South Dakota farmers and ranchers meet with congressional leaders and staff during the annual National Farmers Union D.C. Fly-In, held virtually this week.
“This is a pivotal time in agriculture,” said Doug Sombke, SD Farmers Union President. “Congressional leaders need to hear from us. If we don’t share our story, who will?”
Sombke said South Dakota’s number one industry of agriculture was suffering on all fronts: rock bottom grain, livestock and ethanol markets. The pandemic exaggerated all these issues.
“There is no better time to address the real problems than when they are really bad,” said Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde crop and cattle producer. “We can hire a lobbyist, but they don’t carry the weight that farmers and ranchers do, sharing their personal story – sharing what 45 percent profit loss looks like for their families and communities.”
Although the 2020 Fly-In will be different, it will be no less effective said National Farmers Union President, Rob Larew.
“Farmers are their own best advocates,” Larew said. “They understand the real-life problems they deal with every day better than anyone does. And they have really good ideas about how to fix them. That’s why it’s so critical that legislators hear from farmers directly.”
Throughout the four-day Fly-In, farmers and ranchers will sit down for video chats with Congressional leaders and their staff. They will also hear from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue and other U.S. Department of Agriculture staff.
“We are all struggling. Leaders need to hear it firsthand,” said Oren Lesmeister, a Parade cattle producer, small business owner and District 28A legislator. “My hope is we will actually get to talk with more leaders than in the past because this format is more flexible.”
Lesmeister is among the 35 South Dakotans who set aside time for video conferences this week. Sombke says the time these family farmers and ranchers invest does make a difference. “Over the years, I have seen Congressional leaders change direction on policy after a Fly-In,” he explained. “They may think they are doing what is best for farmers and rural America, but when they hear from actual farmers, they are able to understand what is right for American agriculture.”