Young leaders say South Dakota ag future bright
Youth are our future. In recognition of this truth, South Dakota Farmers Union highlights three ambitious 20-somethings who are just starting out in their agriculture careers. Their passion for the industry, drive and work ethic are inspiring. And if they have anything to do about it, the future of South Dakota agriculture will be a bright one.
Landon Kopecky Agtegra Cooperative Innovation Center
When it came to choosing the right career path, Landon Kopecky’s mother gave him some valuable advice.
“‘Don’t chase money. Find your passion.’ That’s what my mom always told me. She encouraged me to find what I was passionate about and said the money will come. And she was right,” Kopecky says.
He followed his mother’s advice and pursued a career in precision agriculture.
“Every day I wake up and am happy to go to work,” Kopecky says of his work as an Innovation Center team member at Agtegra Cooperative in Bowdle. “The work is not the same every day. There’s always a new challenge and I like the team I work with. We are more than co-workers, we are friends.”
Kopecky says he even likes the long hours.
“I like being a friend to the farmers we work with and being there every hour of the day to meet their service needs. We have a saying around here, ‘The farmers don’t stop at 5 p.m., and neither do we.’”
Kopecky credits his parents’ example for his own work ethic. “There were times when my dad worked three jobs and my mom has always worked long hours as well,” he says. “Our parents paid for what we needed, but I was taught at a young age, that if you want something my parents did not see as a need, and it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, I needed to pay for it myself.”
So, as a 14-year-old, he began working in the food service industry. Although Kopecky did not grow up on a farm, he did grow up around agriculture, spending several harvests riding in a combine with his uncle.
His family moved from Lincoln, Neb., to Aberdeen, S.D., when he was in middle school. That’s when he began hanging out on a friend’s family farm. “Being around their farm, really got me interested in a side of agriculture I had not seen before and at an age when I could understand what was going on.”
At 16 he began working as summer help in the seed and chemical warehouse for the local cooperative that would become Agtegra Cooperative. “I was hooked. I loved the group of people and I loved the principle of the cooperative. When you work for a cooperative, the farmer is boss.”
Determined to remain involved, Kopecky continued working for Agtegra after school and on weekends. As a senior in high school, he interned with Agtegra in the seed and chemical warehouse while taking online classes from Lake Area Technical Institute with the intent to pursue a degree in precision agriculture.
“I loved being outside and working the long hours. Not many of my friends worked 16- to 18-hour days like I did. I take pride in that.”
Kopecky was able to cover his Lake Area education with the Build Dakota Scholarship, a scholarship offered to South Dakota youth pursing high demand degrees and agreeing to spend the first three years after graduation working for South Dakota-based companies.
While attending Lake Area Technical Institute, Agtegra offered him a paid internship working in their Innovations Center two years in a row. At the end of the first year’s internship, he was offered a full-time position upon completion of this degree.
“I knew this was the team I wanted to work with and the cooperative I wanted to work for.”
Tyler Bush says livestock judging is more than a competition ... it’s a legacy.
Fourth-generation Britton purebred Angus producer, Bush placed first in the 2020 National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest in Louisville, Ky.
This honor was one the 22-year-old had been working toward since he was 14. “I got hooked on livestock judging hard core.”
Bush explains that like many of his peers, he got his start in livestock judging as a young 4-H member.
“Being a kid from a family involved in the livestock industry, judging was just what you did.”
More than a pastime, in the Bush family, livestock judging is a tradition. “My dad and grandpa both livestock judged for South Dakota State University. But my parents never pushed me to do it. They let me find my own place in it.”
As a young teen, he was inspired by older 4-H friends. These recent high school graduates received scholarships to livestock judge at the junior collegiate level.
“I was impressed that they got full ride scholarships to judge. I figured if I wanted to be competitive, that was what I would do.”
With this goal in mind, Bush made livestock judging his focus and was driven to do well so that he would have the opportunity for a full ride judging scholarship.
“At four-year colleges, you only get to judge your last two years of college. If you think about it in football terms, instead of being redshirted my freshman and sophomore year, by going to junior college, I got to play,” Bush explains.
Following graduation, he accepted a scholarship to judge for Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas. A naturally outgoing person, Bush says even though he did not know anyone, he appreciated the opportunity this unconventional approach gave him to chart his own path.
“I was the first person in my family not to go straight to SDSU. I didn’t know what to expect, but the fresh start was exciting.”
Judging at the junior college level was intense. The team practiced five to six days a week. But Bush thrived. “Livestock judging is a mental game. It is very meticulous, very orderly,” he explains. “I’m a very competitive person who is passionate about livestock. I thrive off the intensity and pressure of livestock judging. When I get out there, my focus is unreal. I forget there is anything else going on in the world or my life.”
