No day is the same as a rancher. That's what Jim Burg loves about his 45-plus-year career as co-owner of Firesteel Ranch.
"The idea that I never do the same thing from hour-to-hour, let alone, day-to-day is what I love," said the third-generation rancher.
Today, Burg's sons, Jeff and Cory, manage the ranch, and he and his brother, Quinten, remain involved in semi-retired roles. The family runs a diversified farm/ranch operation where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and hay; run a 700-head cow/calf herd; and finish about 5,000 head of cattle each year.
Even the tough times, like the current drought, don't tarnish Burg's affection for production agriculture.
"I've always thrived on challenges, so the challenge of what the markets and weather will do is part of what I like about this industry," Burg said. "Challenging times are when you have to look for opportunities."
He credits his optimistic view to his dad, Albert and grandfather Chris.
"The legacy they gave me was not to let yourself get down because of circumstances."
Burg shares the history behind his statement. Chris purchased the farm in 1905 and paid it off. In the 1930s, he had $10,000 in the bank when it closed, leaving him without the cash on hand to pay the taxes on his farm. He lost his land to the county. Burg's dad paid the taxes and purchased the land back from the county.
"Neither one of them dwelled on this misfortune or became bitter over it. They taught me that whatever it is that happens to you, you can come back from it," said Burg, noting that even though his grandfather was 60 when he lost his first farm, by the time he died, he left two quarters of land to his family.
In addition to his farming career, Burg spent 27 years in the National Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He served two years in the state Senate, and 10 years in the state Legislature, during which time he served as assistant minority leader. He served 18 years as a Public Utilities Commissioner and served as chairman of the electricity committee of the National PUC Commissioners. In this role, he was a strong advocate for the development of wind energy in South Dakota. He has a lifelong association with the South Dakota 4-H, and served as chair of the South Dakota 4-H Foundation. Today he serves a presidential appointment on the State FSA Committee.
Opportunities for South Dakotans
Burg says his ambition to serve South Dakota as an elected official grew from an eighth-grade civics lesson.
As a young father - Burg and his wife, Bernice, have five children; Jeff, Cory, Julie Bruckner, Casey and Lisa - he was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives. He remembers campaigning with his young children.
"My kids were helping me go door-to-door, and one of my sons trudged over to a house that was a block from the rest. When the homeowner opened the door, he said, "'You came all the way over here? Your dad deserves my vote!'"
Although this was his first public office, this wasn't his first campaign. As a high school student, he ran for the office of State 4-H President and was elected.
"4-H did more to head me down the road I took in politics than any other experience," Burg said.
During his time in office, the South Dakota State Legislature went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for farmers losing their farms during the 1985 Farm Crisis. While in Washington, because of his farm background, Burg was asked by Ted Koppel to be an in-studio guest on "Nightline."
"This was the real opportunity I had to stand up for agriculture, because of my role as a legislator," he said.
While serving as a Public Utilities Commissioner, Burg saw opportunities for South Dakota to develop its wind resource.
"I looked at the wind maps developed, and realized my home county had some of the best resources in South Dakota."
In 2004, he retired from the PUC and worked to establish 34 wind turbines and a 200 megawatt substation in his county. As a result, Jerauld County and the school district receive $100,000 in tax benefits each year. In 2010, Burg helped organize South Dakota Wind Partners, a group of investors, and raise $16 million from South Dakota investors to put up seven more turbines and take advantage of a grant offered as part of the 2010 Stimulus Package.
"It has been a good investment for the company who manages the turbines, and for the South Dakotans who invested in the project," said Burg, of looking for opportunities when challenging times arise.