|Success stories about farmers in South Dakota are not too uncommon. There have been several instances of farmers going from “rags to riches” during their lifetimes, and undoubtedly there will be others to follow. Few, however, equal the challenges faced by Bill Asmussen of Agar, SD.
During the “dirty thirties” in the farming community around Agar, Bill admitted that he was $10,000 worse off than broke, and there seemed to be no relief in sight. Crops were almost non-existent; grasshoppers had eaten everything in sight and eight of ten of the farmers in the area were on some form of Work Progress Administration (WPA). <p>Flat broke in 1933, Bill could not give his farm away. He moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and raised sheep on 27 sections of leased grassland. The government was paying for grass seed and Bill contracted to harvest 110,000 pounds at seven cents per pound. Not content with fulfilling the contract, he raised an additional 90,000 pounds above the original government contract. <p>In 1935, at the age of 40 Bill borrowed money from the Regional Credit Corporation (RCC) in Sioux City, Iowa. With his sheep on the reservation, plus the grass seed (which he also sold to seed houses at prices up to thirteen cents per pound) he soon repaid the RCC Loan. He also harvested seed in Montana – 53,000 pounds in 1937, 35,000 pounds in 1938. <p>In addition, Bill leased land back in his home county and used that land for harvesting the wheat grass seed. He left his sheep ranch in Pine Ridge in 1940 and invested what little capital he had in land near Agar. <p>By 1944 Bill was farming 5,800 acres, on which the crop yield was estimated at 25,000 bushels of wheat and 50,000 bushels of corn. In addition, he already stacked 500 tons of hay and was raising over 6,000 sheep. <p>As weather and crop conditions improved, so did Bill’s success. By 1945 he was honored for his “mixing it up” methods (raising both livestock and cash grain crops) when he was named “State Farmer” of that year. There were sometimes as many as 40 men working for Bill. <p>When the peak of harvest season was reached one summer, the only café in Agar burned to the ground. That left 40 men, women and children without a place to eat. Bill quickly converted what was once used as a “bunkhouse” into a café and opened for business. That café in Agar is still in operation. <p>From $10,000 worse than broke to a spread that now includes some 30,000 acres of land, cattle and hogs, Bill Asmussen exemplifies the courage and tenacity needed to become successful. From land that produced nothing between 1933 and 1940, he weathered the storm until 1945 when he owned more than 23,000 acres of farm land and pastures, raising 8,000 sheep, 400 head of cattle and 1,000 hogs.
|Home Town (Agar, SD)|