By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union
Since 2010, Lake Preston farmer, Wayne Soren, has helped lead the state’s largest agriculture organization serving as Vice President of South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU).
During the organization’s 108th State Convention, Soren passed the torch on to Aberdeen farmer, Jeff Kippley, 44.
“I think we have a lot of dynamic young leaders in our organization who can step up and move our organization into the future. This is one of the reasons I am stepping down,” explained Soren, who raises crops and cattle near Lake Preston. “I have all the confidence in the world in Jeff and believe he will do a great job.”
Throughout his years of service, among the things Soren became known for is his cooperative loyalty, explained SDFU President Doug Sombke. Sombke said Soren worked hard to support cooperatives and development of cooperatives throughout the state.
“Wayne is a big believer in the cooperative business model which is truly a community business model because everyone who does business there owns it,” Sombke explained.
Soren will remain South Dakota Farmers Union representative to the South Dakota Value Added Agriculture Development Center.
In addition to supporting cooperative development throughout the state, Soren worked tirelessly to advocate for SDFU grassroots policy.
“Serving on the policy committee and advocating for the policy our members establish is among the most rewarding work I have done with Farmers Union,” Soren said. “If you want to understand what our organization stands for and where we are going and what we plan to do, get to know our policy.”
Sombke and Soren met as young producers. They were both asked to serve on a Farmers Union panel discussing the challenges they faced. They were young farmers and fathers. It was the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. Soren said they became immediate friends.
“We were talking about the problems that young producers had during the Farm Crisis. It was just like we were looking in the mirror,” Soren said. “I would say something and he would say, ‘yeah that is what I believe.’ Doug would say something, and it was what I was thinking. We have been friends for 35 years.”
A third-generation Kingsbury County farmer, Soren became involved in Farmers Union during the Farm Crisis. And after the crisis he remained involved because he believes in Farmers Union’s philosophies.
“I believe in co-ops. I believe in family farmers and helping local communities. I believe in grassroots policy. And there is virtually no other organization that encompasses all those in the way that Farmers Union does,” Soren said. “I felt like because these are my beliefs, I probably should act on them and do my best to promote those beliefs.”
Soren has traveled to Washington, D.C. several times to advocate for policy during the National Farmers Union Fly-In. He served on the organization’s policy committee. He began serving on the board of directors in 1999 representing District 3. And in 2010, he was asked to serve as the organization’s vice president alongside his friend, Doug Sombke.
Throughout his nearly two decades of service, Soren has advocated for South Dakota farmers and ranchers during some dark times: cattle crisis, trade tariffs, droughts, Storm Atlas, floods. And he’s also celebrated victories. He worked with the organization to support ethanol expansion throughout the state, investment in South Dakota Wind Partners and helped lead a re-organization of Farmers Union Insurance.
Farmers Union educational programming is another aspect of the organization Soren has actively supported. “Since we became involved in Farmers Union, Vicki and I have been supporters of its educational programming. Our sons, Jason and Ryan were Torchbearers. They served on the Junior and Senior Advisory Councils,” Soren said.
In the 1990s the Soren family was recognized by the organization for their involvement and named Farmers Union Farm Family of the Year. “I am grateful to Vicki and our sons for all the support they have given me so that I could be as involved as I have been in Farmers Union,” Wayne said.
Reflecting on his involvement in Farmers Union, Soren said he is grateful for the many friends he has made along the way.
“I’ve met a lot of good people that I would not have met had I not been in the organization,” Soren said.
As he hands over the vice-presidential reigns, South Dakota Farmers Union is a leading advocate in the fight to break up monopolies among the packing industry, implement truth in labeling and reintroduce mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL).
“Wayne Soren leaves big boots to fill,” Kippley said. “He has been an excellent Vice President, and we are fortunate that he will remain involved and be here to answer questions and provide advice.”
Soren will continue serving on the Farmers Union Industry board of directors. Farmers Union Industries is made up of several businesses – the dividends of which go to help fund Farmers Union organizations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin as well as Farmers Union Enterprise programs and National Farmers Union.
And Soren will continue to encourage young producers to get engaged.
“Young producers have so much to do and worry about. I remember the days when I never had enough time to get everything done on the farm that needed to get done,” Soren said. “So, it is a tough ask to make. But the truth is, if young farmers don’t make the time for advocacy and service, organizations like Farmers Union will not be around when they need us.”