A Caring Advocate for Agriculture
|Article credit: South Dakota Hall of Fame
When Walt Bones is asked to serve, he says “yes!” From serving as a grade school basketball coach to serving on the Parker School Board and on every agricultural board in S.D. (and even as South Dakota’s Secretary of Agriculture), Bones has been a humble servant leader—one who listens before he speaks. Internationally, he has traveled to China, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya as an agricultural leader to assist farmers. He rises up to serve his fellow farmers in times of crisis and distress. He has promoted the stress hotline for farmers and ranchers, letting his friends know they can reach out for help. Bones is a natural teacher and loves sharing his knowledge of agriculture with others.
Walt joins Gary Cammack (Class I) as the second SDARL alumni to be inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. The official induction ceremony took place in Chamberlain/Oacoma on September 8 and 9, 2023.
Walt Bones III was born and raised on the family farm homesteaded in 1879 by his great-grandfather John T. Bones, six miles northeast of Parker or 20 miles southwest of Sioux Falls. In what he would define as the quintessential, multi-generational diversified family farm, Walt farmed and ranched with his two brothers (Jim and Steve) and a brother-in-law (Lyle Van Hove) after graduating from Iowa State University in 1974 with a BS in Animal Science.
Due to his Dad’s health issues and fueled by the Ag crisis of the mid-1980s, Walt, Steve, Jim, and Lyle started a general partnership they called Hexad Farms. This was an active operating entity tasked with the stewardship of the family’s land holdings owned by Bones Hereford Ranch, Inc., which included his dad, Walt Jr. (1988 SD Hall of Fame Inductee), his mother Winnie, his brothers Steve, Jim, and John, his sisters Judy and Susie, and his brother-in-law Lyle Van Hove.
Collaborations fueled the growth of Hexad Farms to where it managed 10,000 acres of cropland (owned, rented, and custom farmed), 300 beef cows (calves sold as breeding stock, 4-H club calves, direct beef sales to consumers and the general market), two 1,000-head cattle feed yards, ranching supply dealerships, a corn and soybean seed dealership, and the Hexad partners led the development effort of and part ownership in the Turner County Dairy, milking 1,600 cows. Today, Lyle’s son (Mike), Steve’s son (Dan), and Jim’s son (Matt) represent the fifth generation and are poised and ready to assume the farm’s leadership.
There is a lyric in one of country music star Toby Keith’s songs that says, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else”. With this in mind and the next generation on board, the group asked Bob Treadway (from San Diego, CA) to facilitate a strategic planning session for Hexad Farms. Bob is a professional “futurist” and an Ag consultant to Fortune 500 corporations and National commodity groups. He spent three days getting to know the family and business dynamics before a full day sit down with all of the active farming family members and a key employee. This set the stage. Effective communication is key to future success, especially in a family business where the first casualty of emotion is usually reason.
Walt’s parents created a culture where public service was held in very high esteem. Support from his family, parents, and farming partners allowed Walt to serve in many leadership capacities in organizations such as the SD Jaycees, the SD Cattlemen’s Association, the SD Ag and Rural Leadership Program, SD Farm Bureau, SD Corn Growers, the Minnehaha County Planning and Zoning Board, Groundworks Connect/SD Ag in the Classroom, Avera Health, the Kingdom Capital Fund, Mitogenetics, and the SD Agland taxation taskforce. Walt was also honored to take a two-and-a-half-year sabbatical from the farm to serve as Governor Dennis Daugaard’s Secretary of Agriculture. This was an amazing opportunity to collaborate and advocate for South Dakota’s number-one industry within the state, across the country, and overseas.
With the farm’s proximity to Sioux Falls, Walt has been asked to comment, educate, and update consumers on numerous issues in local papers and media stations. It is important that our industry is present to represent ourselves or, as the saying goes, “If you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu.”
Ephesians 3:8 Without God’s help, we cannot do God’s work.
Faith, family, and farming have blessed Walt in many ways, and he will be the first to say that this recognition is not about him. It is much more about a nurturing upbringing, abundant opportunities, numerous relationships, and an unrelenting desire to better the people, natural resources, industry, communities, organizations, and groups he touches.
Walt sold his interest in Hexad Farms back to his partners at the end of 2022, and is now trying to define “retirement.” In the meantime, more time is spent with his wife of nearly 50 years, Jan, his three children Christi (Mitch) Wilking, Lisa (Ian) Stark, Ryan (Cassidy) Bones, and his five grandchildren. Walt is still active in several non-profit organizations and is seen out on the course attempting to improve his golf game.