Dakota Farmer

South Dakota farmers highlight important farm issues in Pierre.

February 27, 2024

5 Min Read
no trespassing sign on a fence post
FARM MEETS CAPITOL: South Dakota Farmers Union hosts a legislative day for their farmer-members to visit with lawmakers, talking about the topics that matter on their farm. This year, property rights was a hot topic in Pierre.lynngrae/Getty Images

by Lura Roti

The South Dakota Farmers Union held its 99th Legislative Day on Feb. 13 in Pierre to highlight issues important to family farmers and ranchers.

Clayton Rentschler of Egan attended for the first time because he’s concerned about his property rights in Moody County, where he farms.

Those at “South Dakota Farmers Union are the only ones standing up for landowners who want to keep their property rights. That’s why I’m here today, to show support for property rights,” said Rentschler, who joined the state’s largest ag organization because of its support for this issue.

Like Rentschler, most members attending the event were concerned about property rights. “This is about more than a pipeline,” said Karla Hofhenke, SDFU executive director, referring to the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Producers are concerned about their property rights, because this is a case of eminent domain being used for private gain.

“Farmers Union works for family farmers and ranchers. And we are not an insignificant group. We are nearly 19,000 farm and ranch families strong.”

A united front

“There is strength in numbers,” said Mike Miller, a fifth-generation farmer from Freeman. “When agriculture can show a unified front, it is powerful.”

Miller farms with his wife, Michelle Friesen. He says he makes time for Legislative Day because it provides him with a unique opportunity to sit down and have conversations with the state’s decision-makers.

“It’s a way for me to stay up to date on current issues and share how these issues impact us on our farm,” Miller said.

Colome farmer Joel Keierleber agreed. “This is a better opportunity than a Cracker Barrel to talk about what matters to us as farmers because we are here together. I visited with legislators about property rights because landowner rights go beyond the pipeline.

“I’m not impacted by the pipeline, but I attended Legislative Day because if we don’t stand up for property rights, we will lose them. Right now, the county over is facing a different property rights issue — where an entity other than the landowner is wanting to decide how private land should be used.”

Hearing from state residents is essential, said Minority Leader Oren Lesmeister, who ranches in Parade. “Face-to-face conversations are best. When rural South Dakota shows up to protect agriculture from bills that could have even unintended consequences, it shows they care, and they are passionate about the issues. This does have an impact.”

To help facilitate conversations between agriculture producers and legislators, Farmers Union sponsored a meal in the Capitol rotunda.

“Sitting down to share a meal with someone provides a less intimidating opportunity to discuss thoughts on issues that impact us on our farms or ranches,” Hofhenke said.

In keeping with the theme of Farmers Union Legislative Day, the meal was catered by Polo farmer Cheryl Schaefers.

During the meal, Larry Zikmund, District 14 state senator from Sioux Falls, sat with De Smet farmer Rob Lee. Although the men are a generation apart, Zikmund and Lee immediately found common ground — they are both veterans. Lee served in the Army National Guard; and Zikmund served in the Air Force.

lynngrae/Getty Images - South Dakota Farmers Union hosts a legislative day for their farmer members

Zikmund said he appreciated the opportunity the day provided him to connect with policymakers. “I am a strong believer in making sure I have input from people before making decisions — the more people I get input from, the better,” said Zikmund, who grew up on farm but spent much of his career in education as a teacher and school administrator.

Policy in the making

Legislative Day also provided attendees with an opportunity to see first-hand how policy is made. Attendees sat in on a committee hearing in the morning and then watched as legislators discussed bills during the afternoon’s House session.

“I have been following one of the bills they were talking about,” said Chaz Blotsky, 19, an agriculture business major at Mitchell Technical College. “Because the topic hit close to home, it made the process more real.”

Blotsky was actively involved in South Dakota Farmers Union educational programming throughout high school, and he was one of four youth members to attend the event. Other youth who attended were Madisyn Raymond, Ethan; Aerial Eitreim, Sioux Falls; and Sean Thompson, Pierre.

Connecting rural youth with the legislative process is among the goals of the day, said Samantha Olson, SDFU education program specialist. “These youth are leaders. It is important for them to understand the process because as leaders, they could be our state’s next generation of legislators. And it is important for them to see this side of the process — as a citizen who elects the legislators.”

Legislative Day is one of many opportunities South Dakota Farmers Union provides to rural youth, family farmers and ranchers.

“As a Farmers Union member, I feel like my voice is heard,” said Sarah Perrion, an Ipswich crop and cattle farmer. “Today, in Pierre I have talked to legislators about protecting our property rights. Because if laws are not put in place to protect us today, what is to stop another private interest, like a solar farm from taking land away from farmers or even small, rural communities, like Ipswich?”

Through their involvement in South Dakota Farmers Union, Perrion and husband Lance have gained advocacy training and experience. Each year the organization brings a group of South Dakota producers to Washington, D.C. The National Farmers Union Fly-In provides another chance for producers to discuss issues that are important to their farms and ranches with policymakers. To learn more, visit sdfu.org.

Roti writes for the South Dakota Farmers Union.

Source: South Dakota Farmers Union

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