4 Reasons to Fall in Love with South Dakota Farmers


Based on the number of food photos and recipes shared on social media, food is a universal language that unites us because we all enjoy eating. Farmers put affordable food on our grocery store shelves, restaurant menus and on our own tables, not only here in South Dakota, but all around the world.

It’s virtually impossible to complain about farmers while you’re well-fed (& clothed).

As our global population continues to grow, so must the output of the South Dakota farmer who strives to provide the world with an abundant and safe supply of food, feed, fiber and fuel.

Farming is one of the oldest occupations that dates back to ancient civilizations. Continual developments over the years allowed production to keep pace with rising worldwide demand. Progress through science and technology helps farmers produce more output with less inputs.

For example, a farmer in the 1930s fed just three people for a year. In the 1960s, a farmer could feed 26 people. Today, the average farmer raises enough to feed 166 people, growing twice as much food as the generation before — all while using less land, water and energy.

Hunger is a growing problem. Nearly 97% of the world’s population lives outside the U.S., which is where nearly all the anticipated population growth will come from over the next 35 years (USGC). However, farm and ranch families make up just 2% of our nation’s population. According to a National Geographic story, feeding up to nine billion people a richer diet “will require us to roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.”


Secondly, agriculture is at the heart of our strong South Dakota economy. Beyond crops like corn, industries such as livestock and related manufacturing provide value-added income, jobs and labor income as well. Ag in our state also adds a significant sum to local, county, state, and federal taxes.

Ag is our state’s No. 1 economic contributor — by far — with $32.5 BILLION in sales for 2020, which is 33% of South Dakota’s total output. Compared to the highly visible tourism industry that brings in just $7 billion, ag wins by a landslide. In fact, the ag industry grew by $7 billion from 2014 to 2019!


Our state’s 49,000 farmers represent solid family values as 97% of nearly 30,000 South Dakota farms are family-run businesses.

And more than 2,500 farms in this state have been in the family for more than a century, raising multiple generations on the same farmland, and often adding acres to expand the operation.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s principal producers are 55 and older. As this hard-working population ages, it will be vital to encourage and support young farmers and ranchers to carry on the legacies of the previous generations. According to the American Farm Bureau, just one quarter of all farmers have been in business less than a decade.

Today’s farmers aren't just overall-wearing guys in seed-corn caps or faceless giant corporations. We are all more alike than you may think. They are our neighbors, school board members, coaches of our kids’ sports teams, sit on the church council, and likely shop at the same grocery store as you.


Finally, South Dakota farmers and ranchers are true environmentalists who value and care for the land, especially when it comes to soil health and water quality. Without productive land, they have no income, and no legacy left to pass on to future generations.

Today’s farmers and ranchers in our state take pride in managing their acres for profitability not only today, but for many tomorrows. In order to grow more bushels from every planted acre, farmers must attempt to optimize the agronomic science of soil, seeds, sunlight, water and weather.

By using the 4R Principles of Nutrient Stewardship, for example, South Dakota farmers can better manage fertilizer type, rate, timing and placement to reduce use, raise yields and achieve sustainability goals such as improved water quality. These efforts also help mitigate climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from fields.

As climate concerns become more important to us all, our state’s landowners are already taking steps to sequester and bank carbon, as well as choosing conservation practices to protect precious topsoil and ensure a clean, safe water supply.

Many farmers also provide habitat for wildlife such as pheasants, giving our state its world-famous reputation for hunting and tourism.

Out of South Dakota’s 19.8 million acres of cropland, almost 5 million acres were planted to corn last year. With a record-high average yield of 162 bushels per acre, 729 million bushels were harvested this past fall, making corn the largest crop produced in the state.

As you can see, it's easy to love South Dakota agriculture because of how much it loves us back — from filling our stomachs and our state's coffers to supporting families and caring for the land that provides for us all.

SOURCES: 2014/2019 South Dakota Agriculture Economic Contribution Study; 2019 South Dakota Tourism Economic Impact Study; 2017 Census; PRX The ProExporter Network (2021); USDA NASS; American Farm Bureau.
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