It’s always a pleasure to sit down and open up a conversation about food and farming with South Dakotans and the farmers who grow it. In fact, that’s what Hungry for Truth is all about. True to our mission, we had the wonderful opportunity of connecting, Sioux Falls native and mommy blogger, Kaylee Koch with soybean farmers, Dave and Miriam Iverson of Astoria, South Dakota to talk harvest, sustainability, soybeans and food. They spent a beautiful afternoon together filled with good conversation and farm education. Today, Kaylee is sharing her perspective of her recent South Dakota farm visit.
With fall upon us and finally some dry weather, harvest is in full force and the farmers are working tirelessly, almost all hours of the day, to get their work done. Through my partnership with Hungry for Truth I got a chance to go witness the entire harvesting process first hand and it was quite the learning experience. We visited Dave and Miriam Iverson’s farm in Astoria, South Dakota. They are the two nicest people!
First, we started at their beautiful farmhouse in Astoria where Miriam and I immediately connected about our love for home decor and remodeling, their home is so lovely! After I was done drooling about every inch of their home, we began to discuss the generation of farming that she and Dave both grew up in. This is what is always so interesting to me. Miriam grew up on a farm near Alberta, Canada, and Dave grew up right where they still are. But only one house away, which is where his father still lives. I love to hear how each family is involved and how it is passed on from generation to generation. I find it so fascinating how it is a family career. In fact, Dave’s father, at 86, was still out there harvesting and helping Dave by driving the combine.
Next, we headed to the fields to meet Dave and his father and to check out the combine. I was really anxious to learn from Dave, this is the best part about Hungry for Truth – directly connecting with the farmers to question and learn from them. We dug right in and he introduced me to the word “harvest” and all about the process of waiting for the crop to be just right, not too moist, and not too dry. I was thankful to hear from him that despite all of the crazy weather we have had lately, his crop was just fine and he felt great about the results he has been able to harvest already. Such good news!
Now was time to get a ride in the combine! First time ever for me. We climbed right up there and Dave got straight to work. This thing was huge and it was so neat to look straight down and see the process of this time-saving and technology filled machine. Dave just cruised right along after setting it on auto-pilot (WHAT!!!), and explained all of the parts and process. It was incredible to witness it go from the whole stock to just the soybean in a matter of seconds. I was blown away at how fast it works and how it can strip it down to just the bean. AMAZING to me!
Dave and I also discussed sustainability and how with each passing generation, they are always looking for new ways to improve and nurture their land. In fact, Dave’s father was one of the FIRST in the area to buy a combine! He explained how other farmers thought he wasn’t “manly” enough to do the work by hand and that he was crazy! Sure enough, now his Dad laughs about it, as it has saved the family tremendous amounts of hard work and hours of labor, but what an incredible example of sustainability and technology to catapult the family to be more efficient in the fields with just one swift move towards new innovative strategies.
After being in awe about this machine and the fun old stories Dave had to share, we went on to discuss the planting process from seed to plant to harvest and what he does with his crops once they are harvested. He explained who he sells to and what happens to his crops from there. I was very curious to hear what soybeans are used for and was amazed all over again about the many daily uses of soybeans and soybean oil and just how important they are to feeding our world. I went home and checked my vegetable oil, and sure enough, it was 100% soybean oil. So neat.
Overall, this trip was such a valuable lesson for me. I left in awe about how IMPERATIVE farming is to our world and feeding the world. It is so easy to just grab things off shelves at the local grocery store, but when you stop to think about Dave and Miriam Iverson and other farmers and all of the hard work and dedication put into their crops, you have a whole new humbling appreciation for your grocery list. I am so thankful for this experience and getting the chance to talk one-on-one with farmers to learn directly from them. To see the process and witness it left me feeling huge amounts of gratitude for what you all do for us consumers! Thank you for the opportunity and best of luck as you finish out your season of harvest.
About Kaylee Koch
My name is Kaylee Koch, I grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and still live here with my husband John and three young kids, Ivy (5), Leo (3), and Faye (1). I was a 6th grade science teacher for eight years, and now stay home with our kids. I am a passionate mother, wife and also LOVE to learn. I blog at Apple of My Ivy (www.appleofmyivy.com) about my family, life, home, fashion, and anything else that interests me.
Instagram – www.instagram.com/kayleemaykoch
Website – www.appleofmyivy.com
If farming is like football, harvest is a soybean farmer’s championship game. They’ve clocked countless hours planning, preparing and nurturing their plants to provide nutritious food for South Dakota’s families. Now, it’s time to discover the results. Since farmers are always thinking ahead, and looking for ways to improve, it’s also a time for them to evaluate how their strategies worked and make even better plans for next year.
Last fall, we chatted with David and Miriam Iverson as they prepared for harvest on their farm in Brookings County. As combines began rolling this season, we checked back in with the family to see what updates they made and how they’ve paid off.
“We’ve had a really good growing season this year, and overall the crop looks really good,” said David. “When thinking about changes and improvements moving forward, we typically consider factors like the resources that will be needed, harvest costs and balancing the workload.”
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. That’s why farmers evaluate their practices each season and make adjustments accordingly.
The Iversons made a few changes this year, such as increasing the amount of soybeans they planted and cutting back a bit on corn. They also decided to dabble in a new soybean variety and planted 300 acres of non-GMO high-oleic soybeans for the first time. High-oleic soybeans provide a source of vegetable oil for the food industry that is low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat and trans-fat-free.
Since they’re food-grade soybeans, the high-oleic variety is managed and harvested a little differently. Extra elbow grease is needed to clean out the combine, trucks, grain bins and augers before they’re harvested, and farmers have to use a slightly different crop protection strategy. However, their premium price is worth the extra effort. David said they’ve grown well on his farm so far and he may look to plant more next year.
The Iversons also use tools like soil sampling to determine which crop nutrients they’ll use for the next growing season.
“Once everything is harvested, I work with an agronomist to pull soil samples. We do this when we’re ready to rotate crops because the requirements vary for different plants,” explained David. “We send our samples to a lab, and they send back a full nutrient analysis so when a field is changing from soybeans to corn, we know exactly what that corn crop will need in the upcoming year.”
