Pierre area man said 'Farmer of the Year' award is bittersweet

PIERRE, S.D. - A man who farms in Hughes and Sully counties was recently named farmer of the year in Central South Dakota. The award is given to someone nominated for their contribution to the community, their promotion of family & community values, their knowledge & use of current technology, and their policies used to conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources and the environment. But Raleigh Leesman said it was bittersweet to receive the award.

Raleigh Leesman farms just like his dad did. Raleigh drives the combine and his wife, Leigh, runs the grain cart.

"It's a family deal, and it always has been," Raleigh said.

He's now passed his knowledge on to his six kids. His three boys are 6th generation farmers. They all farm about 15,000 acres and care for 420 cows. The help he gets is the reason he said he doesn't deserve the award.

"My wife, she does all the stuff that I don't want to do," Raleigh said. "My boys, they put up with a lot more than they should have to."

His wife disagrees though.

"I was pretty proud of him. He's probably the smartest person I know," said Leigh Leesman. "He deserves it 100%."

Someone else in the family would have disagreed as well.

"He'd have made a lot bigger deal about it than I am," said Raleigh.

He was talking about his dad who died on November 13th. He had to bury his father the same day as the awards banquet. He learned how to farm from others but he said his dad taught him plenty.

"Dad taught me a lot of things. One of them was to take the good with the bad," he said.

So now Raleigh is not only taking after his dad and how he farmed, but he's taking the bad and counting his blessings that came from it.

"When I watched my dad take his last breath, what would have been a week ago Monday, yeah I'm very thankful," he said. It brought back a lot of the memories. A guy just forgets stuff."

The federal government bought the Leesman ranch a while ago. But just about 20 years ago, Raleigh started to buy it back. He started with 300 acres and now has about 15,000 acres.