Farmers Union seminar focuses on 'telling your farm story'

South Dakota Farmers Union
One of South Dakota Farmers Union’s Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Couples, Lance and Sarah Perrion and their daughters: Bexley, Haddie and Elliott.

HURON, S.D. - It’s common knowledge that South Dakota is in a drought. But do consumers understand what this means to the state’s farmers and ranchers who rely on the weather for their livelihood?

Producers were given guidance on how to share their story during a recent Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Seminar.

“It was really interesting to learn how to tell our story and why our story matters,” says Sarah Perrion, who together with her husband, Lance, farms near Ipswich. “By telling our personal story, it helps make people think about what is going on and how that impacts farmers.”

The Perrions were among a group of seven farm and ranch couples to participate in the two-day seminar which was held in Watertown and included tours of South Dakota State University's Davis Dairy Plant, Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, Swine Unit, Cow/Calf Unit and the new Raven Precision Agriculture Center on the SDSU campus in Brookings.

“It was exciting to see that there are places that are teaching people about agriculture. We are in the middle of it out here, raising crops and cattle, so it is interesting to take a step back and see what is going on to prepare future producers,” says Melissa Wonnenberg, who farms with her husband, Hank, and his family near Dallas.

The Perrions and Wonnenbergs were selected by South Dakota Farmers Union to represent the state as part of the 2021 class of the Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Seminar. The class is made up of farm and ranch couples from the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Sponsored by Farmers Union Enterprises, the organization which oversees Farmers Union Industries, the program is designed to strengthen young producers’ leadership and communication skills through seminars held throughout the year.

Farmers Union Industries is made up of several businesses – the dividends of which go to help fund Farmers Union organizations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin as well as Farmers Union Enterprise programs and National Farmers Union.

“I am always open to innovation and education. For me, participating in this program is another opportunity to get out and see what is going on in agriculture in other areas of the country and learn with a like-minded group of farmers and ranchers,” explains Lance Perrion.

The Perrions raise crops and manage a cow/calf and feedlot operation. They also own and operate several agriculture businesses. Like all farmers and ranchers, leaving their farm for a few days was not easy, but they said the quality of the seminar and tours made it worth their time.

“It was nice to get away together, learn and hear different perspectives from other producers. All the class members’ operations are very different,” Lance says. “I learned a long time ago, it’s not always what you do, but the connections you make that you get the most value out of.”

More about Lance and Sarah Perrion

Growing up on his family’s Ipswitch farm, Lance knew farming was what he wanted to do.

“I always loved farming and feeding cattle," Lance said. "Growing up, we got started young. I was probably feeding cattle at 12 to help out because mom and dad took off-farm jobs to help recover from the ’80s and ’90s.”

Because his older brothers were not interested in returning to the farm, Lance had the opportunity to begin farming full time right after he graduated from Lake Area Technical Institute.

Sarah joined him on the farm after the couple married in 2015. Growing up, she spent quite a bit of time on her grandparents’ Garretson farm and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. Lance and Sarah met as teens while attending 4-H Performing Arts Camp. Together they have three daughters: Bexley, 5, Haddie, 3, and Elliott, 6 months.

To supplement their farm income and fund expansion and upgrades, Lance started a custom hay grinding business as a Lake Area student. With the help of two full-time employees, he also runs four other custom businesses: forage harvesting, haying, no-till planting of row crops and cover crops.

Along with caring for their three young and energetic daughters, Sarah manages the bookwork for the farm and custom businesses. Sarah says she enjoys raising their daughters on the farm.

“They would rather be with their dad in a tractor 95% of the time – or playing in the dirt – than doing anything else,” Sarah says.

She also appreciates what growing up on the farm teaches her daughters about life.

“They are aware of how things are made and why things work the way they do,” she says. “Growing up on a farm teaches them about the full cycle of things. This is important to just about everything. Like on one of the Enterprise tours we took of the Davis Dairy Plant, engineers need to know the whole process. They can’t just take raw milk and get ice cream. They need to know the full circle of how things come about.”

In February, the Perrions and the Wonnenbergs will travel to Denver to participate in the NFU Convention as part of the 2021 Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Seminar.