Farm Rescue hires former Farmers Union leader as its first full-time development director

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — A nonprofit that helps farmers in need in five Northern Plains states is bringing a full-time development director on board.

Dennis Wiese, 54, of Flandreau, South Dakota, has decades of experience working the land and on agricultural issues. He is a former longtime president of the South Dakota Farmers Union and a former secretary and treasurer of the National Farmers Union. He currently farms with family members and runs a consulting business.

"Dennis has a wide array of experiences in rural America and in non-agricultural areas of the United States," Farm Rescue founder and President Bill Gross said. "He has worked on projects in the environmental, food, energy and transportation industries while maintaining his roots in farming and serving the public."

Wiese was one of about three dozen applicants for the Farm Rescue job. He becomes the fifth full-time staffer for the nonprofit that Gross started in 2006 with just a handful of volunteers to help farmers in North Dakota struck by illness, injury or disaster. The nonprofit has since expanded to South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Iowa, helping farmers in need plant and harvest crops and hay. It helped its 300th farm family this fall.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said in a statement that he's pleased with Wiese's selection.

"Dennis' network of friends and colleagues across the country know him to be a passionate servant of rural America," Frederickson said.

Wiese said his role will largely be outreach and public relations, to strengthen fundraising and support for Farm Rescue, which relies on donations, grants, business sponsors and a network of about 1,000 volunteers around the country who travel to farms to do the actual physical labor.

"It's an endeavor to sustain the organization decades-out," Wiese said of his hiring.

Farm Rescue is not looking to expand its geographical area for at least another year or two.

"Expanding the number of people we serve within the states we're already in, I think that's something we can do a little sooner," Wiese said.

Farm Rescue has been helping about 50 farmers per year, with an annual cash budget approaching half a million dollars.

Wiese, who served as president of the South Dakota Farmers Union from 1993 to 2005, plans to continue living and farming in eastern South Dakota while working full time for Farm Rescue, which is based in Jamestown, North Dakota.

"We know farms are growing, and oftentimes farmers themselves, as much as they'd like to stop everything and go help a farmer in need with acres to do, it's impossible," he said. "The demand is significantly growing for Farm Rescue."

That demand has put increasing strain on Gross, who flies cargo planes around the world for UPS. Gross said he will continue to be actively involved in Farm Rescue but not to the extent he has been in the past.

"It's hard to maintain my full-time job in addition to maintaining sponsorships and bringing in new funding for Farm Rescue," he said. "I definitely needed help in that area."


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