Fairgoers Eat Lunch at Price Farmers and Ranchers Get Paid to Produce It

During the South Dakota State Fair on September 4, more than 1,000 fairgoers enjoyed lunch for only .25 cents.

“It’s the price farmers get paid to raise the milk, crops and livestock that make up this meal,” explained Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director for South Dakota Farmers Union.

Helping consumers understand the large difference between grocery store food prices and what family farmers and ranchers receive, is the purpose behind the Farmers Share lunch. For more than two decades, South Dakota Farmers Union has hosted the meal during Farmers Union Day at the State Fair.

“It doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think it’s right, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says Erin Menkhaus of the .25 cent price that farmers receive for the ingredients that went into today’s meal. “It seems the people who manufacture the products – food or otherwise – are not the ones who receive the largest share of the profit. The larger share of the profit goes to those who distribute it.”

Menkhaus grew up on a farm near Winfred, SD and attended the State Fair with her husband, Todd and their children.

“State fair draws people from every aspect of life. Producers and consumers are here. So, this lunch is also a good way to bring producers and consumers together, under one tent to share a meal together,” says Wessington Springs cattle producer and Farmers Union member, Scott Kolousek.

Scott Kolousek and his wife Amber raise their children on the same Wessington Springs farm where Scott grew up. As the fifth generation in his family to continue the farming tradition, Scott says they hope one day to pass the care of their land and livestock onto their kids.

But before that happens, the Kolouseks hope to see changes in how the cattle and crop markets operate.

“The prices have been pretty ugly the last four years,” Scott explains.

What does ugly mean exactly? With a break even cost of more than $1,000 to feed a cow and raise her calf to 750 pounds, prices were such winter 2020 that the family lost about $100 per head on each 750-pound calf they sold.

Sadly, most South Dakota farmers and ranchers have a similar story to share. Earning a profit in South Dakota’s number one industry is not easy because farmers and ranchers have very little control over what they get paid, Kolousek explains.

“Others dictate what you get paid,” Kolousek said, explaining that as a cattle producer, markets are limited because nationwide there are only four major beef packers. And it seems to many that because current oversight laws are not enforced, market manipulation is occurring.

Lobbying for solutions to create more fair and transparent cattle markets is among the reasons the Kolouseks became actively involved in Farmers Union.

“It comes down to the grassroots nature of Farmers Union. As a farmer or rancher, I can get my exact opinion heard at state policy meetings, then my concerns are taken on to the state and national level. Other organizations tell you what they believe in. Their policy comes from the top down. Farmers Union takes what the ranchers of South Dakota want and that is what their policy becomes. We are the only ag organization who is still pushing for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).”

In 2018, Scott and Amber traveled with South Dakota Farmers Union to Washington D.C. as part of the National Fly-In. They spent time visiting with congressional leaders about the challenges they face and policy changes that could be made to help family farmers and ranchers receive a fair price for what they produce.

More about South Dakota Farmers Union

A premiere sponsor of the South Dakota State Fair, for more than a century, South Dakota Farmers Union has worked to support South Dakota’s family farmers, ranchers and their rural communities through grassroots policy development, education and cooperatives. To learn more about how the state’s largest agriculture organization, visit www.sdfu.org.