Rural Ramblings News from Ag United. Sun, 18 Apr 2021 05:58:44 -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.”

 Sarah VDV1.jpeg

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
Featured Partner: Dr. Rochelle Reddig, DVM DrReddig1.jpg

Featured Partner:  Dr. Rochelle Reddig, DVM

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  The old phrase still rings true when it comes to the health of humans and all species of animals, from pets to livestock.  For South Dakota farmers and ranchers, that “ounce of prevention” typically starts with a partnership with veterinarian and developing a proactive health plan for all the animals in their herds. A vaccination strategy is often an important part of that plan to build immunity and get young animals off to the best possible start. 

Dr. Rochelle Reddig is a mixed animal veterinarian at Sioux Nation Ag Center in Freeman, South Dakota, where she sees a wide variety of animals, mostly beef and dairy cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, goats, and horses.  

According to Dr. Reddig, the basic strategy for vaccines is similar for cattle, pets and people.  Just as human infants receive a series of different vaccines and then boosters several months apart before they are a year old to build immunity, veterinarians work with pet owners and livestock producers to schedule vaccines that will address the diseases and pathogens that present the biggest health challenges.

“We don’t often give vaccines at birth in any species —cattle, dogs, cats or humans — because as long as the mother of the newborn infant or animal was vaccinated properly, she will pass down some degree of immunity to the baby that will last the first few months of life,” said Dr. Reddig.

She says it is especially important to work with farmers and ranchers who raise cattle to develop a vaccination plan that is specific to their farm’s size, age of cattle and disease history. 

Calves are typically vaccinated to prevent clostridial diseases, such as tetanus and blackleg, as well as to prevent respiratory illnesses.  Cattle tend to have a higher rate of respiratory illnesses because of their basic anatomy – they have a high oxygen requirement, but smaller lungs for their body size compared to horses, people or dogs.  “Calves can be especially susceptible to respiratory illnesses because there is not as much immunity passed on to them from the mother cow during gestation,” said Dr. Reddig.  “That’s why vaccinating and then boostering those vaccines at certain stages of the calf’s life is so important for developing immunity.”


Vaccines are also a wise investment for farmers, because the cost of a vaccine is much less than the cost of medications involved if a calf develops pneumonia or other respiratory diseases.  “We are even learning that several illnesses in baby calves can cause issues for that calf for the rest of their life and prevent them from gaining weight properly as they grow,” she said.

Vaccines are just one part of making sure animals are healthy.  Good basic animal care including proper housing, good nutrition and the right amount of feed and a low-stress environment are important to raising a healthy animal with a strong immune system.  If animals do become sick, they work with veterinarians to develop a treatment plan specific to the animal and the disease.

“Veterinarians must have what is called a Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship with anyone that they sell prescription drugs to,” she said. “That means we are familiar with that operation and have advised the client on what drugs to use for certain problems and how to use them properly to avoid antibiotic misuse or residues.”

Dr. Reddig is originally from North Dakota.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from North Dakota State University, then received her D.V.M from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  She began working at Sioux Nation Ag Center after graduating from vet school eight years ago.

“I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a veterinarian as I enjoyed both helping animals and learning about science and medicine,” she said.

Dr. Reddig and her husband, Travis, live in Bridgewater, SD, with their three children-Josephine (6), Rebecca (5), and Alexandra (2), and an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters, and fish.  Travis is a civil engineer and works for the Department of Transportation in Mitchell.

Mon, 09 Nov 2020 15:33:00 -0600
Veterans Day On November 11th we should all take pause to recognize our Veterans.

A day honoring all men and women who have served in peacetime or in war. South Dakota is home to over 65,000 veterans. They are an important part of their communities as business owners, farmers, teachers, and civic leaders, all brave enough to answer the calling to serve.

In my family, both my grandfathers served in WWII. It was Grandpa Harley though, that rooted my family in agriculture. He and grandma moved their young family to western Brookings County, where they started a dairy farm, grew their family, and continued to serve through the American Legion and Auxiliary. My dad, uncle, and cousins have also answered the call to serve.

