Rural Ramblings News from Ag United. Wed, 28 Sep 2022 13:43:42 -0500 Featured Farmer: Clay Conry Clay Conry Mic.jpeg

Connecting ranchers with new ideas and practices to better manage their land, animal, people and financial resources has been the goal of the Working Cows podcast since it launched nearly five years ago.  After recording more than 250 episodes, host Clay Conry is excited about the network of ranchers working to improve their businesses and putting “paradigm changing practices” to work.

Conry and his family own and operate a small ranch near Faith, South Dakota, where he has served as the pastor of Prairie Home Church since December 2018.  He grew up near Belle Fourche, South Dakota, where his parents Cliff and Cheyenne, built a first-generation cow-calf operation.

“Growing up, I was involved with the ranch, but it wasn’t my favorite thing at the time.  I went away to bible college in Milwaukee and experienced living in a metro area for two years,” he said.  “I remember coming home and getting of the car in western South Dakota and smelling the fresh air and recognizing it wasn’t a bad place to be.”

He returned to Belle Fourche and spent 12 years as a youth and associate pastor at an area church.  He also worked parttime on the ranch to supplement the family’s income, and his father suggested taking continuing education courses to better understand the business and management of the ranch.

“I participated in the High Plains Ranch Practicum created by University of Nebraska and University of Wyoming, “he said.  “It gave me a new framework for looking at and thinking about ranching.”

The experience not only sparked a new approach to ranching and managing key aspects of the business, it also launched the Working Cows podcast.  A comment from one of the practicum leaders that the conversations were so valuable to a larger audience that they should be turned into a podcast started the ball rolling.

“I thought, I have experience with posting sermons, so I could probably handle the technical parts of it, and I could ask people questions about cows,” said Conry.

Five years later, Conry said he has been blessed by the experiences of talking with innovative guests and with the network of listeners who reach out to share their own stories and connect with each other.  He has interviewed more than 200 people from not only across the U.S., but also around the world.

The podcast focuses on what Conry highlights as “paradigm shifting practices” that give ranchers new ways to look at how they manage four pillars of resources:  land, money, people and animals.  A key element is for ranchers to see themselves as entrepreneurs and business owners to ensure that their operation is financially stable.

“We talk a lot about the lifestyle of ranching, but we have to start with making the best business decisions to ensure the financial sustainability of the operation,” he said.  “There are lots of opportunities if we are willing to look first as business owners and entrepreneurs, and be willing to think differently and operate differently to get a better return on our investments of both time and money.”

For example, calving in sync with nature is a practice that times the animals’ highest nutritional needs with when the grass quality and nutrition content is typically the highest.

“Deer and antelope have timed their season of birthing with the highest quality forage.  It comes down to sustainability,” said Conry. “The biggest expense many ranches face is supplemental feed costs, but if we can time grazing to let the land produce more of the nutrition the cow needs, it is better for the animal, the land and the financials.”

Balancing the emotions of working with people and animals is also key, he said.

“We have to manage our people with an eye toward emotion,” he said.  “We know that there are going to be times when stress levels are high and it will draw down our emotional ‘bank account,’ so we need to make sure we are putting positive deposits into that account on a regular basis.”

At the same time, keeping emotions to a minimum when managing animals is better for both the bottom line and health of animals.  Staying calm when working with cattle minimizes their stress and allows them to perform better.

Conry Family.jpeg

Conry has put many of the practices to work on the ranch he manages with his wife, Miranda, and four children: Braden, Calvin, Charley, and Glover.  They’ve built their operation around the time and resources available.

“My full time employment is pastor of Prairie Home Church, so the amount of time I have to spend working at the ranch has to be very efficient and effective,” he said.

The family has a custom grazing operation, bringing in other people’s cows during the growing season to graze.  They also raise sheep, noting that sheep thrive in the drier climate and are easier for kids to manage and work with.

Learn more and listen to the podcast at

Wed, 14 Sep 2022 14:47:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Community Supports 4-H Program with New Building Grant Co 4H2.jpgGrant Co Building.jpeg

4-H Achievement shows and county fairs are the highlight of the summer for many young people across the state who have spent months caring for animals and preparing projects. These events provide an opportunity to display their projects, share what they learned with judges and celebrate successes with friends and family.  In Grant County, the 2022 Achievement Days was exciting for young people and the entire community as they hosted the first event in the county’s new 4-H Complex building.

Sara Koepke, 4-H Program Youth Advisor for Grant County, said the new complex located in Milbank is more than a building.  It represents several years of planning and fundraising and the commitment from the communities to 4-H and extension programming.

Conversations about a new facility on the county’s 4-H grounds in Milbank started in 2018, followed by a fundraising campaign and breaking ground in August 2021. The previous 4-H exhibits building had reached capacity as it hosted multiple 4-H events and programs throughout the year as well as the county’s food giveaway and community events.  

“We had the final walkthrough June 9 and have been slowly working to get everything into the building,” said Koepke.  “We’re excited to be hosting Achievement Days here and it will be the first chance that most people in the community will have to see the finished building.”

The 4-H complex features a simple floorplan that can be used for a variety of events and programs.  It includes a large multi-purpose area that can be transformed into meeting rooms.  It also has a large kitchen, offices for the county 4-H program, which had been previously located in the basement of the county courthouse, as well as storage.

The project is just $150,000 shy of reaching its $1.8 million fundraising goal, said Koepke.  Gifts of $500,000 each from two major donors – Valley Queen Charitable Foundation and Leo Flynn Estate – provided a strong foundation to fundraising, with the rest of the funds coming from community members, 4-H alumni, businesses and organizations.

“It has been fun to hear from and receive donations from so many 4-H alumni and people who have a passion for 4-H,” said Koepke.  “Often donations come with notes or conversations about how they or kids they know have been impacted by the 4-H program and the importance of providing a positive learning environment for young people.”

Koepke has been the 4-H program youth advisor in Grant County for nearly 10 years.  She grew up in Litchfield, Minnesota, and was an active 4-H member for 10 years.  She attended South Dakota State University.

“My mom worked in extension while I was growing up, so I had a phenomenal role model,” she said. “I grew up in the 4-H program, so to be able to be on the other side of it as an adult is a rewarding experience.”

4-H is the largest youth development program in the U.S., reaching almost 6 million young people through extension programs led by 100 public universities across the country.  In South Dakota, 4-H teaches life skills and leadership to youth in four program priorities of Agriculture, Science, Health and Wellness and Leadership.

