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Black Hills Stock Show Pioneer Awards

The 27th Annual Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo Pioneer Awards and Cowboy Breakfast will take place on a new date and in a new location. The breakfast is schduled for Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City. The Pioneer Awards honor individuals in three different categories that have made contributions to various different aspects of agriculture in South Dakota and have been pioneers in their respected fields. Winners of the awards are nominated and selected by the committee with regards to how they fit the criteria.

The three awards include the Pioneer Ranch Award, which is given to a ranch that is still an operating ranch in the original generational ownership without break. This is the second year that this award has been given out. The next is the Pioneer Spirit Award which is given to individuals who are not specifically in the ranching and agriculture field but have made notable contributions to the area, community and agriculture industry. The third category is the Pioneer Award which is given to an number of individuals in the ranching and agriculture business community that have made significant contributions to or impacted the Black Hills Stock Show and Central States Fair throughout the years.

Pioneer Ranch Award

Hunter Ranch, Ardmore, S.D.

This year the Pioneer Ranch Award is given to the Hunter Ranch from Ardmore, S.D.

The Hunter ranch began with Jesse M. Rineer who was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1860 and who settled in Fall River County, S.D. in 1886. He squatted on the land and farmed it until the government survey was made, when he promptly homesteaded it. By 1914, Rineer owned 840 acres, two miles from Ardmore, S.D.

In 1914, Rineer was elected county commissioner and married Sue E. Fowler and had four sons and four daughters, including Marjorie who was born on August 19, 1899. Marjorie married John W. (Jack) Sr. Hunter in 1917 and ranched next to her parents and after her father died took over managing the original place until they bought it in 1931.

Jack Sr. and Marjorie had three boys, John W. (Jack) Jr., Darrell Dean, and Bruce, who died in infancy. Jack Sr. was a WWI veteran and member of the American Legion for 50 years and served as member and chairmen of the Selective Services System Board 23 for 16 years. He passed away in 1968 and Marjorie in 1979.

Jack Jr. was born in 1922 and graduated from high school in 1940 and attended Mesa College and South Dakota School of Mines before joining the U.S. Marine Corp. in 1942 where he served until he was honorably discharged as captain in 1946. Jack Jr. married Mary Louise Berquist in 1947 and returned to the family ranch. He was very active in rodeo and later became an announcer in the PRCA in 1957 and member of the Legion as well as various other civic and social organizations.

John C. (Jack) Hunter was born in 1951, to Jack Jr. and Mary and graduated high school in 1969 and married Laurel Erickson in 1971. He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1973 and then returned to the ranch where they had three children, Kristen, Ross and Alicia. Jack served on the Agriculture Advisory Board for SDSU and was Ardmore Volunteer Fire Chief as well as being member of other groups and organizations.

Along with running the ranch, Jack purchased the Edgemont Livestock Market in 1985, which was closed in 1993, Gordon Livestock Market in 1992, which was sold in 2004, and partnered with Crawford Livestock Market in 1988, which they are now sole owners of. Jack is a member of the Livestock Marketing Association and is currently serving as the Nebraska State President.

Ross Hunter, Jack and Laurel's middle child, graduated high school in 1993 and attended one year at Chadron State College before returning home to the ranch and formed the partnership Hunter Cattle Company with his father. Ross married Trisha Fox in 2001 and they have three children, Tristan Wyles, Ashley Nicole and Jack James.

The Hunter Ranch has continued to use the Turkey Track brand that Jack Sr. recorded during the 1930s. Over the years, the Hunter family has been involved in various aspects of the community and agriculture in western South Dakota. Looking through their history it is easy to see the many public service and volunteer hours they have spent has made them into the success they are today.

Pioneer Spirit Award

Dale McPherson Family, Rapid City, S.D.

Dale McPherson was born and raised on a ranch 26 miles east of Sturgis along Alkali Creek. Dale's father Eugene McPherson was one of the earliest homesteaders in Meade County. Dale's first auctioneering job was given to him by Jim Madden and Harley Roth, who ran the Sturgis Livestock Exchange. They had caught wind that Dale had been practicing auctioneering in the barn and wrote him a letter asking him to come to town and help with an upcoming sale.

