Mr. Orville K. Peterson of rural Holabird, South Dakota, earned his Eminent Farmer award through more than 40 years of service to his community, county, and state as an agricultural leader.
By 1983, the time of the award, the Petersons were in their fourth generation as farmers in the Hughes and Hyde County area—a tradition begun by his grandfather who followed the building of the railroad to Pierre nearly 100 years before, then took up land south of Harrold, South Dakota.
Peterson graduated from Highmore High School in 1938 and began his public service career almost immediately after because of a County Extension Agent who involved him in several leadership roles. “That sort of primed the pump,” he said.
His farming career was launched with a half-section partnership with his brother 15 ½ miles south of Holabird. When his brother left for military service, Peterson bought out his share. Since, Peterson and his wife Verona—whom he married in 1944—built up the place to its present 3,300 acres of grassland and cropping for cow-calf production.
The Petersons also reared a family of nine children, eight of whom went on to college. Son Larry, an SDSU graduate, now operates the farm following Peterson’s semi-retirement.
“O.K.,” as he is known to his friends, became instrumental in bringing both rural electricity and telephone service to his area. He worked with his county agent to help make the county brucellosis-free. He promoted tree plantings and the control of weeds in his role as a committeeman for ASCS, director of the County Soil Conservation District, and member of the Weed Board. He promoted water development first through the Hyde County Water Users Organization and later as a board member for CENDAK. He helped organize many 4-H activities and attended nearly all 4-H events faithfully over the years.
He served on the advisory board for the nearby experiment farm at Highmore, and, when he retired from the Hyde County Extension Board as Chairman in 1982, he had served that group for 33 years. He also served as a member of the State Extension Advisory Board, and he counts his 1976 trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressmen to urge support for the Cooperative Extension Service as among his most interesting experiences.
Looking back on it all, Peterson said there were good times and bad. There were problems of scarce parts and supplies during World War II. There were some terrible blizzards. There was the devastating drought of 1976.
But the crises which bothered him were those which inflicted damage to the land. “In order for the land to take care of us, we also have to take care of it whenever and however we can,” he said.
He includes in this category the exploitation of the land for a quick profit during periods of bumper crops. “You see, I think God intended land in this area for raising livestock—not so much for raising crops,” he said. “Our rainfall simply isn’t adequate.”