BRIDGEWATER -- Scott Stahl likes being a part of something bigger than himself. That's what drives the Bridgewater farmer's active membership with the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.

He is serving out his first term as president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association with the possibility of a second term in 2022. Stahl, a Corn Growers member since 2013 and on the board since 2017, said his upbringing of leaving the world better for the next generation is why he’s taken such an active role in the association.

“It's just kind of neat to be part of something like that, where you have relations with industry and with policymakers and are able to hopefully make it better for the next generation than it was for mine,” he said.

Stahl grew up on his family’s farm west of Bridgewater in rural McCook County. He spent several years in the financial industry as an ag lender for First National Bank in Sioux Falls, but the farm life came calling.

He said it’s that background, working with financial institutions, that have helped him in advocating for policies that benefit farmers.

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“Being a part of the professional world, I just wanted something to continue to challenge me, not that farming isn't challenging, but something to continue to challenge me and working with policymakers. I just decided to take that next step,” he said.

Stahl credits a lot of that extra step to his family, which includes his parents who continue to work the farm and his wife who takes care of the five kids when Stahl is occupied with his Corn Growers duties.

“Life is full, but I wouldn't have it any other way,” he said. “I'm blessed with my wife and healthy kids. I enjoy what I do.”

Scott Stahl, President of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, listens as Congressman Dusty Johnson answers a question as Johnson met with leaders from the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and South Dakota Soybean Association for a roundtable discussion in June south of Valley Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Scott Stahl, President of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, listens as Congressman Dusty Johnson answers a question as Johnson met with leaders from the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and South Dakota Soybean Association for a roundtable discussion in June south of Valley Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Stahl’s work ethic toward the SDCGA hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of South Dakota’s top legislative leaders including Congressman Dusty Johnson.

“(Stahl) is such a dedicated guy. When people make a decision, like Scott has, to start serving their state and national associations, it's not like there's a huge paycheck that comes with that,” Johnson said. “These are people who are giving away time to family, they're giving away time from work. And there is a cost for that. It’s a beautiful gift that Scott has been willing to make to the producers of this state and the country.”

While Stahl’s background in the financial industry means he knows numbers, he knows it’s the personal stories that have a bigger impact on convincing policy leaders.

“He has really put a face on some of these discussions when you start talking about, ‘Oh, this tax policy will hurt people,’” Johnson said. “When Scott comes and tells specific stories about how it will impact specific producers and families, it's a far more powerful message.”

On the family farm, Stahl said about 60 percent of the operation is corn and soybeans with the rest being livestock.

As with most farmers, not being just focused on one operation, Stahl is always willing to cooperate with other agricultural associations with advocating for policies and initiatives that will benefit all organizations involved.

At left; Scott Stahl, President of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, and Congressman Dusty Johnson listen to Kevin Scott, President of the American Soybean Association, during a roundtable discussion in June at the Scott Family Farms south of Valley Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)
At left; Scott Stahl, President of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, and Congressman Dusty Johnson listen to Kevin Scott, President of the American Soybean Association, during a roundtable discussion in June at the Scott Family Farms south of Valley Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)

One of Stahl’s top priorities has been advocating for year-round ethanol in biofuels that helps in energy independence and a cleaner carbon air presence.

Stahl said that given ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, is a renewable energy source and is only growing in demand internationally, gaining more market availability would be positive for everyone involved.

The often-overlooked benefit of ethanol, Stahl said is the distiller’s grain byproduct of making ethanol. It’s a protein that is used in cattle feed operations.

Getting farmers a fair price for carbon credits and fighting against the elimination of stepped-up basis capital gains taxes that could prove too costly to the family farm are also focus areas.

Eliminating the stepped-up basis capital gains tax is often considered a second death tax. Taxing the value of the whole operation on the difference from the time it was purchased to the time of the transfer to another family member.

Something that the Biden Administration has been talking about since coming into office.

“I am a fourth-generation farmer here in McCook County. And when you look at the transfer of a farm from one generation to the next, there's hurdles, challenges there,” Stahl said. “Farmers work very hard to invest in their farm. They don't have your typical 401K or retirement plan.

“Their retirement is their farm. They put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Anytime you have to come up with the cash needed to pay a tax, it would really limit operations ability to transfer to the next generation.”

U.S. Sen. John Thune, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the tax would be detrimental to all family farm operations and is glad leaders like Stahl have spoken out against it.

“When there's a death in the family and the operations being passed down, (the tax) is going to be enormously consequential in a very negative way for agricultural operators in South Dakota,” Thune said. “So (Stahl’s) advocacy on that is going to be important trying to defeat it. And I hope that in the end, we can defeat it. But if it's going to take the kind of grassroots advocacy that Scott brings to the table.”

As Scott enjoys his time on the SDCGA board as president, he’s appreciative of the path his family has taken through the generations. Stahl grew up on the farm with his grandparents running the operation, then to his parents, where now he hopes to leave it better for his kids.

“I just can't imagine the change (grandpa) saw, starting out in the '30s to where we're at now,” he said. “I'm so thankful for my dad and my grandpa, the challenges they faced and that they overcame to give me the opportunity I have today because it is the cliché - ‘If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.’”