SDARL Class XI members were entertained and enlightened in Aberdeen and Milbank, South Dakota at the Agtegra Seminar on Rural Vitality and Entrepreneurs. The class paid visits to AGP soybean processors, various Agtegra facilities, and Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank. The group was impressed hearing stories and learning about co-ops, entrepreneurial value-added ag endeavors and the impact they have on rural vitality, and the difficulties and success in providing rural healthcare services.
Jason Klootwyk, Agtegra CEO, shared the Agtegra story. He gave insight into the vision, and values of the organization as well as the importance of the cooperative system. Klootwyk talked about the difficulties and successes of the transition and merging of two separate cooperatives into one under the new brand Agtegra. It takes patience and time for people to share an identity and a vision. On a visit to Mellette to an Agtegra elevator, Lee Sanderson (SDARL Class IX) also gave his insight on the merger from his perspective working closely with customers who unload their grain at his facility.
Also from Agtegra, Senior VP of Human Resources, Jane Kuhn gave the class great lessons in personal branding. Attendees wrote and practiced elevator pitches, short brief, intriguing introductions that tell your personal brand story. The value and importance of telling your agricultural story is a consistent theme throughout the SDARL class journey and there is a myriad of ways to enhance and practice telling that story.
Visits to the Agtegra Innovation Center and AGP were also quite interesting. Lance Larsen (SDARL Class X), Innovation Center Operations Manager gave an energic presentation on how Agtegra’s size and footprint of their service area in precision ag have given them a definitive boost in this space. When times were tough for other providers, their suppliers made sure Agtegra is well-supplied with what they needed to service the vast number of customers with the best and latest technology. Because of their sales volume and service, Agtegra is also part of a number of tests in innovation which trickles down to how they can better serve their customers too.
The trek to AGP in Aberdeen to visit with Matt Smith, Merchandising Manager gave the class a look into soybean processing. Smith shared and provided samples to look at the extensive number and types of products that are processed from soybeans. Smith’s opinion of the soybean market is that renewable diesel is going to become a very large part of the soybean industry. That’s what AGP as a company is shooting towards. They want to be able to be a significant provider for the demand that they expect will be coming in the next few years. All in all, what AGP does to make themselves profitable, is good for farmers since they are helping to market their products.
The class was very interested and entranced by the entrepreneur stories from Taylor Sumption and Jarod Knock (SDARL Class VII). Taylor is a 5th generation farmer. They grow oats as well as other crops and cattle but took an expensive and innovative leap in making their oats into a successful value-added ag consumer oatmeal product branded Anthem Oats. Telling the Sumption Family farm story through a food product. Breaking into an established market is extremely challenging, but seeing some success is exciting and encouraging for their family, community, and state.
Jarod Knock focused on how technology allows us to work from anywhere and that the possibilities are endless in what we can do in the entrepreneur space with the flexibility and possibilities innovation brings. Knock has partnered with SDSU to study and collaborate on how farmers can make an impact on climate change. It’s time to start being part of a solution in the agricultural world to make for a better world.
A full day was spent traveling to hear the impressive story of Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank. CEO Doug Wilke and classmate Evan Grong, Sales Manager of Dairy Ingredients provided the background on the impact and growth this company has had not just in Milbank, but the region, state, and industry as a whole. Valley Queen Cheese is an innovator and that risk to try new things pays off as they are working to significantly expand their production and footprint both physically in Milbank and in the cheese industry as a whole. Watch them because this class learned Valley Queen is a mover and shaker.
The last speakers of the seminar were Josie Peterson and Marty Link from the South Dakota Department of Health. Peterson works in the Office of Rural Health and provided an update about how the state is helping rural communities to attract health workers to hospitals and other critical health organizations to keep South Dakotans healthy and strong. Peterson also talked about their SCRUBS camps that help get young people thinking about the medical industry and possibly becoming the next doctors, nurses, and skilled health professionals of the future. Link gave an overview of what his office does and how they are helping to keep emergency medical services intact
across the state. He also updated us on what impressive new technologies are going to be installed across the state and the benefits of that technology.
The class is fortunate to meet and hear from a number of SDARL alumni in these seminars. Virtually every SDARL alum speaker shares their SDARL impact story. Hearing the stories gives class members a personal testimony of how SDARL helped them. It gives an impressive look into what possibilities and potential lie before them as leaders in the ag industry across the state and beyond.