When Elk Point farmer, Doug Hanson, plants soybeans into the soil each spring, he is working the same ground as his great-grandfather, Martin. He fixes fence on pastureland once grazed by his grandfather Herman’s cattle. And, when he and his son, Erik, harvest small grains each fall, their combine crosses ground his dad, Russell, worked a generation before.
“We have a pretty close connection to our legacy,” says Hanson who continues to farm the land homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1889.
It’s a farming legacy Hanson actively works to preserve for future generations of Hansons. “As a farmer, if I am not thinking of the next generation, I am not doing this correctly. Really, we only get to borrow this land for a certain amount of time.”
Hanson sees soil health as key to the farm’s future.
“This is not just my ground, this is the ground of my family several generations into the future,” Hanson says.
A few years ago, he and Erik introduced small grains and cover crops into the corn and soybean rotation.
“The soil reflects what you’re doing. There is enough data from land grants, like SDSU and everywhere else, that shows three rotations are the building blocks for healthier soils,” he says. “We’re working to build organic matter. Between small grains and cover crops we can see positive changes.”
Hanson, together with his wife, Jeanne, raised six children on the farm; Karissa Harkin, Erik, Martin, Melodee Wagner, Kyle and Kirstin Carlson.
“I think it’s great that on the farm, our kids had chores to do. Livestock seem to create a mindset of responsibility, because the animal needs to be cared for and the child is responsible for it,” Hanson says.
Along with livestock, all of the Hanson kids were actively involved in 4-H. Jeanne has served as a leader for more than 35 years.
“4-H taught them leadership skills as well as a diverse skillset - I have adult sons in their 30s who are not scared of a sewing machine,” Hanson says.
When he considers the future of his family’s farm and farms like his, Hanson believes it’s important to invest in research to expand marketing opportunities.
He served three terms on the board of the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (SDSRPC) and currently serves on the board of the S.D. Soybean Association.
Inspired by information suggesting soybeans could be used as a protein source for fish, nearly a decade ago, Hanson proposed SDSRPC help fund research at South Dakota State University to develop soy-based fish food.
“If there is a lead out there for another use for the products we grow, it needs to be investigated,” explains Hanson, of the research which eventually led to the launch of Prairie AquaTech, a Brookings-based company which utilizes soybeans as the protein base for fish food. Aquaculture is among the fastest growing market segments in U.S. and global agriculture.
“A portion of South Dakota soybeans are now fed to fish. It’s interesting that some of the best research data out there for feeding fish is coming from a Midwest university – SDSU,” Hanson explains. “This all began with farmers’ checkoff dollars and turned out to be something that in 10 years will be one of the major players in the world’s soybean usage.”
He adds. “Being a part of this has been rewarding. I think if I can use my time to change the environment or situation to benefit my family and grandkids down the road – make a difference for future generations – that is what I want to be a part of. It’s all about leaving a legacy.”