When you see these men and women who were willing to sacrifice their safety for ours, show your gratitude by picking up their tab or with a simple “thank you for your service”.

Mon, 09 Nov 2020 08:53:00 -0600
A Dry Harvest Season You know the saying, if you don’t like the weather in South Dakota just wait 5 minutes… Boy did we ever see a change in the weather this past week.

Many South Dakota farmers are thankful for the dry harvest season Mother nature brought us in September and October. In spite of a dry summer, the crops were able to find enough moisture in the soil to grow a bountiful crop. This allowed farmers to get the majority of crops out of the field earlier than normal.

Another benefit to this harvest season was because the crops were able to dry in the field, there was no need to dry the corn and soybeans before storing them for the winter. When it comes to how farmers store their crops, it takes a lot of planning and sometimes cooperation from Mother Nature. If the crops are stored with too much moisture, they can spoil. For long term storage, crops need to be dried to a lower moisture level. Luckily, most farmers didn't need to dry any of the crops this year.

So, when you store the food in your kitchen or pantry, take a minute to think about the planning that goes into how a bountiful harvest is stored on the farm or at the local elevator, to ensure it maintains quality. Follow South Dakota farm families on Facebook for more information.

Wed, 28 Oct 2020 09:02:00 -0500
October Feature: Protecting the Health of South Dakota's People, Animals, and Food Supply For more than 50 years, a team of scientists, SDSU faculty and students have worked together to protect the health of South Dakota’s animals and humans, and to ensure the safety of the state’s food supply.  The South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (SD ADRDL) was established by South Dakota state statute in 1967 and is located at South Dakota State University.


The laboratory is a centralized resource that provides timely and accurate testing and diagnostic services to livestock producers, veterinarians and other agricultural, food and health professionals.   The lab is led by Dr. Jane Christopher-Hennings and staffed by 60 full-time employees and 13 SDSU faculty members, including veterinarians, pathologists, bacteriologists, food safety microbiologists and more.  It also provides “hands-on” paid training for nearly 30 undergraduate students each year.


“If a farmer or rancher has health issues in their herds or flocks, the laboratory can diagnose what may have caused the problem and can work together with their local veterinarian in solving the problem and provide recommendations to prevent further losses,” said Dr. Christopher-Hennings. “For companion animals, we can also provide pathology diagnosis of cancerous tumors so that treatments can be recommended through a veterinarian.”


SD ADRDL also has a Food Safety section that provides testing to make sure that local food processing plants are free from foodborne pathogens and to test food products throughout the U.S. in the event there is a foodborne pathogen outbreak.


A recent renovation and expansion provided significant upgrades to facilities that were originally constructed in 1967 and 1993.  In recent years, the lab has processed about 500,000 samples each year.  In addition to resources in serology, molecular diagnostics, virology, food safety, bacteriology, necropsy/pathology, clinical pathology and parasitology, for diagnosing illnesses, the laboratory also has researchers that can study new and emerging diseases to develop new ways to diagnose, prevent and control them.  


The recent additions included a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility to contain dangerous pathogens in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.  With the COVID-19 outbreak, the lab has become certified to perform tests in humans, and is using the BSL-3 space to process human COVID-19 tests.


Keeping animals healthy and monitoring for disease outbreaks is important for human health, too, said Dr. Christopher-Hennings.


“There are several diseases that are ‘zoonotic’ which can pass between people and animals, including rabies, tularemia, influenza, anthrax and brucellosis,” she said.  “Veterinarians and farmers are on the frontlines of detecting some of these diseases in animals early in order to prevent transmission to people.


The lab is part of several federal networks that monitor nationwide for both animal disease and foodborne illness outbreaks. 

“Providing access to testing and science-based diagnosis is a very important part keeping our food supply, our farms and our communities safe and healthy,” said Dr. Christopher-Hennings. “We appreciate all the support that the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory has received from the agriculture community in the state and look forward to continued work together.”

