National award winner directs scholarship to SDSU


Farming is a profession steeped in tradition. The best farmers know that in order to preserve those traditions, they have to be willing to innovate. That willingness to embrace change has led Jeff Lakner ’78 to be named Farmer Cooperative Director of the Year by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Lakner, of Wessington, who serves on the South Dakota Wheat Growers board of directors, was presented the award at the national organization’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The award is given to an outstanding farmer director who provides leadership and business insight. As part of the award, Lakner was allowed to direct a $5,000 scholarship donation from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to the land-grant university of his choosing. Lakner directed the scholarship donation to South Dakota State University.

With 4,000 acres of cropland and a cow/calf operation, Lakner represents the fourth generation of his family engaged in production agriculture. The rigors of farm life don’t keep Lakner from devoting time to the agriculture industry. In his seventh year of service on the South Dakota Wheat Growers board of directors, he was recently named vice president of the board.

“Jeff Lakner has been a conduit for elevating and accelerating Wheat Growers to a place of influence both locally and nationally during his time on the board,” says Dale Locken, chief executive officer of Wheat Growers. “His effectiveness in finding answers to industry challenges is unmatched.”

Greg Wickham, left, CEO of Dairylea Cooperative and chairman of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, presents Jeff Lakner with the Farmer Cooperative Director of the Year Award at the NCFC annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.


Lakner admits that running a farm and serving his cooperative requires a time-management balancing act. “I have felt that the time invested in these ventures has been worth the effort,” Lakner says. One of those ventures led Lakner from the prairie of South Dakota to the Harvard Business School. The Ivy League school hosts an agribusiness seminar, inviting two hundred executives from various agribusiness firms who gather to hear about the school’s various case studies. Lakner has attended the seminar on three occasions and suggested that the school offer a case study focused on a comparison of Wheat Growers’ successful business model with that of other cooperatives.

Currently Lakner is working with Harvard Business School on the possibility of creating a case study devoted to risk management in agriculture. Lakner believes how farmers and their cooperatives approach risk management in a global economy will be a key to future success. “Wheat Growers is definitely pointed toward continued growth and development, forming more relationships with others in the agribusiness arena, and continuing to find better ways to serve our customers,” Lakner says.


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