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Noem presents Woman Farmer of the Year award at Dakotafest

Gov. Kristi Noem made a special appearance in Mitchell on Thursday 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
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Audra Scheel doesn’t need an award to show how busy she is, but on Thursday, Gov. Kristi Noem presented her with one anyway.

The Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year award was presented to Scheel on the final day of Dakotafest in Mitchell, as a token to honor the sacrifices and dedication women make in agricultural business and farm operations.

Scheel and her husband, Jim, have run a livestock business and multi-crop farm near Alpena since 2004. While they specialize in Maine-anjou, chi and charolais cows, they also serve as home to 80 head of club lamb-producing ewes and 100 head of Boer goats.

In addition to being a full-time farmer and a mother of three, Scheel serves as the 4-H youth program adviser for four counties, helping spread passion for agriculture to the youths of Sanborn, Aurora, Jerauld and Buffalo counties.

The person who nominated Scheel for the award wrote that she “tirelessly and selflessly” gives her time and knowledge to her work and service.

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“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 after receiving the award.

Scheel was one of five finalists on stage with Gov. Noem, all of whom were nominated by their peers for their outstanding contributions in the agriculture industry.

Before presenting the award, Noem spoke briefly on the importance of women in agriculture, noting that female leadership often goes unnoticed.

“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.”

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

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“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.”

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.

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“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.”

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Audra Scheel, of rural Wessington Springs, hugs Governor Kristi Noem while being named the Woman Farmer/Rancher of the Year during DakotaFest on Thursday in the Education Building. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

Noem’s speech followed the conclusion of a panelist discussion featuring four women sharing their thoughts on the role and importance of women working in agriculture.

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.

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.”

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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.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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