Class X of the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (SDARL) Program met with federal lawmakers, agency heads, and commodity groups, and studied leadership on the battlefield at Gettysburg during the National Study Seminar held February 23 – March 1.

The class received a briefing from Jeannie Hovland, Commissioner of Administration for Native Americans (ANA) and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs, regarding the program areas and special initiatives of the ANA. The Deputy Assistant Secretary is from Dell Rapids, SD.

Class members were greeted with a dinner presentation by Scott VanderWal, who is President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and a SDARL program graduate.

The first day included a lunch presentation by Matt Mika, Director of Governmental Relations and Corporate Affairs for Tyson Foods. Mr. Mika is a survivor of the attack on a congressional baseball team in 2017. Issue updates were provided by the National Biodeisel Association, the Good Food Institute, and the North American Meat Institute.

Congressman Dusty Johnson concluded the first day with an issues discussion and tour at the U.S. Capitol.

The second day of the seminar featured lobbyists representing specific areas of agriculture and rural development, including CropLife America, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Bankers Association, Farmer Mac, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Archer Daniels Midland. The day concluded with a guided tour of LaFayette Square by former American Bankers Association President John Blanchfield.

Trade and agricultural policy highlighted the third day of the seminar. Lynn Tjeerdsma, Senior Policy Advisory for Senator John Thune, surveyed the class on issues and concerns in their professions and communities.

Class members later met with Senator Thune to discuss those concerns and current national issues. Steve Censky, Deputy Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke with the class about implementation of the new farm bill, trade, commodity price support, and being an advocate for agriculture and biotechnology.

Jason Hafemeister, Trade Counsel to the Secretary of Agriculture, briefed the class on current trade issues.

The final two days of the seminar were held in Gettysburg, PA, the site of the costliest battle of the Civil War. Tour guide Don Walters and Guide Emeritus Terry Fox shared leadership lessons on communication, style, and strategy. Tour Guide Don Walters showed SDARL class members the site of a skirmish involving John Wesley Kennedy, who later founded Gettysburg, South Dakota – named for the battle.

The SDARL flagship program is a series of seminars over 18 months where competitively-selected class members learn the skills, knowledge, and character of leaders for agriculture and rural communities in South Dakota. SDARL also offers leadership training to partner organizations through a “Leadership 2.0” series, and to graduates through SDARL “Graduate Experience” seminars. The SDARL Foundation, a 501 –c-3 corporation under South Dakota law, is the management and funding organization for the program and other leadership development efforts. Learn more at


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