Sitting In On the Summit

Inside Dakota Ag

What's the next big thing for South Dakota agriculture?

Published on: July 6, 2011

I’ve been mulling over what I heard at the Governor’s Ag Development Summit I attended in Sioux Falls before the 4th of July.

Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

I was disappointed because I didn’t hear about many new ag development ideas. Lucas Lentsch, director of ag development, mentioned the work the state is doing with the South Dakota Certified Beef program and the progress being made on the construction of the new beef packing plant in Aberdeen. The plant is supposed to start harvesting cattle for the Asian market in October. The state has done a lot of work on both of projects and everyone involved deserves credit for keeping them alive.

Most of the summit focused on the agriculture we have now. Perhaps that’s natural. The outlook for corn, beans and beef is extremely good, given the world’s growing need for food, fiber and energy. Of course, South Dakota needs to be ready to adopt the new technology and get its commodities to markets. It will require investments in ag drainage systems to maximize production and in roads and railroads to get those commodities to market.

However, I think it may be short-sighted not think about what might be next big thing in South Dakota ag development. After all, if farmers hadn’t been dreaming about new markets for corn in the 1980s they wouldn’t have created the ethanol industry.

And, not everyone is cashing in on the kind of agriculture we have now. High commodity prices are driving up land prices, which make it harder than ever to get started farming and ranching. South Dakota will need a new generation of producers to manage the land.

South Dakota’s rural population continues to decline, even though agriculture is doing well. Crop farms are highly efficient. As they expand, the population base of a community declines. Other types of enterprises could reverse that trend.

It's definitely time to dream about what might be next big thing in South Dakota agriculture.