By working with experts to determine specific nutrient needs, David can be efficient with fertilizers and only apply exactly what is needed. Preserving crop and soil health is important for sustainable farming because it supports the longevity of the land, minimizes waste and maintains a healthy environment for future crops to flourish in coming seasons.
“Sustainability to me has a few different legs,” shared David. “One is maintaining soil health. There’s a lot of agronomy that goes into that aspect. There’s also the economic part of it. Improving the soil helps economically, and to be sustainable long term, you have to make decisions that financially benefit the farm.”
David’s family has passed their farm down for four generations and have achieved success through the changing times by implementing new techniques and best practices.
“The biggest aspect in recent years has been adding technology like autosteer and yield mapping,” said David. “That data helps us make better crop decisions and improve parts of the farm that are producing less.”
Today’s technology helps farmers interpret harvest and yield data of past years to grow safe and healthy food in the future. Whether reflecting on this year or planning for the next, harvest is special time for soybean farmers. Find out how another South Dakota farmer plans for the future by reading Matt Bainbridge’s story.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Rodney Elliott started his first dairy farm in Ireland with 20 cows and a big dream. Over time, he added 120 cows to the herd with goals to keep growing, but European grazing systems and government-established quotas stood in his way.
That’s when Rodney, his wife, Dorothy, and their three children looked toward America to realize the family dream.
After a visit to South Dakota and a lot of planning, they sold their farm in Ireland and founded Drumgoon Dairy near Lake Norden. Together, Rodney and Dorothy built high-tech dairy barns to house 1,400 cows and hired a team of dedicated employees to help in the day-to-day work. In the beginning, delegating cow care was difficult because Rodney was used to tending to each cow himself.
“I had to learn to trust other people to do the job,” said Rodney. “And accept the fact that sometimes they’re actually better at doing a job than I am.”
South Dakota dairy farmers like Rodney can manage larger, family-owned dairy farms because of the methods they use. In barns, farmers and employees can watch over each cow, protect them from the elements and feed them custom diets tailored to their needs.
Today, the Elliotts and 45 employees care for more than 4,700 cows each day and work together to grow the alfalfa and corn used to feed them. Rodney and Dorothy’s animal nutritionist helps them develop total mixed rations, which are precise combinations of ingredients designed to fit the needs of each cow. For example, ingredients like soybean meal may be added for extra protein and soybean hulls can be included for additional fiber. On average, South Dakota dairy cows eat 18,000 tons of soybean meal each year.
Farming in a way that is safe for the environment and helps protect soil and water for future generations is a priority for the Elliotts. They care deeply about their community, especially since everyone warmly welcomed them when they moved to the area. Since their dairy barns are newly built, Rodney ensured they comply with EPA standards from the start.
“We try to be good custodians of the land,” explained Rodney. “I treat my farm, not as a right, but as a privilege, and I work every day to keep that privilege.”
The Elliott family has an open-door policy at Drumgoon Dairy and welcomes visitors to stop by and see how a modern dairy is run.
“We are proud of what we do and like to share our story with those who want to learn more about where their food comes from,” said Rodney. “Come and look at the cows yourself. They always answer the questions. If they look content, they’re comfortable.”
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Farmers are driven to grow safe and healthy food while protecting the land. That’s why many use pesticides, along with other pest management techniques, to reduce damage from insects, weeds and diseases on their crops. In the words of South Dakota soybean and corn farmer Ram Farrell, “Farmers only want to apply as much as they need to grow a healthy crop. It saves money and, more importantly, it helps preserve the land for the next generation.”
Farmers put a lot of thought into their crop protection plan. Here are five questions farmers consider before applying pesticides to their fields.
Is it safe? Safety is the name of the game when it comes to pesticide use. Before they spray, farmers have to be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This certification shows they understand pest management and how to properly store, use, handle and dispose of pesticides and containers.
“We take spraying more seriously than planting and harvesting,” said Paul Casper, a soybean and corn farmer from Lake Preston. “It’s about being a good neighbor, making sure our children and grandchildren are safe, and growing healthy food we can all feel good about eating.”
What insect, weed or disease am I targeting? Farmers routinely walk their fields, looking for bugs, weeds or signs of disease. This is called scouting. Pesticides are just one tool farmers use to deal with harmful insects and weeds in their fields. There are other techniques, such as conservation tillage, GMO seeds and crop rotation, that help prevent and address problems. Knowing what pests are in their fields helps farmers make the right choice about whether to spray or employ another technique.
“Each method is part of a toolkit to safely manage and grow healthy crops,” said Dr. David Shaw, a weed scientist and professor at Mississippi State University. “Many farmers take a holistic approach to stopping pests.”
Have I used this pesticide before? Different products attack target pests in different ways. If farmers use the same pesticide over and over again, the target pest population can adapt over generations and become resistant. That’s why farmers are careful to rotate the products they use to ensure crop protection remains effective.
“The goal is to use pesticides accurately, efficiently and responsibly,” said Joel Pazour, a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Chamberlain. “It’s just better all the way around.”
What’s the weather forecast? The weather plays a big role in determining when it’s safe to spray. We get some hot, hot, hot days here in South Dakota. When the temperature tops 90 degrees, farmers avoid applying pesticides. They also avoid spraying when wind speeds are over 15 miles per hour so that pesticides don’t drift into other areas. Lastly, they aim to spray during dry weather. Humidity should be between 50 and 60 percent, and no rain should be in the immediate forecast. When it’s too humid, pesticides can stay in the air, rather than settling on the crops and target weeds.
What if the weather conditions aren’t right? They wait to spray. “It’s just not worth taking a chance,” said Paul Casper.
What’s the proper rate at which I can apply this pesticide? Farmers read product labels to learn the use rate for each one. The EPA reviews pesticides and determines the rate at which they’re safe and effective. The whole process takes nearly 10 years from start to finish, and pesticides are re-evaluated every 15 years to make extra sure they’re still safe. You might be surprised to learn that farmers aim to use as little of a product as they can. To cover an acre, which is about the size of a football field, a farmer will use about 20 oz. of pesticides. That’s about the size of a large coffee.
