The South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Program (SDARL) takes 28 individuals on a leadership journey for 18 months every two years. Participants emerge from the program prepared to lead their communities and the state, and make significant contributions to agriculture nationally and globally.

Through a series of 12 seminars, participants grow in their knowledge of the broad scope of agriculture and agribusiness in South Dakota, the nation, and the world. Most of the seminars are 3 days in length and are held at locations across South Dakota. One week is spent in Washington, D.C to gain insights into policy-making at the national level. The class allocates two weeks to study in a foreign country, examining the global nature of agriculture and the challenges of feeding the world.

There are no academic prerequisites to apply to the program. Men and women, age 25 to 55, who are working in farming, ranching, or an allied field (ag finance, inputs, biofuels, transportation, and others) with a sphere of influence in South Dakota are welcome to submit an application to be a class member. The 28 seats that are available will have broad representation across agricultural disciplines, so the rancher, farmer, banker, mayor, seed supplier, dairy farmer, ag marketer, etc. all learn about leadership together – and from each other. It is a leadership development experience like no other.


SDARL Board President

Nate Franzen


Nate joined First Dakota National Bank in October of 1998 and is currently the President of the Agri-Business Division, overseeing all aspects of agricultural banking for the company. In this capacity he is a member of their Executive Management team. First Dakota National Bank has total assets exceeding $1.5 billion and is one of the largest Ag Banks in the country. Nate grew up on a diversified family dairy, grain, and beef cattle farming operation near Langford, SD. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree at Northern State University with majors in Management and Marketing, his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of South Dakota, and earned a degree from the American Banker’s Association’s Stonier Graduate School of Banking held at Georgetown University. In 2011, Nate was appointed to the American Bankers Association’s Agriculture and Rural Bankers Committee and served as Chairman in 2015. In April of 2017 he testified before the House Ag Committee on Farm Bill related matters. He is a graduate of Class I of the South Dakota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (SDARL) Program where he is a past President of their Alumni Association, joined their Board of Directors in 2013, and is currently Chairman of the Board.

Todd Mortenson

Vice Chair
SDARL Board Nathan Sparks

Nathan Sparks


Nathan Sparks joined Dakota Mac, a Division of First Dakota National Bank in February 2003 as a Loan Production Officer, traveling the Upper Midwest originating and servicing Ag real estate loans. First Dakota National Bank has total assets exceeding $1.5 billion and is one of the largest Ag Banks in the country. Nathan grew up in Armour with post-secondary education coming from Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown earning an Associate’s Degree in Ag Finance and graduating in 1996. Since then, Nathan has completed Midwest Banking Institute and Experienced Ag Lending School organized by the SD Bankers Association. Additionally, Nathan graduated from Class 2 of SDARL and was very involved with the SDARL Alumni Association serving as Treasurer. He currently serves as the Treasurer of the SDARL Foundation Board. Nathan is a member of the Holy Family Church finance committee, Vice President of the Mitchell Baseball Association, and a past chairman and current member of the Mitchell Area Ag Chamber Committee where he received the 2018 Volunteer of the Year award for his continued involvement of Ag in the Classroom.

SDARL Board Secretary

Terry Jaspers


Terry Jaspers has been employed with Farm Credit Services of America since 1978 after graduating from South Dakota State University in Brookings with a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural Education. He began as a loan officer with the Federal Land Bank in Sioux Falls and is currently a Financial Officer serving the lending needs of farmers and ranchers in the northeast corner of South Dakota. Terry resides in the city of Sisseton where he has been involved in city government for a number of years as a Councilman and currently serves as Mayor. He has also been involved in and served in leadership roles for numerous service and church organizations in the Sisseton community. Terry has served on the Coteau Des Prairies Hospital Board of Directors for an extended period of time and is the current Chairman. In addition to full time employment with Farm Credit Services of America and service to his community, he operates the family farm near Eden, SD where he grew up. Terry is a member of SDARL Class III and currently serves as Secretary of the SDARL Foundation Board.

Michelle Rook

Michelle Rook is one of the top farm broadcasters and market reporters in the country.  She leads a farm department at WNAX that consistently has the highest farm audience ratings in the nation.

Michelle has been recognized for her journalistic excellence being named the Doan Award Recipient in 2015 and the NAFB Farm Broadcaster of the year in 2008.  In 2016, she received the South Dakota Governor’s Ag Ambassador Award.  Michelle has also won the NAFB Horizon Award, numerous NAFB Radio and Television Newscast and Marketcast Awards, NAFB News Service Awards and Associated Press recognition. She has received media recognition from the SD Farm Bureau, the SD Soybean Association and the SD Pork Producers Council, SD Farmers Union, NE Agribusiness Association and the National Farmers Union. In 2006, she was also named a Distinguished Alumnus by the SDSU Journalism Department.

