HURON – South Dakota Farmers Union named Jerauld County farmer and life-long public servant Jim Burg the 2023 Ag Ambassador in recognition of his leadership and dedication to South Dakota agriculture and rural communities at the 108th State Convention, held recently in Huron.
“If Webster Dictionary had an image of what a civil servant looked like, it would be a photo of Jim Burg,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “Jim does what is right for those he serves, not himself.”
Reflecting on his lifetime of public service, Burg credits his eighth-grade civics class for piquing his interest.
“As we studied state government, I thought, “I want to do that someday.’”
And he did.
Burg, 82, served a decade as a state Representative and one term as a state Senator. He served two terms as Mayor of Wessington Springs and served two terms on the Wessington Springs School Board.
For nearly two decades he served as South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commissioner and was instrumental in the development of wind power throughout South Dakota. Burg also served as an officer in the South Dakota Army National Guard.
“You know that old adage, “if you are not at the table, you are on the table” – I believe this. If you want the things you need to survive and prosper, you need to get involved,” Burg said. “You cannot sit back and expect someone else will do it for you.”
Throughout his decades of public service, fairness has been an intentional focus.
“Being fair is essential to having a democratic society,” he said. “I don’t think we can have democracy without having fair treatment of all.”
Burg said his dad, Albert, was an excellent mentor and led by example.
“There were seven of us kids. And instead of everything going to just those of us who farmed, my dad was supportive of what we all wanted to do, so he incorporated the farm so that we would all get something and the family farm would not get divided,” said Burg.
The Burgs have farmed in Jerauld County since 1883. Burg’s great-grandpa, Andrew, homesteaded only two to three miles from where Firesteel Ranch is today. Firesteel Ranch is managed today by Burg’s sons, Jeff and Cory.
And like their dad, in retirement, Burg and his brother Quinten, implemented a fair transition plan where Burg’s three children who do not farm also receive an annual income from the ranch.
“All five of our children are very successful, this is one thing I most proud of,” Burg said.
In addition to Jeff and Cory, Burg and his wife, Bernice’s other children are Julie Bruckner, Casey Burg and Lisa Heiss. Julie is an educator; Casey is a medical doctor and Lisa is a Lt. Colonel in the Army.
In addition to public service, over the years, Burg has belonged to many agriculture organizations and commodity groups. But he says of all the ag groups, “Farmers Union is the farm organization that actually helps all farmers – farmers of all economic status. Farmers Union is the defender of all in agriculture.”
Although Burg did not serve in a leadership role for Farmers Union, he made time to participate in the organization’s annual Legislative Day and other advocacy opportunities.
“Without good policy, you cannot end up with good results,” Burg said. “I like to support good policy.”