“We’re not spraying more than we need. We formulate a specific recipe for each field and apply no more, no less,” said Kevin Deinert, a soybean, corn and cattle farmer from Mount Vernon.
Now that you know a little bit about all the considerations that go into a pesticide application, you can feel confident that farmers keep your family, food and safety top of mind. Learn more about how farmers control weeds by reading about the Pazour family farm.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
When Ed Munce started cooking for family events, he had no idea it would eventually turn into a full-time business grilling up some of the best meat in Sioux Falls. The requests started innocently enough. With 11 brothers and sisters, there were plenty of holidays, backyard barbecues and weddings to keep them hopping. By 2001, Ed and his son Matt grew their hobby into a retail store and catering business.
Today Uncle Ed’s is anything but typical. The high-quality food keeps people coming in for more. Each week, 500 to 2,000 people flock to the store buying everything from 40 flavors of brats to Iowa chops, St. Louis ribs, smoked pulled pork and their number #1 seller: rib-eye steaks.
Matt and Ed buy their meat from a USDA-certified vendor in Iowa that sources animals from several U.S. farms. Since South Dakota is fifth in the nation for raising beef cattle and ninth in raising pigs, it’s likely the meat they purchase is raised by local farmers and fed a balanced diet of corn, soybeans vitamins and minerals. Soybeans are especially important to the growth and health of livestock because they provide the protein that builds strong, lean muscle.
Ed and Matt feel comfortable purchasing meat that’s been given a healthy start with soybeans. From there, it’s in their hands to create the foods people crave.
“We’re a unique business because we do most of the processing and crafting ourselves. It’s really a labor of love,” explained Matt. “We are passionate about giving people the very best.”
At Hungry for Truth, we’re all about making sure you have the right intel for food shopping success. We asked Matt to share some tips to help you select the best beef and pork for your next meal. Hint: If you head over to Uncle Ed’s, they’ve already done your homework.
The USDA grades beef using quality standards to determine whether it falls into the prime, choice or select category. All are safe to eat, but prime and choice lead the race in terms of marbling and overall taste. Typically, you find the grade on the package or by asking someone behind the counter. Uncle Ed’s only sells the upper end of choice and prime cuts of beef.
For pork, only the highest grade is sold in stores so expect top quality no matter where you shop.
Age to Perfection
Just like most of us, primal cuts of beef are better with age. Three to four weeks can mean the difference between eating steak that tastes like a piece of shoe leather and beef that melts in your mouth. Look for the packing date to choose cuts with some age that are dark red in color. This is different than the expiration or sell-by date, so if you can’t find it or aren’t sure where to look, talk with the expert behind the meat counter.
Pork is easy since fresh is best. Look for pinkish color and use the sell by date as a guide. You can eat pork one to two days past the sell by date, but freezing is the best way to make it last longer.
Fat is flavor. Marbling refers to the lines of fat running through beef, and it’s key to flavor and tenderness. The best cuts of beef and pork have a mix of marbling and muscle.
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to learn more about how South Dakota soybean farmers raise the animals that produce your favorite meats:
Music and agriculture are two of Moriah Gross’ great loves. Six years ago, her passions intertwined when she founded Pierre’s first youth orchestra and invited students and their families to her farm for a sunflower-themed photoshoot.
“What makes our orchestra truly unique is that we live in God’s country, and our county [Sully County] is the top sunflower producer in the U.S.,” said Moriah. “It made sense to combine the two in celebration of the beauty that surrounds us in the fields.”
Since then, it’s become an annual tradition. She decides on a marketing theme for the year, invites her students and their families out to the farm for the photoshoot, where the families also pick sweet corn. Moriah and her husband, Austin, a fourth-generation farmer from Onida, feel it’s a great opportunity to answer questions about food and farming.
“Conversations about how we grow food can happen 30 miles away or sitting next to someone at a baseball game. I always look forward to the opportunity,” explained Moriah.
Combines and Violins
Moriah grew up on a family ranch near Mankato, Kansas, growing milo, wheat and sunflowers, and raising Angus cattle. She spent summers with her family custom harvesting wheat for other farmers, traveling from Texas to the Canadian border. She learned how to drive a combine, grain cart and tractor. Her time in the cab and caring for cattle turned out to be helpful for her career as a musician.
“I remember singing with my mom in the combine to bluegrass and country western music,” said Moriah. “Later, my dad added a radio to the barn, so we listened to music during calving season.”
Moriah began playing the violin when she was 7 and joined the orchestra in middle school. By the time she graduated from college, she had mastered the violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar and piano. With all this experience and a love for wide open spaces, it just made sense to move to Pierre to start The Pierre Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming its executive director. What she didn’t plan on was meeting and marrying Austin.
“I never thought I’d be lucky enough to marry a farmer,” said Moriah. Since Austin’s family regularly opens the farm to youth and hunting groups, Moriah knew he’d welcome the orchestra with open arms.
Questions and Conversations
The annual orchestra photoshoot generates interesting questions about everything from how they grow crops to the equipment they use on the farm. Some families are surprised to find out that most of the sweet corn they grow is GMO.
“We still grow one traditional sweet corn variety for sentimental reasons, but the other five are GMOs,” explained Austin. “It’s fun to explain how each one has been carefully bred to enhance its color or flavor.” GMOs make up 94 percent of the soybean and 89 percent of the corn crops grown in the U.S. They also happen to be two of South Dakota’s top crops.
This year, the orchestra held its first community fundraiser at the Fort Pierre farmers market. Austin and Moriah donated 1,500 ears of sweet corn for the event. Naturally, shoppers asked about different types of sweet corn and if it’s organic.
“People think organic means the corn is healthier in some way. The truth is it doesn’t matter,” said Moriah. “The sweet corn we grow is nutritionally the same as organic and both are safe to eat.”
One day, she hopes to turn the photoshoot into a concert to bring more people to the Pierre and Onida communities to enjoy music on the farm. Until then, she and Austin continue planting seeds of knowledge whenever they can and watching them grow.
If you have questions for Moriah and Austin, share them in the comments below. Love reading stories about South Dakota farm families? Here’s one about Eunice who’s been growing crops and irises on her family farm for nearly 90 years.
