Agriculture in the Dakotas isn’t sexy anymore. Drilling for oil, not farming and ranching, is get getting all the attention.
Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in South Dakota, but it’s probably No. 2 in North Dakota. Ag and oil were about the same in 2010 -- $7.4 billion for ag versus $7.3 billion for oil, according to a North Dakota State University economic base analysis.
Agricultural sales probably grew in 2011, given high grain prices and good yields that year. But oil didn’t just grow. It boomed. And it is still booming. As one headline blared recently, “The Bakken Is Rocking.”
Could oil one day big as big as farining and ranching in South Dakota and North Dakota combined? Maybe.
Agriculture’s star burned brightest when farmers were building value-added processing plants. Using the Red River Valley sugarbeet cooperatives as business models, they built corn milling and pasta plants, soybean and canola seed crushing plants and finally ethanol plants and wind farms.
The cooperatives created jobs, increased grain prices and brought new crops and new wealth to the Dakotas. There were economic development seminars about ag entrepreneurship and conferences about how to finance value-added ag start-ups. Agriculture was sexy.
Now, much of the attention has faded.
It’s wrong, though, to assume that Dakota agriculture is done growing and changing. The question is, “What will be the next big thing?”
Unfortunately, very few people are talking about what’s next. One day the oil wells will run dry. But the sun will shine and the rain will fall forever, and the world will always need the food that Dakota farmers and ranchers can produce.
And that's sexy.
Check out my editorial in the September Dakota Farmer for some of my ideas on how to put some excitement back into the business.