South Dakota farm couple selected for 2021 Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program
Dallas, South Dakota crop and cattle producers Hank and Melissa Wonnenberg were selected to participate in the 2021 Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program.
“Ever since we learned about the program a few years ago, we were hoping we’d have the opportunity to participate,” says Hank, who also works off the farm as a banker.
Hank explains that the reasons the couple was eager to participate in the year-long leadership development program are many.
“We’ve been involved in South Dakota Farmers Union now for a while, and we are interested to learn more about the national organization, understand how other states’ Farmers Union organizations do things, learn about agriculture outside South Dakota and have the opportunity to network with other young producers.”
This program provides all those opportunities and more, explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President and FUE President. “This program is designed to empower agriculture leaders and it includes producers from five states,” Sombke says. “It provides the family farmers and ranchers who participate with leadership and advocacy training through workshops, training and tours in the five participating states, as well as D.C.”
Along with South Dakota, farm couples from the states of North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota are also involved.
Sponsored by Farmers Union Enterprises, the organization which oversees Farmers Union Industries, the couples involved meet up throughout the year for several sessions.
The sessions begin with a summer family session where the participants and their families will meet for the first time. Couples will also meet up during one of the participating state’s annual conventions, attend the 2022 National Farmers Union Convention and participate in the National Farmers Union Washington, D.C., Fly-In.
“Farmers Union is good about providing members with opportunities that help us grow,” Melissa says. “When Hank and I joined Farmers Union, we were looking for a way to be involved outside our community because we both volunteer a lot in our community.”
Actively engaged in South Dakota Farmers Union, Hank and Melissa have advocated on behalf of the organization’s grassroots policy in D.C. and in January 2020, Hank participated in World Trade Organization (WTO) Global Forum on Food and Agriculture held in Berlin, Germany, during International Green Week, the world’s largest agriculture and food exhibition.
“It was quite the eye-opening experience because I was there with farmers from around the world. So, it gave me a global perspective of agriculture – how we are different, but yet share many of the same challenges,” Hank says. “We think this experience will be similar in the fact that we will learn about what agriculture outside of South Dakota looks like.”
More about Hank and Melissa
Hank and Melissa raise crops and cattle on Hank’s family’s farm near Dallas, South Dakota. Although their financials are separate, the family shares labor with Hank’s mom and dad, Steve and Joan, and his brother and sister-in-law, Andy and Aliza.
Since the beginning, they have focused on raising high performing genetics which exhibit strong maternal, as well as paternal, traits. The family sells breeding stock during their annual private treaty sale.
Hank adds that their herd is also known for a gentle disposition. “I think working around dairy cows all the time, us kids learned how to work cattle from a very young age – people are always impressed with how we move our stock cows,” he says.
Like Hank, Melissa also has a second job, but it’s one she can do from their farmhouse. She works part time, providing online English tutoring to Chinese students. She is also a full-time mom to their daughters, Elizabeth, 9, and Lydia, 8.
Their girls are active in softball and 4-H, so Hank and Melissa volunteer as coaches and club leaders. They are also advocates for agriculture education and Melissa helps organize the local Farmers Union day camp.
“Volunteers are the way you have activities that keep your community going,” explains Melissa. “If people aren’t volunteering, it is tough to keep a small community going. And the same goes for Farmers Union: if we don’t have volunteers, it is tough to get things accomplished at the state and national level, so we get the help we need for our farms.”