Times have changed but dedication remains the same

Farm Forum

The past few months I’ve helped gather content for the 50th Anniversary section of the Farm Forum. In reaching out to many people around the state, it was fun and enlightening to hear the memories about our industry going back to 1966.

I was in sixth grade that year. For me, the biggest event of the year was my big sister’s wedding. I don’t remember anything about the crops or cattle we had on the farm near Bath.

Some, who are a bit older than I, do remember. Thanks to those who shared their experiences. In asking for help from others in gathering stories, I loved the comment from By Scott VanderWal, when he wrote, “agriculture looks great on the pages of The Green Sheet.”

The last 50 years have offered some amazing challenges, and the people who have fought against elements and adversity are to be congratulated for surviving. While the Farm Crisis of the 1980s saw a mass exodus from agriculture, a renewed optimism has been seen in recent years. Those who are still in the industry have weathered droughts, blizzards, hail, tornadoes, snowstorms and excessive heat and cold to get to today.

When I first moved to Frederick in the late 1970s, drought parched landscape was the norm. As rains returned, financial concerns deepened, and for some, interest rates for operating loans climbed to 20 percent, an unsustainable condition.

As the industry advanced, corn and soybeans have replaced wheat and small grain fields as technology has enhanced the ability of seeds to handle adverse conditions. Producers are placing more emphasis on the health of the soil. One farmer told me people used to think that if you didn’t keep the soil black, the crops wouldn’t grow. No-till practices have expanded, using crop stubble to capture precious moisture.

Biotechnology in crops has been widely accepted with about 95 percent of the crops in the state planted to varieties with those attributes.

In many ways, the world of ag remains the same, as the people involved are dedicated to the crops and livestock raised. Just as some shine up their pickups with a special wax, taking extra care to provide nutrients in the fields to make seeds grow is at the center of the crop person’s goals. And in livestock, the care and handling of the animals is of utmost importance. If animals don’t get the water and feed they need to grow to their potential, there will be no return on investment.

As in 1966, it takes work. The way things are done is different with auto-steer in tractors, scales and monitors in feed wagons and cell phones used to constantly monitor the markets. The tools of agriculture have changed, but that commitment remains.

In terms of history, 1966 wasn’t that long ago. In seeking photos at the Ag Heritage Museum in Brookings and the Dacotah Prairie Museum in Aberdeen, the staff was eager to help. But, photos and exhibits that have been saved from the 1960s were missing. The materials are just not old enough. That’s a common thread through the many talks I had with those who have been involved with agriculture since that time.

The Ag Museum did help me with providing some of the publications that contained ag statistics from the USDA, including the crop and livestock reports. The resulting graphics illustrate the ups and downs of the commodities through the years.

The staff at the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University was very helpful, and we thank them for assisting us with a timeline of important events that have been part of the advancing industry. A listing of those honored through SDSU’s outstanding farmers/ranchers and homemakers program features many familiar family names.

In the years I’ve been part of Farm Forum, the paper has grown to reflect the explosion of agriculture in this corner of the world. We are so thankful for all of those who have found our publication useful in their agricultural endeavors. Whether it is placing a classified ad for help wanted or buying hay or bottle calves, we know people turn to our pages. A number of businesses shared profiles, summarizing what their company does and how long they have been in business, and they provide interesting reading.

Many important items were not covered. While the Oahe project was mentioned in the 1965 article in the Aberdeen News announcing our publication, the huge water project was stopped. As the corn belt moved further west, moisture has followed the crop, and the resulting ethanol industry has added value.

But 48 pages just isn’t enough space to review the past 50 years. We’ve only touched on a small part of the history. As our pages filled, some stories that were written will be shifted to our weekly Farmer-to-Farmer section. We’ll continue to share the stories we’ve put together. And if you’d like to talk about an important aspect of agriculture since 1966, email me at or call 605-622-2343.

Most of all, thank you for being part of the state’s number one industry.

Follow @farmeditor54 on Twitter.