HURON – On a hot August morning, it’s a bit of a stretch for one’s mind to wander toward November and a big bird resting on the family’s Thanksgiving dinner table.
But it won’t be long before a pair of turkeys raised at Riverside Colony north of Huron are on their way to Washington, D.C., and – if history holds – a presidential pardon.
“The turkeys are pardoned and go to Gobbler’s Rest, which is a home for turkeys at Virginia Tech,” said Jeff Sveen of Aberdeen, chairman of the board of the National Turkey Federation and board chairman of Dakota Provisions in Huron.
Riverside Colony, chosen to raise the turkeys – which will eventually be narrowed down from about 40 to two for the trip this fall – hosted a media kickoff on Wednesday.
It was in 2002 that representatives of 44 Hutterite colonies approached Sveen with the vision of building their own turkey process plant.
Three years later, it was up and running east of Huron, and today, with 1,200 employees and growing, it has a $30 million annual payroll and $250 million in annual revenues. Products are shipped around the world.
Sveen hinted at a “spring surprise” coming from Dakota Provisions, but would say no more other than it involves transparency.
Bob Drake, president of the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association, said South Dakota growers produce five million turkeys each year, all from 50 Hutterite colonies. The economic benefit is more than $300 million.
“We raise predominately heavy toms in this state,” he said. “There are no steroids allowed in poultry production and most of these are raised antibiotic free.”
While Thanksgiving turkeys are typically light hens weighing 10 to 16 pounds, Dakota Provisions markets 45- to 50-pound toms that are further processed into turkey sandwich cuts, Drake said.
Not only does Dakota Provisions and the latest addition of Dakota Provisions West provide 1,200 direct jobs, there are also employment spinoffs in terms of trucking and fuel suppliers. For crop producers, each turkey consumes an average of 60 pounds of corn and 30 pounds of soybean meal.
Production agriculture is a must in maintaining South Dakota’s towns, schools and way of life, Drake said.
As chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Sveen has the honor of presenting the turkeys to President Trump. Representing Riverside Colony in the Rose Garden ceremony will be Ruben Waldner, who has 33 years of experience raising turkeys.
It will be the first time South Dakota has provided the turkeys to the president.
“It truly is a great honor for our state,” said Dr. David Zeman, a South Dakota State University professor and executive director of the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association, who was master of ceremonies at Wednesday’s program.
“South Dakota is a fantastic place to raise birds and to produce eggs,” he said. “Providing high quality, economical protein to a hungry nation and world is an honorable mission and we’re proud to be part of that.”
The state’s poultry industries association is comprised of turkey producers, egg producers, other poultry producers, agricultural business leaders, educators and animal health officials.
Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be presented with a turkey. It wasn’t the federation; that came when it presented a bird to Harry Truman in 1947.
“This year will be the 72nd consecutive year that we get to do it and we should,” Sveen said.
Before heading to Washington, D.C., there will be a naming contest for the two selected to make the trip. President Trump will likely have names of his own.
While awaiting the final selection, the turkeys are kept in a little air conditioned house.
They’ll be pampered in the capital as well before they to meet the president and his family.
“You wouldn’t believe it, you guys,” Sveen said. “They get to stay at the Willard Hotel, which is a five-star hotel a block away from the White House. Unbelievable.”
But the best part, they’ll have to agree, is staying off that table come Thanksgiving.
PHOTOS BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
Jeff Sveen, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and board chairman of Dakota Provisions, speaks at a media kickoff Wednesday at Riverside Colony. The colony will provide two turkeys that are expected to be pardoned by President Trump in November.
Next, two of these turkeys raised at Riverside Colony will be driven to Washington, D.C., in November for the annual presidential pardon ceremony in the Rose Garden.