Pipestone seeks to forge connection between consumers and farmers

As part of the new “Grow It” exhibit at the Kirby Science Discovery Center at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, children can dress up like a pig farmer and learn how farmers take care of their pigs by completing a list of chores at the Pipestone Pig Pen and stock the shelves with items from the near by crop field, shop and check out at the Pipestone Marketplace.
The Pipestone Pig Pen and Pipestone Marketplace are just two elements of the “Grow It” exhibit, which opened June 25 and features 3,000 square feet of agriculture-themed exhibits on the center’s third floor. The exhibits include a tractor cab, crops that can be picked and inspected, tunnels to see what happens down in the soil and more. The pig pen and marketplace as well as interactive iPad stations with video farm tours and a pig trivia game were sponsored by Pipestone as part of its effort to tell people where their food comes from.
“It’s all a farm to market exhibit,” said Sylvia Wolters, public relations director for Pipestone.
Jenna Isaacson, museum and public programs manager at Washington Pavilion, said the Pipestone Marketplace and Pipestone Pig Pen provide a way for young visitors to the center to use “pretend play” to bring the agriculture industry to life.
“Pipestone’s contribution to “Grow It” has allowed us to bring new exhibits in to inspire, educate and enrich our guests on the important South Dakota industry of agriculture,” Isaacson said. “Pipestone’s addition of the pig pen and educational content on the importance of rearing animals is an excellent feature found within ‘Grow It.’”
In addition to the exhibits, Pipestone has committed to providing monthly in-person educational programming at the Kirby Science Discovery Center.
Pipestone also added to its exhibits at the FFA Ag Adventure Center at the South Dakota State Fair and Pipestone Discovery Barn at the Sioux Empire Fair this year.
The additions included a “Farm to Home” display in the FFA Ag Adventure Center at the South Dakota State Fair. The room included a kitchen and grocery store where children could scan the food at the check out and learn more about where that food product came from.
New at both fairs and on Pipestone’s website at www.pipestone.com/virtual-tours/pig-tour/ this year were 360 degree farm videos allowing the user to tour a sow farm. Viewers can click on various elements throughout the tour to access information about what they’re seeing.
Another outreach effort by Pipestone this year was the MEAT the Need campaign it developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wolters said Pipestone decided at the start of the pandemic to be proactive and provide meat to food pantries in “food deserts” in the areas in which it has veterinary clinics in the Midwest.
From May to September, Pipestone and contributing partners raised $372,000 that was used to donate over 800,000 servings of pork.
“It was logistically a heavy lift, but we made it happen,” Wolters said.
She said the charitable and educational outreach is all part of Pipestone’s mission to bridge the gap between farmers and the general public.
“We have a passion to share what we do and about farming and about pigs,” Wolters said.
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Roberts Farms implements latest in technology