Over the years Dale won numerous awards, including the 1969 South Dakota State Champion Auctioneer, and sat on numerous boards. Dale is a charter founding member of the South Dakota Auctioneer Association and was also past director for the National Auctioneer Association. Dale has sold at a number of auction marts across South Dakota including Belle Fourche, Presho, St. Onge, and Phillip, and sold at the Faith Livestock Auction for over 50 years. Dale was also auctioneer for the Western Junior Livestock Show Auction for 50 years.

Dale is married to Dorothy, who, over the years helped clerk many of Dale's sales, and they just recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Today, Kevin and Todd, Dale and Dorothy's sons, are in the auction business with McPherson Auction & Realty which has truly become a family affair. Kevin and Todd grew up around auctioneering and in 1995, Kevin followed in his dad's footstep and became the South Dakota State Champion Auctioneer. He is also a past director and past president of the South Dakota Auctioneer Association. Kevin sold cattle at the Highmore Livestock Auction and Mitchell Livestock Auction for many years. The McPherson family has been involved in the Black Hills Stock Show and Central State's fair for a number of years.

McPherson Auction & Realty and the Dale McPherson family has contributed much to the agriculture industry in South Dakota and have become a vital part of what makes agriculture and the western community in South Dakota so successful. Pioneer Awards

John E Johnson

John E. Johnson was born in Spearfish, S.D. and has strong ties to northwest South Dakota, having being raised on a cow/calf operation located in Harding County near Sorum, S.D. It is now a third-generation ranch, well over 100 years old with John's grandmother homesteading it. John attended a country school for eight years and then graduated from Spearfish High School. In 1972 John graduated from South Dakota State University with degrees in animal science and economics.

In July of 1972, John went into the banking business, where he spent 15 years with the US Bancorp, 22 years with First Western Bank and eight years with First Interstate bank. John retired in December of 2016 after a successful 45 years of banking in western South Dakota.

In 1972, John announced his first horse sale in Lemmon, S.D. and has been announcing ever since. John has announced Quarter Horse sales for 46 years and has announced the Black Hills Stock Show Sale for over 40 years, reading pedigrees. John became more involved in the Black Hills Stock Show when he moved to the Black Hills in 1977, eventually serving on the horse sale committee for many years.

One of John's goals was to have a diversity of horses in the Black Hills Stock Show Horse Sale. There are performance horse sales at many of the major stock shows like Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, and Denver but the Black Hills Stock Show Horse Sale is unique because it sells all types of horses, everything from yearlings, bred mares, started horses, performance horses, saddle horses and ranch horses. It does not cater to any one type of horse which is one of the things John and the board really wanted to achieve. They wanted to make it a sale for everyone in the horse business.

John is still involved with the horse sale committee, even though he is no longer a board member. He still attends most of their meetings and is there when they do the selection of the horses for the sale. John was one of the incorporators of the Black Hills Stock Show Foundation and served on the Board of Directors for many years. John was also selected as the first Black Hills Stock Show Businessman of the Year.

Patty Brunner

Patty Bruner has owned and operated Brunner Quarter Horses with her late husband Don in Rapid City, S.D. for over 30 years. Their primary focus has been the development of quality Quarter Horse prospects with many offspring rising to competitive status at all levels of the industry. Together with Brad Beauvais, originally from Rapid City and who now resides in San Antonio, they have raised two AQHA Champions, a Superior Halter Horse, AQHA World and Select World Qualifiers, and the earner of numerous CONQHA, SDQHA and WQHA awards.

Patty also operates the Happy Horse Haus located on the Long View Road near the Central States Fairgrounds and Rapid City Airport. The Happy Horse Haus offers all the facilities to board horses overnight with stalls, turnouts, outdoor arena and RV hookups.

Patty has been a part of the Back Hills Stock Show for many years, both showcasing and helping to organize. She first started putting stallions on the Black Hills Stock Show Stallion Row in 1978. She remembers it fondly because it took place at fairgrounds in the quonsets that were not heated. Patty exhibited horses on Stallion Row until the 2000s. She also participated in the Black Hills Stock Show Horse Sale.

Patty is on the committee for the Stock Show Youth Day, which includes Beef Cook-Off, Livestock Judging, Livestockology, Horse Quiz Bowl, Hippology and Dog Show. Youth Day is a great way for young people to become involved in agriculture and learn while having fun. Patty focuses mainly on Hippology, which is an equine veterinary and management knowledge test. She is also personally in charge of the Horse Quiz Bowl. The 2018 Black Hills Stock Show Youth Day brought about 350 youth from around the region to compete in the events.

