Logan Wolter took a lead roles at an early age on his family’s ranch in Wessington Spring, South Dakota.
He was 10 when his dad died of cancer, and he’s the oldest of four. It was hard work that got him through, he said. Now that he’s in his second year in ag business classes at Mitchell Technical Institute, his younger siblings are stepping up to do more of the haying and chores. Wolter said they’re learning that hard work pays off when you’re a young person in agriculture.
“If you show up and you prove you’re willing to work hard, people recognize that and they’re willing to take a little bit more of a chance on you,” he said, speaking on a panel of young farmers at the South Dakota Governor’s Agricultural Summit in Sioux Falls July 11.
Young farmers and ranchers like Wolter are doing what they can to break into the ag industry at a challenging time. It takes a lot of hard work and a little help from family and neighbors, they said.
South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Kim Vanneman opened the summit with a forward focus July 10. On her home farm in Ideal, she and her husband Clint are beginning to transition the family business over to their son and daughter-in-law. The Vannemans moved off the ranch and into town this spring.
The secretary said she’s looking forward to watching the changes and allowing her son to raise his children on the farm. They’ll be part of the next wave of South Dakota agriculture.
“It’s up to the next generation to find innovative ways to improve and grow our industry,” Vanneman said.
Agriculture already has a huge impact on South Dakota. Using the latest Census of Agriculture, Vannemen’s office has calculated the industry’s growing influence on the state’s economy. Ag’s economic impact has expanded from $25.6 billion per year in 2014 to $32.5 billion as of 2017. The number of people employed in the state’s ag industry as well grown as, from 115,000 to 132,000.
Gov. Kristi Noem moderated the panel with Wolter and of three other young people getting started in agriculture. Ranging from a millennial couple starting their own Angus operation to a recent high school graduate who’s relying on her 4-H experience to guide her future career path, the group told of the challenges they face and they ways their supported and inspired by past generations.
Securing a loan is a daunting prospect for a young producer. While there are programs for beginning farmers, some wish there were options to support those who are five or 10 years in and still going but maybe needing an extra push.
That’s the case for Calli Williams and her husband, Tate. They invested in their own ground and their own cattle to start TW Angus north of Mitchell. The young couple was lucky to find a family friend ready to sell his place.
For farmers starting out on their own, it can be a challenge to find affordable land. It was important for Williams and her husband to live on site with their cattle in order to keep an eye on their health and nutrition.
The young people on the panel said a mentorship program could help retiring producers find beginners to take on their land or equipment.
“Facilitating those kinds of connections is important,” she said.
During the challenges this past winter brought, Williams realized the value of outside help from established farmers. She and her husband don’t yet own a tractor, so a neighbor lent them one to clear snow.
Sharing resources is one way established producers can help those starting out. Hard work coupled with the occasional helping hand can help the next generation in agriculture to a successful start.
“People who grew up in agriculture know how tow work, but we value a helping hand now and again,” Wolter added.