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SD Legislators Recognized for Supporting Family Farmers & Ranchers

During South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) Legislative Day, February 25, SDFU recognized legislators Lee Qualm (far left) and Oren Lesmeister (far right) for their efforts in supporting South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers through legislative policy with the 2020 Legislator of the Year Award. Qualm and Lesmeister are pictured here with Doug Sombke, SDFU President. Photo courtesy SDFU

During South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) Legislative Day, February 25, SDFU recognized legislators Oren Lesmeister and Lee Qualm for their efforts in supporting South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers through legislative policy with the 2020 Legislator of the Year Award.

Throughout 2019, Lesmeister, a Parade rancher and small business owner, and Lee Qualm, a Platte farmer, were actively involved in researching industrial hemp as a potential crop in South Dakota. SDFU policy supports growing industrial hemp in South Dakota and appreciates their efforts.

“They were relentless in moving the industrial hemp bill forward. They worked their tails off to educate not just the governor, but the entire legislature and others on the possibilities this crop could bring to our state,” explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President.

Read on to learn more about these award recipients.


OREN LESMEISTER: District 28-A Representative

Q: Why did you run for office?

A: My dad told me, “if you complain about something long enough and nothing is changing, then do something to change it.” I wanted to become a legislator so I could make positive change. And not just change some things but protect what we have going on that is working.

In some ways, I’m more proud of the bills I have helped kill that would have hurt agriculture than the ones I have helped pass.

Know, that if it was not for agriculture groups like Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, Corn Growers, Soybean, Stockgrowers – all the different ag groups across the state that come to Pierre when bills are up that would have a negative impact on agriculture – there would be a lot more bills we would not be able to kill.

Outside, national interests come to Pierre to attack agriculture all the time.

Q: What role does being a rancher play in your work as a South Dakota legislator?

A: It is one reason family farmers and ranchers are on my mind all the time, every day. The other reason is, agriculture is a huge part of what we do in the legislature. Every piece of legislation we pass impacts farm and ranch families across the state because agriculture is our No. 1 industry.

Q: Does your background help you in the work you do as a legislator?

A: Although there are fewer legislators today who are actively farming or ranching, than in the past, fortunately, our legislature is full of ag-orientated leaders.

However, those who do not have agriculture backgrounds, seek those of us who are farmers and ranchers out if they have questions about ag-orientated bills. On the flip side, I seek out more urban legislators and ask them questions about bills that are more municipality related.

Our legislative body is really good about communicating with each other.

LEE QUALM, District 21 Representative

Q: Why did you run for office?

A: A friend of mine, Tom Dietrich, termed out and asked me if I would be interested in running. I decided to run because South Dakota is a great place to live and raise a family. South Dakota has given a lot to me and my family and I felt I needed to give something back for my kids and grandkids and future generations of South Dakotans.

Q: What role does being a farmer play in your work as a South Dakota legislator?

A: So that you have varying opinions and areas of expertise, I think it is good to have a diversified bunch of people serving in the legislature. Because agriculture is our state’s No. 1 industry, we are always having conversations about issues that impact agriculture.

Also, when it comes to something like the industrial hemp bill. I know the value of diversification. And we have not had a new crop in South Dakota for 60 or 70 years. Industrial hemp provides the opportunity for producers across the state to introduce a new crop into their operations.

Q: Does your background help you in the work you do as a legislator?

A: Because I am a farmer, I am able to help those who do not have ag backgrounds understand how a bill impacts agriculture and why those in agriculture feel the way that they do about a bill.

To learn more about how SDFU works to support South Dakota family farmers and ranchers, visit http://www.SDFU.org.

–South Dakota Farmers Union




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