Six people from South Dakota Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee traveled to Washington, D.C. at the end of March to get a first-hand glimpse of the policymaking process which so directly affects agriculture.

Nick and Bekah Ihnen of Tulare, Josh and Lin Sybesma of Platte, and Tom and Katy VanderWal of Brookings spent four days in the nation’s capital.


During the trip, the three couples visited the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters for a tour and briefing, and had the opportunity to go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and meet with Leonard Jordan, Associate Chief for Conservation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The group also toured the Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court, and had a bit of free time to enjoy the monuments and museums.

The YF&R group met with the South Dakota Congressional delegation during the South Dakota Sunrise Coffee, an event held every Wednesday morning while Congress is in session. In addition, they visited all three Congressional offices individually, enjoying meetings with Congresswoman Noem’s senior policy advisor, with Senators Rounds and Senator Thune. In all three offices, the young farmers discussed how beef should fit in to the new federal dietary guidelines, as well as air quality relating to the proposed greenhouse gas regulations.

The South Dakota Farm Bureau represents more than 14,300 farm, ranch and rural families across the state. SDFB’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program is for people in agriculture ages 18 to 35 who enjoy lifelong learning and who wish to grow into leadership roles for agriculture.

Here is what the YF&R leaders had to say about their experience:

Nick Ihnen:  “Washington, D.C. was a great opportunity not only for me and my wife, but for the YF&R group. I think where I was most impressed was the USDA office. We were given the chance to sit down with the associate chief and his staff, and they listened and asked for suggestions and discussed the topics with us. I would have loved to have more time, but was impressed with how much time we actually did get.”

Bekah Ihnen:  “D.C. was an amazing opportunity. To be given the chance to sit down with our representatives, and feel that our voices were heard and also mattered, was incredibly empowering. I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything.”

Josh Sybesma:  “Going on the trip to D.C. was an educational and eye-opening opportunity for me. To be able to sit down and have a conversation with our leaders out in Washington opened my eyes to how many people and man-hours it takes to run our country. I would be the first one to tell you that what I say would probably never be heard by those in Washington, but that is not the truth. Having this opportunity showed me that we do have a say out here in the Midwest and they do want to hear our story – and we need to take the time and tell it.”

Lin Sybesma:  “For me, the best part of the trip was getting to meet with NRCS representatives to discuss our local problems about wetlands, tiling, and conservation. Being able to meet our state’s representatives was wonderful! We are privileged to live in a state were our representatives’ policy very closely aligns with South Dakota Farm Bureau and with us individually. I gained a new appreciation for how hard they all work and fight on our behalf in Washington. Despite everything that happens in Washington, whether it’s good or bad, we continue to be focused on farming and passing our way of living down to the next generation. And that is what South Dakota Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers is all about.”

Tom VanderWal:  “I understand now more than ever how important it is to write your Congressmen and Congresswomen with not only concerns about legislation, but ideas for solutions as well. Our discussions with them revealed that they take into consideration viewpoints from their state, ideas, and discussion points. I enjoyed having one-on-one discussions with them and their staff.”

Katy VanderWal:  “The whole experience was fantastic! We were able to connect with our Senators and Representative on a personal level, sharing our story as young producers. They offered up conversation and asked for ideas to bring forth in legislative discussions.”