Fri, 16 Oct 2020 09:13:00 -0500
The Farmer's Daughter: Heidi Zwinger Hello, my name is Heidi Zwinger and I am a farmer’s daughter.

I grew up on an 80 cow dairy in rural Minnehaha county with my folks and my 2 older sisters. There I learned to care for the animals at a very young age, thinking it was fun to feed the bottle calves instead of thinking of it as work.

Joining 4-H and exhibiting animals at the county and state fair are some of my favorite memories. The friendships I made during those years are friendships that are still strong today. My involvement in FFA during high school helped to develop my skills in leadership and public speaking, which enabled me to begin sharing my families farming story. After my dad retired from dairy farming, I worked with another local dairy farm caring for animals and telling their family story.

The years I spent growing up and working on our family dairy farm shaped me into the person I am today, calling me to share my family’s farm story. Today, I am excited to take on the role of Outreach Director with South Dakota Farm Families and help other farmers and farmers daughters share their stories.

Mon, 12 Oct 2020 09:10:00 -0500
The Evolution of Custom Silage Choppers by Steve Dick When I was a young boy, it was a major production when the custom silage cutter came to our farm! Brothers Hank and Leonard Anderson and  their crew would come to the farm with their International 826 tractor pulling a Gehl two row silage cutter, a fleet of small trucks, and a silage blower.  It really was an orchestrated effort watching all of the pieces move into place.

However, the real orchestrated effort was the detail and the work my mother put into feeding the small army.   Feeding the crew of a dozen involved her planning to have enough beef, pork, potatoes, vegetables and pies on hand to ensure that no one went away hungry.  To serve a sit-down meal it meant moving a dining table into the living room and using every leaf to expand the table.  On the rare occasion I would get a seat at the table and listen to the banter amongst the crew talking about the yield of the crop, who was slowest driver, their next job — all things that made me feel like I was part of the crew!

The whole process usually took three days: two days to fill the earthen bunker and one day to fill the upright silo.  I don’t remember the total acres chopped, but it probably was no more than 40.  

 In comparison, this week a custom chopper will come to my family’s small farm in McCook County.   They will arrive with a 10-row silage cutter, two trucks and one tractor to push the silage.  Because of changes to seed genetics they will harvest about 15 acres to get the same amount of silage that my father had to harvest 40 acres to achieve.

The entire process will take about two hours. There will be no stick-to-your-ribs roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy lunch; no taking half of a day to setup; the entire process will look very different from what is was in my childhood days.  

However, some things never change. The custom silage chopping crew that will come to our farm is two brothers, Kevin and Jim Hoffman.   

After they are done at our small farm they will move on to the neighbor’s 2,000 cow dairy farm where they will join another custom crew to chop 1,000 plus acres in less than a week!

Tue, 25 Aug 2020 14:16:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Tom Van Assalt As summer winds down, South Dakota gardens and farmers markets are overflowing with fresh produce, which also means many of us are busy canning, freezing or pickling so that we can enjoy those fruits and vegetables all year long. 

South Dakota beef and dairy producers are gearing up for something very similar, although on a much larger scale than the canning we’re doing in our home kitchens. Each year, South Dakota farmers harvest about 350,000 acres of corn for silage, producing about 6 million tons of feed for dairy and beef cattle. Just like preserving foods at home, farmers must follow a careful process to ensure the safety and quality of the crops so that it is a good nutrition source for cattle throughout the year.

Tom Van Assalt  from Colton, South Dakota, is a beef nutritionist and consultant has owned Cattleplus Consulting since 2008. He works with South Dakota farmers who raise and finish beef cattle, helping them design and manage their animals’ feed rations, or diets, to ensure they stay healthy and grow as expected.

“Nutrition is key to animals’ performance and well-being,” said Tom. “A healthy rumen has benefits for cattle’s immune systems, so not only is good nutrition important for their beef production, it is important for their health and wellbeing. That results in better quality beef for consumers.”

Tom also works with farmers to develop rations that make the most of the crops they grow themselves, including hay and corn silage.

