Rural Ramblings News from Ag United. Mon, 02 Aug 2021 00:12:16 -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.  

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“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
2020 AgVocates of the Year: Zane and Sandy Williams Williams 2020 AgVocate Award .jpg





SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Zane and Sandy Williams of Irene, S.D., were named the 2020 AgVocate of the Year by the board of directors for Agriculture United for South Dakota. The award was presented to the Williamses in recognition for 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 award is typically presented during Ag United’s annual luncheon, however, the 2020 event was not held in person as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“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 Williamses feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa on land near Irene that his great-uncle originally homesteaded 125 years ago. They specialize in raising high quality alfalfa hay for dairy farms. Zane is also a member of the Yankton County Planning and Zoning Commission and Marindahl Township Board.

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.

"Zane and Sandy are a great pair, they complement each other with Zane being the one who is vocal and Sandy is more behind the scenes. Together, they are a team that is constantly advocating for agriculture,” said Jim Petrik, Gayville, S.D., farmer. “This has never been more evident than their work these past years in setting up Families Feeding Families in the Yankton area.”

“I have known Zane and Sandy for years through the hay business,” said Ray Epp, Mission Hill, S.D., farmer. “Zane is focused and passionate about farming and is equally passionate about advocating for agriculture as a farmer and serving on the planning and zoning board. Sandy is a tireless organizer in raising the awareness of modern ag practices in our community."

As 2020 winds down, Ag United marks its 16th year of supporting South Dakota farm and ranch families and rural communities. Since its founding, Ag United has enabled more than 35,000 consumers to visit South Dakota farms and connected with more than 13,000 students though Adopt-A-Farmer and National Ag Week programs. In addition, Ag United staff have assisted families in 32 counties with permitting and zoning issues. Visit, South Dakota Farm Families on Facebook and Instagram, or @SDFarmFamilies on Twitter for more information on Ag United’s activities.

Fri, 18 Dec 2020 07:47:00 -0600
Featured Farmer: Sarah VanDerVliet Sarah VDV3.jpeg

Featured Farmer:  Sarah VanDerVliet


Hands-on experiences, new technologies and leadership skills are all important parts of today’s agricultural education programs.  Sarah VanDerVliet has been the agriculture education teacher and FFA Advisor at Tri-Valley School in Colton, South Dakota, for 16 years and brings a combination of education and real-world agricultural experiences to the role. 


VanDerVliet grew up on an acreage and earned her Agriculture Education degree at South Dakota State University.  Her husband Ryan was farming with his father and also working part time, while Sarah took a job as a feed nutritionist/salesman at Colton Farmers Elevator.  Over the years, they have had several livestock enterprises, including raising Holstein bottle calves for dairy farms.  They built a barn to feed 400 head of cattle and formed Triple RJ LLC with Ryan’s sisters and parents.  She became ag education teacher at Tri-Valley in 2005.“It is a unique position for me because it is the same school I grew up in and graduated from,” she said. “I love the personal connection I have with the families and how my students feel like my own kids.”

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The VanDerVliets have four children, Weston (15), Clara (13), Taygen (10), Cashlynn (7), who are also involved in the farm, 4-H and FFA.  The family purchased a few sheep as a 4-H project in 2015, which has grown to a herd of 50 sheep that the kids care for all year and exhibit at fairs and livestock shows. They also have 60 laying chickens to provide eggs for the family.


“I strongly believe that my day to day experiences on the farm provide a true learning experience for my students,” she said. “When I teach marketing, I can provide them with real life numbers and true outcomes.  When we talk about feeding, animal husbandry, veterinary care I can bring in real tools that are used to demonstrate and provide real video of different things I encounter to bring the farm to the classroom.”


VanDerVliet also brings in eggs from the family’s coop to hatch and learn about breeds, candling, hatching and raising a laying chicken.  When students learn about egg production, she brings in farm eggs for them to observe and cook and eat.  “Agriculture Education and the FFA Program do a phenomenal job of keeping up with current trends and preparing students for future careers,” she said. “My goal as a teacher is to have the students leave my classroom with skills of work ethic, responsibility, respect, and the ability to look at a problem and solve it with the current tools and technology that we have at our fingertips.”


She teaches students in grades 7 through 12, including Intro to Agriculture, Animal Science, Wildlife & Fisheries, Building Trades, and Internship courses, and an exploratory agriculture class for middle school students. Hands-on projects are an important part of ag curriculum, including working with Natural Beauty Growers in Ellis to secure plants to grow in small pop-up greenhouses.  They also use National Archery in Schools Program to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow.


“One of my favorite units in Animal Science is purchasing broiler chickens as chicks and raise them for 7 weeks and then process them.  Students learn the cost of production and how to raise and process food to put on their own supper tables,” she said.  “I have incorporated this unit in the last three years because I feel there is a disconnect between where our food comes from.  This is a great opportunity for students to see firsthand what it takes to gently care and raise an animal from start to finish.”


The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for the hands-on experiences that are normally part of VanDerVliet’s classes, but she has learned new ways to teach online and interact with students. “I am learning that communication is the key to success during this pandemic.  Even though I know this can be a scary time, I am just grateful I have the opportunity to provide my students an educational experience in person in a classroom they feel comfortable in,” she said.”


While Tri-Valley is located in a rural area, most of her students live in small towns or the city.  VanDerVliet sees agriculture as more important than ever to ensure that students understand all the facets of agriculture and what it provides for not only our food supply, but also economic impact on rural communities and the entire state. 

Wed, 09 Dec 2020 13:22:00 -0600
A Traditional Meal I think instead of calling this time of year the holiday season, we could also call it feast season. We start off with a Thanksgiving feast and round it out with a Christmas feast. Recently the American Farm Bureau completed their annual survey on the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which showed the average cost of a meal for 10 people coming in at $46.90 or less than $5 per person.

Where else besides America can you buy a feast, from the turkey and stuffing to pumpkin pie and whipped cream, for less than $5 per person? No where. Americans spend approximately 10% of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average in the world.

The role farmers, agriculturists and food workers play in our everyday lives should not be taken for granted. South Dakota farmers and ranchers work hard everyday to contribute to a safe and affordable food supply.

Follow South Dakota Farm Families on social media for more stories from the Farmer’s Daughter.


Mon, 07 Dec 2020 08:58:00 -0600
Learning Flexibility For many families, Thanksgiving is a time of traditions. No matter what your tradition has been, it’s most certainly going to look different in 2020. 

When I was young, our most common Thanksgiving tradition was going to my aunt and uncle’s house. They lived about 30 minutes from us so we were able to travel there after morning chores and be back in time for the evening milking. Many years it went according to plan and we were able to spend time with family. There were years that things did not go according to plan: chores ran late because equipment broke down or the tractor didn’t start or a cow needing assistance giving birth. Growing up on the farm with livestock taught us to be flexible with our plans. 

Like it or not, I believe that flexibility is something many have been forced to learn during the pandemic. People have stayed home, and rescheduled things, only to reschedule them again.

As you adjust your plans this holiday season, take a time to reflect on the things in your life you are grateful for in spite of having to change plans. 

Heidi Zwinger

Mon, 23 Nov 2020 08:55:00 -0600