South Dakota Farmers Union meets with EPA director to discuss E30

Source: By South Dakota Farmers Union • Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019

HURON — South Dakota Farmers Union, together with leaders from 13 South Dakota agriculture organizations, sat down with Gregory Sopkin, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional administrator for District Eight to discuss challenges facing South Dakota farmers and ranchers, as well as opportunities to be found through expanded support for higher ethanol blends. The August 1, 2019 South Dakota Ag Roundtable was hosted in Sioux Falls by South Dakota Corn.

“This was a valuable opportunity to provide the farmers’ story and give the EPA a chance to put a face to that story,” explains Doug Sombke, president of South Dakota Farmers Union.

Stories like the one shared by a young farmer who participated in the roundtable. “He did a good job describing what it is like as a young farmer. He’s the same age as my son. He shared that there are no markets. All he and other farmers want is to have their markets back. One of the best ways to do this is through ethanol and distillers grains,” explains Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

Because of the local marketing opportunities it provides for South Dakota farmers, supporting ethanol has been a focus of South Dakota Farmers Union policy for more than 30 years. Sombke says it was encouraging to hear other organization’s support for expanding the state’s ethanol industry through increased sales of higher ethanol blends, like E30. “During the discussion, the comment was made that young farmers are going broke and E15 isn’t going to cut it,” Sombke shares.

Prior to the roundtable, Sopkin traveled to Watertown to tour Glacial Lakes Energy Cooperative ethanol plants and learn about how the cooperative bolstered local sales of E30 600 percent through an educational campaign, the E30 Challenge.

“The Administration has been trying to help farmers. One way is to expand use of E15. I received education on possibilities of E30 and what a community is doing to promote E30,” Sopkin shared. “When I was at Glacial Lakes Energy, many in the community showed up to say how they used E30 in non-flex fuel vehicles and in general, they had a positive experience.”

Hearing Sopkin’s words, SDFU Executive Director Karla Hofhenke says she is optimistic about the future growth of the state’s ethanol industry. “We’ve worked for decades lobbying for ethanol use to be part of policy dealing with clean air and the environment. It’s not easy because our largest competitor is Big Oil. But, after Administrator Sopkin’s tour of Glacial Lakes and meeting with leaders of ag organizations who shared that one way the President can support farmers is through his support of E30, I am hopeful.”

Support in tough times

Hope is also a word Sombke used when reflecting on the discussion. “Unity was demonstrated today. On the surface, we each have different focuses, but overall, the work we do boils down to supporting South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers. We’re like a family. We may not always get along, but in tough times, we are here for each other. I felt that today,” Sombke says.

Sombke explains that in his role, he visits with farmers and ranchers daily and hears how the current depressed ag economy impacts their lives. “This is the worst I’ve seen South Dakota’s agriculture economy, and I started farming in the 80s.”

Also, during the roundtable, a participant shared that they talked with a South Dakota lawyer who typically works on three to five farm bankruptcies a year, and as of January 2019, the lawyer is working on 52 cases.

“It was encouraging to sit beside other leaders and know that we are all working together,” Sombke says.

E30 was not the only opportunity discussed. Land stewardship and farmers and ranchers’ work to improve soil health were also topics brought up.

“Communicating with the EPA how South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers care for the land and its resources is important,” Sombke explained. “It’s our land and our livelihood.”

To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports the state’s family farmers and ranchers, visit