“We take a look at the farm’s inventory of feed ingredients and test them for nutrient content and quality, then put together a program that will meet their goals for feeding livestock,” he said. “The amount of land each farmer puts toward the crops each year as well as growing conditions will change their inventories and nutritional content, so we have to monitor and adjust diets on a regular basis.”

Silage is the term for when corn stalks or other cereal grasses are chopped, then compacted and stored in airtight conditions to be used as feed for cattle. In South Dakota, several crops like oats, rye, and alfalfa made into silage, but this time of year farmers are focused on corn silage. 

“For corn, we are harvesting while the stalks are green and the kernels are not yet mature to capitalize on the digestibility and nutrient value of the stalks and leaves,” he said. “Moisture and the sugars in the plant will help the chopped plants ferment so they are preserved and can be stored to feed all year.”

There are several steps that are critical for creating good quality silage. It must be harvested at the right moisture level, then chopped into even lengths. Most farmers today store silage in bunker silos on the ground with cement walls. As each load comes from the field, it is packed down and leveled to push out as much of the oxygen as possible. When the bunker silo is full, it is covered with a tarp to keep air out. Most farmers also add silage inoculant product which encourages the growth of the bacteria that ferment and preserve the crop.

“Farmers have to be flexible and ready to react when it is time to harvest, then manage the silage pile when it is packed and fed,” he said. “If it is managed carefully, the silage will be a fresh and high quality feed source.”

Properly stored silage can be used for up to two years, said Tom, but most farmers plan their inventory to last just over a year to allow time for the next year’s harvest. 

Curious about how silage process works?  Check out a video here 

Tue, 25 Aug 2020 13:44:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Steve Rommereim Stepping up to volunteer for county, state and even national agriculture organizations is a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of agriculture industry and build friendships and leadership skills.  Getting involved also ensures that your perspective is included in decisions that could impact your farm or the entire industry.  Steve Rommereim, pork producer from Alcester, South Dakota, shared his thoughts as he wraps up six years of service as a board member on the National Pork Board, including serving a term as board president.  

“If you want to make a change, you can’t do it at the coffee shop, you have to do it in the board room,” he said. “The time commitment I’ve invested over the years has paid me back four or five times over in the experiences, networks and friendships I’ve made.  It has been an amazing opportunity.”  

The National Pork Board is responsible for the education, promotion and research activities that the Pork Checkoff carries out on behalf of America’s pork producers.  It is led by a diverse group of 15 board members from all across America.

Steve began volunteering with local and county pork producers’ associations in 1985 and served in a number leadership roles over the years, including 10 years on the board of South Dakota Pork Producers and serving as chair of Ag United for South Dakota. He noted that these experiences prepared him well for working at the national level. 

“South Dakota is fairly unique in that we have a wide variety in our pork industry with small producers, large producers, colonies, and contract producers, as well as processors,” he said.  “As a representative of South Dakota, I could bring the perspective of many areas of the industry and help to make sure that all segments were represented by checkoff dollars.” 

His most memorable experiences have been the opportunities to meet with leaders of companies and countries where U.S. pork products are sold.  He has traveled to Mexico, China, Japan and Portugal, all important export markets for U.S. products.

“It has been fascinating to get a global view of how the world works, and to get an idea of the volume it takes to feed the world,” he said.  

The National Pork Board also undertook a strategic planning process while Steve was on the board, reviewing and revamping a number of processes to be able to be proactive and flexible in a changing industry.

“With as quickly as things change in today’s world, we don’t have a year or more to conduct research on issues that might impact farmers.  We need to be more nimble to address challenges, and we’ve seen that most recently with COVID-19,” he said. 

Steve has taken a new role both on his farm and professional life.  He and his wife, Charlotte, are transitioning the family farm to his daughter Leah and her husband, Josh.  Steve and Charlotte have moved to a smaller home and acreage while Leah and Josh remodel the farmhouse and prepare to be the sixth and seventh generation to live in it with their son, Jameson.  Their daughter Lara and her husband, Matt, farm northeast of Luverne, Minn.  They have two children: Milo, 3, and Ellie, 6 months.  He continues to help with farm work and managing pigs at his finishing facilities.

