NSA President’s Term Launches At ‘Zoom Speed’
Thursday, March 25, 2021
filed under: News
Lance Hourigan’s tenure as president of the National Sunflower Association has started unusually, to say the least.
Hourigan was elected president at the NSA Board of Director’s December meeting, held virtually via Zoom because of coronavirus concerns.
In January, he attended the NSA’s annual Sunflower Research Forum, also held on Zoom.
February brought another board meeting — and another online meeting. Even the board’s annual trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with member of Congress was done virtually.
“It’s been interesting,” says Hourigan. “There are some benefits to meeting online. Most people can be at the meetings when there’s no travel involved. As for our D.C. meetings, we actually met with more members of Congress this year than in previous years. I guess we’ve all gotten kind of used to meetings on Zoom and other online platforms. But I do miss the networking that comes with in-person meetings. There is a lot that can be learned over a cup of coffee or a beer after a meeting.”
And for Hourigan, online meetings have actually been a bit of a blessing. He lives at Lemmon, S.D., in the northwestern corner of the state. Some may say Lemmon is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Dickinson, N.D., the nearest “big city,” is 100 miles away. Bismarck, N.D., is closer to 150 miles away, and Rapid City, S.D., is nearly 200 miles from Lemmon. Meeting online has saved Hourigan hundreds of miles of driving.
“It’s been nice in that I can attend a meeting and still have about a third of a day to work, whether that’s feeding or working on equipment. Living here, we usually have a lot of travel time; but that’s been pretty much eliminated.”
Hourigan grew up on this land he now farms with his dad, Bob. Lance left for a few years, to attend college at South Dakota State University in Brookings. He worked in marketing at Daktronics during college and for about a year after he graduated. But there was something about this corner of the world, and this land, that called him home.
“I never thought I’d be farming,” he recalls. “My dad gave me the opportunity in 2009 to move home and help him. I thought it would be temporary, but about a month after being back, I knew this is where I belonged. I realized I was looking for work that would provide me a sense of accomplishment. I wasn’t getting that when I was doing marketing. There was a lot of stress and deadlines, but no enjoyment.
“There’s still stress in farming and ranching, but it’s different. I can be really stressed out by the weather or equipment breakdowns or being behind schedule. But when things work out and I finish planting or harvest, or even when calving season wraps up, I just have a better feeling.”
Home now includes his wife, Jaylea, and daughter, Claire. Hourigan is happy to be raising his daughter here, where his family roots are deep. She’s already learning about raising cattle and crops. The Hourigan rotation includes corn, wheat, soybeans and sunflower.
Sunflower has been a regular part of that rotation for more than two decades. The Hourigans plant 2,000 to 2,500 acres of high-oleic sunflower every year.
“Sunflower is a consistent money-maker on our farm,” Hourigan affirms. “It are more drought tolerant, which is important in this part of the country where we don’t get a lot of rain. It works good as a broadleaf. ?We can’t grow soybeans everywhere because of our varying soil types, but sunflower is a perfect fit between corn and wheat.”
Hourigan never intended to be a member of the NSA Board of Directors, but he’s learned life rarely goes according to plan. In 2013, the late Max Dietrich approached Hourigan about being a part of a panel discussion. Hourigan was one of four young farmers who participated in the “Young Farmer Perspective” panel at the NSA Summer Seminar in Medora, N.D. Meadow, S.D., producer Ron Seidel was on the NSA’s board at the time. After the panel discussion, Seidel recruited Hourigan to an empty spot on the South Dakota Oilseeds Council. That position led to a spot on the NSA Board of Directors. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I’d never been on a commodity board before, and I guess maybe I was a little naïve. I knew about sunflower, but some of the language and procedures were totally new to me. Still, I immediately felt welcomed by the rest of the NSA board,” Hourigan recalls. “I saw the benefits to this group after my first meeting. The people on the board, the farmers and the industry representatives really do important work that helps the sunflower industry. I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
Hourigan quickly climbed the ranks of the board. In 2016 he was elected second vice president; in 2018 he moved up to second vice president — and in 2020 he started a two-year term as president.
“It’s exciting to be a part of a group that gets things done,” Hourigan says. “As a member of the South Dakota Oilseeds Council we funded the combine fire research at SDSU. That’s something the NSA has helped fund, too. Dan Humburg and his team developed a solution that is working for producers around the country, so that’s neat to be a part of. As a farmer, I like that the NSA listens to our needs and concerns and works to find solutions.”
Hourigan lists improvements to crop insurance coverage is another important accomplishment he’s seen achieved during his time on the board. While he knows there is still more work to be done, he is encouraged by the strides made so far.
And he has more on his list of things he’d like to accomplish before his time on the board is complete. At the top of his list: improve genetics in sunflower.
“I’d like to see genetics improved; that would lead to higher yields and more seed selections for farmers. Seed availability is getting tight, and it’s tough to convince more producers to add sunflower to their rotation if they can’t find seed. We want to increase acres because there is a demand for sunflower, but we can’t increase acres if we don’t have enough seed. That will take research dollars, but that’s something the NSA has been committed to, and I am encouraged that the research committee and the researchers themselves are willing to listen to us farmers.
“Those are lofty goals, and I know we might not accomplish them before my time as president is up. But I’d like to get the ball rolling in the right direction, toward better yields, before I’m done. Sunflower will always be a part of our crop rotation, but I’d sure like to see more guys planting ’flowers. We have room for more new growers. In fact, we need growers to get away from planting just one or two crops. Crop variety is better for the environment, so when it comes to sunflower producers, I say the more the merrier.” — Jody Kerzman