Photos Courtesy of Grandpre Photography & Moriah Gross.
For many in Sioux Falls, the average Saturday starts with a cup of coffee and a walk down to the local farmers market around 8 a.m. For local farmer Dale Hebda of Hebda Farms, preparing his stand at the market starts at 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
“We start with picking produce and packing it up for Saturday morning,” Dale said. “We usually finish Friday by packing our cooler with our baked goods at 11 p.m.”
Long hours are just part of the job at Hebda Farms, a produce farm in Mission Hills that started off as a 4-H project for Dale’s oldest son, Steven.
“He began with two or three acres that supplied our stand at the little farmers market in Yankton,” he said. “He bought the seed, paid for the water and paid me rent. He really took care of his finances and ran an excellent business.”
In addition to Steven’s efforts and purple ribbons accrued at the county fair, the community also provided the support Hebda Farms needed.
“Our community really came together and rallied around him to support his local business at our farmers market,” Dale said. “With Steven’s proven success and our seven younger children coming into 4-H down the road, we needed to expand our business.”
As luck would have it, a property came up for sale just as the Hebda family considered expansion. They purchased the land and went from two to three acres to 45 acres and have been growing ever since. In addition to adding products and produce to their line, they also began growing soybeans, corn and alfalfa on an annual rotation.
“We rotate crops yearly for weed control, as some weeds are more prevalent in some crops than others,” he said. “Some of the harvested crops are sold, and some are kept to feed the cattle we raise for our family.”
Introducing new products and produce is a regular occurrence for the Hebdas. Dale said they test them for about two to three years to see if they’re viable, then decide if they’ll continue growing them in future seasons. Hebda Farms also now has a commercial kitchen for pickling and canning their 36 varieties of jellies and creating delicious baked goods from scratch.
“We have about six to seven varieties of pies,” said Dale. “Our Latino workers have contributed their family recipes, so we now sell flan and other traditional Mexican foods.”
Even though there are challenges in owning a small businesses and farming, Dale enjoys growing food and connecting with South Dakota families.
“It is a fun time. At the end of the day, I don’t necessarily get satisfaction from the revenue,” he said. “I’m happy when I see happy customers leaving our farm or stand with healthy and fresh food for their families.”
You can visit Dale and the Hebda crew on Saturday and Sunday mornings at Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton, Saturday mornings in Sioux Falls and by appointment at their farm in Mission Hills.
Farmers markets are a great place to meet with the people who grow your food. If you can’t make it out to a farmers market, ask a question in the comments, or check out our blogs below to learn more about connecting with local farmers:
Paul Casper has always had a strong connection to the land. His love for the outdoors began when he was young, spending a lot of time hunting, fishing and trapping. Almost everything he does for work and recreation is tied to the environment. That’s why using sustainable agricultural practices are so important for his family and farm.
“What we do on the farm every day has an impact on our family, the food we eat and what we do for fun,” explained Paul. “The water is right beside us so we continually look for ways to improve our farm practices to take care of our soil.”
Paul isn’t kidding when he says the water is right beside them. Today, the family farm is surrounded by four lakes: Lake Thompson, Lake Whitewood, Lake Henry and Lake Preston. That hasn’t always been the case.
Paul used to ride horses and hunt in the pastureland that eventually became Lake Thompson. In the mid-1990s, heavy rains permanently turned the ground into a lake, and now it’s one of his favorite places to take his grandkids fishing. Keeping those waters and the land around them safe while protecting his corn and soybeans are very important parts of his plans.
Like many farmers in South Dakota, Paul uses sustainable practices like crop rotation and soil sampling. The GPS technology in his tractor and sprayer help him apply the right rates of pesticides safely and only in areas where they’re needed. The Caspers also practice no till, which means they don’t disturb the soil after crops are harvested. Leaving the stalks and plant roots in the fields reduces the chance soil will wash or blow into the lakes. It also improves the health of their soil and allows them to use less equipment so they don’t use as much fuel.
“We have greatly improved our farm practices over the past 15 years to preserve South Dakota’s land and water,” said Paul. They have no plans to slow down. This year, they’re looking at planting cover crops, which is a crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil.
The more Paul pays attention to sustainability, the better his crops grow. Now that his son and granddaughters have returned to the family farm, safety and sustainability are even more closely connected.
“We live and breathe farming, so we need to preserve the family farm for the next generation,” said Paul. “We also swim in the lakes, and eat the fish we catch, the animals we hunt and crops we grow. There are no shortcuts to being safe and environmentally friendly in agriculture, but I found it’s always worth the effort to do things right.”
Learn more about Paul’s farm practices and how he turns the veggies from his garden into delicious chicken kabobs by watching this episode of Across the Table.
For many South Dakotans, summer time includes having fun on the water. Whether it’s a road trip to the lake or a quick dip in the river, it’s a tradition that’s great for escaping the heat and creating memories that last a lifetime. The same holds true for farmers like Colin Nachtigal who lives near the Missouri River and enjoys fishing, kayaking and swimming on hot summer days.
“When we’re out working on the farm and it gets hot, we jump in the river for a quick dip,” he said. “I’m excited to teach my 18-month-old how to swim in it someday.”
While Colin doesn’t get to be on the water in summer as much as he’d like, he does spend most of his time on the banks of the Missouri working with irrigation pumps. He, along with his dad, two uncles, brother, and six cousins, grow corn, soybeans and wheat and raise beef cattle along the river. He’s part of the fourth generation to cultivate the land and thinks of the Missouri River as more than just a swimming hole.
“Some of our land is irrigated, and the water comes right from the Missouri River. Our rural home’s water system uses water from the river, so we also drink it,” said Colin.
He uses sustainable farm practices to ensure the water is safe for his crops, animals, family and neighbors who depend on it. The Nachtigals blend reliable practices from the past and innovative technology of the future to prevent soil erosion. This includes GMO seeds, minimal tillage and using equipment that puts crop nutrients, like fertilizer, in the soil.
