Lenci Sickler, middle left, stands with his wife Jaime and daughters Lowen (far left) and Mila, alongside his father Shane and grandfather Art on the Sickler family farm northeast of Dickinson.


Long-involved in ND’s cooperative movement, the Sickler family of southwest North Dakota continues generations of commitment to Farmers Union

 

With farmers and ranchers busy in their respective fields and pastures, they need a voice to represent their interests. 

For the Sicklers in southwest North Dakota and thousands of other agriculture families in the state, that’s North Dakota Farmers Union, the state’s largest general farm organization with more than 60,000 member-families. 

NDFU is highlighting family farmers and ranchers as part of its “Can’t NDFU Without U” campaign, which it launched across the state in October. 

The Sicklers are a six-generation family farm northeast of Dickinson who grow wheat, durum, barley, corn, canola, sunflowers, soybeans and field peas. Shane, who is NDFU’s District 4 Director, runs the operation with his son Lenci.

Shane and his wife Jana raised their three children — Hope, Lenci and Stormie — on the family farm. Lenci and his wife Jaime have two daughters: Mila and Lowen.

Shane said NDFU gives each producer a voice in the organization, starting at the local level.

“Our grassroots really start at our local meetings, and it grows from there,” he said. “Every farmer needs to have the ability to have some kind of a voice. That’s why our Policy and Action (process) is so important. I served on the committee, and so did my dad. It was a real educational moment because you get into the heart of it and understand it better. And then you find it more meaningful. You get to be the voice (for) that policy.”

NDFU’s Policy and Action is the organization’s official stance on issues that affect family farms and rural America. The Policy and Action Committee is made up of farmers and ranchers who take resolutions from NDFU’s county organizations and discuss how it fits with the organization’s philosophy. Any policy changes are voted on by the members at the NDFU state convention each December.

“Let the members debate on it and (decide), so the organization can utilize that to lobby the legislature on the needs of farmers and ranchers,” Lenci said. “That to me is getting the needs fulfilled from the bottom up. It’s very rewarding. For farmers and ranchers, it’s nice to know that their voice is heard.”

It’s a process that has deep roots in the Sickler family. Shane’s father, Art, was heavily involved in NDFU’s Policy and Action throughout his life and was even field staff for the organization for a number of years. His father, Val, came to Farmers Union through the cooperative movement, namely the local elevator. All of the Sicklers have served on co-op boards. 

“I’ve connected with Farmers Union since day one,” said Art, who came back to farm after serving in the Marine Corps. “I’ve been in it all my life.”

It was the youth program that hooked Shane early. He made it all the way through, eventually becoming a Torchbearer, which is the highest honor in the youth program. Torchbearers are celebrated on stage with a ceremony on Saturday night of the state convention.

“The big thing was going to camp — you make a lot of great friends,” he said. “The Torchbearer ceremony was an emotional event for me. You didn’t want to leave.”

As camp friends in the area grow older and have families, Shane said it’s common for families to continue to stay in touch through Farmers Union events.

“That love (for Farmers Union) grows out of the youth program,” Shane said. “Then it becomes more serious when you get involved on the farm side because we have to solve a problem.”

That education continues as members get older. After the youth program, Lenci continued his role within the organization as part of NDFU’s collegiate program on the campus of North Dakota State University.

“We did a lot of fun events, so that’s where I probably developed my passion for it, especially at that age, coming out of my formative years,” he said. “I really realized how important the organization is and what kind of voice we can have for farmers and ranchers.”

Farmers Union’s emphasis on education helps him sort through complex legislation like the Farm Bill, with its many programs that are designed to aid farmers and ranchers in difficult times.

“That helps us a lot because sometimes that gets very confusing,” he said. “It’s changing every (five years). We need to understand it, and the organization is there to guide us in being the voice and educating ourselves.”

Both Sicklers said being involved has meant personal and professional growth, whether it comes from legislative fly-ins in Washington, D.C., or via leadership opportunities within the organization.

“It’s provided me with a ton of amazing experiences,” Lenci said. “I’ve been on some rewarding trips and met some great people. I’ve done a lot of things I know I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. It’s really broadened my life experiences.”

So what do the Sicklers suggest if a farmer or rancher feels their voice isn’t being heard?

“Reach out to someone that you know, like a neighbor, that is involved in Farmers Union,” Lenci said. “They can get you started on the county level. Come to a meeting. I think they’d be surprised how easy it is to move those concerns along, because everyone’s voice is heard in this organization.”

— Story by Chris Aarhus, NDFU Editor