Ag provides 30 percent of state’s economic activity

Farm Forum

“The State of Ag in South Dakota is strong,” Lucas Lentsch, South Dakota’s Secretary of Agriculture, told those attending the 2014 Governor’s Ag Summit in Deadwood last week. “When 48 inches of snow rocked our world and winter came earlier than expected, those affected survived. It’s reflective of the industry and the diverse issues we face each and every day.”

In providing a review of the year, Lentsch listed some of the issues faced by the industry that provides 30 percent of the state’s economic activity.

• The state had a record setting corn crop

• Winter Storm Atlas losses were tempered by the Ranchers Relief Fund

• Hearing in the Heartland addressed the Renewable Fuels Standard

• Record setting cattle prices

• Rail services issue

• Dairy Development successes

Lentsch praised the Ranchers Relief Fund and three groups for offering leadership and a sense of community that provided support for those in need after Winter Storm Atlas.

In his overview of ag, he noted that there are 15 ethanol plants in the state that provide 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Sometimes that market for crops is taken for granted, but all in the state benefit from the use of renewable fuels.

Rail issues provided a choke point for moving corn and other commodities. This became critical when trying to bring inputs into the state this spring. Lentsch said the ag community provided the support to get that changed.

Dairy development continues to add value to commodities. Providing feed for the industry goes hand in hand with the livestock industry in a continued growth pattern. The number of dairy permits has climbed which in turn will support new businesses such as Bel Brands in Brookings.

One of the important things to realize is the value being added to many parts of the industry, Lentsch said. As an example, there are now 10 primary processors of wood products and 9 secondary plants in the state.

Hurdles remain on the horizon. The pork industry struggles with the PEDv. The possibility of other diseases remains on the horizon. And regulations issues related to the “Waters of the United States” rule and the endangered species legislation will have to be addressed by the industry.

Opportunities exist to provide environmental sustainability and infrastructure investments, Lentsch said. Along the way, setbacks hurt, and it takes work and effort to overcome them.

Lentsch said that in the last 9 months, 20,000 head of dairy have been permitted in the state. In the watershed of the upper Midwest, there is abundant feed, water and processing availability. “It’s time to bring the cows home,” he said.

Efforts continue to develop the next generation of livestock production. That’s the future of ag, the future of rural America. The baton of leadership depends on a successful transition by teaching and learning. Those with the heart and passion for the industry need the experience.

Lentsch detailed the county site analysis that is being done in the state. Thirty counties have asked for the survey to be completed. This survey will show potential sites where ag facilities may be welcome and will include infrastructure, water, and power availability assessments. This is one example of how the state’s resources can help at the local level.

There is also great support for continuing research to improve the industry. The work on the SDSU Swine Enhancement facility has received support from Minnesota and Iowa. Another bright spot is the $4.6 million Cow-Calf unit at South Dakota State University.

“The future is in front of us,” Lentsch said. “The lessons learned are behind us. We take the lessons from the past and incorporate that with the best practices of today, to continue to march forward, to provide the best in food production, not only for our country but for our world.”

He said, “I’m very bullish on the future in agriculture. The reason I say that is I’ve seen the next generation. I’ve seen the technology that they are incorporating. I’ve seen the investment willing to be made by industry partners, and we’re going to continue to have a very bright future in South Dakota agriculture.”