In May, Steve also began working three days a week as the Director of Membership Outreach and Engagement for South Dakota Pork Producers Council.  His role is to work with members to understand their needs and communicate the benefits and resources available from both state and national organizations.

“I started in this role in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as pork producers were managing through a very difficult time,” he said. “When processing plants were closed or slowed down, it took a lot of clear thinking and management techniques to slow down the growth of the pigs in barns and look for nontraditional markets for pigs.  It has not been easy, and we are still behind in getting pigs to market, but we’ve learned a lot of good lessons to prepare for the future.” 

Thu, 06 Aug 2020 09:47:00 -0500
Covid-19 Affects National Dairy Month COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to nearly all in-person events during National Dairy Month this year, but it didn’t stop South Dakota’s dairy farm families from celebrating and taking time to thank their neighbors and communities during June.  Several dairies partnered with local milk processors or cooperatives and with Midwest Dairy and Ag United to sponsor dairy product giveaway and other promotions.  

For the past 11 years, Royalwood Dairy near Brandon, SD, has opened their doors to the public for a Breakfast on the Farm event that has hosted up to 1,800 people for a farm tour, breakfast and kids’ activities.  With no event this year, the farm is a lot quieter, but the Ode family is still sharing their story and reaching out to Brandon and surrounding communities.  

This year family members participated in radio station interviews and partnered with Midwest Dairy and Ag United to give away $1,000 worth of milk in the Brandon and Sioux Falls areas.  

“We are a family farm that has farmed in the Brandon community since the 1800s and we take pride in our farm and caring for our cows and land,” said Doug Ode.  “We strive to produce the highest quality forages that we possibly can so that our cows produce high quality milk.” 

Royalwood Farms was established in 1983 when both Gregg Ode and Doug Ode returned to the family farm after graduating from South Dakota State University.  They milk about 440 cows and raise corn and alfalfa.  All the crops they raise are fed back to the milking herd. Greg’s son Alex is also involved in the day-to-day operation of the dairy farm. 

The Schultz family of Schultz Bros. Dairy near Freeman partnered with Midwest Dairy, Ag United and AMPI to sponsor a milk, butter and cheese giveaway in the Freeman community. The product giveaway was a way to say “thank you” to the community during a year when social distancing prevented some of the activities that the Schultzes have done in the past, including small group tours, classroom visits and product donations to community events. 

“This is the first time we’ve done a dairy giveaway for the entire community,” said John Schultz, owner of Schultz Bros Dairy. “The response has been very positive.  We were receiving texts and phone calls thanking us when the paper was put on the Freeman Courier web site a day before the publication was mailed out.”

John and Jeff Schultz own and operate the dairy, with their parents Mike and Vicki, involved in the daily operation of the farm.  John and Jeff transitioned the dairy from their parents in 2002 and began an expansion, currently milking 2000 cows, farm 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. 

“We appreciate the support we receive from our community, including employees, neighbors, and businesses, that are involved in getting our milk from the farm to the table,” said Jeff Schultz.  “We are fortunate to have many businesses in the immediate area that are able to meet our needs and keep our dairy as an asset to the community.” 

Kevin and Tanya  VanWinkle started VanWinkle Dairy near Canistota in 2006, where they currently milk 2,000 cows.  The started doing community milk giveaways several years ago, and partnered with Midwest Dairy, Agropur, and Ag United to provide milk and cheese to Canistota area residents this year.

Kevin said the giveaways are a good opportunity to show appreciate for community members and let them know that we appreciate being part of the community.  He noted that the thank you’s they receive also mean a lot.

“We truly enjoy taking care of our animals and watching them grow and mature into amazing animals that produce such a wholesome and nutritious food product that people in our community and around the world can enjoy and grow on,” said VanWinkle.

The Moes family was looking forward to hosting their annual Dairy Day on the farm event at MoDak Dairy near Kranzburg again this year, but were still able to continue their tradition of providing a free gallon of milk to neighbors and residents of Kranzburg this year.  They also shared cheese sticks with contractors in the area to celebrate National Dairy Month.