Michelle has reported on agriculture from the nation’s capital to China and the soybean fields of Brazil.  She has interviewed countless newsmakers, including President Barack Obama and several U.S. Agriculture Secretaries.  In addition to her radio work, Michelle is currently a reporter and anchor for Agweek Television.  She is also a regional reporter for nationally syndicated agricultural TV shows AgDay and U.S. Farm Report and covers stories from across the nation. Michelle has also served as a meteorologist and reporter for KSFY-TV in Sioux Falls and KTIV-TV and KMEG-TV in Sioux City, Iowa.

SDARL Board Bill Even

Bill Even

Bill Even is the Chief Executive Officer for the National Pork Board based in Des Moines, IA. Prior to his employment with the National Pork Board, Bill served as the Global Industry Relations Lead for DuPont Pioneer where he managed the global corporate engagement strategy focusing on collaborative stakeholder relationships in the areas of seed, biotechnology, biofuels and farm policy. Bill also served as Commercial Unit Lead for DuPont Pioneer in South Dakota, North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. In that role, he was responsible for leading the seed sales, marketing, agronomy, training, research, production and policy needs in the region. Before joining DuPont Pioneer, Bill served as South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture from 2007 to 2010. During his tenure as Secretary of Agriculture, Bill managed six department divisions: Agriculture Regulatory Services, Agriculture Development, State Fair, Wildland Fire, Resource Conservation and Forestry, and Agricultural Policy. Bill also served as Deputy Secretary of Tourism and State Development, Director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, State Energy Policy Director, and Policy Advisor for Governor Mike Rounds.

Bill holds a degree in Agricultural Production from Lake Area Technical Institute, a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business and minor in Economics from South Dakota State University; and a Juris Doctorate from Drake University Law School, where he was an Opperman Scholar.

Kurt Zuehlke

Kurt Zuehlke is a partner and owner of Z-Co Farms and Zuehlke Feedlot located near Britton, S.D.  He returned to the family farm after graduating from South Dakota State University.  He serves on the local school board and is a township supervisor.  He has served as chairman on the SDARL Alumni Association and on the Graduate Committee, and he continues to represent SDARL Class VII as class President.  Kurt has coached youth football and basketball in Britton for the past 18 years.  A proud father, he actively attends school activities, coaches, spends time at the lake with his family, and enjoys the great outdoors.  Kurt and his wife, Shana, currently live by Britton.

Dr. Bob Thaler

Dr. Bob Thaler grew up on a diversified family farm by Wagner SD, and received his BS and MS degrees from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Swine Nutrition from Kansas State University in 1988. He returned to SD as Extension Swine Specialist, and has held a variety of positions including Assistant Experiment Station Director, Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leader for Extension, and SDSU’s Animal and Range Sciences department head.  He currently serves as Extension Swine Specialist, and focuses on helping pork producers and students in the state and region with the responsible growth of our swine industry.  He’s taught a variety of different classes, and focuses on production-based research.  Also, he involved with the funding and building of the new $7 million Swine Teaching-Research-Extension Center at SDSU.  Thaler is a graduate of SDARL Class III, and serves on the SD Pork Producers Council’s Executive Board, and the National Pork Board’s Swine Educators committee.  In 2018 he worked at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture in Hanoi on a Fulbright scholarship.   In 2019, Thaler was elected to serve on the National Pork Producers Council as an Independent delegate, and was just appointed to serve on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board.  Bob & his wife Karen have 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

Krystil Smit

Krystil Smit is the Executive Director of South Dakota Farm Bureau. She has been involved in the agriculture industry her entire life, having grown up on a diversified crop and livestock operation. She was an active FFA and 4-H member and served as the State 4-H President. After graduating from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Journalism and an Animal Science minor, she became the editor of the regional agriculture publication Tri-State Neighbor. Krystil has also held director roles in communications and public relations for the South Dakota Corn Growers Association/SD Corn Utilization Council and Paulsen Marketing. Krystil has held several organizational board positions including with the Stockyards Ag Experience Barn, Sioux Empire Staters, Sioux Empire Fair Board, First National Bank Sioux Falls Next Generation, Sioux Falls Chamber Ag Committee and Turner County Fair Next Generation, along with other community and church leadership roles. Krystil is a non-alumni representative on the SDARL board.

Dave Bushong

Dave Bushong, joined POET in February 2006 as Vice President and General Manager of the POET Research Center in Scotland, SD. In that role, he oversaw the operation of POET Research Center and process technology development for POET.

Mr. Bushong was promoted to Sr. VP of Research in May 2016 where he oversees the company’s vibrant research and commercial development activities.  These projects include efforts to commercialize cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residue through a joint venture with DSM, improve processes and efficiencies at the company’s 27 grain ethanol plants, and develop and improve POET’s wide range of high value biorefined co-products.

Mr. Bushong has had more than 35 years of industrial experience in a variety of roles in companies such as Fuji Photo Film, & Dow Chemical.