“The time that young people put into a 4-H program is heartwarming because these kids are building life skills to prepare them for a future career,” she said.  “It’s allowing them to gain confidence in a positive learning experience through working with animals or participating in Youth in Action events, then take those life skills to be productive and caring citizens as they continue to grow.”

The 185 members of Grant County’s eight 4-H clubs shared their hard work in the three days of the county 4-H Achievement Days.  The event featured shows and judging of goats, beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, as well as poultry, rabbits and companion animals.  4-H members also brought display exhibits such as foods and nutrition, photography, hobbies and collections, visual arts, child development, and home environment to name a few.  Youth in Action events held earlier featured opportunities to showcase learnings and communications skills in a fashion review, communications and special foods projects.

Koepke said that hosting the 2022 Achievement Days in the new 4-H complex was a celebration for the entire community, recognizing their support of 4-H and youth programs.

“With higher temperatures than usual, our 4-H Achievement Days was great! Our community 4-H BBQ  was able to be held indoors where 550 people from the community enjoyed a delicious meal and camaraderie while being surrounded by the amazing talent of Grant County 4-H,”  said Koepke.

Tue, 09 Aug 2022 11:53:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Tanse and Tonya Herrmann 07_26_20_HerrmannFamily_187.jpg

A search for top quality hay for their own horses has grown into a busy and successful business serving horse owners across the Black Hills and northeast Wyoming for Tanse and Tonya Herrmann of Whitewood, South Dakota.

In 2012, the Herrmanns were looking for small square bales of hay to feed horses as they traveled to rodeo competitions.  Due to significant drought conditions and low production that year, they didn’t find any in their local area, so Tanse traveled to Timber Lake to purchase some bales from a friend.  They sold the extra bales they didn’t need (primarily to cover the cost of repairing the borrowed trailer they used for transporting), and the idea for The Hay Shed business was born.  They began by buying several hundred small square bales at a time to fill their barn loft, selling those to other horse owners, then re-stocking again. 

“We were uniquely equipped to serve the horse market because we were and are our own customers. At the start of our business we set high expectations for quality and what we wanted the end product to be,” said Tonya. “We own all of the hay we stock, and it comes to our yard before it is sold.  We offer a guarantee to our customers and are careful that anything we sell, we would be willing to feed to our own horses.”

The Herrmanns also began to purchase equipment to be able to raise and put up hay from their own acreage and land they farm on a share agreement with neighbors.  They currently stock all sizes of small and large square and round bales and have an inventory year-round to serve horse owners in the region. 

“We learned a lot as we started to raise our own hay crops, with our focus on quality over quantity,” said Tanse.  Cutting the hay at the right maturity level is key to the nutritional quality of the product.  Baling at the right moisture level and providing protection from the elements is critical in storing any hay, especially square bales…which aren’t square at all, they are more rectangular in nature.

The Herrmanns focus most of their own production on small square bales and smaller round bales, especially four-foot wide round bales that can fit in the back of a smaller size pickup truck and be moved by homeowner-sized equipment or even by hand.

“About 85 to 90 percent of our customers are purchasing a small amount of hay in a pickup or on a flatbed trailer at a time,” said Tanse.

They see their role as unique in making the connection between farmers and ranchers and the horse owners that are their customers. They only produce about 10% of the total volume they sell, so have a trusted network of hay growers and truck drivers to make sure The Hay Shed is stocked for their variety of customers. Their experience and expertise in agriculture provides the perfect foundation.

Tanse grew up in Chamberlain, South Dakota, and earned a degree in Ag Education from South Dakota State University.  Tonya grew up on a crop and hog farm in southwestern Minnesota and also attended SDSU. After graduation, Tanse began working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Belle Fourche, Sturgis, and now has an office in Rapid City.  After commuting the 400 miles between Belle Fourche and Brookings to see each other for awhile, Tonya transferred to Black Hills State University to complete her degree and continue college rodeo.

They were married in 2004 and have two children: Tully, 13, and Tayzi, 10.

“We are still our own customers, with our own horses and competing in rodeo events,” said Tonya. They serve horse owners in a variety of disciplines from rodeo competitors, endurance riders, hobby trail riders, as well as kangaroos, and have even provided hay to elephants when the circus was in town, and to the tortoises at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City.  They also sell straw and a special high quality roasted grain for horses, “Roasted to Perfection.”

Tanse now serves as the state grazing lands soil health specialist for South Dakota NRCS, focusing on outreach and education to share the importance of soil health and practices that farmers and ranchers can take to improve and advance soil health on their own land.  He speaks to students from kindergarten through college, as well as training K-12 educators and works with an extensive network of partners such as South Dakota Grassland Coalition, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, Pheasants Forever, US Fish & Wildlife Service Partners Program, and many more. 

“As partners in conservation, we don’t all pursue the same things in the same way, but we all believe that productive, healthy soils are achieved through purposed decision-making and management at the field scale,” said Tanse.  One of his favorite parts of the role is the rainfall simulator that demonstrates the value of soil health principles like having plant residue and living roots in fields to minimize water runoff and wind erosion.  “Seeing is believing.  There are lots of folks who have begun to turn the wheels of change on their own operations after seeing these demonstrations and examples.”

Hay operations can be difficult to advance soil health because aggressively cutting or raking the hay prior to baling can disturb the soils, making them more prone to erosion.  In addition, hay crops are often a monoculture with one crop species in the field for a season or more which can be troublesome when attempting to enhance soil health, said Tanse.

The Herrmanns have adopted a number of practices on their own hay fields such as not disturbing the soil when raking hay, planting multiple species of grasses, monitoring soil for nutrient fertility levels and organic matter.  These are consistent with five principles of soil health — soil armor, minimizing soil disturbance, maximum plant diversity, live roots year-round, and integrating livestock — which must be applied in ways that meet each farm or ranch’s specific geography, soil, and management needs

Mon, 11 Jul 2022 16:07:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Andrew Jensen Andy Jensen Poultry.jpeg

While students in the Sioux Falls school district are on summer vacation, one of the district’s newest teachers is working to build new curriculum and learning opportunities for students in the fall semester.   In spring 2022, the district announced that agricultural education classes will be available with the addition of the Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources Career Cluster at the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Academy beginning this fall.

Andrew Jensen will serve as the district’s first agriculture education teacher and FFA advisor, and is excited about the opportunities that the new program will provide to students in the state’s largest school district.

