By Lilly Platts
Erika Kenner knew from a young age that she wanted to be in the beef industry, and through this commitment, she has become an influential woman in the Simmental breed.
Erika Kenner grew up on her family’s Simmental operation and knew from a young age she wanted to be involved. “I had to be kicked out of the barn all of the time when I was young. My dad (Roger) was at the ranch doing a lot himself so I would tag along,” she recalls.
At the age of 10, Kenner recounts falling in love with a heifer her dad had consigned to a sale. Her grandpa was sitting next to her at the sale, and when Kenner started to become upset about selling her favorite heifer, her grandpa joined in on the auction. The heifer was hers to keep, but the deal included a contract and a loan that was paid back in full with interest. This early lesson in the cattle business was also the start of Kenner’s own herd.
She remained involved with the ranch, building her own herd of females throughout school. She attended North Dakota State University, initially planning to become a veterinarian, but eventually settled on a double major in animal science and communications, with a minor in agricultural business. After graduation, Kenner started working for the American Simmental Association both for the Association and Publication. During this time, she further solidified her place in the Simmental industry, soon finding herself being asked by established breeders to look at bulls for them when she traveled to sales. “I thought it was cool that our membership was putting trust in young people and a woman. That never bothered them,” she explains. After five years of working for ASA, Roger called saying he was wanting to expand the operation but would need more help. “This is what I’m passionate about doing, and I always wanted to move home and do that, so I just did it.”
Roger started Kenner Simmentals in 1974, and the operation was well-established and respected. Despite the potential ease of jumping right into her family’s operation, Kenner points out that from the beginning, she has kept her finances separate, she owns her own equipment both for farming and the cattle, and any land she has acquired from her family has been through a contracted deed, meaning she pays for it.
Kenner’s attributes much of her individual success to the influence of her parents. Her dad, Roger, always allowed her to help out on the ranch and encouraged her involvement. “He wanted all of us kids to have any opportunity we wanted on the farm and was very generous in giving us opportunities. He always left it open for us to make our own decisions,” she recalls.
Kenner’s mom, Jeanette, encouraged her to step outside the comfort of the farm. “When I was young, I was totally fine with staying out on the farm and being with my horse. My mom told me to get out and do something. There were some leadership opportunities that I didn’t dare do, and it took her encouraging me.”
Today, leadership is a major aspect of Kenner’s life. She was elected to the ASA Board of Trustees in 2014 and re-elected in 2017. While on the Board, Kenner served on multiple committees, chaired the Policy and Procedures Committee for four years, and was elected to the Executive Committee in 2019. She has been very involved in the North Dakota Simmental Association for many years, is on the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association Board, and the North Dakota State Farm Service Agency Committee, which is a position appointed by the President of the US. While this is enough to keep anyone busy, Kenner also finds the time to be the head of the airport in Leeds, serve on their Economic Development Committee, and as a chair of her circle in church.
Much like many women in the beef industry, Kenner doesn’t point to gender as a defining aspect of her career. While she recognizes that it may be easy to become intimidated, she also points out that everyone, regardless of gender, will feel this pressure at some point. “I’m always seeking out people who are way better than me at whatever I’m doing, no matter what it is. I learn from them all of the time. Having that attitude of always wanting to learn will help you become more successful and keep you humble,” she says.
Kenner’s most important role models include her parents, past women on the ASA Board, her grandpa, and a woman she traveled with showing Morgan horses. “I started traveling with a trainer in North Dakota, Susan Motter, and she and I would go all over the country to shows.” She recalls learning, “I’m not going to be able to depend on anyone else, I’m going to have to be able to do it by myself, and that attitude rubbed off on me.”