Livestock judging involves reviewing groups of cattle, sheep, goats and hogs, ranking them based on their market and breed quality and then judges must defend their ranking to official judges through oral reasons.
Through the years of practice and competition, Bush believes the skills he’s developed through livestock judging have had a positive impact on his life as a whole.
“How I approach livestock judging I believe relates closely to how you should approach life,” Bush explains. “I know how to control my emotions and be disciplined in my decisions. Judging makes me think of things in a big picture and more simplistic way. And this helps me know how to appreciate the little things that matter. When you understand the big picture, you don’t get caught up in the things you should not.”
While judging for Hutchinson Junior College, Bush placed in the top 10 of several competitions. Along with recognition, he says judging has given him lifelong friendships.
“We spend every waking moment together. The people you judge with are not just your teammates, they are your roommates and best buds. We go to class together, hang out in the evenings together and we are on the road together. Basically, you are with them 24-7, so if we’re not best friends, I don’t know what else to call it,” he explains. “Most of us grew up, where in high school there maybe were only a few of us with a passion for the livestock industry. So, to be somewhere, where every single friend you are with loves the industry as much as you do — that’s pretty cool.”
Following his national win as a member of the SDSU Collegiate Livestock Judging Team, Bush decided to help coach the 2021 SDSU judging team.
“The biggest thing for me is I put a lot of time into the SDSU program, so I want to help this new team meet its goals and overall boost the program and help make it a powerhouse name within the judging world,” he says. “Also, I could not quit cold turkey. Judging has been such a big part of my life these last four years. I am used to this schedule and responsibility.”
When he transferred to SDSU to begin his junior year in 2019, all of his credits transferred. He will graduate this May with an animal science degree. After graduation, he is eager to continue the other Bush family tradition, by returning to work with his father and grandfather on his family’s cattle operation.
“My great-grandpa Clifford bought his first Angus cow in the 1930s and every single female in our herd goes back to that cow. We are one of very few closed herds left in the country and I take a lot of pride in the consistent, quality genetics our family provides,” Bush says. “Like my dad and grandpa, I’m crazy about the livestock industry and want to keep pushing it to be the best it can be.”
Cole Schock AI technician, Select Sires
Growing up, Cole Schock spent every spare minute at his Grandpa Larry’s dairy farm.
“We lived about a mile and a half east of the dairy. If I couldn’t get a ride, I would just walk. We have pictures of me standing beside my grandpa and a tractor and feeder wagon when I was in a diaper and had a pacifier in my mouth.”
When he was old enough, Schock milked before and after school. Soon he was also responsible for the calf chores — making sure newborn calves received colostrum within a few hours of birth and seeing that they transitioned smoothly into calf huts.
At 12 he began purchasing his own cows.
“I have always wanted to be a dairy farmer for as long as I can remember,” Schock says, explaining he was inspired by his Grandpa Larry. “Watching my grandpa manage and run a dairy all the years I was growing up, I learned a lot from him, watching how he looked after the cows and the inputs and outputs of his hard work.”
It wasn’t long after Grandpa Larry passed that Schock left college to help out on the dairy full time. He initially thought he would build his career there, but instead, the dairy led him to his current career as an AI technician for Select Sires.
A local Select Sires representative taught Schock how to AI and connected him with an opportunity to do some relief AI work for the company. Then, the company offered Schock an opportunity to work full time as a technician in Colorado. As an AI technician, Schock visits specific dairies daily, monitors the cows’ heat cycles and takes care of all the AI work.
During his time in Colorado, Schock began his days at 5:30 a.m., wrapped up his work for Select Sires around noon, and then spent the remainder of each day doing heifer chores for a large dairy. In all, Schock worked about 10 to 14 hours each day.
In 2020, the National FFA Organization recognized Schock for the many skills he developed through his work for Select Sires. After an intensive application and interview process, Schock was named a national finalist for the American Star in Agricultural Placement. Only four youth in the nation are selected for this honor.
“Growing up working on my grandpa’s dairy prepared me to show up every day, work hard, get the job done and give it 110 percent,” says Schock, 21.
He explains that he loves his work because it enables him to continue working with dairy cows. “I think they are an incredible animal for what they do day-in and day-out,” Schock says. “Dairy cows provide not only food for families around the world, but also many employment opportunities that become a way of life for people.”
In 2020 he returned to South Dakota to work as a Select Sires AI technician for three dairies. He adds that along with working with dairy cattle, he appreciates working with dairy producers.
“There’s something special about a dairy farmer compared to others in the agriculture industry. They want to work seven days a week, milking the cows every morning and night. It takes a very special person.”