South Dakota agriculture

Livestock Have Been Important for Generations on South Dakota Farm

The farm that Zane Williams’ great uncle homesteaded 125 years ago has changed over the years, but there has been one constant: livestock have always been an important part of the farm for each of the four generations that have lived there.  “In 125 years on our farm, we have never sold corn off the farm. The corn we raise always gets fed to livestock, whether that is dairy cows, beef cattle or hogs,” said Williams.

Zane and his wife Sandy live near Irene, South Dakota, in Yankton County, where he feeds cattle and raises corn, soybeans and hay. He specializes in raising high quality alfalfa hay for dairy farms. Williams is also a member of the Yankton County Planning and Zoning Commission and one of the founding members of the Families Feeding Families-AGvocacy! group that shares information about agriculture with area students and community members.

Williams grew up on the family’s dairy farm. He was the youngest of five children, and his father had health issues, so he began taking a lot of responsibility on the farm at a very early age. He operated his own dairy farm until 2001, then raised Holstein heifers for other dairies. He has also raised pigs and and continues to raise beef cattle.

Each year, Williams raises about 500 acres of hay, which is baled into large square or round bales and sold for feed for dairy cows or beef cattle. Timing and weather are important elements to ensure that the hay is the highest quality. He also stores square bales in sheds to preserve quality before they are trucked to dairy farms.

“The last few years, the weather has been very challenging,” he said. “During the summer, we’re constantly looking at the weather forecast for the next two weeks to see if we can find a stretch of days that will stay dry.”  Williams tries to get four or five cuttings of alfalfa off each field during the growing season, harvesting each field every 27 to 30 days. After it is swathed, the hay lays in the field for a few days to dry down to the right moisture content, then is raked and baled.  “We do everything we can to preserve the hay and get it dry so it will provide the best feed value for cattle,” he said. “Constant rain and high humidity make that very difficult.”

He has been a member of the Yankton County Planning and Zoning Commission for several years. The commission is responsible for reviewing applications and information on plats and building projects throughout rural areas of the county; including new or expanded facilities for raising livestock.
“Adding livestock production to a farm often gives the family’s next generation an opportunity to join the farming business”, he said, noting that it is important for farmers to stay in communication with their neighbors and be proactive when considering new barns for their farms. A number of resources are available to farmers as they plan and design facilities to ensure that they meet zoning requirements, as well as provide the best environment for animals and preserve natural resources.

Williams is also involved in Families Feeding Families-AGvocacy! which is a group of family farmers that include livestock producers and grain farmers who work together to share information about how they raise animals and care for the land they farm. “As people, even here in South Dakota, are many generations removed from living on a farm, it is more important than ever that we talk about what we do,” he said. “The technologies and tools we have today mean farmers can take better care of their animals and land, and raise food more efficiently, but that also requires farmers to make a huge dollar investment.”

Mon, 11 Jan 2021 16:02:00 -0600
Change sunset.jpg

I’ve really been contemplating a quote I heard recently by Tim Elmore, “Change can either happen to us or because of us.”

Change seems easier to handle when we know it’s coming, like the change of seasons. Farmers are very aware of the fact we cannot control the weather. We know winter months will be spent making decisions for spring. We do our best to prepare for the changing seasons, because we know the change is coming and we know how to handle it.

When it comes to unexpected change, the biggest thing we can control is how we react to it. The resourcefulness and the resilience of agriculture is evidence that we have been handling change for generations. We know growing crops, livestock, and kids will not go the way we planned. Something always happens to change our plans. Sometimes we need to take a step back, make adjustments and prepare for the next season. Whatever season of your life that might be.

Heidi Zwinger

Mon, 11 Jan 2021 09:02:00 -0600
Reflections of 2020 The end of the year is often a time for reflection. Looking back on 2020, in spite of the difficult times, there is still much to be grateful for.

In January and February, our Adopted Farmers had their classroom visits. This program features farmers sending monthly videos to over 50 classrooms across South Dakota. In March, 6 of the 9 Pizza Parties we host for 4th grade classrooms for National Ag week had been completed, when things came to a screeching halt.

As the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic settled in, we saw a major disruption in our food supply. We experienced a time like nothing we have known, when grocery store shelves were picked over or even bare and limits placed on products. People began to look at food differently.

Now more than ever, people want to know where their food comes from. In spite of not having in person events, we were still able to connect people to some of the South Dakota farmers who produce their food. We look forward to in-person events in 2021, until then, follow South Dakota Farm Families on Facebook and Instagram.

Mon, 21 Dec 2020 09:01:00 -0600