Roberts Farms of Madelia relies on the latest in cutting-edge technology to effectively and efficiently manage its large-scale hog operation.
Dan Roberts of Roberts Farms — a farrow-to-finish operation that maintains about 600 sows and markets around 14,000 market pigs per year — said the farm employs the use of a variety of monitoring and automation technologies, most retrofitted to existing installations.
“The first step for us was an extensive set up of ethernet and Wi-Fi connections on the farm,” Roberts said. “We use cameras to monitor site and barn conditions. These cameras also complement status monitors of mechanical components, such as our feed mill or barn control panels.”
Roberts Farms has also used to some extent biofilters to reduce odor. And, over the past few years, the farm has also taken advantage of advancements in pig nutrition, ensuring balanced nutrition with less crude protein and higher synthetic amino acids, which has resulted in improved pig performance and decreased odor.
“We use newer equipment for loadout and sorting designs that consider pigs’ natural behaviors and flight zones,” Roberts said. “In finishing barns, market hogs can be presorted before loadout to reduce stress. New flooring deigns for farrowing and nursery pigs helps ensure greater pig comfort and the survivability of little pigs.”
Roberts Farms also has in place a means to monitor pigs’ health and feed and water consumption.
“Our systems track feed and water intake, but it must still be interpreted by human management for each pig,” Roberts said. “A lot of animal health can be determined just from their feed and water consumption.”
Some hog operations have moved to using robots for such considerations as safety and even cleaning of the barns. Roberts Farms has implemented a Boar Bot in its pig operation.
“We do use a Boar Bot to reduce stress and enhance the safety of working with and handling large boars,” Roberts said.
Another technology being used in pig operations and in other farming operations is 3D printing, as farmers can actually use this technology to print parts for machinery or onsite equipment.
“We have used virtual reality for employee training to help meet biosecurity considerations,” Roberts said. “But we own a 3D printer and regularly print replacement parts that are hard to find or are obsolete. And we have even developed some novel solutions for common tasks such as replacing fasteners, in vaccinations and breeding.”
Some farming operations today are also implementing Blockchain as an online documentation system to hold records of transactions in a confidential manner benefiting traceability in pig operations, which also helps with food safety, and as an improved payment system resulting in lower production costs.
“We at Roberts Farms have limited implementation of Blockchain,” Roberts said. “Wholestone Farms has a sustainability program that is working to incorporate this. Food safety and efficiency is one of the biggest areas where this will be incorporated, but it also has the potential to improve economic decisions on variables in hog production. I think that real-time availability of data will allow on-the-go decision making in our fast-paced world.”

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Preparing for an emergency

Harvest season is right around the corner, and with it come risks of injury or death on the farm.
Modern farming involves larger and more sophisticated equipment than at any time in human history. That also can pose risks to farmers, especially if proper safety procedures are not followed.
Stephanie Beranek, ambulance director of Jackson Emergency Medical Services, says it’s important for people to know what to do in the event of an emergency.
“From our standpoint, the biggest thing is that you need to make sure everyone on the farm knows if something happens to call 911 and that they are able to say the address of where they are,” Beranek said. “That way, when you’re answering the operator, you can get that information across.”
Those tips might sound simple, but they can save lives, as evidenced by an accident that Beranek responded to recently.
“There was not that long ago an accident that the kids handled very well,” Beranek said. “The father got knocked off the tractor and had some injuries, and the kids were able to shut the equipment down and they knew to call 911. They were able to give their address and stay calm.”
Farming is often a family business, Beranek said, and it’s perfectly fine for kids to help out as long as they’re always under careful supervision by an adult and know the proper safety protocols.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a farm kid or a kid who lives in town,” Beranek said. If you’re going to have exposure to a farm environment, it is great to have farm safety knowledge.”
Another important piece of advice: Don’t take off safety coverings or labels on equipment.
“Not removing safety labels and covers is one of the biggest recommendations we have,” Beranek said. “Those are there to keep you safe.”
Farm safety courses are also important and anyone thinking of doing work on a farm should take one, she said.
“When I was growing up, there was always a farm safety course that I went to for many years,” Beranek said. “That was something my mom always said was very important.”
Beranek said farm safety has improved in recent years as communities have pushed for more education on the topic.
“I would say it’s gotten better,” she said. “When I was growing up, there were very big pushes about safety. In order to do chemical applications, people have to take more classes now just to have a license and apply any of those chemicals. I feel that there are huge pushes toward more safety in farming.”
Beranek said she wants to see a good and safe harvest this year and is encouraging people to be patient on the roads and fields alike as the busy season rolls around.
“The biggest thing I want the community to know is for everyone to be as safe as we can so that we can have a good harvest season,” Beranek said.