“The most exciting part about ag education is giving students that haven’t grown up in production agriculture the opportunity to see how food is produced,” he said.  “Students learn where their food comes from, and it makes them better consumers.  We’re not only creating better students for an agriculture and food chain workforce, we’re creating better consumers who have a better understanding of agricultural practices.”

The agriculture program in Sioux Falls is being built around core areas, including agricultural biotechnology, animal science and pre-veterinary science, horticulture and landscaping, natural resources, and ag leadership. 

Jensen notes that the programs will be tailored to provide students without experience in production agriculture exposure to many segments in the agriculture industry, including some coursework tailored to an urban setting, such as growing microgreens in the greenhouse or learning about small animal and companion pets in animal science.   

Students will also learn about the wide variety of careers available in agriculture, especially as technology is quickly changing and providing new tools for farmers to increase productivity while providing better care for animals and protecting natural resources.

“Agriculture is our state’s leading industry and a key part of the Sioux Falls economy,” said Jensen.  “Providing an opportunity for Sioux Falls students to learn more about the wide range of careers and jobs in agriculture will position them for success in their future.”

Jensen grew up on a small family farm near Wakonda, South Dakota, where the family raised stock cows, hogs and crops.  He was very active in 4-H at his club, county and state levels. He attended South Dakota State University and earned a degree in General Agriculture, with plans to work in the Extension Service and with 4-H programs.  In his role with South Dakota Extension, working with students in fourth grade classrooms sparked an interest in teaching, and he pursued alternative certification to be a teacher and then completed education coursework.

“Becoming an ag education teacher was the best decision I ever made,” he said.

Jensen comes to Sioux Falls after serving as ag education instructor and FFA advisor at Chester Area School District for six years and at Stanley County in Fort Pierre before that.  

He is also excited about the addition of the FFA program at the CTE Academy.  The Sioux Falls CTE Academy FFA Chapter has already been chartered for the 2022-23 year.

“There is a place for everyone in FFA,” said Jensen.  “FFA sets itself apart from other student organizations because students can build public speaking, communication and leadership skills as well as focusing on specific areas that they want to learn and compete in.”

Jensen said the Sioux Falls program will follow the “3 Circle Model of Agriculture Education” which includes FFA, classroom instruction, and Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE).  FFA members can compete in a number of Career Development Events (CDE) ranging from livestock evaluation and agronomy to agricultural business management to food science and technology, or Leadership Development Events (LDE) that include public speaking, ag sales, communications, parliamentary procedure, and more.

“Even if a student doesn’t pursue a career in agriculture, employers love to see FFA on a resume because they know it means students have developed a work ethic, as well as communications and leadership skills,” he said.

Mon, 13 Jun 2022 10:57:00 -0500
Farmer's Daughter: Erin Wagner Hello, I am Erin Wagner and this summer I am AgUnited’s intern. Growing up on my family’s farm near Primghar, Iowa, I learned many life lessons as well developed my passion for agriculture. From loading and sorting hogs, learning how to drive the tractor and grain cart during harvest season, to halter breaking my show steer for the annual O’Brien County Fair I have always had a direct connection to agriculture. I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could still be involved with agriculture, and never knew upon going to college at South Dakota State University that the sky was the limit on what I could do. I am currently studying Agriculture Leadership with minors in Advertising and Leadership and Management of Nonprofit Organizations. I keep myself busy with my involvement serving as an Ambassador of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Science, serving as an club officer for Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow, member of the Pep Band, and working at the Miller Wellness Center on campus. 

I am looking forward to my summer here at AgUnited as I look to learn, grow, and elevate my passion for agriculture through the summer.  I am most excited to help plan and organize events and run the different social media channels.

Make sure to check us out on Facebook at South Dakota Farm Families or our website for more information!


Erin Pictire .JPG 

Fri, 20 May 2022 11:24:00 -0500
Featured Farmer: Jorgensen Land and Cattle Jorgensen-Partners-Photo-Greg-Martin-Cody-Bryan-Nick-scaled.jpeg

Precision technologies helping South Dakota family deliver better beef, preserve land

When people think of technology in agriculture, most think first of autosteer tractors, GPS systems, yield monitors and more for raising crops like corn and soybeans.  However, the Jorgensen family of Ideal, South Dakota, is using innovative technologies to raise better quality beef, improve how their animals graze on pasture, protect the health of their soil, and more.

The Jorgenson family originally homesteaded the land in the early 1900s and have raised crops and cattle for more than 100 years, growing the business to about 15,000 acres and raising 5,000 Angus bulls to sell to other ranches and beef producers each year.  They also operate a hunting lodge and host pheasant hunters each season.

“We are able to utilize much of our land in three ways: raising crops to feed cattle, grazing cattle, and creating habitat for pheasants,” said Cody. “In many places, people are able to do one or two of those things, we’re blessed to be able to do all three, which is better for the soil, land, cattle, and our family.”

Cody Jorgensen is a member of the fourth generation of the Jorgensen family involved in the farm and livestock business.  Other members of the family management team are his father Greg, uncle Brian and cousin Nick. 

Cody’s grandfather Martin Jorgensen, Jr., began the family’s focus on building a strong, high-performing line of bulls.  He began performance testing bulls in the 1950s, keeping records of health and other traits so that ranchers who bought them could improve the genetics of their own cattle herds.  Over the years, the Jorgensens have maintained the same level of discipline and added new technologies to better understand the genetics and performance of their bulls.

“Historically we’ve kept records on animals so we know what traits will be passed down, but now we have the technology and data to back that up and be more precise,” he said. “We have a DNA analysis on all the bulls in our herd and encourage our customers to have DNA testing on their cows so we can do an even better job of meeting their needs.”

A better understanding the health and other traits of each animal results in healthier bulls, cows and calves that result in a more efficient, high quality and affordable beef supply for consumers, said Cody.

“If we know that animals are going to be healthier and perform better at every step in the chain, it is better for everyone,” he said.

The Jorgensens are also testing new technologies to better manage their cattle grazing in pastures. Virtual fencing, developed by Vence, is a system where animals wear collars with an attached sending unit. Virtual fences are programmed using satellite positioning technology.  As animals get close to the virtual fence, they hear an audio tone warning, then if they continue to get too close, they receive a non-harmful shock.

Jorgensen cattle with collars.jpeg

As the technology and collars that cattle wear continue to improve, Cody believes that virtual fencing will be a game changer in the industry, especially for the rotational grazing practices that they have been using for about five years.

Their grazing land is divided into 30 to 40 sections, or paddocks.  Instead of spreading out across the entire pasture, cattle are moved from one paddock to another throughout the growing season.  Each move means fresh grass for the animals and allows other paddocks to re-grow, and means pasture is grazed evenly throughout the season.

