South Dakota Farmers Union celebrates farm and ranch families

Farm Forum

HURON — To join with the United Nations in celebrating the International Year of Family Farming, South Dakota Farmers Union will be highlighting a South Dakota farm or ranch family each month.

This month South Dakota Farmers Union features the Nagel family of Gettysburg, S.D. The farm family operates a cow/calf and backgrounding operation as well as raises corn, wheat, soybeans, sunflowers, alfalfa and other forage crops. Today, two generations – seven families in all – work together and continue to farm the land their great-grandfather plowed up in 1907.

Who the family and their farm are today was shaped by the early death of John Adam Nagel in 1956. By this time, the farm had grown to encompass more than 1000 acres of land in Potter County. At the time of his death, John Adam’s oldest son, Herman was 18. Many didn’t think he, and his five teen brothers and one sister were capable enough to manage such a large farming operation.

The brothers knew better. With staunch determination and a passion for the land, they worked together day and night to keep their family’s farm.

More than 60 years later, their now grown children join them in raising crops and livestock. With a strong foundation of hard work, determination and selflessness, the Nagel farm remains in the family. It is four generations old and growing strong. Visit to read their complete story and view a video interview.

Or, read on to learn more:

Brothers’ determination sustains family farm for the future

By Lura Roti, for South Dakota Farmers Union

Larry Nagel was only 14 when his dad, John Adam passed away. However, by this time his dad had already instilled a strong work ethic and passion for agriculture in the Gettysburg farm boy and his brothers, Herman, Arnie, Leonard, Eugene, Jim and their sister, Irma.

Larry recalls that from an early age they spent hours plowing, planting and caring for livestock.

“Dad started us farming at a very young age and we all enjoyed it. Even to this day, there is just something about planting a crop and watching it grow from one stage to the next until harvest,” says Larry, whose son, Brandon is among the fourth-generation of Nagels to farm fulltime.

Larry says it was his oldest two brothers, Herman and Arnie, and their determination to keep the farm in the family; that kept things going in the early years. “We had to stick together and we had to work hard. It was sort of a day and night operation because we had small equipment, so in order to get stuff done we had to work day and night,” Larry says.

When they headed off to South Dakota State University to pursue degrees after high school, the brothers would come home on the weekends to work.

As they married and began to raise families of their own, the brothers continued to expand buying and leasing farm ground when it came available and increasing the livestock operation, which along with commercial cow/calf herd, until 2006 also included a farrow-to-finish hog operation.

They also began to implement management and conservation practices that made the most sense for land and resources.

“We’ve always believed that farmers should have the right to farm and operate without policy dictating how they should farm or operate. However, at the same point we recognize that the choices we make need to make sense for the land,” says Dawn Nagel, who farms part-time with her dad, Eugene and uncles and works as the County Executive Director for Sully County Farm Service Agency.

Dawn explains that the family has run a no-till operation for close to 25 years. They use marginal acres as pastureland for their cattle. Over the years they have planted hundreds of trees in shelterbelts and grasses in riparian areas along waterways to protect them from erosion. In the late 1970s the family was recognized for their conservation efforts by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Their stewardship efforts did not go unnoticed by wildlife.

“We see all kinds of deer, pheasants and other wildlife in our pastureland and along the fence lines,” says Dawn, sharing that she frequently spies ducks nesting in the pastureland during spring calving checks.

Their conservation efforts have also cut down on labor and equipment needs, Larry explains. “Before, we no-tilled, it took more equipment and more people running the equipment. Today, we are farming more acres with one tractor, one corn planter and one air seeder.”

Family bonds

Like all farm families, over the decades, the Nagels faced challenges brought on by uncooperative weather and market variability. Each time a challenge came their way, they buckled down and made tough decisions as a group to sustain the farm. “The Nagel Family has always asked ourselves, ‘What do we really need to live on?'” says Dawn, adding that all significant financial decisions – whether to buy new equipment, build a new facility or commodity and livestock marketing – are made as a group.

“It might be a five minute meeting in the shop or an end of year planning meeting,” she says. “We are always focused on our bottom-line income and expenses and looking ahead to see where we need to be five to 10 years down the road so we can save for the future.”

The same conversation occurs when it comes to new technology. Larry says his generation encourages the next to bring home ideas and technology that will enhance the farm today and into the future.

“The only thing is, they understand when they bring it to the farm, if they want us older guys to run it, they need to train us,” he says.

Larry says communication and thinking about everyone’s well being has always been a focus. Not getting along has never been an option. “We had to work together to keep the farm because when our dad died everyone wanted us to sell out.”

The strong bond between brothers translates into a strong family link between cousins. “My best friends are my sister and my cousins,” Dawn says. “Some people ask me why I choose to work with family. My thought is, if you can’t work with family, why would anyone want to work with you?”

To ensure the stability of their farm into the future, the Nagel family incorporated as Nagel Bros Inc. Shareholders include John Adam’s surviving children, Dawn, her sister, Gerri Eide and their cousins, Brandon Nagel and Adam Nagel.

“It makes me and my brothers feel pretty proud that we have set an example that the next generation wants to follow. We all want this farm to remain in the Nagel name,” Larry says.

To see more photos of the Nagel family, visit