Horsemanship is only the start at Rock Ranch

In 2016, Dan and Marie LaRock founded Rock Ranch northwest of Hills in southwest Rock County as a 501c3 nonprofit organization geared toward teaching young people to ride horses.
“We just wanted to give people access to quality horsemanship instruction at the entry level,” Dan said.
Rock Ranch offers basic horsemanship training for children ages 5 to 17. The small group lessons focus on haltering, grooming, leading, tacking and riding. The primary focus of the class is to teach horsemanship, but Marie also infuses the lessons with activities that help the youth improve themselves physically, cognitively, socially and psychologically.
“The first couple of years was really focused on kids’ lessons,” Dan said. “And it still is.”
They have, however, added other programs, starting with the SeniorSaddles program in 2018. The program provides an opportunity for people 55 and older to participate in horse-related activities. Typically, that involves a tour of the ranch, spending time with the horses and socializing. Occasionally, it also involves a senior getting up on a horse.
That program has been put on hold this year by the pandemic.
Last year, Rock Ranch added a counseling element to its services. Marie and two other mental health practitioners are certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala), an international nonprofit association for mental health professionals who use horses to address mental health and personal development needs.
“Everything there is done on the ground,” Marie said. “There is no riding.”
She said the counselor will talk to the client and use the horse and the scene of the ranch around them as metaphors. She said the surroundings can be relaxing and help in their counseling. They might also have a client take on a chore at the ranch — such as moving horses from one area to another — that could teach them something about themselves.
“It’s experimental,” Marie said. “It can be pretty impactful for people.”
Marie said the therapy can be helpful for people with post traumatic stress disorder and that they use it in their work with Call to Freedom, an organization that works with human trafficking victims. It can also be used for any other kind of therapy such as couples or family therapy, or even business sessions.
“Anybody can come to those counseling sessions,” Marie said.
Currently, the LaRocks are in the process of adding an 80-by-190-foot building with an 80-by-120-foot riding arena that will allow them to offer their services rain or shine all year round. Now they typically offer lessons from May through October when the weather allows, which has lead to a waiting list of around 15 to 20 families each year and waits of up to nine months. They’re hoping the ability to provide their services all year round will eliminate the waiting list.
“It should,” Dan said.
Construction of the nearly $700,000 structure has been made possible through many generous donations and sponsorships for which the LaRocks said they are very thankful. Dan said they have received over 70 gifts from people in six states who have given amounts ranging from $2 to $125,000. Most of the gifts have been in the $2,500 to $5,000 range. He said there will be a donor reception and public viewing of the arena building at the end of September.
When it’s done the building will include the arena, a conference room with teleconferencing capabilities and a kitchen, bathrooms, a donor wall, offices, a history display about the ranch, merchandise for sale, storage areas and more. While their plan for now is to continue to offer their existing programs in the arena, they are open to other opportunities as well.
“I don’t know what else will transpire,” Dan said.
Last year Rock Ranch had 300 visitors who participated in 122 lessons, 50 SeniorSaddles visits and 25 counseling sessions. Dan said about 65 to 70 percent of their time is spent on lessons, 20 percent is spent on counseling and the rest is spent on the SeniorSaddles program in a typical year. He said Rock Ranch’s clients primarily come from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
For those who are interested in Rock Ranch’s services, but can’t afford them, they do offer a sliding fee scale and scholarships.
“We are not in the business of turning people away,” Dan said.
The LaRocks include a Christ-based theme based on a different Bible verse each year. This year’s theme is, “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10. Marie said they thought that might be a fitting verse this year due to the pandemic.
Marie grew up with horses and has always enjoyed them. She said her grandfather was a horseman and that her first time riding was at the century farm that is now Rock Ranch. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in speech language pathology from Minnesota State University - Moorhead. She has provided speech therapy and instruction in schools in southwest Minnesota since 2001.
Dan is a shareholder at Hub Great Plains, a company that helps large employers in the upper Midwest with employee retirement plans and health benefits. He handles the marketing and fundraising for Rock Ranch.
He said their combined skill sets that God has blessed them with have helped make Rock Ranch what it is.
For more information on Rock Ranch visit www.riderockranch.org.