“It has lengthened our grazing season and we saw a lot of benefits during drought conditions where we were able to make the most of what we had,” said Cody.

Virtual fencing will make the labor intensive part of moving cattle in the rotational grazing system simpler, and also allow the Jorgensens to graze cattle in areas that might have been challenging to install fences or monitor in the past. 

These new technologies, combined with sustainable agricultural practices are helping the family ensure that the land can support raising crops and animals for generations to come.

“Every acre that we raise crops on is no-till, with some being in a no-till system for 35 years,” said Cody.  “We only receive 17-18 inches of rain a year, so we need to do everything we can to conserve moisture and keep it in the soils.  We’re also trying to build the organic matter to get the soil back to its most native state.”

Learn more about the family and Jorgensen Land & Cattle on their website and Facebook page.

Mon, 16 May 2022 10:12:00 -0500
April Profile: South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership SDARL Class XI.jpg

For 22 years, the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (SDARL) program has focused on providing South Dakotans from across the state with the tools, confidence and connections to make their rural communities and South Dakota agriculture stronger and more vibrant.

 Ten cohorts have completed the 18-month program since the first class launched in 2000, with the eleventh group underway.  Each cohort includes around 30 individuals ages 25 to 55, who are working in farming, ranching, or an allied field such as ag finance, inputs, biofuels, transportation, and others.  The goal is to bring together a group that represents all agricultural disciplines in the state so that everyone learns about leadership together and benefits from diverse experiences.

 Each cohort meets for 12 seminars that are usually three days in length and held at locations across South Dakota. One week is spent in Washington, D.C to gain insights into policy-making at the national level. The class allocates two weeks to study in a foreign country, examining the global nature of agriculture and the challenges of feeding the world.

 Cindy Aman and Brandon Hope are both members of SDARL cohort XI, which launched in fall 2021.

SDARL Cindy at Gettysburg.jpeg

 Aman and her husband Darwin own and operate Hillsview Farms near Hillsview, South Dakota, along with their three sons, Andrew, Sam and Alex.  They run a cow/calf operation and feed the calves all the way to finished weight. They also have a herd of registered Polled Herefords and sell bulls annually off the farm. They raise crops for feed for their own cattle and also sell corn and soybeans to market.  She has a B.S. in Animal Science with a Business option and a minor in Economics from South Dakota State University.

 She had followed the SDARL program for years and thought of applying several times, but didn’t feel she could make the expected time commitment. 

“Now as an empty nester, not currently serving on any board of committees, I decided it was now or never,” said Aman.  “I had always heard good things from SDARL alumni, and think the program has a lot to offer with a very educational agenda every seminar.”

 Building relationships with the other cohort members has been one of the most valuable parts of the program for Aman, especially bringing together people of various age differences and all areas of the ag industry to collaborate with each other. Several speakers have highlighted the importance of advocacy in agriculture and that everyone is in charge of their own story and messaging. 

 “Through SDARL, I have learned that there isn’t always someone else to serve in leadership roles.  We all need to ‘stand up, step up, and get to work’ as Dana Dykhouse told us,” said Aman. “I will try to bring the positivity back to my family and community.  We are all responsible for our actions and the future of the ag industry is dependent on us.”

SDARL Brandon Hope.jpg

 Brandon Hope is a fourth-generation farmer from Sinai, South Dakota.  He returned to his family’s farm in 2010 after receiving his B.S. in agriculture from South Dakota State University and working in landscaping for two years after college. He shares operation of their 2,100-acre corn and soybean farm with his father where they are always looking to adopt new technologies and practices to stay on top of the ever-changing agricultural industry. Hope and his wife, Leah, have three children: Westin (12), Bryston (5), and Vivian (3).

 He has appreciated the unique learning opportunities at each of the seminars so far, including tours and hearing from Coach John Stiegelmeier and Dana Dyhkhouse at SDSU, learning about state politics and meeting leaders in Pierre, and a weeklong trip to Washington DC where they met with various leaders and toured Gettysburg National Cemetery.

 Hope said the SDARL experience has helped him understand himself better and open up to new perspectives in making decisions for his business and community.

 “There are so many different ways the world is viewed today, and the experiences of others must be taken into account.  I think about how the decisions will not only affect me, but also those around me,” he said.  “Having an open mind and not shutting down others’ ideas because they aren’t your own is key to finding the right answers to problems.

 He is looking forward to continuing to develop his leadership skills and build on the training opportunities.

 “SDARL has given me so many tools from public speaking to networking to just listening, that I can use in my community, business and personal life,” said Hope.

 “Our mission at SDARL is to identify and develop leaders for agriculture and rural communities in South Dakota,” said Don Norton, SDARL CEO. “It’s wonderful to see class members grow in their understanding of the skills, knowledge, and character of leaders. The 326 graduates and class members of our flagship program are making a significant impact in our state, and we all benefit from their engaged leadership.”

 In addition the to the 18-month program, SDARL also offers the SDARL Learning Network, which includes lifelong-learning programs for alumni and leadership training for partner organizations, such as commodity board members, FFA advisors, community non-profit boards and rural community leaders. Learn more about SDARL at


Tue, 12 Apr 2022 12:07:00 -0500
Best Wishes to Steve Dick Steve farewell.png


It is a bittersweet day at Ag United for South Dakota.

Today is Steve Dick’s last day as Executive Director at Ag United.  We appreciate his leadership in building and growing our organization over the past 17 years, and wish him the best as he takes on a new role as the State Executive Director for USDA Farm Service Agency in South Dakota.  He will start the new role on April 11.  

Ag United was founded in 2004 by a coalition of ag organizations with a mission of promoting and advancing farm and ranch families and rural communities in South Dakota.  Over the years, Ag United and South Dakota Farm Families have built connections and shared information about modern agriculture with tens of thousands of South Dakotans at programs including farm open house events, Farms after Five and Know Your Milk bus tours, restaurant crawl events, and participation at popular events like Family Fest and Expo for Her.  Each year, farmers and ranchers are adopted by dozens of classrooms and farmers host pizza parties for National Ag Day across the state. And, Steve and the Ag United team have supported farm and ranch families in 32 of South Dakota’s counties with zoning help for local and county hearings for expansion or new construction projects.

“We wish Steve well in his new role and want to thank him for his years of leadership,” said Richard Vasgaard, Centerville farmer and president of the Ag United board of directors. “We appreciate his dedication and commitment to growing agriculture in South Dakota.”

