An annual farm show attracts thousands of people to Mitchell each August. Despite typical hot, muggy weather, farmers and ranchers from around the region gather to connect with manufacturers and developers. Producers also collaborate on issues from the status of their crops to federal funding, and they meet at DakotaFest.
The buzz of Interstate 90 traffic is overpowered by the roar of machinery and the chatter of farmers. This is DakotaFest. Manufacturers and ag-related businesses line rows in a usually-empty lot. Farmers and ranchers are here from all around South Dakota and nearby states.
People attending the event seem to be in high spirits. Following poor crop conditions during 20-12, this year’s yield is looking much better.
A rural Colton farmer sits on the back of a golf cart at the farm festival. Jim Heimricy has been farming more than forty years on his family farm. He grows corn and soybeans.
"We have been real fortunate all year. We’re kind of in a little garden spot," Heimricy says. "Our crops have probably never looked better. Pastures have probably been exceptional considering we’re coming off such a dry year." Sitting at a shaded picnic table on the other side of festival grounds, Chad Weeldryer says his fields are thriving. The Bridgewater man has been farming for less than a decade. "Things are looking tremendous, probably the best crops I’ve ever seen," Weeldryer says. "We’re a little behind; it’s been a little bit cooler this summer, but otherwise things are doing well." While crops are successful this year, the outlook isn’t as great for farmers with livestock. Those who don’t grow their own crops have to buy feed for their animals, and prices are high. David Ruppelt farms near Tyndall; he also has some stock cows. Because he can feed his cattle with his own crops, he is not affected by the high feed prices. But he says others are not as fortunate. "I know the guys that are finishing cattle are probably not making anything, if anything, losing money on 'em right now. So yeah, it’s made a difference in their bottom line," Ruppelt says. These farmers say business is business, and farming is business. That’s why producers are eying what happens with the federal farm bill. Across DakotaFest, Bob Stallman stands on a stage inside a large tent. He is the President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He is in South Dakota to explain the importance of this year’s farm bill. "We think we need a five year farm bill for certainty because if it doesn't get passed farmers and ranchers don't have the certain that they need for their long term planning and farmers and ranchers plan long term no matter if Congress understands that or not," Stallman says. Stallman says, if Congress doesn’t approve a full farm bill this term, it probably won't pass anytime soon. He says next year is an election year, so lawmakers may be reluctant to pass legislation then. Stallman says he feels not everyone understands the purpose of the farm bill. "This is governments approach to maintaining a strong a viable agricultural industry in this country that produces the food, fiber and fuel that are very important to America's consumers," Stallman says. Not everyone shares Stallman's vision. "I would rather see no subsidies on insurance, no direct payments, no money going to farmers," lifelong Minnesota farmer Gene Sandager says. "At the same time no money to big oil companies, you know they're all subsidized. So it's a case of get rid of the subsidies, lets work on a free market economy." Sandager is against the proposed five-year farm bill. He says the bill has many issues, including the nutrition portion. "Well the first problem that I see with the farm bill is it's hooked to the nutrition which is the food aid for low income people, and I don't believe it should be hooked together," Sandager says. "They have nothing to do together, other then the fact that they put it in there so they could pass it." Sandager says he also doesn’t like direct payments to farmers. "The problem with giving farmers their direct payment is that, that payment goes in their mailbox; that's the big joke," Sandager says. "But it goes into their bank account, raises their net worth and now you have the ability to increase the price of your land." Sandager says that's a problem because farmers are required to pay more taxes. He also thinks direct payments encourage producers to buy equipment that they don't need, like new combines every year or so. Regardless of the farm bill controversy, producers at DakotaFest agree this year’s weather has helped growers. White Lake farmer David Glissendorf says farmers can thank the rain. "It all relates to moisture. If you don’t get the rain you don’t get the grain," Glissendorf says. With most of the growing season gone, farmers at DakotaFest are optimistic moving toward the harvest. The farm and agriculture show, DakotaFest, runs through Thursday afternoon at four o-clock.