National Farmers Union recognized Amherst farmer Paul Symens with the organization’s highest honor during the 117th National Convention held in Bellevue, WA, March 3-5. Symens is pictured with his wife, Faye.
A huge snow blade is mounted on the front of this train engine that was pulling a train through Britton last week. Workers said with the blade the train can go through just about any snow drift in its path, and they were clearing snow that had stuck to the blade to prepare for the next day.
Symens Earns National Award
National Farmers Union recognized Amherst farmer Paul Symens with the organization’s highest honor during the 117th National Convention held in Bellevue, WA, Sunday through Tuesday.
The award for Meritorious Service to Farmers Union and American Agriculture is designed to recognize individuals and families who have made a major contribution to the betterment of family farm agriculture through their involvement in the National Farmers Union.
“Throughout his adult life, Paul Symens has served South Dakota’s family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. He made time for service, while at the same time, he was busy working with his family on their farm,” explained Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.
Not one to wait for others to do what needs to be done, Symens began serving South Dakota’s agriculture community as a young farmer when his neighbor, who also happened to be the Marshall County Farmers Union President, was ready to step down from office. He asked Paul to run.
“I agreed with what Farmers Union stood for and how they backed cooperatives and were involved in policy and rural communities,” Symens said.
That was just the beginning of many years of service to South Dakota and National Farmers Union. Symens served on the South Dakota Farmers Union State Board of Directors and National Farmers Union Policy and Marketing Research Committees. In 1979 he was asked to serve on the Farmers Union Industries board. During his 36 years of service, FUI grew to become a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
Outside of Farmers Union, Paul served eight years as a County Commissioner, 16 years in the South Dakota State Senate and has been actively involved in his church and community, serving on several cooperative boards.
In 2004, Symens was recognized by South Dakota State University with the Eminent Farmer honor. In 2010, the Symens’ Brother’s farm turned 100. The farm received the Century Farm honor from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture during the 2016 South Dakota State Fair.
Faith & family
A family man, Paul and his wife, Faye, raised five children; Patricia, Jill, Jeffrey, Stephanie and Warren and have 12 grandchildren.
“I’m thankful and grateful that I have the partner I have in Faye. She has done more things as a parent than I have. Now, saying that, a few years ago, my sons told me that they realized how important faith and God was in our family because on Sundays, I always got up earlier to get the chores done so we could go to church. By ourselves we are nothing. Faith and family top everything.”
South Dakota farmer
While some wait until retirement to give back, Symens balanced his service to others with farming full-time, the land that his family has cared for since 1910. The family’s diverse farming operation includes cropground, purebred Limousin cattle and a feedlot. Today, at 75, Paul leaves the day-to-day duties to his son, Warren, nephew, Brad, younger brother, John and employees.
But, when he first started out, the work of Symen’s Bros. Farm fell to Paul and his three brothers, Irwin, John and Herman.
Since the beginning, rain - the lack of or over-abundance of - played a significant role in the management decisions made by the Symens’ family. For Paul’s Grandpa, Harm, and Dad, Wilbert, the Dust Bowl days made soil conservation and erosion control a focus of their field management.
During a 2016 interview with SDFU, Paul’s brother, Irwin recants a 1936 story of their dad planting corn in May which didn’t sprout until September when it received its FIRST rain ... only to be killed by frost at six inches.
“That same year dad mowed 160 acres of ground where all that grew was thistles. He stacked the thistles, mixed them with molasses and that’s what he fed the cattle. That was the year I was born,” says Irwin, who is the oldest brother.
Implementing novel conservation techniques, like tree belts and strip tilling earned the men some fame, when in 1936, Paul’s Grandpa Harm was featured in Cappers Farmer magazine under the headline, “Uncommon Effort Won Over Drought.”
The legacy of conservation continues today. The Symens manage their fields with no-till and minimal-till techniques to increase water infiltration. They leave half of all corn stubble in the field to build organic matter.
In order for the farm to support five families, the brothers and their sons rely more on diversification than expansion. The farm includes a purebred Limousin herd, crops and a commercial feedlot operation.