Steve brought both a production agriculture and policy and outreach background to the creation of Ag United, and both have been valuable as he worked with organizations as well as farm families, consumers and local officials.

Tue, 05 Apr 2022 09:14:00 -0500
Emery Pearson: Opportunities in FFA Emery Pearson: Opportunities in FFA



Guest Blog written by Emery Pearson, Tri-Valley FFA

This week on our radio commercial, we very briefly introduced what CDEs and LDEs are in the FFA world, as well as so much more that FFA does. If you missed the segment this morning on KELO It’s your Agribusiness, no worries, you can always listen to it using the link at the bottom of this page, but let's get back to our CDEs.

CDE stands for Career Development Event. This event is aimed to give you real-life skills that you can apply to one of the many wonderful jobs currently available in the agriculture industry and just jobs in general. CDEs are a type of FFA contests that all members can compete in. These competitions contain many different categories within every field, from Vet Science to Agronomy, CDE’s have got it all, but what exactly is vet science? In this competition there are a series of tools and equipment you have to learn about and many different types of animals from parasites to sheep. Then you take a test over all the tools and species that you have studied. At this point, you may be asking yourself about the other Development Event we mentioned at the beginning, which is an LDE.

FFA Vet science.jpeg

For LDE also known as Leadership Development Events, there is a whole different set of categories to compete and gain knowledge in. Leadership Development Events are meant to teach you leadership skills so that you can one day use them to run your own business or to advance your career with skills that are necessary to your job. One of the many events you can choose from is AG Broadcasting. For this particular event, you get a packet to look over full of information. You have an hour to pick the topics that you want to talk about and make a five-minute “Radio” show to put on. Within those five minutes, you also have to have a 30-second commercial that you prepare before you go to the competition. The commercial can be about anything that you choose as long as it is Ag-related. Another example of an LDE is known as Parliamentary Procedure. Within this event, you and your team, consisting of six other members, study and rehearse as they run through the layout of an official Business meeting as it would be held at an FFA conference. Together, with the help of your team, you go in front of a panel of judges and present your best version of the meeting with a topic that was assigned to you. There are so many more CDEs and LDEs that could be discussed for hours, but for now, to learn more visit the official website for South Dakota FFA.

One competition you will go to within these events is known as district. If you place in the top three individually or your team places in the top two, you will attend your state conference. If you place first in your event, you get the opportunity to compete at the national level. Nationals is the biggest event held by the FFA organization. Over 50,000 people attended the last national convention. At nationals, you get to witness all of FFA coming together, CDEs, LDEs, agriscience, and more.

Now that you know the basics, please be sure to encourage yourself and those you know to learn more about this amazing organization how to do this.

Listen to the KELO It's Your Agribusiness segment here


Tue, 01 Mar 2022 09:10:00 -0600
Careers in Agriculture Careers in Agriculture 

Agriculture is an extremely diverse industry with a career interest for nearly everyone. From working hands on with animals, to advocating for the industry, to working in finance and banking, and everywhere in between, individuals are sure to find an area that fits them. But how do you narrow down what you are interested in? With all the available options, it can be extremely overwhelming to pick what’s best for you.

AgExplorer, a platform designed by the National FFA Organization, has divided the career areas within agriculture into nine distinct systems based upon individual interests and passions. The nine systems are Agribusiness Systems, Agricultural Education, Animal Systems, Biotechnology Systems, Environmental Service Systems, Food Products and Processing Systems, Natural Resource Systems, Plant Systems and Power, Structural and Technical Systems. You can utilize the resource here:

While having the nine systems helps to narrow down where your interests may lie, it can still be overwhelming to see all the careers that are listed under each career system. On their website, you are able to learn more about each system, as well as visit careers and learn more about each.

Another great way to find where your career interests are is to do a job shadow with a professional in the career you are interested in. Most professionals in the industry are passionate about their jobs and hope to get others involved as well. All you have to do for this step is to find someone local in the area you care about and ask them! It can be intimidating, but it is one of the best ways to gain experience and learn more about the job you want to pursue.

Similar to job shadowing, it can be helpful to find a mentor in the field you are interested in pursuing. You can reach out to someone you know (or don’t) who is a professional in that area to ask questions, gain resources from and grow your network with. Mentors serve as a great way to learn more about the actual roles and day to day life within the position.

If you are unable to work with someone local, AgExplorer offers another great resource called Virtual Field Trips. From Ford Motor Company to Cargill, there are multiple companies that you have the opportunity to take a virtual tour of to learn more about the company and the careers that are involved in it.

Internships are another large factor in helping people figure out what they do and don’t like. And pro-tip – if you start it and don’ t like it, most only last for three months. Throughout college, students can learn if a career isn’t for them, by doing a summer internship. Another bonus of having an internship in an agricultural related field is that they are almost always available. And there are so many available, there are a number of them that go unfilled, so you are sure to find something that works for you!

Overall, finding a first career, or even a new career, doesn’t have to be scary. There are so many resources available to find something that works for you. AgExplorer is just one of many similar sites to narrow down what works with your interests. Finding a mentor, completing a job shadow, or having an internship are just a few of the ways to grow your network and gain hands-on experience in the job you want to do.


Tue, 15 Feb 2022 15:59:00 -0600
Emery Pearson: FFA has Something for Everyone Emery Pearson: FFA has Something for Everyone

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Guest Blog written by Emery Pearson, Tri-Valley FFA 

FFA week is on its way. Coming up On February 19-26, every FFA chapter gets to celebrate their organization. Some may choose to make posters for each of their ag education classes. Some might do coloring contests; some may even have their FFA member teach in-person to younger students. Here at Tri-Valley, we do it all.

On Monday, February 19, we kick the whole week off with lessons for the younger kids. Those continue through Wednesday and can be anything from seeing how popcorn is made to making butter or testing milk from animals. All grades from kindergarten to fifth are signing up for their ag education class with our FFA members. This year we have our kindergarteners making butter and our second graders making popcorn. Ensure that you check with your FFA advisor to see what your school is doing to celebrate FFA week.

You may be asking yourself why FFA week is so important. Agriculture is a dying art, one that we need very much. FFA started as an organization to prepare the future farmers of America. But since then, it has turned into so much more. FFA strives to build personal confidence, public speaking abilities, and strong leadership qualities. However, we didn't lose the agricultural edge to our organization.

