March 30, 2022
During policy sessions at the National Farmers Union Convention recently in Denver, state delegates sat at tables in long rows, with their state flags displayed. As Karla Hofhenke checked in with South Dakota’s delegates, she noticed something.
“I looked across the session hall and realized South Dakota had one of the youngest delegations,” said Hofhenke, executive director of the South Dakota Farmers Union.
Hofhenke attributes SDFU’s ability to engage with the next generation of family farmers and ranchers to state programming designed to meet their leadership needs and production interests. She also credits the five-state Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership program.
“Looking at our current delegates, 11 of the 15 are current or former FUEL participants. And the newly elected NFU vice president, Jeff Kippley, is an alumnus. This shows our leadership programs are working,” said Hofhenke, who also serves as the 2021-22 FUEL program coordinator.
Sponsored by Farmers Union Enterprises, FUEL is designed to strengthen young producers’ leadership and communication skills. FUEL seminars are held throughout the year.
Each year, Farmers Union Enterprises sponsors 10 farm and ranch couples to participate in the program. Two couples are selected each from South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin.
“In a time when many agriculture organizations are concerned about the lack of interest in younger farmers and ranchers to take on leadership roles, we feel investing in the next generation is not only valuable to the future of family farming and ranching, but to the future of our organization as well,” said Doug Sombke, SDFU president.
2022 South Dakota FUEL Couples
Shilo and Ryan LaMont, Union Center, and Kelly and Curtis Johnson, Miller, were selected to participate in the 2022 FUEL class.
“We have been involved in Farmers Union for a long time, and saw FUEL as a way to gain leadership skills for the next step,” Shilo said.
Shilo and Ryan ranch with his family. “Ryan and I feel strongly that if someone does not step up to the plate to be a voice for family ranching, our voice will not be heard,” Shilo said.
“I wanted to participate to learn more leadership skills,” Ryan added. He currently serves as president of Meade County Farmers Union and is the District 5 vice president.
With their four children, the couple raises Red Angus cattle and sheep on land homesteaded by the family of Ryan’s stepdad, Dallis Basel, who also serves as District 5 SDFU board member. Over the years, they have expanded their ranch, buying more land and growing their cow herd.
The Johnsons had similar reasons for wanting to participate. “Ultimately, leadership is a staple that farmers need to have,” Curtis said. “It takes good leaders to have a strong community. In the region where I live, where agriculture is the dominate workforce, if you have strong leaders in agriculture, then you will have strong schools and strong communities.”
Curtis is a fifth-generation farmer. The Johnsons with their five children raise crops and cattle with Curtis’ dad on the family farm.
In addition to leadership skills, Kelly said she appreciates the opportunity to get to know other farm and ranch couples from across the region.
“It’s nice to know that we are not alone,” Kelly said. “Other farm and ranch couples can identify with not only the special and good things that come with having a family farm, but also the struggles we face.”
Source: South Dakota Farmers Union, which is responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and its subsidiaries aren't responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
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