In South Dakota, our way of life is largely rooted in agriculture. It’s where many of us learned how to work hard, how to be good stewards of the land, and how to focus on the things that matter most in life. While we treasure the traditions we grew up with, it’s important to acknowledge that agriculture is an ever-evolving industry. We must continually grow and learn together to be competitive on the market and prepare our farms and ranches for generations of success. We must be future-focused.
In early July, I had the chance to host my first Governor’s Ag Summit — an event designed to bring farmers, ranchers and industry leaders together to discuss the future of South Dakota agriculture. At the Summit, I led a discussion panel with four young ag professionals. We discussed the challenges of being young producers and agriculturalists, the technological experience the younger generation brings to the table, and the importance of community support for those just starting their careers.
As South Dakota’s first farmer-rancher duo to be elected as governor and lieutenant governor, Lt. Gov. Rhoden and I are primed to tackle these challenges and make a real impact for producers.
Recently, an economic contribution study found that agriculture’s footprint has only increased in South Dakota over the last five years. In 2014, the ag industry contributed $25.6 billion to our state’s economy. Today, that number has increased by nearly $7 billion dollars. This is largely due to the diversification of product in our state and the increased processing we have seen. With more than one of five South Dakotans employed in the ag industry, these numbers are good news.
This growth doesn’t mean much, though, if our overall ag economy isn’t functioning as it should. Earlier this month, I reiterated my support for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which would expand markets, increase stability, and open more opportunities for producers to sell their product. It’s time to modernize our trade agreements. It’s time for Congress to support American agriculture and ratify the USMCA.
We’re also pursuing key initiatives to increase stability at the state level. Right now, we’re providing options like the Second Century Habitat Program that will help take producers’ least productive acres and allow them to try something new. Establishing grass or other conserving covers on those acres — with the ability to hay or graze — is good for soil health, good for water quality, and good for wildlife. Perhaps most importantly, it’s good for a producer’s bottom line. I look forward to partnering with producers and groups across the state to expand my Second Century Habitat Program in future years.
We are making good progress in our work to strengthen South Dakota agriculture, and we’re doing so with tomorrow in mind. As we continue advancing ag, we must stay future-focused. We will continue developing our ag economy and giving young people the opportunity to thrive as farmers and ranchers in South Dakota for generations to come.