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Saturday, January 1, 2022
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Chuck Todd
Chuck Todd
Chuck Todd knows about drought. While 2021 was a very dry year on his central South Dakota farm, Todd remembers years that were worse.
        “We didn’t harvest a crop in 1975, ’76 or ’77,” he recalls.  “This year reminded me of 1976.  We didn’t have any rain until the first of August.  The dugouts dried up — and they’re still dry. The corn looked pretty bad, but the sunflower managed to stay green.
        “And then it started to rain a little. The grass started growing in the pastures. We’re still grazing cattle in the pastures now (mid-December).”
        Todd estimates his farm near Onida, S.D., received about seven inches of rain from August 1 to the end of November. So far, December has been dry, though; some areas of the state got over a foot of snow in mid-December, but that system, like so many others, missed Todd’s part of the world.
        It was drought that led Todd and his dad, Tony, to start planting sunflower more than 40 years ago.
        “We grew some open-pollinated sunflower in the 1970s,” he recounts.  “We knew we needed another crop that would yield in a drought.  We had heard that sunflower did well in dry weather, so we gave them a shot.”
        Todd hasn’t looked back since.  Sunflower has been a constant in his crop rotation ever since.  He plants mostly high-oleic varieties now, but over the years, he’s grown confections and conoils, as well as just about every variety available.
        “We’ve tried them all: tall varieties, short varieties, colored.  No matter the type we plant, the yield is always good. And the deep roots on the sunflower have helped loosen up our ground.”
        The ground Todd farms hasn’t always been farmland.  In fact, he says when he was a kid growing up on this farm, they grew only enough wheat, corn and oats to feed their cattle.  The farm crisis of the 1980s forced him and many neighbors to rethink their operations.
        “Half of the cattle in this area were sold,” Todd explains. “People started breaking up pastureland to make farm ground.”
        When the Todds did that, they took oats out of their crop rotation and added sunflower.  Their rotation today is the same: spring wheat, winter wheat, corn and sunflower.  In the ’80s, they also switched to minimum till and eventually no-till.  Todd says that along with the improved crop rotation, the transition has been good for the soil.
        “It’s amazing the difference.  Before, when the wind would blow, dust would blow, and the ground would dry out. There were no crop rows in this part of the state in those years and no late-season crops; so the dirt would just blow,” he remembers.  “Now, we have green crops, like sunflower and corn still in the fields in the fall, and it’s made a huge difference.”
        From a young age, Todd always knew he wanted to be back on the family farm.  The land he farms now was homesteaded by his mother’s grandfather.  After graduating from Onida High School, Todd earned a degree from South Dakota State University in ag economics with a minor in animal science.  He went on to earn his master’s degree in theology, and then came home in 1975.
        Over the years, Todd has been a seed salesman for a number of different companies.  These days, the farm has become a family affair.  His oldest son, Charles, has joined the family business and is bringing cattle back to the operation.  He’s slowly building the herd while the family establishes their own meat label, Todd Ranch Meats.  They sell their beef by the piece at farmer’s markets and by quarters and halves.  Todd’s wife, Nancy, is a regular at the farmer’s market in Pierre during the summer months. Their son, Michael, served in Afghanistan and is now home, helping on the farm, too, while their youngest son, Timothy, finishes studying to be a vet tech.
        And if that’s not enough to stay busy, the family also does custom planting and harvesting and runs a trucking business. Many of those trucks haul sunflower. The nearest birdseed processors are between 40 and 170 miles away. The nearest crush plants are across state lines, in North Dakota and Minnesota.
        Todd was appointed to the South Dakota Oilseeds Council in 2014. That led to a position on the National Sunflower Association Board of Directors as well.  He’s currently serving as NSA’s second vice president. Those are positions Todd takes very seriously.
        “The influence you can have by serving on a committee or a board is important, and we need to get involved, rather than just sit back and complain about things.  That’s when you can actually do something and make a change.”
        When it comes to sunflower, Chuck Todd hopes he can help build up this crop’s markets.  More acres could lead to more processing plants and shorter hauling distances, he notes.
        “I think we as a board can put our heads together and figure out how to promote sunflower and get more acres,” Todd affirms.  “Research is important, too.  As a board, we can determine what kind of research we do, what’s important to concentrate on.  As a producer, things like insects and genetics are important to me — and to so many other growers I talk with.” — Jody Kerzman
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