Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
Farming and ranching has a bright future, provided that we maintain competition in the marketplace for our products grown in rural America. Access to broadband internet with as fast of speed available in New York City, should also be accessible on mainstreet of our small towns. Entrepreneurs and business people could “tele-commute” from our rural communitites with their counterparts throughout the world. Healthcare would also break down barriers through “tele-medicine” with broadband hot-spots in these small towns.
We are fortunate to have a very “producer-driven” United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This was confirmed during our roundtable discussion with Secretary Tom Vilsack. The Secretary has a “hands-on” mentality to manage the various programs and agencies under the umbrella of the USDA. I was impressed with the Secretary’s personal approach to answering our questions and responding to feedback on how we appreciate the Department and on possible improvements. Places and people affected is the mission of the USDA in working with the Domestic Policy council in order to ensure that support for our rural communities is accomplished.
Competition for our livestock industry is extremely important to maintain producer confidence. USDA has been working on finalizing rules through GIPSA that ensure the rights of independent livestock producers are protected. In South Dakota nearly all of our feeder cattle are sold through a local livestock auction market. When I sell my cattle at an auction market my neighbors and order-buyers from around the Country have the chance to pay the top-dollar for my cattle. I applaud the USDA for working towards strengthening this marketing aspect of our farm and ranch operations.
I was awe-struck and amazed when the doors flew open during our roundtable discussion on Rural Affairs and the President walked in the room. “What’s going on in here?” Were some of the first words from the President and as soon as he found his seat he told us that he is tired of only hearing talk about agriculture when the farm bill is up for debate. Refreshing words to hear for me as someone who is actively involved and “at-risk” in farming and ranching. The President continued that when he thinks of exports he thinks of agriculture; when transportation is considered the needs of agriculture to move their goods and services come to mind; and when infrastructure is highlighted broadband access in all of rural America is a priority for our President.
Secretary Vilsack shared with us that he is looking at ways to locally manage rural development funding to invest in small businesses. I think this sounds like a great way to guarantee loans and grants are targeted where they can have the greatest impact on real people. The Secretary also reminded us that their “Know your farmer, know your food” program is meant to place more importance on farmers of all sizes. This program helps consumers put a face the products they purchase.
Currently I am working on two projects. First, we are searching for short-term and long-term solutions to the flooding in our local communities of northeast South Dakota. We have held community forums to bring the specialists together with people affected by the increased amount of water in nearby glacial lakes.
I also am working towards developing a young farmer/rancher alliance so that we can collectively work together on challenges in our operations, risk management, and promote sound business practices to ensure success. My corps group that is my initial focus are former students who were in my agriculture education courses at Lake Area Technical Institute where I have served as an instructor.
I am fortunate to be able to serve in the State Legislature. I continue to advocate for increased broadband access in our rural communities along with giving confidence to individuals and businesses that if they want to live and make an investment in Rural South Dakota that as a State and Nation we stand behind them 100%.
Jason Frerichs is a fourth generation farmer/rancher, educator, and lawmaker from Wilmot, South Dakota.