Farm Progress

In three years, the hugely successful event has made it possible for the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation to give $500,000 to Feeding South Dakota.

Kindra Gordon

January 13, 2017

3 Min Read
BIG CHECK: Ryan Eichler (left), president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation, and Todd Wilkinson (right), president of South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, present Matt Gassen, CEO of Feeding South Dakota, and Kerrie DeGraff, development director of Feeding South Dakota, a check for $212,000 at the Foundation’s 2016 Prime Time Gala and Concert.1414 Photo

Since 2013, cattle producers and consumers have gathered on the third Saturday in June at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls for camaraderie and a concert — as well as to raise money for charity. The Prime Time Gala, as it’s called, has been met with overwhelming support and success, and in three short years has raised more than $500,000 to benefit Feeding South Dakota.

Last year, Toby Keith performed, with special guests the Swon Brothers and Chase Bryant.

Ryan Eichler, a Lake Preston, S.D., executive sales representative for Elanco, has served as president of the Cattlemen’s Foundation, which hosts the Prime Time Gala. He recently answered our questions about the hugely successful event.

Why was the Prime Time Gala established?
“A few years ago, our Cattlemen’s Association board was discussing how we could promote the beef industry with the public. After initial conversations, I was one of three members who met in Sioux Falls and brainstormed about a public venue that would help spotlight South Dakota’s cattle industry and promoting beef as part of a healthy diet, while also raising funds for a worthy cause. We looked at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Ball (an annual fundraiser for cancer research) and used that as a model for creating South Dakota’s event. We liked how they incorporate the public into that event.

“My own personal belief is that as today’s consumers have fewer ties to agricultural production, we in the ag industry must continually share why agriculture is important and why we are passionate about our role as producers.

“My concern for the future is if we don’t start telling our story more effectively — what we do and why we do it — agriculture will lose the opportunity to use technology in the business.”

What does the Gala entail?
“The evening begins with registration and a social from 4:30 to 5:30, followed by an upscale banquet dinner at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. A live auction featuring everything from artwork to golf and hunting getaways, and a gooseneck trailer is held at 6:30, with a country music concert at the Denny Sanford Premier Center beginning at 7:30. Toby Keith and special guests, the Swon Brothers and Chase Bryant, headlined the event in 2016. Proceeds from the auction and concert benefit Feeding South Dakota, and in 2016, the total donated was $212,000.”

How has the event evolved?
“The event has been a success, but we are focused on a continual effort to improve and enhance it. In 2016, for the first time, four scholarships were presented to college students pursuing agricultural degrees. We wanted to add a component to cultivate the future of the industry.

“For those looking to a future career in agriculture, I encourage everyone I talk to … demand for food won’t go away and is only going to increase. But the best part about working in agriculture is the people.”

What role has social media played with the Prime Time Gala?
“The Cattlemen’s Foundation is working to expand the social media platform of the event for the future. Within the two-week period of the 2016 Gala, internet analytics revealed that the event created 75,000 impressions on social media — and primarily among women ages 22-40.

“We were surprised by that magnitude, and it’s motivating us to become more active on social media. Through use of social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we hope the Prime Time Gala can create an online community that is tuned in to ag messages not only during the weeks surrounding the event, but also throughout the year.

“We as an industry need to embrace social media, and be more vocal in sharing the story of why we do what we do.”

What’s happening in 2017?
“In addition to the scholarship program we introduced in 2016, we will be adding another new component to the program this year. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the exciting announcements to come.”

Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.

About the Author(s)

Kindra Gordon

Kindra Gordon grew up on a South Dakota cattle operation and graduated from South Dakota State University with degrees in range science and ag journalism. She has been writing about the beef industry for 25 years and lives near Sturgis, S.D., with her husband and family.

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