“We appreciate our neighbors, so when we need services, we try to work with local farms for our dairy’s needs,” said Greg Moes.  “We are here to stay for the next 125 years with our community supporting us.

The Moes family was recently recognized as a South Dakota Quasquicentennial Farm, owned and operated by 4thgeneration James Moes and Greg Moes and 5th generation Jacob Moes and Matthew Moes.  They milk 2,000 cows grow corn, alfalfa, wheat and rye.

To learn more about the dairy industry and find recipes and health information, visit  You can also follow South Dakota Farm Families, Midwest Dairy and the South Dakota Dairy Ambassadors on various social media outlets.

Tue, 14 Jul 2020 14:03:00 -0500
July Profile: Ashley Gelderman Ashley Gelderman is a nutritionist who spends her days developing diet plans that meet very specific nutritional needs for her clients at every stage of their lives.  But, instead of humans, Ashley’s clients are pigs. 

As a monogastric nutritionist for Standard Nutrition Company, Ashley works with pig and poultry farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana to develop feed rations that keep animals healthy and growing at every stage of development.  She also ensures that the diets are appropriate for the barns animals live in and makes the most of local feed ingredients available to farmers.   

“From a 15 pound weaned pig to a 280 pound pig ready for market, the farmers may change the rations 10 to 12 times to make sure pigs are getting the right combination of energy, protein and other ingredients to fit their needs,” she said.  “There is no one-size-fits-all; every farmer is unique and we tailor diets to their pigs, situation and environment.”

In addition to designing diets to meet pig’s nutritional needs, Ashley and other nutritionists take into account what feed ingredients are grown in the area or are readily available. For example, corn is the primary energy source in a pig’s diet in midwestern states, while it might be wheat in western or southern U.S.  In South Dakota, the main protein source for pigs is soybean meal.  Farmers also add a combination of minerals, vitamins and amino acids to complete the ration.  

Another important part of Ashley’s job is to work with farmers to ensure that they are on track with industry assessments and third party audits required for the pork industry, such as Pork Quality Assurance and other certifications. 

Ashley grew up on a 4000 head sow farm near Salem, South Dakota, where she enjoyed caring for baby pigs and developed a passion for the caring for animals. 

“I knew I wanted my career to tie back to pigs in some way, shape or form,” she said.

She earned a B.S. in Animal Science and a Masters degree in Monogastric Nutrition at South Dakota State University and has worked at Standard Nutrition for six years. 

Many pig farmers had to adjust their management practices and plans quickly in April after employees at pork processing plants in South Dakota and other states fell ill with the COVID-19 virus and plants were slowed or temporarily closed.  Some farmers were left with no options to take pigs that were ready or nearly ready for market.  (Click here to learn more about the food system and the impacts of COVID-19 on farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants and more.)

Nutritionists like Ashley worked with many producers to formulate special diets or change other factors in their environment to slow down the pigs’ feeding and growth for a short time until processing plants were back in operation.

“It was a complete 180 degree turn from what we are used to doing,” she said, noting that in normal circumstances nutritionists’ goals are to keep pigs growing at a steady and healthy rate. 

A number of farmers adjusted feed rations to continue meeting pigs’ nutrient needs, but dialed back fat and protein intake, said Gelderman.  In addition, because pigs typically don’t grow as quickly during the summer months, farmers took steps to mimic more summer-like conditions during the cooler temperatures of March and April, including raising the temperatures in barns by a few degrees.  

“This was not something that we or the farmers wanted to do, but it was in the best interest of the animals,” she said.  “We stayed in constant communications with farmers and if we saw changes in the animal behavior like they were aggressive or agitated, we would make adjustments to their diets.”  

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on South Dakota pork industry highlights the important role that nutritionists, veterinarians, and other industry professionals bring to South Dakota farmers to keep animals healthy and manage their businesses through difficult times.  

Wed, 08 Jul 2020 18:10:00 -0500