Daschle believes Farmers Union members are change makers

South Dakota Farmers Union
Farm Forum

HURON, S.D. — Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle began his keynote address praising South Dakota Farmers Union leadership and members for their efforts to make a positive difference for South Dakota’s number one industry of agriculture.

“I’ve been around now for over 70 years, and I guess I have come to believe ... there are two kinds of people. Those who strive to make a living. And those who not only want to make a living, but also want to make a difference. … I believe that everyone one of you fit in that latter category,” said Daschle, addressing SDFU members during the virtual convention on Dec. 9.

Daschle went on to share that throughout his long career in public service, he has always been impressed by farmers and ranchers’ resilience to weather challenges.

“American farmers have faced some very difficult times. And sometimes I wonder how much Washington listens or cares.”

He noted this resilience is especially apparent in recent challenges brought on by the pandemic and consolidation of the meatpacking industry.

Almost as a nod to the grassroots policy discussion scheduled to follow his speech, Daschle highlighted the important role members play in enacting beneficial change.

“Whether it is advancing rural broadband, building new infrastructure, keeping rural hospitals and schools open or ensuring our farmers a fair price for the food, fiber, feed and fuel that they produce, rural America and the co-ops that serve it, deserve every bit as high a priority as those in urban and suburban communities across the country,” he said. “It is up to each of us to ensure that policy makers know more about the tools that work to do that.”

Daschle focused on SDFU’s Inventory Management Soil Enhancement Tool as an example.

“I am highly impressed with this simple concept of farmers idling some land in exchange for higher price coverage under crop insurance,” he said. “It is a tool that holds real potential.”

IMSET is designed as a management tool for farmers to receive a price on grain commodities of beneficial financial results for improving soil health needs of farmland.

During his keynote, Daschle took a few minutes to share his thoughts on the recent announcement of Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture and how once confirmed, Vilsack will be a great advocate for higher ethanol blends, like E30.

He went on to tout the clean air and health benefits of E30 — a product SDFU has long been an advocate for.

“Just this week, I heard a Nobel laureate say that climate change will make the coronavirus pandemic look easy. I fear he is right,” he said. “The South Dakota Farmers Union has shown extraordinary leadership in the promotion and elevation of this critical fuel for the future. The potential for higher octane, lower carbon and reduced greenhouse gas makes E30 the most compelling answer to the challenges we face in the transformation to fossil-free transportation fuel.”

COVID-19 came up more than once in Daschle’s speech. He discussed its impact on food security, as well as the lives of South Dakotans. He shared a stunning statistic, comparing South Dakota’s COVID-related deaths to Japan’s. “We have lost over 1,000 people. By comparison, Japan with 130 million people, have lost a mere 1,900. But they wear masks, they socially distance and every person in Japan has access to care.”

Daschle ended his comments focusing on the importance of resilience, innovation, collaboration and engagement.

“It is critical that an organization be engaged. Engaged in the public policy debates, in the regulatory decision making and, in the efforts, to bring meaningful change,” he said. “Resiliency, innovation, collaboration and engagement will determine the future of this great organization.”

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle gives the keynote speech via Zoom for the 2020 South Dakota Farmers Union Convention on Dec. 9.