Patty has served as an officer or board member of the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association, Center of the Nation Quarter Horse Association, Wyoming Quarter Horse Association, Rapid City Quarter Horse Association, Black Hills Riding Club and she continues to promote the horse industry in the Rapid City area.

Patty believes that the important part of the Back Hills Stock Show is the comradery that it creates among the people. It brings people together with common interests and exposes urban individuals to what keeps this area of the country alive–agriculture.

Bud Ireland

Bud Ireland was born in 1946 to Theodore and Gerry Ireland on the family ranch at Folsom, SD, about one mile south of Railroad Buttes. His grandfather had purchased the ranch from Henry Larson and then resold it to his parents. However, due to poor water the family had to move a few miles south of that location.

Bud attended Folsom School for the first eight grades, which was located three miles cross country. Most days he would ride to and from school on horseback. He later went to high school in New Underwood and lived in the school dormitory until his senior year, when he lived with Fred and Violet Tisdale.

During his senior year of high school, Bud's parents decided to sell the ranch. Since running the ranch was no longer an option for Bud, he went to college at Northern State University and became a teacher. Bud taught one year in Rawlins, W.Y. and then returned to Rapid City where he taught junior high mathematics for 40 years.

Bud married his high school sweetheart Peggy Cox, a teacher as well, about a year after graduating from college. At the time of their marriage, the only thing they had was their love for one another and their college debt. They struggled with the goal of owning their own land and worked towards that goal their whole life. Bud and Peggy are now both retired from teaching and staying busy with their horse operation, a small herd of cows and raising and selling bred heifers.

Bud and Peggy have two daughters, Kami, a veterinarian and partner in Dakota Hills Veterinary Clinic in Rapid City, and Lana, a doctor of physical therapy who works for PeakMotion in Spearfish. Lana is married to Levi Dacar and they have one daughter, Ellie.

It has always been an unwritten goal of Bud's to serve his family and community and to promote education. Bud believes that anyone can be successful through hard work and education. Bud has served several decades on the South Dakota High School Rodeo Board and the New Underwood Roping Club. He has also served on the Pennington County Conservation Board, Central States Fair Horse Board, a 20 year member of the South Dakota Buckaroos and a brand inspector for 15 years.

Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate

Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate for the Jan. 19, 2019, edition of Tri-State Livestock News

Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood

Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Jan. 19, 2019, edition of Tri-State Livestock News

Meat packing giant JBS USA getting millions in subsidies meant for farmers impacted by trade war

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to purchase $22.3 million of pork from Greeley-based JBS USA, which is owned by JBS SA, a Brazil-based company.

The purchase is part of a bailout program intended to provide aid to U.S. farmers negatively impacted by the international trade war. In November 2018, Smithfield Foods, owned by a Chinese firm, pulled its bid for $240,000 in pork payments after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, echoed criticisms that the payment meant to help local farmers was going to an international firm.

The payments to JBS USA, totaling nearly 9.8 million pounds of pork for $22.3 million, have also drawn ire, due in part to the company's Brazilian roots. The Organization for Competitive Markets criticized payments to JBS through the trade mitigation program in a news release.

"It is a sad day when our own government will open its doors for global meatpacking corporations while keeping them closed during this government shutdown to America's family farmers," the organization said in the release.

The petition calls on the USDA and Congress to halt the payments, citing a $5 million originally reported by the Washington Post. That $5 million only scratches the surface, as one of three contracts awarded to JBS USA. Other contracts include nearly $8 million for about 3.8 million pounds from the company's Marshalltown, Iowa, plant and nearly $8.9 million for about 4.3 million pounds from its Worthington, Minn., plant.

In a statement to The Tribune, JBS USA highlighted how its operations benefit local farmers and ranchers.

"JBS USA is proud to partner with U.S. family farmers and ranchers, helping create economic opportunity in hundreds of small, rural towns across our great nation each and every day," the company said in the statement. "As an approved vendor in USDA food purchasing programs, all eligible JBS USA pork products come from American livestock raised on American farms by U.S. family farmers, and are processed in American facilities in rural American towns."

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At the company's Greeley headquarters, JBS Carriers headquarters and a beef production facility, the company employs more than 4,000 people in Greeley, according to its website. Joyce Kelly, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council and a Greeley resident, said to focus on JBS' Brazil headquarters is to over-simplify the complex protein market.

