Eminent Leader in Agriculture, Family, and Community
There’s a plaque that hangs on a wall in Lawrence Vander Wal’s home. It displays three words: faith, family and farming.
“That pretty much sums up my life’s priorities,” Vander Wal explained.
Ask his three grown sons, Kent, Dean or Paul, and they will verify. “Dad’s devotion to his family, church, farm and community have given us a guide as we raise our families.”
It should not go unnoticed that his sons listed a fourth priority – community.
Throughout his life, Vander Wal has made time to give back, serving on boards of First Reformed Church of Volga, Volga Christian School, East Central Irrigation and Brookings County and State Chairman of Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher board. Over the years, the family has hosted many 4-H and FFA judging schools, and Vander Wal Yards hosts the SDSU Calf Value Discovery Program.
Recognized for his leadership and service, Vander Wal was named a 2022 Eminent Leader in Agriculture, Family and Community by South Dakota State University Colleges of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences and Education & Human Sciences.
Vander Wal and his wife, Sally, raised their sons on the same Bruce crop and cattle farm he grew up on. Right after high school, he started farming fulltime with his dad, AJ.
“Lawrence learned from the best, as his father was considered one of the top farmers/cattle feeders in Brookings County,” explained Terry Duffy, First Bank & Trust agribusiness banker.
With a determination to build upon his father’s success, throughout his farming career, Vander Wal expanded farm acres, crop yields and enhanced cattle feed efficiency.
“When I started, the farm was four quarters of land and now it is 18. And corn yields were 50 bushels per acre. Today they are 200,” Vander Wal said.
Vander Wal’s decision to forgo college did not stop him from taking every opportunity for continued learning. “We are never done learning in life,” Vander Wal said.
His grandson, Ethan, added, “Grandpa enjoys going to the SDSU Field Day at the research farm every summer. When we are unable to go, he always takes lots of notes to report back to dad and me on what he learned from the seminar.”
Ethan and Vander Wal’s six other grandchildren continue the 4-H and FFA tradition he and Sally started when their sons were young. Many of their grandchildren served in FFA Chapter offices. “We have had a camping spot at the State Fair since our oldest started in 4-H,” Vander Wal said. “I enjoyed the parent-child relationship 4-H provided – we got to learn by doing together.”
All of the Vander Wal’s sons are involved agriculture. Paul owns a seed and chemical business in Milbank. Kent and Dean farm with Vander Wal. On the farm, Vander Wal enjoys feeding cattle and he has adapted with the times. He utilizes iPad technology when calculating feed rations. The proximity of Vander Wal Yards to Brookings, as well as Vander Wal’s attention to detail in feeding and care of the farm’s cattle, made the family’s custom feedlot a good fit for the South Dakota State University Calf Value Discovery Program, explained Julie Walker, SDSU Extension Beef Specialist.
“Lawrence’s attention to detail allows me to entrust beef producers’ cattle into his care, knowing that they will receive excellent animal husbandry,” Walker said.
Each fall 200-plus calves are enrolled in the program from herds across the state. Data are collected from cattle through harvest. It is then evaluated by Walker and other SDSU specialists and the results are provided to producers to help them make herd improvements based on research.
Vander Wal said he enjoys working with the specialists.
“If you are not stepping forward, you are stepping backward,” Vander Wal said.
As he looks to the future, Vander Wal said the farm is in good hands. “I am stepping back and letting my sons take over leadership. It makes me feel good that they are continuing the farm to the fourth generation.”