“Minimizing tillage, or no-till, means that we’re leaving the soybean plant roots in the ground after harvest to hold the soil in place. Putting the fertilizer into the soil instead of on top helps the plants use it more efficiently. Both reduce erosion and keep the river clean,” explains Colin. He also uses GMO seeds that require less pesticides. If he does have to apply pesticides he waits for the right day.
“We’re always looking to improve on the ways of the older generation. Learn from them, but also try new ways to take care of the land and water,” said Colin. “Hopefully one day my daughter will be part of the family farm and grow food for people in South Dakota. In the meantime I’m looking forward to making more memories with her on the river.”
Summer isn’t the only time of year to make lasting memories. Learn how South Dakota farmers spend time with their families all year long by reading these blogs:
On July 8, South Dakota families stopped by the Hungry for Truth tent during Family Fest in Sioux Falls for fun family activities. Kids and parents beat the heat in the shade by playing with trucks and tractors in sandboxes, spinning the “ag” wheel of fortune for a chance to win a prize and climbing into a John Deere tractor compliments of Kibble Equipment.
More than once the horn honked and the hazard lights flashed thanks to curious fingers inside the tractor cab. One lucky mom even walked away with a new KitchenAid® mixer that was given away at the end of the day. South Dakota farmers, Josh and Kara Kayser and Jerry Schmitz spent time talking with attendees about what it’s like to grow healthy food on their farms.
“A few parents asked questions about hormones in meat and if they should worry about GMOs,” said Jerry. “I enjoyed hearing the kids answer the questions about where some of their favorite foods come from. Quite a few knew the two top crops grown in South Dakota are soybeans and corn!”
In South Dakota, we’re lucky that families have choices when it comes to the food they buy. Regardless of what you choose, it’s important to know that food you find at the grocery store is safe and nutritious. For example, food made from GMOs have been proven safe to eat, that the meat you buy in the grocery store is virtually hormone free and that farmers care about growing healthy food for your family.
Have questions about how your food is grown and raised? Leave them in the comments and a farmer will get back to you. In the meantime, take a few minutes to meet some South Dakota farmers who grow your food.
On June 15, urbanites and farmers from across South Dakota gathered on the farm for an evening of conversation and outdoor dining at the second annual Farm-to-Fork dinner. The event was hosted by Hungry for Truth to encourage open discussions about how food is grown and raised on the scenic Bones Hereford Ranch, Hexad Farms and MDM Farms near Parker.
The farm chic décor, cattle and calves in the pasture, historic barn and music by The Hegg Brothers created the perfect backdrop for summer dining. South Dakota blogger and mom Staci Perry noted how the location really set the tone for great conversations.
“You could see the camaraderie among the farmers, and everyone was so excited to share stories about how they grow our food,” said Staci.
Local farmers took time throughout the evening to thank attendees for coming and share their farm stories. They talked about animal care on their farms, why they might choose to grow GMO crops, and improved farm practices that benefit the environment.
“The most important thing on our farm is sustainability,” said Bradee Pazour, a cattle farmer from Pukwana who provided the beef for the appetizers. “My husband and I are raising our two boys on our farm, and one day we hope they may want to continue on the farming legacy. We are truly farming with the future in mind.”
“It’s so nice to meet the real, actual farmers who raise the animals and see the farming processes,” said Kirsten. “It’s important to me to be able to see the farm where the animals are coming from, and these farmers were so open to talking about what they do and why they do it.”
The Farm-to-Fork dinner is just one of the ways Hungry for Truth connects South Dakotans with the people who grow their food. Special thanks to everyone who attended, and to Chef Jeni and Company, The Event Company, Flower Mill and The Sampson House for creating such an elegant and memorable night.
Of course the event wouldn’t be considered “Farm-to-Fork” without featuring some truly delicious local foods. In case you’re wondering what was on the menu, here’s a rundown of some of the tasty local fare:
- Wine from Prairie Berry
- Beer from Miner Brewing Co.
- Artisan cheeses from Dimock Dairy
- Devilled Eggs from Dakota Layers
- Bacon from Greenway Pork
- Honey from Laughing Eyes Apiary
- Individual bread loaves from Breadico
- Beef from Creekstone Farms
- Mini apple and Rhubarb Pies with rhubarb from Chef Jeni’s garden
- Ice Cream from the South Dakota State University Dairy Bar
Don’t worry, if weren’t in attendance at the dinner, you can still find a lot of these local products by simply shopping at your grocery store. Peggy Greenway from Greenway Pork shared that the pork from her farm goes to Costco. If you buy pork at Costco, it very well could have been raised by her! You can also find Dimock Dairy and Dakota Layers at local Hy-Vee stores.
Have you ever met a real South Dakota farmer? Get to know a few of them by reading their stories:
June may be dairy month, but if you’re anything like us, cheese is a year-round obsession. In South Dakota, Dimock Dairy is known for some of the best handmade blocks, curds and spreads you’ll find anywhere.
The journey for these delicious cheeses starts seven miles northwest of Dimock on Marty Neugebauer’s farm. Marty grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle in addition to operating a dairy. He started selling milk to Dimock Dairy in the 1980s as a junior in high school when he his mother Anita expanded the family farm. When his mother retired in 1998, his brother Darin joined the operation. Marty knows dairy products don’t get any better than what’s right down the road.
Today, his family business is one of four family farms selling milk exclusively to Dimock Dairy. He’s proud to support a local business and enjoys knowing their products get their start on his farm. He claims their butter is the best ever made with the aged cheddar a close second.
Marty gets going every morning at 5:15 a.m. Before bringing the cows in around 6 a.m., he sanitizes the milking equipment and pipes to make sure the milk is clean when it reaches the bulk tank. Keeping things clean is Marty’s number one priority so he can send the best quality product to town.
He brings eight cows into the barn for milking at a time. Each cow goes into the same stall on the same side of the parlor every day. According to Marty, “Cows need routine. If you change anything, they won’t give the same amount of milk. Keeping them comfortable and happy is important to milk production.” He sanitizes the cows before attaching the milkers, which suction right to the cow. The milkers are equipped with a sensor to detect the flow of milk and stop pumping when the milk stops flowing.
