Farm Progress

Programs offer opportunity to learn a lot, sharpen your skills and plug into a valuable network of emerging leaders.

July 17, 2017

2 Min Read

Two programs I hear a lot of good things about are the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Foundation (SDARL) and Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Both are nonprofits dedicated to identifying and growing rural leaders.

SDARL was founded in 1999 under the direction of Dan Gee, professor emeritus in animal science at South Dakota State University. The first class in the 18-month leadership program started in 2000. Now conducting its ninth class, the organization has 243 alumni.

Don Norton will become SDARL’s new CEO in August. Norton is currently president and CEO of the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation. Prior to that, he was the educational program director there, developing the leadership curriculum for the organization. Norton taught communication at Western Illinois University and held marketing communications managerial positions with many large corporations. He is also an award-winning broadcast journalist. He earned a master of arts degree in communication from Western Illinois University and holds a certificate in nonprofit management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Norton is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the International Association of Programs for Agricultural Leadership.

“We’re excited to have an experienced leadership professional taking the SDARL program into the future,” said Nate Franzen, chairman of the SDARL Board of Directors, in a statement announcing Horton’s hire. “I encourage everyone in the South Dakota agricultural community to reach out and welcome Don and his wife, Kay, to our state.”

In 2016, the SDARL Foundation and SDARL Alumni Association merged to guarantee the unity of stakeholders and create a common vision for the organization. Hiring a CEO is the last important step in this restructuring.

Lori Cope will continue as SDARL’s executive director.

The SDARL program costs about $4,200 per person. There is an application process.

To learn more about SDARL, see

North Dakota program
Rural Leadership North Dakota is similar to SDARL. It, too, offers an 18-month leadership development program. It is designed for men and women, and is immediately applicable to both active and inexperienced leaders.

Most activities occur over winter months. The 18-month program includes seven in-state seminars, a four-day regional seminar, a six-day national seminar and a 10-day international seminar. Tuition for the program is approximately $4,000 payable.

For more information, see

Networking, too
Whether you are an experienced leader or just getting started, check SDARL or RLND. You’ll be able to sharpen your skills and plug into a dedicated and talented network of emerging leaders.

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