One thing that FFA is involved in is called a CDE, also known as a career development event. There are categories like Ag mechanics. Ag mechanics can build up the member's knowledge of different oils, different types of engines, and so much more. They test machine systems, troubleshoot problems, and perform repairs on machinery. Another CDE that you can compete in is agronomy. Members that compete in agronomy memorize the identification of over 100 seeds and the mounts that they belong to. They also test different weather that crops thrive in or what conditions they need to survive. More CDE's that you can compete in include vet science, natural resources, floriculture, and so many more that you can learn more about from your FFA advisor.

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Although CDEs are fun, FFA still offers more, like leadership development events or LDE. LDE's are primarily focused on the leadership of the members. You can compete in team events like Parliamentary Procedures and ag sales, or you can do individual events like creed speaking, job interviews, and so much more. Yet another competition you can do is known as Agriscience.

Agriscience allows students to pick a topic that they are passionate about and experiment with it. For example, how different floor dry products clean up oil spills or how plants are affected by different colors of light. Agriscience offers so much freedom to its participants.

In any of these competitions, you can go to Nationals. National FFA Convention is the most significant event that FFA hosts and it brings people from all around the country together to compete against each other in LDE's, CDE's, Agriscience, and so much more. National FFA is a three-day event that typically brings up to 65,000 people to listen to FFA band and choir, whether they are competing or there.

As you can see, FFA is so much more than just our farmers, and within LDE's, CDE's, Agriscience, band, and choir, FFA has something for everyone. 

Emery also shared FFA week on KELO It's Your Agribusiness. Listen to her segment here


Mon, 14 Feb 2022 10:23:00 -0600
Featured Farmers: Hendricksons and Elliotts Hendrickson3.jpg

Robotics deliver benefits for families and cows at dairies of all sizes 

Technology is becoming an increasingly important part of agriculture, and the dairy industry is leading the way with robotics and other technologies that help farmers take better care of their cows, improve quality of milk for consumers and address labor shortages.

The Hendrickson family and the Elliott family are great examples of South Dakota dairy producers putting the latest technologies to work on their farms.  Located just 10 miles apart, the size of their operations is different, but they have both tailored robotic equipment to meet the needs of their dairy, cows and teams.

Byron Hendrickson is a third-generation dairy producer who farms with his wife, Mary Beth, daughter Katie and her husband Cole Hoyer, near Estelline in northeast South Dakota.  Katie and Cole joined the farm in 2021 after graduating from college.  They currently have about 140 cows in the dairy herd and raise all the calves on the farm. 

Byron grew up on the farm and many of his first memories involve helping with feeding calves, milk cows, driving tractors and other chores. The farm has evolved over the years from the installation of the first pipeline milker in 1976 to larger stanchion and tie stall barns.  As the farm’s herd and needs grew, Hendrickson researched options for barn designs and the potential for installing robotic milkers.  

“I had always been intrigued by the idea of robotic milkers and thought it would be the way of the future, especially in areas where it is hard to find employees,” said Hendrickson.

In 2016, they began construction of a new freestall barn and robotic milking parlor.  There are two robotic milkers that cows enter when they are ready to be milked.

“The biggest advantage to robots is the health of the cows,” said Hendrickson.  “They are milked more often and at the times they want to be.”  He said that cows typically enter the milker three times a day, but some high producing cows choose to be milked four, five or six times a day.

When a cow goes into the milker, the robot is able to locate the cow’s udders using a scanner similar to those in grocery stores, then washes and dries them, and puts on milker units that pulsate to stimulate milk to let down.  When the flow of milk slows, the robotic arm removes the milking units to be washed, and a teat dip is applied to each teat.


“We get a lot more data on the cows than we ever did before and allows us to pick up possible issues much earlier than we could have with the naked eye,” said Hendrickson. 

Each cows wears an electronic tag that is read every time she visits the milker and it can create up to 150 reports for each cow.  The robotic system tracks the amount of time a cow spends ruminating, or chewing her cud, and also keeps track of milk temperatures and other factors that can help identify health issues early.

The dairy also uses robotic feed pushers that ensure that feed stays in front of cows all day.  Feed is delivered with a feed wagon twice a day, but cows’ natural behavior is to use their noses to push feed around, which can put it out of their reach.  The automatic pushers go down each bunkline every hour to ensure feed is moved closer to cows and they have feed access 24/7. 

“It has been one of the most troublefree pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned, and makes sure that the cows always have feed in front of them,” said Hendrickson.

Hendrickson’s move to robotic milkers has been a benefit for their farm and a solid foundation for the future as they plan a transition to Katie and Cole in coming years. 

“If you can run a cell phone today, you can run a robot,” he said.  “They are touch screen and self-contained, and as long as you keep all the parts clean and do maintenance, they will do a good job at what they are supposed to do.” 

Drumgoon Dairy, owned by Rodney and Dorothy Elliott near Lake Norden, SD, has been milking cows in their robotic parlor since January 2021.  They installed 20 robots to milk a total of 1,470 cows on their farm.  It is the third milking facility on the farm, bringing the total herd to 5,500 milking cows. 


Rodney and Dorothy Elliott immigrated to South Dakota with their family from their native Ireland in 2006, and purchased the dairy near Lake Norden. Their son, David, returned to the dairy farm after college graduation in 2014 and has become an important part of the management team. In the latest expansion, they chose robots for their consistency and efficiency, which allows cows to spend more time eating and resting.  The robots also help fill the dairy’s growing need for labor.

“Employees are becoming harder to find, as people are less and less willing to stand and do some of the jobs that are traditionally on dairy farms,” said Rodney Elliott.

Drumgoon Dairy also uses robotic feed pushers, and automatic scrapers that scrape manure from the freestall barns where cows are housed.

Thu, 10 Feb 2022 09:38:00 -0600
FEATURED FARMER: Clint and Kelly Brandlee named 2021 AgVocates of the Year brandlee.jpeg

FEATURED FARMER: Clint and Kelly Brandlee named 2021 AgVocates of the Year

Raising cattle, crops and a young family keep Clint and Kelly Brandlee very busy, but they are always finding time to share information about their farm and animals with their community and a larger audience on social media. 

To recognize their work in sharing information about agriculture in their communities, as well as volunteering with Ag United’s Adopt-A-Farmer Program and other consumer outreach activities, the Brandlees were named 2021 AgVocates of the Year by the board of directors for Ag United in December. 