Marty says cows have their own unique personalities and pump different amounts of milk. They can provide anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds per session, and it only takes about five to eight minutes to milk each cow. After the milkers shut off, they detach automatically and he disinfects the cows so they’re clean. Within 15 minutes of coming inside, the cows head back outside for the day.
Next, the fresh milk flows into a receiving jar and is pumped through a plate cooler to reduce its temperature by 20 degrees within seconds. It is then collected in a bulk tank where it’s chilled to 38 degrees F until a Dimock Dairy bulk milk truck picks it up.
Marty repeats this process at 4:30 p.m. every day. It takes three hours to sanitize and milk about 90 cows each morning and afternoon. In between milkings, he takes care of his beef cattle, tends to his crops and completes other tasks on the farm. “There’s always something to do,” Marty said.
Cow Comfort and Nutrition
For many dairy farmers like Marty the key to good milk production is keeping cows comfortable, giving them plenty of access to water and feeding them a nutritious diet. While Marty’s cows eat mostly distillers grain made from corn and silage, many dairy farmers in South Dakota also feed theirs soybean meal. Did you know there are approximately 117,000 dairy cows in South Dakota that eat 31,000 tons of soybean meal each year? Good thing soybeans are the state’s second largest crop.
Dimock Dairy Delivery
Every other day, approximately 10,000 pounds of milk leaves Marty’s bulk tank to take on a whole new shape and flavor. We’ll explore how Marty’s milk becomes the delicious cheese at Dimock Dairy in part two of this blog so stay tuned.
What about the gallons of milk you find at the grocery store? Ever wonder how it gets from the farm to the shelf? Read about its journey.
In greater Yankton, South Dakota, a new era of farmer is making headway in the agricultural industry. Young millennial farmers, working on and off the farm, are shaping a new definition of farming. The tactics they use to produce food for families across the state prove to be as efficient and sustainable as their larger counterparts, despite not farming full time.
Nate Hicks and Brandon Wagner are two of the dozens of farmers in southeastern South Dakota who work a day job and then run their family farms on nights and weekends. Despite the long hours, it’s worth it to them. They manage to raise healthy beef cattle and crops with efficient practices on about 1,100 acres, which is a little smaller than an average farm size in South Dakota.
Nate grew up east of Utica, South Dakota, on a cow/calf farm and learned the tricks of the family business from his father. When it came time for college, he told his parents he was more interested in farming, but first pursued a mechanical engineering degree at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He returned to the farm with his wife Kristen in 2015.
Nate says if he hadn’t left home and earned his degree, he wouldn’t be where he is today. The experience and knowledge gained during college and working off the farm helped him improve practices on the farm, such as fine-tuning an electronic record-keeping process originally created by his mother.
“We raise and record all our cows instead of buying new ones each year,” Nate says. “We use the records to determine which cows are top producers and keep calves from those cows each year. This ultimately provides more efficiency in our production practices, leading to lower prices and better meat quality for consumers.”
Nate’s friend, Brandon, also grew up on a family farm and shares a similar story. After graduating from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion with a teaching degree, he married his wife, Ashely, and returned to work on the farm and teach at Yankton High School. His teaching role expanded to help the school rollout its new FFA program.
When not at school, Brandon spends nights and weekends working alongside his younger brother, father and uncle to run the family farm. One of his duties is monitoring the herd during calving season, which is more efficient thanks to technology.
“We recently installed IP (internet protocol) cameras in our barn for remote monitoring of heifers that are calving,” Brandon says. “This is important because we work jobs off the farm and are multitasking in the evenings. With the cameras, we’re only minutes, or seconds, away if there is a problem.”
Brandon also creates better beef for shoppers. “Our family enrolled in a program with the American Simmental Association, which gives us USDA reports listing information from our previous cows,” he says. “We can tell which ones genetically create more flavorful meat. We can use the reports to get the traits we want so the entire herd produces higher quality beef.”
Brandon and Nate believe sustainability is an important part of any size operation. They use much of the same technology and practices as their full-time counterparts. This includes crop rotation for soil health, variable-rate planting so they don’t waste seed and minimal tillage to reduce soil erosion. The also rotate their grazing cattle so there is about one pair for every four acres of land to minimize their impact throughout the summer.
Nate and Brandon are excited about the potential of millennial and entrepreneurial farmers. They believe that if more young people see the opportunities with operations like theirs, they may decide to give farming a try as well. This gives South Dakota families even more choices when it comes to the food they find in grocery stores and farmers markets.
“I think showing young people how technology affects the industry is one of the most important issues in agriculture today,” says Brandon. “I heard a quote once that really resonated with me. It said, ‘The fastest way to lose money is to do it the way Grandpa did it. The fastest way to lose everything is to forget the way grandpa did it.’”
Read more stories about South Dakota farm families and how they care for the land and animals:
About the Guest Writer
Kristen Hicks, a farmer’s wife and director of marketing and communications at Mount Marty College, moved to Yankton in 2015. In addition to her day job, she helps her husband with his cattle and crop operation, and serves on the board of an entrepreneurial development group called Onward Yankton, and helps businesses with marketing strategies and digital solutions. In her free time, she explores the outdoors with her @southdakotadog, an Aussie-heeler mix named Tucker.
Buying local is a great way to support family farms and businesses, and it’s why so many South Dakotans look for local products when shopping. The great news is you don’t have to look hard to put locally grown food on your table. It’s in the aisles of grocery stores, shelves of downtown shops and stands at farmers markets. No matter where you choose to buy your food, it’s likely you are purchasing a product with local roots.
Marc Reiner is a farmer who grows soybeans, corn, wheat and alfalfa near Tripp. His family has been raising cattle since they homesteaded the land in the 1880s. They also raise pigs.
“Everything we feed our animals is grown on our farm,” says Marc. “The hay, silage, soybean meal and corn is all grown here. My family enjoys eating the meat from the animals we raise and the products we grow.”
Marc’s family sells his crops, pigs and cattle to local grain and meat processors. They transform the soybeans and corn into nutritious animal feed and the animals into choice cuts of beef and pork served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores across South Dakota and the U.S.
Though he doesn’t know where all the food products grown and raised on his farm end up, he knows that farmers throughout the nation no matter the size have the health and safety of consumers in mind.
