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State’s Farmers & Ranchers Need Second Job to Make Ends Meet

Lura Roti

Agriculture may be South Dakota’s number one industry, but the state’s farmers and ranchers need second jobs to pay the bills. And they are not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nationwide, 90 percent of farmers and ranchers do not earn a majority of their income from the farm or ranch.  SDPB’s Lura Roti has this story.  

If you want to understand why so many of South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers need a second income, just ask them.

“The cattle market is not good enough to put groceries on the table,” Shane Fastnacht says.

“I have basically always worked off the ranch, just to get some cashflow, the medical insurance,” Leah Spiel says.

“The size of our operation, specifically the size of my portion of our operation, there’s just not enough meat on the bones to meet the necessities in life,” Rob Lee says.

“Biggest thing with Tracy working off the farm is insurance. You hear this over and over and over,” Oren Lesmeister says.

“With the uncertainty in the ag industry, you must have a backup plan in order to provide for your own family,” Rachel Kippley says.

That’s Wessington Springs cattle producer and regional crop protection lead Shane Fastnacht; Parade cattle rancher and nonprofit child services director, Leah Spiel; De Smet grain farmer and crop insurance adjuster, Rob Lee; Parade cattle rancher, feed store owner and state legislator, Oren Lesmeister. The last voice you heard, was Rachel Kippley’s.

In addition to raising crops, cattle and four children on their Aberdeen farm, Rachel and Jeff Kippley own and operate a tax business. So, they clearly understand the financial reasons behind why they and other farmers and ranchers need a second income. They also understand the toll working two additional fulltime jobs takes on farm and ranch families.

“The toll it takes is definitely on family. Right now, during tax season, which is kind of the bread and butter, Jeff is up at 4:30 every morning doing chores to make sure he can get to the office in time…if anything goes wrong, or he has a breakdown, you know he’ll have to cancel his first client and try to rebook them later. It’s stressful. We have kiddos. They are 14, 12, 8 and 6 and they are getting into high school sports and wanting to do this and that and the other thing, I’m the one that kinda runs them during tax season and Jeff misses stuff,” Rachel Kippley says.

Without their family farm, the Kippley’s tax business would be enough income for the family of six. So, why keep farming if they need two other fulltime careers to keep things afloat? Jeff Kippley.

“It’s the ties to the land is what it’s always been, wanting to continue on something that your family ahead of you did. But I am not going to lie to you, this last year and a half, two years has been pretty stressful,” Jeff Kippley says.

Jeff Kippley’s response is not unique explains Farm Bureau president and third-generation farmer, Scott VanderWal.

“The reason they stay with the farming is that they just love to do that. It’s working with animals and the environment and being a part of the industry that supplies the food and fiber and energy for not only our country but for the world,” VanderWal says.

Because insurance coverage is a large reason farm and ranch families need off-farm employment, during the 2021 legislative session South Dakota Farm Bureau lobbied for Senate Bill 87. It allows agricultural organizations in South Dakota to offer health care coverage as an additional option for families.

Even though prices in the grocery store don’t show it, grain and livestock markets have been depressed the last few years. A recent rally in the grain markets has corn and soybean farmers breathing a sigh of relief, but cattle producers, they continue to feel the squeeze. Many feel fortunate just to break even.

When asked what the State of South Dakota is doing to aid our state’s farmers and ranchers, Hunter Roberts, South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources references Senate Bill 87, the COVID-19 relief funds allocated to increase meat processing capacity within the state, and the department’s efforts to expand business opportunities for state-inspected meat establishments.

“Livestock production in South Dakota is a big deal. … So, I’m hopeful that the market will change. I’m hopeful that what we’re doing to expand those markets and increase production capacity will help,” Hunter Roberts says.

Livestock production in South Dakota is worth $5.8 billion according to 2019 South Dakota Agriculture Economic Contribution Study.

Beyond state government, grassroots organizations like South Dakota Farmers Union are advocating for the enforcement of federal laws, like the Packers and Stockyards Act which protect cattle producers from processor price fixing, explains the organization’s president, Doug Sombke.

“The reason it’s this way is because farmers are not price makers, they are price takers. What that means is we don’t set the price for our product, the industry does…That’s why things like the Packers and Stockyards Act need to be implemented and stringently followed,” Doug Sombke says.

A fourth-generation South Dakota crop and cattle producer, Doug’s three grown sons have taken over the family farm. And like most of our state’s farmers they and their spouses also have second jobs off the farm.