A few weeks ago, I attended an awards banquet hosted by South Dakota State University (SDSU) College and Agriculture and Biological Sciences. The banquet celebrated the 2017 Eminent Farmer/Ranchers and Homemakers, and four individuals were honored for their career success, leadership activities and dedication to agriculture and country life.
Established in 1927, more than 300 individuals have been honored in our state, including my own grandparents a few years ago. The winners’ portraits are hung in an agricultural building on campus, and their stories will forever be remembered in the history of our state’s farming and ranching community.
This year’s winners were exceptional in their own right, and listening to their speeches at the award ceremony was certainly valuable and inspirational.
Take, for example, honoree John Moes from Florence, S.D. He runs a large feedlot that he started from scratch 30 years ago with just a dozen heifers. He was the seventh of eleven kids in his family, and he says his childhood spent on the family dairy farm taught him the value of hard work.
“Hard work — that never hurt us kids one bit,” he said. “We milked cows at 5 a.m. before we went to school in the morning, and we milked again once we got off the school bus at the end of the day. We learned to work hard, and that’s what we’ve done to make this operation work. In the beginning, I had a job in town to make a living, and my kids learned to work hard and do the chores while I was in town at my job.”
Moes Feedlot LLC has been nominated for the Leopold Conservation Award three times, and Moes prides himself on the high percentage of cattle he feeds that qualify for USDA Choice and Prime.
He focuses on utilizing modern technology to be a better steward of the land while producing high-quality beef, and when I asked him the secret to his success, he told me, “You’ve got to be dedicated. You’ve got to love this life. You’ve got to be willing to give it your all.”
Another honoree was Tom Varilek of Varilek CT Angus, located in Geddes, S.D. Following his tour of duty in the United States Army, Varilek returned home to ranch with his parents. A decade later, he branched off to start his own cow-calf and backgrounding operation. Today, Varilek sells two-year old registered Angus bulls, along with feeding calves and raising irrigated crops for feedstuffs.
Varilek says family and the drive to continually make improvements have been critical components of his success in the cattle business.
“I always say it’s a ‘we’ operation at our place, and I’m lucky to have a great family working alongside me each day,” he said. “We live along the river, and we continue to keep improving on what we have. You can’t just stand still or get complacent. We will probably develop more irrigation and more pastures with different grasses. We do a lot of experimenting with pasture grasses. There’s always something to work on, and when you love what you do, you never really work a day in your life.”
Although I could certainly go more in-depth with Varilek’s and Moes’ stories than a single blog post allows, I wanted to share just a snippet of their lives as a reminder that we all have so much in common in this industry. Family values, hard work ethic, faith, honesty, competitiveness, and a dedication to the land and livestock are clearly important components of these ranchers’ success, and these values are shared amongst so many of us in this industry.
Not only are these values shared amongst farmers and ranchers; but for the children and grandchildren who grow up in this rural lifestyle they, too, have these solid values that they will apply to future careers, marriages and families of their own.
Living in the country and working in agriculture certainly provide a solid foundation for success in whatever you hope to accomplish in life, and being at this award banquet reminded me of just how lucky I am to have grown up in this industry and to still be involved in it today.
I hope my children will one day appreciate this life and the way agriculture shapes how and what we do. Ranch life is a great way to raise kids, and listening to seasoned producers share their stories of faith, farming and family was certainly a good reminder of why I do what I do.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.