Dakota Layers is an example of a business serving South Dakotans that purchases feed made from locally grown soybeans. The family-owned operation located north of Flandreau processes and packages 90,000 dozen eggs each day! It purchases 10,000 tons of soybean meal annually to feed its 1.3 million hungry hens. You can purchase their eggs at South Dakota grocery stores. Some local businesses, such as Oh My Cupcakes! in downtown Sioux Falls and Royal River Casino in Flandreau use their eggs for baking and cooking.
So the next time you’re looking for locally grown foods like eggs, pork, beef or chicken, don’t stress if you don’t see a label. There’s a good chance it has a local connection or was grown by a farmer who has your family’s health and safety in mind.
Love learning about local? Milk is another food that has South Dakota roots. Read about its journey farm to shelf.
Temperatures are warming up and soil lovers in South Dakota are excited to dig in and plant. This includes farmers firing up their tractors. Vonda and Ken Schulte are a farmer/gardener pair from Geddes who enjoy growing healthy food in the field and in the garden. Vonda is a cook at the local school so she makes a point to connect with kids on a regular basis about how food gets from the farm to their plates.
We asked Vonda and Ken a few questions about what goes into their planting season, and Vonda gives us instructions for making seed tapes.
When do you start thinking about what to grow and how do you choose your seeds?
Ken: I start planning right after harvest and watch what the seed companies offer. I look at what worked and what didn’t the year before, as well as what current genetics are available in our area.
Vonda: The seed catalogs start coming around the first of the year. I begin making lists and getting ideas then. I usually visit my local seed store that sells in bulk and has a great variety of seeds to try. I like to get just the right amount of seed I need so I don’t waste it.
What will you plant?
Ken: I plant wheat, corn and soybeans on about 1,000 acres. We rotate crops each season to maximize soil health and better manage pests.
Vonda: I plant a wide variety. My garden includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, all different kinds of potatoes, lettuces, spinach, arugula, herbs, rhubarb, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, melons, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, raspberries, kale, leeks, okra, beets, onions, garlic, peas, peppers, radishes and kohlrabi, just to name a few. I also love to mix in flowers around my garden.
How do you prepare the soil for planting?
Ken: We use minimal tillage or don’t till at all. Minimal disturbance is good for the soil. I also do soil testing so I know exactly how much fertilizer to apply on each acre.
Vonda: I really don’t do too much, just clean off some debris from winter, but I really don’t disturb the soil too much. I have it set up so I never walk in places I plant. There are four 5-foot beds with walkways in between so the soil stays heaped up and is ready to dig into. I fertilize it well and add some mushroom compost or cocoa shells.
When will you typically start planting?
Ken: I start when the soil temperature is warm enough for the crop I’m planting. That’s usually around 50 F, which is typically the end of April. I don’t want to start too early because crops may not survive a cold snap, and replanting is expensive.
Vonda: Mother Nature is in charge. I start some of the cool crops early and, if something happens, I replant.
How long does it take to plant your garden/farm acres?
Ken: It usually takes me 30 days to plant, but it depends on the weather.
Vonda: I plant in stages throughout the growing season. I love planting cool crops again in the fall.
How do you take care of the seeds after planting?
Ken: I use herbicides to help control weeds and make sure the crops get off to a good start. The cool thing about our technology is that we’re able to precisely apply exactly what’s needed and in the right amount to help our crops grow. We monitor and scout the crops throughout the season to determine what additional care might be necessary, such as insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, etc.
Vonda: I fertilize the plants with a mixture from our local co-op. Then I mulch everything with grass clippings.
What’s your favorite part about growing food?
Ken: I like harvest, especially during a good year. I take pride in growing healthy crops that are used in South Dakota and shipped all over the world.
Vonda: I enjoy everything about gardening. Each step is fun for me. I also love eating and sharing my produce, learning new techniques and trying new products. It’s fun to quiz the kids at school about something I brought in from my garden and help them to learn a little bit more about where their food comes from.
Another way farmers and gardeners are alike: They love being outdoors and getting their hands dirty. Unfortunately, spring weather can be unpredictable so here’s a great DIY project to share with your gardener friends the next time you’re stuck indoors.
Make Your Own Seed Tapes
Seed tapes make planting easy because they come loaded with seeds that are appropriately spaced. According to Vonda, making your own seed tape is easy, looks nice when the plants come up and can be done any time. Here’s how she does it:
- Take a roll of toilet paper and roll it out.
- Read the seed package for appropriate spacing.
- Put a small dot of Elmer’s glue on the paper.
- Drop your seed onto the dot. Let dry.
- Roll it up and mark it.
- When it’s time to plant, dig a trench, add water if soil is dry, lay the paper in, unroll it and cover with dirt.
Learn more about the similarities between gardening and farming here. If all this talk about fresh produce has your mouth watering, here are a few recipes to try out:
Cattle have been part of Reiner Farms since the family homesteaded land near Tripp, South Dakota, in the 1880s. According to Marc Reiner, who is the fifth generation to run the family business, animal care is a priority and an important part of raising quality meat. As you can imagine, the way Marc cares for his animals today is very different than how his grandfather did. He’s gone high tech, which is especially helpful during calving season.
“It all starts with selecting the right genetics,” says Marc. The Reiners raise Simm-Angus cattle. They choose genetics for good maternal abilities and performance that will produce the lean and high-quality cuts of meat consumers demand.
Just like with humans, preparing for a new, healthy calf begins with the health of the mother. Marc uses an ultrasound machine to verify pregnancy and the stage of pregnancy so he knows when to expect a cow to give birth.
Proper diet and nutrition is important during this time. Marc feeds his cows a balanced blend of hay, silage, and soybean meal made from crops grown on his farm along with vitamin and mineral packets to keep them healthy. He also vaccinates them to prevent major diseases like scour. Vaccinating the mother passes the antibodies along to the calves so they are protected at birth.
Marc not only personally interacts with his cows, he also uses cameras when he’s not around to monitor animal comfort throughout the year. He can watch them from his TV screen, computer and mobile phone. This is especially helpful during calving. As a cow nears the end of its pregnancy, he can bring it closer to the barn and watch for signs of distress. It’s key to have shelter with controlled temperatures for cows to use during bad weather since calving starts in February.
