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Bruce Burkhart, left, received the AgVocate of the Year award Dec. 12 from Ag United President, Richard Vaasgaard. (Submitted photo)

South Dakota hog farmer recognized for outreach efforts

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Ag United for South Dakota held their annual luncheon on Dec. 12 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and honored Bruce Burkhart with the AgVocate of the Year award.

Steve Dick, executive director of Ag United for South Dakota, describes Burkhart as being an exemplary farmer.

"Bruce is one of those guys who is always willing to share his story," Dick said. "He is so passionate about the work he and his family do, and he wakes up every day with a positive attitude and smile on his face."

Dick also point out that Burkhart runs his farm in a humane and environmentally responsible way. He is proud to be a farmer, and it conveys easily to the people he meets.

"There's a lot of people like Bruce, but he stands out by the way he's comfortable speaking to an audience and his passion for farming," Dick said.

Burkhart and his wife, Julie, began farming in 1981 with a 200-sow farrow-to-finish operation. In 1998, he built his first finishing barn, and in 2008 built a second. A year ago, Burkhart built a hoop barn for calving.

The couple has five children: one daughter works for a senator in Washington D.C., two daughters attend South Dakota State University, and both sons work on the farm with Burkhart.

He was one of the first volunteers with Ag United when it began in 2005. Ag United selected Burkhart to appear in its first TV commercial.

"I'm very active in my church, but not other agricultural organizations or boards," Burkhardt said. "So when I first heard of Ag United, I thought 'that's something I could get behind,' and I told them if they needed anything to contact me."

Ag United is a cooperative effort between agricultural commodities and represents the broad range of agriculture in South Dakota. According to Burkhart, this is part of the reason he chose to be involved.

"The people they have at Ag United are top notch," Burkhart said. "The most effective programs I've been involved with have been Adopt a Farmer and bringing the Augustana food ethics class to my farm."

The Adopt a Farmer program involves making videos of farming practices, such as making round bales or moving pigs, and are sent to classrooms. Burkhart visits with the students after the movies and talks about where food comes from.

"Most people are generations removed from farming, and so many don't know where their food even comes from," Burkhart said.

The food ethics class at Augustana University in Sioux Falls reads Food Inc. as the class textbook. When they visit the farm, they are able to see the modern facilities and talk about the transition from housing animals outdoors to in a building and the use of technology.

"Everyone has the right to free speech, but it frustrates me when consumers don't fact check what they are hearing from sources that aren't always reputable," Burkhart said. "That's why it's important to tell your story. Only one person can, and that's you."