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Clint is the fifth generation to farm on his family’s land near Pierpont, South Dakota, and Kelly was raised on a farm near Salem, South Dakota.  They currently raise Simmental/Angus cross cattle, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, small grains and cover crops with Clint’s parents, Mark and Deb Brandlee.  They have two daughters, Jaycee, 3, and Kylie, 6 months.

Both Clint and Kelly are graduates of South Dakota State University, and Clint began farming in 2004. Kelly is also a member of the Community Relations team at Riverview, LLP, where she hosts tours, school visits, classroom programs and more to connect young people and adults of all ages with agriculture in the communities where their dairy farms are located.

“In all of their work, Clint and Kelly actively share information about how they care for cattle, land and water to help answer questions and build confidence in South Dakota agriculture and food production,” said Richard Vasgaard, Centerville farmer and president of the Ag United board of directors.  “We appreciate their commitment and enthusiasm for South Dakota agriculture.

In 2020, Clint and Kelly opened Back Forty Beef, LLC, to bring beef raised on their farm directly to consumers. 

“The idea of selling beef from our farm directly to consumers had been in the back of our minds for years, but the supply issues during the COVID pandemic and having a little extra time when life slowed down due to shutdowns pushed us to give it a try,” said Kelly. 

They sell individual cuts or packages at area farmers markets and events, as well as local delivery and shipping options.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from our beef customers.  People are excited about local food options and interested in knowing where their food comes from,” said Clint. “They also enjoy following us on social media accounts to see how we care for animals and what is happening on the farm at different times of year.”

The Brandlees share photos and updates on activities at the farm, from planting and harvest of crops to calving, sorting and other activities with cattle. 

“We have all heard the statistics that most consumers are at least three generations removed from the farm, so being willing to share information and show the true face of agriculture is critical today,” said Clint. “There are many groups out there painting a negative picture of agriculture, so showing how we are actually caring for animals, caring for the land and focused on producing a healthy food supply is necessary.”

Clint has served as an adopted farmer for Ag United for four years, providing monthly updates from the farm with classrooms in Aberdeen and Watertown.  The monthly updates also include quizzes about ag facts and Clint replies to questions that students submit after watching the videos.  Each year, adopted farmers visit classrooms in the spring.  Clint is looking forward to in-person visit this year after virtual sessions in 2021.

“The kids love seeing the ingredients that are in the cattle feed rations, and have a lot of reactions to touching and smelling each ingredient,” he said.

The family is active in local organizations and their church, including hosting a live nativity at their farm each Christmas season.

Looking ahead, they are excited about the opportunities that technologies and management practices are bringing to improve how crops and animals are raised to be more efficient and sustainable. 

“It is incredible to think about how the technologies have evolved, we are now using autosteer in tractors, as well as yield monitors, and auto shut-off technologies in sprayers,” said Clint.  “I’m excited to see where it continues to go from here.”

Tue, 11 Jan 2022 14:44:00 -0600
December Profile: SD Ag Foundation SDAF Nate Franzen.jpg

South Dakota Ag Foundation Looks to Future by Growing Leaders, Strengthening Communities

Celebrating the legacy of South Dakota agriculture while building the next generation of agricultural leaders and strengthening rural communities is at the heart of a foundation that was established in 2016.  The South Dakota Agricultural Foundation is an independent, industry-led nonprofit composed of key leaders in the South Dakota ag industry which is both funding projects around the state and growing its endowment for the future.  

“The Foundation was created to inspire a culture of philanthropy in our agricultural industry,” said Nate Franzen, president of the Ag Banking Division at First Dakota National Bank, and chair of the SD Ag Foundation board.  “Our most important priorities include building awareness across the state, lifting up agriculture as a whole whenever we can, and promoting cooperation and partnership among ag groups and organizations.”

Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded 56 grants totaling $113,500 to support innovative youth ag education programs and rural community projects, and has grown its endowment fund commitments to more than $4 million.

The Foundation’s Building Rural Communities (BRC) Grants are awarded to 4-H clubs, FFA chapters and Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapters for community improvement projects or safety projects.  Ag Innovators Youth Education Grants provide funding for public, non-profit organizations leading the way in providing agricultural education, innovation and leadership programs, focusing on those that find new and creative solutions to the challenges facing agriculture. 

“Our grants are another source of funding for important groups and activities that may lack resources to carry out their important missions,” said Franzen. “As we grow the Foundation, our ability to have even more meaningful impacts through grants will grow.  I’m very excited about the long term impact this will have on our agricultural industry.”

The Foundation has established formal partnerships with the SD Agriculture and Rural Leadership (SDARL) Foundation and the Central Plains Dairy Foundation, and helped facilitate a consumer communication campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic with cooperation from most of the state’s agriculture organization.  At its founding, the Foundation secured matching challenge funds with the State of South Dakota and the SD Community Foundation. 

“We believe a higher tide raises all ships,” said Franzen.  “We want to promote and partner with all groups and organizations across the industry.”

Another key priority of the Foundation is helping preserve the viability of the state’s agricultural industries and rural communities as the landscape and population of the state evolves.

“We want to be a vehicle to help with the coming transition of wealth from baby boomers where and when appropriate, and we strive to stay focused and strategic while maintaining strong flexibility to adapt and adjust in the rapidly changing world,” said Franzen.

To learn more about the Foundation, visit or watch a video outlining it mission.

Wed, 15 Dec 2021 13:51:00 -0600
Internship Opportunity with Ag United  

Interested in helping South Dakota’s farm and ranch families tell their story to communities, neighbors and consumers?  Consider applying for an internship with Ag United for South Dakota!  The internship helps build skills in communications, event planning, social media and provides the opportunity to work with families from across the state. Want to learn more? Read the blog post from our 2018 intern Katie Schoenfelder.  Applications for the summer 2022 position will be due January 21, 2022.


POSITION TITLE:  Intern, Summer full-time position located in Sioux Falls, SD (Position is also shared with Midwest Dairy.)

POSITION DATES: May – September 5, 2022

*Weekend of South Dakota State Fair is a required activity. Other start and end dates depend on applicant’s school schedule.


Application Deadline: January 21, 2022

Please include cover letter, resume, and at least two references.  Email or mail the information to: 


Heidi Zwinger

Ag United for South Dakota

PO Box 507

Sioux Falls, SD 57101


Intern will work out of and be supervised by the Ag United for South Dakota office in Sioux Falls, SD.


Agriculture United for South Dakota is a coalition of farm organizations formed in 2005 with a goal of keeping family farms and ranches growing. Coalition members of Ag United includes: the South Dakota Cattleman's Association, the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Pork Producers Council, the South Dakota Soybean Association, the South Dakota Dairy Producers and the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association. 