"On the outside, it looks like you've got a foreign company benefiting from this, but what people don't realize is that not only does JBS raise their own hogs, they contract with a lot of small farmers and small producers who raise hogs. And those people are American farmers who contract with them," Kelly said.

If that surplus pork isn't purchased, Kelly added, it could saturate the market, pressuring pork producers to lower prices in a way that would ultimately hurt the smaller, local producers. The Colorado Farm Bureau agreed the JBS payments would trickle down to support local farmers.

"We greatly support and appreciate the administration's efforts, as payments such as these will eventually pass down to local farm families," the Colorado Farm Bureau said in a statement. "This aid comes at a time when Colorado agriculture has dealt with some of the lowest commodity prices in recent years, severe weather and drought. It will go a long way to help weather this storm."

The company continues to rebound from corruption scandals in Brazil that brought company officials to pull a planned $500 million public offering on the U.S. stock market in 2017. JBS USA's Standard and Poor's credit rating was upgraded from BB- to B+ in October. In December, the company expanded a recall of raw beef from its Tolleson, Ariz., facility from nearly 7 million pounds to more than 12 million pounds. That recall marked another target for critics of the federal payments.

"While elected officials debate border security, JBS' abusive takeover of the U.S. beef market and the resulting threat to our food supply should be at the forefront of the conversation. Instead, our government is handing JBS the taxpayer money meant for U.S. farmers," the Organization for Competitive Markets said in its release.

Ganje: Campbell County wind farm

Last July and August, the Campbell County Commission considered the issue of a Campbell County wind farm ordinance, and the lack thereof. Now on its return from hibernation, the Commission wishes to cram down that ordinance on very short notice to the public. Some six months after the Commission first considered the project, I received a written draft of the proposed ordinance for the first time Jan. 16, 2019. This short notice is exacerbated by the Commission — it declared only one public hearing on the matter. There have been no public hearings, no listening meetings, no cracker barrels, no public county tours by the county-hired ordinance experts. Nothing. The only scheduled and approved public hearing will be Feb. 7.

Why the rush to get wind farms legalized when there were over six months to study it, to seek public input, and to exchange ideas about the wind farm ordinance? I had recommended to the commission in August of last year that several formal and informal public meetings should be held. I encouraged the experts hired by the county to come to the county and hold listening meetings. None of this happened.

I think back to a recent land rights and property rights problem in northeastern South Dakota. That question was how to manage public access to private non-meandered waters. This was a consequential issue for many county governments, landowners and farmers. These waters were not regulated by the state. Controversy was prevalent concerning access to these so-called public waters. There were questions regarding property rights, hunting and fishing rights, and the effect on the local economy. The state legislature realized these were significant economic and property issues for several counties.

Similar to that property rights problem, the proposed wind farm ordinance will have a significant effect on the property rights and on the economy of Campbell County. These issues should not be crammed down on landowners and farmers on just a few days' notice and with only one public hearing. The state legislature held two full day hearings for a similar enactment. The legislators then took out time to tour the specific effected areas. This was followed by public debate and further hearings in various committee meetings. The process took some time. The lawmakers were careful. There were numerous opportunities for the public to provide its input. That is not at all how the proposed ordinance is being managed by Campbell County in this matter.

I am now obliged on behalf of my good clients to stand up, salute, and quickly review 100 pages or so of the proposed ordinance and its legal language — all on short notice and at the commission's convenience. What about the convenience of Campbell County's landowners and farmers?

Congress clarifies horses not ‘pets,’ advances livestock health measures

On Wednesday, December 12, Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), sending the legislation to the president, who is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

Horse industry highlights include a revised statutory definition that excludes equines from a blanket definition of "pets" and funding for key livestock and international market development programs through Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. In the wake of extensive horse industry outreach, lawmakers struck language in the senate version that defined horses as "pets" within the context of a "Pet and Women Safety" (PAWS) measure. Industry requested that lawmakers delete "horses" from the proposed statutory definition of "pets," but retain "horses" as a stand-alone category. In response to industry messages communicated to congressional leaders during the past six months, the final conference report states that the bill "clarifies the definition of pet to include certain companion animals, while also providing protections for other animals such as horses, service animals, and emotional support animals." The revised definition helps preserve the long-standing classification of horses as "livestock," while allowing equines to fall within the scope of property damage subject to compensation within the parameters of the PAWS Act.

