Dedicated to Serving South Dakota Agriculture
HURON, S.D. – Four South Dakota farmers were elected to serve S.D. Farmers Union (SDFU) members during the organization’s 2019 State Convention held in Aberdeen December 10-11.
Conde farmer, Doug Sombke was re-elected to serve as SDFU President and Lake Preston farmer, Wayne Soren was re-elected to serve as SDFU Vice President. Wessington Springs farmer, Scott Kolousek was newly elected to serve on the board of directors representing District 2 and Parade rancher, Oren Lesmeister was newly elected to serve on the board of directors representing District 6.
Skin in the game
Like the more than 16,000 members they represent, these leaders are farmers and ranchers. Considering the current challenges facing South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers, Doug Sombke says members can rely on their leadership team. “This is a grassroots organization. Our members vote on the policy we advocate for. Our members vote on who will lead them. We understand our members’ concerns and challenges because all of us serving on the leadership team are farmers and ranchers too.”
Sombke has been actively involved in SDFU since the early 1980s when he and his wife, Mel, were struggling young farmers. Today, as he watches his sons as well as many other South Dakota farmers struggle due to the extreme weather and market conditions, he remains driven to provide support, guidance and vision for 2020 and beyond. “It’s not easy. Like all farmers and ranchers, the current situation makes it tough to keep a positive outlook. I see optimism in the unity this crisis has brought about. Together, we have made change in the past. Together, we will continue to make positive change.”
For Kolousek, becoming more involved in SDFU is a proactive step he can take to impact change.
“When it comes to service, first I give my time to my church, then it’s Farmers Union because I am a farmer. This is our livelihood,” explains Kolousek, who raises cattle and some row crops with his parents and wife, Amber.
Kolousek became actively involved in Farmers Union after he and Amber participated in the 2014 D.C. Fly-In. Through the experience of meeting with Congressional leaders and staff from South Dakota as well as states where agriculture does not have a large impact on the economy, the fifth-generation farmer says he realized Farmers Union gives a strong voice to family farmers and ranchers and policy that can make positive change.
“As farmers we need to stand up and work to make change,” Kolousek says. “We are being taken advantage of through corporate mergers. These consolidations not only impact the price of inputs, but because of packer consolidation, it impacts the price we receive for our cattle as well. The beef industry is my dad and my bread and butter.”
Prior to being elected to serve on the state board of directors, Kolousek served as President of Jerauld County Farmer Union. In this role, he worked to increase membership and his efforts paid off. By asking friends and neighbors, he was able to boost membership by 50 percent. “Getting young people involved is a focus, and farmers in my generation as well,” explains the 44-year-old father of four.
To accomplish this, he and Amber decided to try something new. Instead of hosting their county’s annual meeting in the community center, where the previous year only five members showed up, they hosted a Bar-B-Que on their farm. Forty-five members showed up. “In addition to existing members, I also invited every person in my phone who had ever expressed interest in Farmers Union. And we signed up four new members that evening.”
Kolousek’s comments and desire to reach out to young farmers, reminded Soren of why he got involved nearly 40 years ago. Like today, times were tough in the 80s. “There were a lot of older members who worked to be supportive and uplifting to us young farmers, during a time when many farmers were saying, “I don’t want my kids coming back.” I appreciated their encouragement. And as a mature farmer today, I feel like I need to provide this support and encouragement to the next generation.’”
A crop and cattle producer, Soren sees SDFU as providing hope and supporting policy with vision. “Look at our policy work on ethanol and Country of Origin Labeling. We don’t give up. When everyone was saying E15 is where we need to be, Farmers Union said, “Wait a minute, E30 is where we need to be. It’s good for consumers, it’s good for farmers, it’s good for the environment.” And, look at the Governor’s policy on E30. Same with truth in labeling. We continue to fight to get COOL back. In the meantime, we are seeing some positive legislation for labeling.’”
In his role as Vice President, Soren says members can continue to rely on him to join with leadership to continue to ensure the voice of South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers is heard. “We are not afraid to keep pushing for legislation that works for family farmers and ranchers. Farmers Union is often the lone voice saying, “wait a minute here, there is a better way.’”
Partnering with others who share SDFU vision helps our organization create positive change; whether it’s teaming up with Glacial Lakes Energy, helping promote their E30 Challenge or supporting legislators working to get industrial hemp legislation passed. “We know one large voice is better than a bunch of individual voices,” explains Lesmeister, a rancher and small business owner who also serves as District 28-A State Representative. In his new role on the board of directors, he is eager to continue to work to build partnerships. “If you are able to find common ground, even if all your interests are not aligned, it strengthens your voice. My dad used to tell me, “If you have an argument, you both walk away with nothing resolved. If you have a conversation, then you both learn something.” I want to continue the conversation.’”
–South Dakota Farmers Union