Ag United works toward promoting and advancing farm and ranch families and rural communities with four guiding principles:

  • Developing communications on the connection between farm life and South Dakota's economic and social well-being.
  • Engaging those who do not tell the truth about agriculture and food production.
  • Educating consumers about the importance of food production.
  • Providing assistance to South Dakota farmers and ranchers. 


Assist with planning and carrying out events. This is a snapshot of some of the activities that will be completed over the summer. 

  1. Farms After Five farm tours – Designed to take South Dakota consumers to the farm, this position helps in organizing details for these events including the farms, ag professionals on the bus, participants, meal, promotion and materials for the day.
  2. Open Houses – Several open houses are hosted through-out the summer to early fall.  Open houses are an opportunity for the public to visit South Dakota dairy, hog and beef farms. Intern will assist with promoting the event, obtain sponsors and ordering supplies for this event. 
  3. Sioux Empire Fair, State Fair – Work the dairy booth at both events and promote dairy to consumers at Sioux Empire Fair.
  4. Golf Tournaments – Help with set up, registration, and working various golf activities for Ag United coalition members. 

Public Relations

  1. This position will require blog posts on a timely agriculture related issues.
  2. Develop marketing and promotional materials for various Ag United events and programs. 
  3. Communicate with the general public and answer questions about today’s agriculture
  4. Manage social media accounts and online activities.  This includes but is not limited to:
    1. Ag United’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and YouTube accounts. 
    2. Ag United’s website.
    3. Ag United’s email list


  • Answer various email and phone inquires.
  • Perform daily office management duties such as ordering office supplies, making copies, picking up mail, and answering the phone.
  • Other duties as assigned. 



  • Reports to work and completes tasks in a timely manner
  • Adheres to all policies and procedures
  • Acts as a role model within and outside the organization
  • Performs duties as workload necessitates
  • Maintains a positive and respectful attitude
  • Maintains a demeanor that creates positive team atmosphere
  • Communicates regularly with supervisor
  • Travels as directed for various meetings and events.


  • Enrolled in a bachelors degree program. 
  • Agricultural industry career experience or an ag background preferred.
  • Must have excellent communications skills with the ability to work with the public.
  • Excellent organizational skills, time management, customer service and problem-solving skills.
  • Ability to multi-task several projects and activities at one time.
  • Strong work ethic and able to work independently or as part of a team.
  • Ability to work with computer systems including Microsoft Office and design programs.
  • Available to work weekends and evenings to implement programs and events.
  • Have reliable transportation to and from work.
  • General design, picture and video editing skills is helpful. 


Working conditions include farm settings and a normal office environment, travel within the state. Some lifting is required. Must have valid drivers license. Proof of car insurance is required to drive company vehicle. Some weekends and evenings will be required.

This job description is only a summary of the typical functions of the job, not a comprehensive list of all possible job responsibilities, tasks and duties.  The Executive Director reserves the right to amend and change responsibilities to meet business and organizational needs as necessary.  Employee may be asked to perform other duties as assigned.

Tue, 23 Nov 2021 09:13:00 -0600
South Dakota Students Bring Home First Place Finish in National FFA Agriscience Fair WC FFA2.jpeg

South Dakota Students Bring Home First Place Finish in National FFA Agriscience Fair

A research project to find a healthier alternative for frying potato chips brought home national champion honors for a team of South Dakota high school students.

Josslin Jarding and McKenna Sichmeller, both seniors at West Central High School and members of the school’s FFA chapter, were awarded first place in the Food Products and Processing Systems division of the 2021 National FFA Agriscience Fair at the 2021 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind.

The National FFA Agriscience Fair recognizes students who gain real-world, hands-on experiences in agricultural enterprises. Students use scientific principles and emerging technologies to solve complex problems related to agriculture, food and natural resources. Students compete in one of six categories in the agriscience fair and under one of the six divisions—either individually or in a team.

“The goal of projects in the Food Products and Processing Systems division is to study product development, quality assurance, food safety, production, regulation and compliance and food service within the food science industry,” said Jarding. “McKenna and I developed our idea for our project by discussing with our ag teacher different foods we eat every day. We both liked chips and wanted to find healthier alternative oils to use in making them.”

The students developed their project by testing the oxidation rancidity of potato chips, the reaction of fatty acids in the presence of oxygen by frying homemade potato chips in different oils to determine the healthiest oil alternative and which oil would cause the chips to last the longest, said Sichmeller.

They tested the chips fried in various oils over four weeks to rate smell, taste and crispiness. They found that coconut oil slows down the oxidation process the most and makes a chip that lasts the longest, and rated the health properties of each oil. Click here to see their research results.

Both Jarding and Sichmeller have been involved in FFA and multiple competition opportunities throughout all four years of high school, including Ag Issues, Ag Communications and Food Science competitions. They credit FFA experiences for helping them improve leadership, communication and other skills.

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“Being involved in FFA has allowed me to develop leadership and life skills that I will use throughout the rest of my life,” said Sichmeller. “FFA has taught me to step out of my comfort zone and to voice my opinions and improve my speaking skills. I truly believe these skills will help me to excel in college and in the workforce with my future dream of becoming a nurse anesthetist.”

Living on a farm or even a background in agriculture is not necessary for involvement in FFA.

“I was hesitant to join FFA at first because I live in town and don’t come from an agricultural background,” said Jarding. “However, I am very glad I joined FFA because there are so many different events to compete in, and being involved in FFA has helped me develop many skills that will help me in the future.”

The West Central FFA chapter currently has 96 members and is led by Mrs. Linda Petersen, Agricultural Education Teacher at West Central. Petersen notes that involvement in FFA provides critical experiences regardless of a students’ future career path. 

“Agricultural education and FFA help students to become better educated consumers,” she said. “They won’t all work in agriculture, but they will eat and shop at the grocery store. Many will have lawns and gardens to care for. Ag Ed provides real-world, hands-on experiences for students regardless of their involvement or removal from the farm.”

Andrew Rick and Bennett Sebert, West Central FFA students, were also in the top ten of National FFA Agriscience Fair finishers for their project in the Environmental Systems division on the Efficiency of Pheasant Stocking.

Wed, 10 Nov 2021 14:05:00 -0600
Featured Farmer: Improving Soil Health Benefits Crops, Cattle and the Bottom Line Doug Sieck tour 1.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sioux River Project raising awareness, improving water quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wed, 11 Aug 2021 14:37:00 -0500