A preliminary review of the legislation shows that lawmakers are moving in the right direction with respect to funding important animal health programs. Unlike earlier versions of the bill, the legislation mandates rather than authorizes minimum appropriations totaling $150 million to fund the National Animal Vaccine Bank (NAVVCB), the National Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response Program (NADPRP) and National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), among other programs, for FY 2019 to 2023. Of the $150 million of mandated funding, the bill stipulates that Congress will appropriate $112 million "to be allocated among the NAHLN, the NADPRP and the NAVVCB." With respect to the NAHLN, a major priority for the horse industry, the legislation further authorizes up to $30 million per year over the five-year span of the farm bill, matching industry's authorization request. Additionally, the legislation provides "$255 million in annual mandatory funding" for Foreign Market Development, the Market Access Program, and other programs that support the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

To view a copy of the conference report to H.R. 2, visit https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181210/CRPT-115hrpt1072.pdf. For more information related to legislative activity, contact AHC's Bryan Brendle at 202-296-4031.


ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., Scheduled

Members of the American Sheep Industry Association's Legislative Action Council, along with member-state sheep association leaders, will be in Washington, D.C., March 11-13.

The purpose of the visit is to bring the message of the sheep industry to the nation's capital and coordinate updates on wool, lamb, trade, sheep disease and protection programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Visits with federal policymakers regarding USDA programs and meetings with agriculture and land management agencies about programs that impact the business of sheep producers in this country are being planned.

Of course, those meetings with USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of the Interior are contingent on ending the current partial government shutdown. ASI anticipates agency meetings on Tuesday, March 12, and visits with congressional delegations on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 13.

The ASI Executive Board will conduct its spring meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 11 as it works to assign volunteers to ASI's councils and committees. Members of the executive board will then join sheep producers from across the United States on the agency and legislative portions of the trip.

Producers interested in participating in this event should contact their state sheep association.

–American Sheep Industry

Jesse Kruse wins his hometown rodeo at Montana Circuit finals

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Ten years after winning the ProRodeo world title, saddle bronc rider Jesse Kruse kicked off his pursuit of a second gold buckle by winning the RAM Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in his hometown of Great Falls.

"The plan this year is if a guy stays healthy and the funds are there, to make it back to the Finals," Kruse said. "It would be cool to win another title 10 years later."

Kruse is no stranger to the winner's circle at the RAM MCFR, having won it and the circuit title on multiple occasions. The 32-year-old cowboy qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times (2009-11) but ran into some tough luck in more recent years.

His luck changed Sunday, as he won the rodeo with 247.5 points on three head and the year-end circuit title with $15,571.

"It's been a tough last couple, three years," Kruse said. "A guy has been hurt and not doing very good, but it's a good feeling that he can keep going down the road."

It wasn't all luck that got Kruse to the pay window. The Montana native did some legwork before getting in the chutes at Great Falls.

"I've got to give a lot of thanks to Kaehl Berg and his crew," Kruse said. "Before the circuit finals, they invited me down and I got on some practice horses, and they helped me get stuff tuned in. A lot of the thanks goes to them, and it turned out pretty good, especially riding against Chase Brooks and all those guys. They ride tough. It stayed tight through the last day."

Kruse didn't know much about his first or third broncs at Great Falls, but he knew his second draw quite well, having scored 86 points on Kesler Championship Rodeo's Willow Brook at the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo in Kalispell in August.

Willow Brook and Kruse clicked again, winning the second round at Great Falls with an 83.5-point ride.

"I drew good this weekend and I could have ridden better, but it all worked out," Kruse said. "It means a lot. With our circuit finals being in my hometown, there's good stock and a good crowd with my family there, it all makes it a good weekend."

Kruse entered the RAM MCFR at the top of the Montana Circuit standings with $15,571. With the year-end circuit title in hand, he's heading to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo at Kissimmee, Fla., in March.

"It always helps to come in confident and start off on a good note," Kruse said.

Kruse ranked 48th in the 2018 PRCA | RAM World Standings with $21,326. Now, he's kicking off the 2019 season with a win worth nearly half his earnings from the previous season, picking up $9,180 at the RAM MCFR.

"Shoot, it makes it nice," Kruse said. "It gives a guy enough to get started for the winter, and hopefully it goes on down through Denver."

After competing against each other, Kruse and Brooks will be in the same rodeo rig alongside reigning World Champion Bull Rider Sage Kimzey.

"They're riding good and it's going good for me, so hopefully it'll be a good year," Kruse said.

