Urban Americans Reach Out to Say They Care About Farmers’ & Ranchers’ Plight
We do care. A simple yet powerful message. And one Jack Bilheimer, a retired L.A. County, California law enforcement officer wanted to convey to South Dakota family farmers after he learned of their plight watching the May 3 broadcast of 60-Minutes.
“Farming and ranching goes way back to the beginning of our wonderful country. I may be over here, in a different world, but we do care,” Bilheimer says.
Bilheimer explains that as he, and his wife Alexis, listened to Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde crop and cattle farmer and South Dakota Famers Union President explain the devastating impact of low markets, the Trade War and price gouging on South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers, they were moved.
“The reality is, we would have never known about the plight of farmers had we not watched 60-Minutes. I was teary-eyed when I heard about the suicide rate,” Bilheimer says. “And then the financial side of it. To learn that farmers and ranchers are losing $250 on each cow that goes to market. That adds up. It is huge.”
Bilheimer was determined to reach out to Sombke. He wasn’t the only one. Phone calls, texts and e-mails began pouring in from across the nation. Consumers from New York to California reached out.
“It was humbling, and a little emotionally overwhelming, to hear from so many consumers, living in large cities across the U.S., who reached out to say, ‘we care about you, because you care about us,’” Sombke shares.
As he visited with individuals from across the nation, Sombke says Bilheimer’s thoughts were echoed. “It’s not that consumers don’t care. It’s that they simply didn’t know what was going on in farm and ranch country.”
Millions watch each broadcast of 60-Minutes. Serving as a voice for South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers is a large focus of the work Sombke does as President of South Dakota Farmers Union. He says visiting with folks like Bilheimer emphasized the value of sharing of family farmers’ and ranchers’ story. “As President of South Dakota Farmers Union, I communicate with the media several times a week. I and our organization serve as a voice for family farmers and ranchers,” he says. “Our rural state depends upon agriculture to survive. We depend upon every farm and ranch. If they don’t succeed, we don’t succeed. We are losing our family farmers and ranchers. We cannot afford to lose them.”
On a daily basis Sombke communicates with media explaining how current policy, markets, weather or disasters, like COVID impact South Dakota’s number one industry of agriculture and the family farmers and ranchers who dedicate their lives to producing food and fuel.
South Dakota Farmers Union invests in serving as a voice of its more than 19,000 members. Each year, members travel to D.C. to meet with Congressional leaders from across the U.S. to discuss issues and policy impacting family farmers and ranchers. During the annual Fly-In, members share their personal stories as well as ideas for positive change. The organization publishes a monthly newsletter, and its staff work to develop strong media relationships throughout the state as well as provide a strong online and social media presence.
After visiting with Sombke, and doing additional research, Bilheimer became a member of SD Farmers Union and made a donation to the Farmers Union Foundation to help farmers in need. “I want to make it clear that this donation was not made by two Californians. It was made by two Americans,” he says. “I believe if I ever needed help, another American would stand up and help me.”
To learn more about how SD Farmers Union works to support family farmers and ranchers or to watch the May 3, 60-Minutes broadcast, visit www.SDFU.org. To make a donation to help family farmers and ranchers in need, visit www.SDFUFoundation.org.