by Lura Roti or South Dakota Farmers Union
Fifth-generation McCook County farmer, Jim Wahle was named 2022 Ag Ambassador by South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) on December 16 during the organization’s state convention held in Huron.
“Jim is an exceptional steward of the land, and a leader who has worked hard throughout his farming career to make things better for future family farmers through his service on cooperative and Farmers Union boards of directors,” said Doug Sombke, President of SDFU.
Stewardship of the land is a legacy Wahle has carried forward from his Grandpa Joe and dad, Veral Ray.
“The main thing I learned from my grandpa and dad was to take care of the land,” said Wahle, who implements minimal tillage practices as well as enrolling acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. “I have always thought about conservation and worked to not have water erosion or wind erosion. In fact, I feel stronger about land conservation today than ever.”
Wahle grew up working with his dad and grandpa on his family’s farm. He said he knew from an early age that farming was also going to be his life’s work.
“I just thought, “this is for me,’” Wahle said.
Reflecting on his decision to forgo college and begin farming full-time nearly 50 years ago, Wahle says he wouldn’t do anything different.
“Farming has afforded me many opportunities beyond the farm,” Wahle said. “I got to be involved with the local cooperative for a number of years and I got involved in Farmers Union.”
Wahle explained that although he did not go to college, throughout his farming career he has worked to expand his agriculture and business knowledge by attending workshops hosted by organizations, cooperatives and extension.
The Wahle family has done business with their local cooperative, Central Farmers Cooperative, for as long as he can remember. “We buy a lot of our input from the co-op – fertilizer, seed, fuel – so I just consider it an extension of our farm business,” Wahle explained.
Serving on the board of directors for 18 years, Wahle plans to retire January 2023 when his current term is up. Proactive by nature, when Wahle realized a few years ago that he was not the only board member contemplating retirement, he brought forth an idea to start a board apprenticeship program.
Through this program, area farmers who are interested in serving on the board of directors can serve in a non-voting position for a year or more to gain experience and knowledge of cooperative operations before actually running for an elected board position.
Launched in 2020, one young apprentice has been elected to a board position and another young farmer plans to run for election in January.
Along with cooperative service, through his membership in South Dakota Farmers Union Wahle has also actively advocated for policy to support family farmers in Pierre as well as D.C.
“I have always been impressed by Farmers Union’s access to policy makers and felt it was important to access these individuals and try to influence their decision-making process for farmers,” he said.
In 2019 and 2020, Wahle served on the National Farmers Union Policy Committee.
Throughout his farming career, Wahle says his number one partner has been his wife, Kathy. “She worked in the FSA office for 41 years,” he said. “More important than income, was the benefit’s package, particularly medical insurance. Kathy carried the medical insurance for the family. This had a huge impact on our farm family.”
Together, Wahle and Kathy raised three daughters: Jennifer, Stephanie and Becky. Today, they have seven grandchildren.
Along with his family, farming and agriculture advocacy, Wahle is also an outdoorsman. “My passion for fishing started when I was a teenager. I can remember going up to Big Stone Lake and I just fell in love with fishing – hunting soon followed,” Wahle said. “The outdoors is another reason why I love farming.”