Other winners of the $206,363 rodeo were all-around cowboy Hank Hollenbeck ($9,181, tie-down roping and steer wrestling); bareback rider Tristan Hansen (242.5 points on three head); steer wrestler Bridger Chambers (15.1 seconds on three head); team ropers Shane Schwenke/Kory Mytty (19.9 seconds on three head); tie-down roper Bradley Chance Hays (30.2 seconds on three head); barrel racer Tara Stimpson (40.34 seconds on three runs); and bull rider Parker Breding (240.5 points on three head).


Feinstein, Lofgren introduce farmworker deportation shield bill

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., on Thursday introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path toward earned legal status and eventual citizenship.

Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years may earn "blue card" status that allows them to continue to legally work in the Unites States.

Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three years or five years — depending on hours worked in agriculture — would be eligible to adjust to lawful permanent residence (green card), Feinstein and Lofgren said in a news release.

"Agriculture is a $47 billion industry in California, and U.C. [the University of California] Davis estimates that up to 60 percent of California's 421,000 farmworkers — approximately 253,000 people are undocumented," they added.

"Under the Trump administration's immigration enforcement guidelines, undocumented farmworkers are all priorities for deportation."

Feinstein and Lofgren included long lists of Democratic senators and House members who endorse the bill.

The Agricultural Worker Protection Act is also supported by the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation and Farmworker Justice, they noted.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents fruit, vegetable and tree nut growers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, did not formally endorse the bill but welcomed their efforts.

"We recognize and applaud the efforts of Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Lofgren, as well as many other members of the House and Senate, to address the acute labor shortage that plagues production agriculture," Nassif said in a news release.

"Farm labor is incredibly challenging work that most native-born Americans are not interested in pursuing so we have long relied upon a skilled workforce who are new migrants to our country as well as guest workers.

"Solving the immigration crisis is a priority and necessity for the agricultural industry, and we need legislation that will create a new guest worker visa program and provide a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and their families. As such, we welcome efforts by members of Congress to highlight the needs of agriculture."

–The Hagstrom Report

Heather Hamilton-Maude: Gifts

True, lasting and deep friendships are a rare gift in life. For Christmas, my husband wrote me a letter telling me to go see one of my best friends who lives in eastern Colorado. He included some spending cash, said he would keep the kids, and that I could be gone as long as I wanted, but to be home within seven days of leaving.

It had been five years since my friend and I had seen each other and, while I was nearly brought to tears by his gesture, this had been mentioned before. There was always a blizzard, sick kid, breakdown, etc… that brought it to a standstill. Even scheduling brief get togethers with another great friend on the way to my parent's house has become iffy due to everything we both have going on.

But, my husband persisted that she and I get it scheduled, so we did, and it all came together perfectly.

I don't know that either of us realized just how much we needed the three days of non-stop talking in between helping her father rebuild corrals and making a trip to town for lunch and errands. The trip itself was nothing special in terms of a vacation. But, it was unforgettable in terms of what it provided each of us.

We both had a chance to just be ourselves. All the weights in our lives were lifted as we discussed and solved world and personal problems. Our gratefulness for our husbands was manifested as we rehashed old flames. The Lord filled our cups through our fellowship with one another.

This stage of life seems to make it difficult to maintain meaningful face-to-face friendships. In my case, two toddlers mean phone conversations lasting more than three-five minutes are generally accompanied by background noise that must sound like someone is dying, based on people's concerned questions. If we are invited to another couple or family's house for dinner or an event, one or both kids are sick. Every. Single. Time.

My friend cares for her mother, who has advanced Multiple Sclerosis, in addition to farming and ranching with both her father and her husband. She took her grandmother to 22 doctor's appointments in six weeks last spring after she had a stroke.

That's life. That's the all-in investment we both willingly chose, and it's worth it. But, it's also tough at times, and this fall I told my husband I was struggling with feeling friendless. I know a lot of exceptional people, and many are friends, but I rarely have the opportunity to strike up a conversation that extends beyond the weather and casual pleasantries. Even if I were to have time to meet and truly visit, my capacity of topics is narrowly focused on my children and our occupation at the moment.

But, his thought-filled gift filled that void. Sending me to someone I've known for 15 years meant our list of conversational topics never ran dry. While he will say he isn't a good gift giver, I think a lot of people, myself included, could learn a lot from his approach. It was a truly memorable Christmas gift I will forever treasure.