Mr. Bushong earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Eric Jennings SDARL Board

Eric Jennings

Eric Jennings owns and operates a beef cattle ranch with his wife, Michelle, in Spearfish, SD, living in the house he grew up in. After graduating from South Dakota State University with a degree in Agricultural Education, he taught vocational agriculture in Lennox, SD for two years before returning to his family’s ranch in 1988.  Because the ranch included land in the Black Hills National Forest and along Spearfish Creek, Eric has been active in protecting private property and public grazing rights, and educating the public on how responsible management of these lands can contribute to the ecological health of the land.  As a life-time learner, Eric has attended many seminars and workshops along with graduating from South Dakota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (SDARL) and receiving training as a Conflict Resolution Facilitator.  Eric has had leadership roles in many organizations over the past years.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of SDARL, Northern Hills Sources of Support, Spearfish Rural Fire Protection District, South Dakota Cattlemen Association, Black Hills Regional Multiple Use Coalition, and Society of Black Hills Pioneers.  Eric is also involved with United Methodist Church and the Masonic Lodge.

Matt Dybedahl

Matt Dybedahl is a Seed District Sales Manager for WinField United, working with growers and retailers in central and western South Dakota to optimize their acres.  Originally from Colton, Matt graduated from South Dakota State University in 2011, where he was a member of FarmHouse Fraternity, Block and Bridle, Agriculture Future of America, the Meat and Animal Evaluation Team, and Ag Bio.  Growing up, he was actively involved in 4-H and FFA and now likes to give back to those organizations by serving as the Ag Sales Career Development Event Chair and helps with other local events.  He is also currently a member of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and South Dakota Ag Business Association.  In his spare time, he enjoys fishing on the Missouri River, hunting, 4-wheeling, traveling, and attending SDSU football and basketball games. He is an alumni of SDARL Class IX and represents his class as President, and lives in Pierre with his wife Sarah.

John Melius

John Melius joined Hurley & Associates in January of 2006 and is currently the Branch Manager of the Brookings office and member of the Hurley leadership team. The firm is dedicated to helping producers make logical business-minded marketing decisions for their operation, which leads to the economic stability of farm families and their communities. During his tenure with Hurley & Associates, the Brookings location has grown from 2 employees to 18 and serves clients throughout South Dakota and the surrounding states. John grew up near Chelsea SD on a grain and cattle operation where his parents still farm. He obtained BS degrees in Ag Economics and Ag Business from South Dakota State University. John has continued to further his education and insight into agriculture through TEPAP – The Executive Program for Ag Producers – and SDARL, the South Dakota Agricultural & Rural Leadership program, where he was a member of Class VI, and serves as a member of the Foundation Board of Directors and Graduate Committee. John has also held various positions of leadership in his church.

SDARL Board Craig Schaunaman

Craig Schaunaman

Craig Schaunaman is a fourth generation Farmer/Rancher in Brown County. He has been actively involved in agriculture for over 40 years. Beginning in 1977 he farmed with both his father and brother. For the last 24 years he and his brother have operated a farming partnership near the Aberdeen area. Craig attended Aberdeen Central High School and Northern State University. From 1988-1998 Craig was elected to five consecutive terms in the South Dakota Legislature. In 2009 Craig was appointed to serve as the South Dakota State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency until 2017. Craig has also served on numerous state and local boards including Heartland Grain Fuels, Dakota Fuels, Aberdeen Development Corporation, and the Brown County Drainage Board. He currently serves on the Ag Advisory Board for the First Dakota National Bank.

Diamond – $20,000 and up

  • First Dakota National Bank
  • SD Soybean and Research Council
  • South Dakota Corn Growers

Platinum – $10,000 – 19,999

  • Avera Health
  • CHS Foundation
  • CoBank
  • Dacotah Bank
  • First Premier Bank & Premier Bank Card
  • South Dakota Community Foundation
  • Valley Queen Cheese

Gold – $5,000 – 9,999

  • East River Electric Power Cooperative
  • Farm Credit Services of America
  • First National Bank Sioux Falls
  • Fishback Financial Corporation – First Bank and Trust
  • Glen and Janet Davis – Legend Seed
  • Midwest Dairy Association
  • Sanford Health
  • SDSU Foundation
  • South Dakota Beef Industry Council
  • South Dakota Wheat Commission
  • SD Wheat Growers – AgTegra

Silver – $1,000 – 4,999

  • Black Hills Forest Association
  • Dakotaland Feeds
  • DeSmet Farm Mutual
  • First National Bank in Yankton
  • Great Western Bank
  • Harms Oil
  • Hoop Beef
  • Hurley & Associates
  • MetaBank
  • Milborn Seeds
  • Monsanto
  • Raven Industries
  • RC PE Railroad
  • Riverview Farms
  • South Dakota Agricultural Foundation
  • South Dakota Community Foundation
  • South Dakota Farm Bureau
  • South Dakota Soybean Processors
  • Zoetis

Bronze – $100 – 999

  • SD Grain and Feed Association
  • SD Soybean Processors
  • Wagner Farms

Give Now

Every gift to SDARL means an opportunity for leadership development, and better leaders make for a better South Dakota.