“Cows have great natural instincts and can usually handle giving birth without assistance, but sometimes we have to step in,” says Marc. When that happens, he’s happy to have his family and employees by his side. “Calving can be an intense time. It takes teamwork to keep the newborns safe.”
After a calf is born, the most important things are its first meal and spending time indoors to grow healthy and strong so it can join the herd. Marc continues to monitor its weight, provides a nutritious diet and vaccinates as necessary until it’s time to be harvested. Beef cuts are sold to restaurants and grocery stores for South Dakota families to purchase and enjoy.
For Marc, that cycle of growing food and feeding people is one of the most satisfying things about being a farmer. “We feed our animals the crops we grow on the farm and enjoy eating the meat from the animals we raise.”
Read more about how farmers and livestock specialists use technology to raise healthy animals:
In honor of National Ag Day, we talked with local South Dakota farmers about what they love best about family farms. Did you know that 98 percent of farms in our state are family owned and operated? Your neighbors work hard to make sure the food they raise that ends up on your table is safe and healthy. Check out what they had to say about their favorite parts of farming as a family affair:
“For me, it’s such a privilege to watch my kids grow up on the farm. To see the excitement in their actions and expressions is priceless. My kids will be the sixth generation on our farm, and you can tell their passion for agriculture comes from within. There’s nothing more rewarding than teaching my children what has been passed down to me through the generations and see them grow to appreciate the land that provides for us.” – John Horter, farmer from Andover
“One of the things I love most about being part of a family farm is the interaction with the land and animals. I believe there are no more beautiful pictures than that of calves running in a green, flowing pasture; combines harvesting soybeans from the fields on a brisk, colorful fall day; or a litter of piglets simultaneously nursing from the sow. These “office views” are awe inspiring and make a day on the farm that much sweeter.” – Amanda Eben, livestock specialist who is active on her family farm near Rock Rapids, IA
“From the time our children could talk, they would watch out the window every morning and we would hear “Grandpa’s here!” as they ran out the door to greet him as though they hadn’t seen him in years. Though retired, he has always been protector, teacher, trainer, baby sitter, disciplinarian and confidant. No amount of money could buy that opportunity for our children. The family farm is the only institution I am aware of that can provide that opportunity and solid foundation for life.” – Jerry Schmitz, farmer from Vermillion
“What I enjoy about farming is being able to work alongside my husband every day with our kids playing around us. It’s what I love most about the life that we live.” – Morgan Kontz, farmer from Colman
“No amount of money could equal the pride I feel when my parents and grandparents tell me I’m doing a good job of managing our family farm. It’s a joy to work alongside all the generations of our family. We have so many memories that make me smile when I think about them, like laughing about lessons learned the hard way, our children talking to the animals, and me shouting, “Come boss!” to the cows as I bring them from the pasture to milk, just like my Grandpa. I love remembering the smile on his face as I gave it my first call, and wished he was here to see my kids and me doing the same thing today.” – Todd Hanten, farmer from Goodwin
“I love being a part of a farm passed down through four generations and working to pass it on to the fifth. The best part of it all is passing on my passion for farming to my children.” – Josh Kayser, farmer from Emery
Read more about family farms in South Dakota:
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and green is everywhere. He may not be Irish, but that doesn’t stop local farmer, Jeff Thompson, from going green on Saint Patrick’s Day, or any other day for that matter. Sustainability is something he implements daily on his family farm near Colton.
“I farm some of the same land my grandfather purchased in 1877,” said Jeff. Thanks to advancements in research and technology, Jeff grows more food using less crop inputs than his grandparents.
It’s a trend that’s been on the rise as the family farm has changed hands through the generations and one Jeff plans to continue. Focusing on growing food in a sustainable way means someday he can pass the family business to his nephew who is just starting to get involved.
What are some of the ways Jeff goes green? One of the basic practices is rotating corn and soybean crops to make sure the plants don’t deplete the soil of important nutrients. This is like what many gardeners do to keep their seedbeds healthy and productive. He also enriches the soil with manure from a nearby dairy.
Soil sampling is another important part of his sustainability plans. He uses the information to create digital maps of his fields, uploads them into his tractor’s precision technology system and then applies just the right amount of fertilizer needed to grow his crops. Similar technology in his planter and sprayer ensure he doesn’t waste seed or overspray.
“Today’s farming technology helps me use just the right amount of seed and crop inputs to reduce waste,” said Jeff. “My planter has row shutoffs so when I turn, it stops dropping seeds where I already planted. The same is true for my sprayer. It also has an automatic shutoff to keeps me from overlapping pesticide applications on the end rows.”
Like most farmers in South Dakota, Jeff plants seeds developed through biotechnology that are resistant to the pesticides he sprays. This way he kills the weeds while the seeds flourish. GMO seeds also require less water, meaning they can tolerate dry weather to reduce or eliminate irrigation.
Sometimes sustainability involves doing less.
Conservation tillage helped Jeff cut his fuel usage and protect his most valuable resource: the soil. While tillage helps to create a good seedbed for planting, too much can lead to soil erosion. In the fall, he leaves cornstalks and soybean stubble in his fields to prevent the land from washing or blowing away. By spring, he can either plant directly into the stalks or make one quick tillage pass before he plants. Doing less tillage helps him keep more soil in his fields and fuel in his tank.
He has also reduced his liquid petroleum usage by upgrading his corn dryer to an energy-efficient version. He uses the dryer in the fall to reduce moisture in his corn before storing or selling it. Since building it two years ago, he has cut his liquid petroleum use in half.
Jeff’s not alone. Today, 63 percent of U.S. farmers practice conservation tillage, up from 36 percent 20 years ago. According to a report released by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, farmers have also reduced soil erosion over the past 30 years by 47 to 67 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 42 percent depending on the type of crop grown.
So, as you celebrate going green today, remember to tip your hat to farmers who are growing your food in a sustainable way every day.
Have questions for Jeff about his pesticide use or other sustainable farm practices? Leave them in the comments below. Learn more about how farmers go green during planting season by reading Paul’s story.