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Dakotafest panel highlights women in ag, Noem presents award

Gov. Kristi Noem made a special appearance in Mitchell to present this year's Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year award.

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Governor Kristi Noem, left, stands in front of the 5 nominees for Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year that includes, from left, Tangela Uttecht, Audra Scheel, Amanda Peterson, Molly Nedved and Tami Beaudry during DakotaFest on Thursday in the Education Building. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

The 25th annual IDEAg Dakotafest wrapped up on Thursday, concluding three days of ag-centered events, activities and showcases at Schlaffman Farm on the southeast end of Mitchell.

Thursday morning opened up with a panel discussion on the role and importance of women working in agriculture.

The panel, moderated by Renee Robbins, included perspectives from four area female farmers on questions regarding the role and importance of women in agriculture, before Gov. Kristi Noem presented the Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year award.

Amanda Radke, an ag speaker and beef blogger, opened up the panel discussing the many roles that women juggle when farming and ranching.

“Every woman in ag — we wear a lot of hats. All those little things add up,” Radke said, adding that the real strength of women can be seen on the farm.

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Shirley Thompson, a territory manager for animal health company Zoetis, agreed with Radke.

“We all know as women, we are tasked with lots of different things, we kind of have to be everything to everyone,” Thompson said. “The ability of the women around us to communicate, be strong communicators — those skills are just paramount to our operations.”

The panel covered how to bring agriculture to girls at a young age, inspiring them to get involved when they’re older.

Thompson said that exposing kids to agriculture when they’re young helps them grow up understanding the importance of it. She believes that many consumers in South Dakota are two or three generations removed from life on the farm.

By immersing more people in agriculture at an earlier age, the panelists believe a lot of farmers’ stressors can be relieved.

“As women in ag, we carry a lot of that burden of worrying about our families, our communities,” Radke said. “As stakeholders in not just ag, but food consumers too, we — regardless of age — can no longer sit on the sidelines. We have to get involved.”

Most of the panelists touted area 4H and FFA programs for working to teach kids about agriculture and get them involved.

Noem presents Woman Farmer of the Year

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Audra Scheel, of rural Wessington Springs, has a laugh with Governor Kristi Noem while on stage after having been named the Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year during DakotaFest on Thursday in the Education Building. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

After the panel concluded, Gov. Kristi Noem took the stage to speak briefly on the importance of women in agriculture, before presenting the Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year award.

Five finalists were previously selected to be in contention for the award, which is meant to honor the female farmers across South Dakota who dedicate their time to farming or ranching.

“A lot of times, we don’t really recognize the diversity within (the agriculture) industry,” Noem said. “Here we have phenomenal leaders standing on this stage that I am blessed to be here with and to be able to honor.”

This year’s winner was Audra Scheel, a lifelong farmer who says farming is in her blood. She grew up on a farm near Belvidere, and now works with her husband on a third-generation farm near Alpena.

“It’s truly just a very rewarding opportunity to be standing alongside some tremendous leaders in the industry and tremendous nominees as far as women in agriculture goes,” Scheel said.

Noem’s appearance comes from more than just the fact that she’s governor — she also grew up in an agricultural setting.

“I think agriculture has created who I am,” Noem said. “Every lesson that I learned that I apply to life today I learned on the ranch — my work ethic, my values … there’s a lot of life lessons you can learn everyday just from being involved in the industry.”

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Noem said that growing up, her father never made it a point to talk about the fact that she was a girl, which led her to feel capable of accomplishing anything. She hopes to see that instilled in today’s farm kids.

“We need kids today that are problem solvers, we need people that are willing to step up and tackle jobs,” Noem said. “I think that the kids that do that the best — that become productive, problem solving leaders — are those that come off of farms and ranches. I think the future leaders of this country are going to come off the farm.”

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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