An Ear to the Ground

Posted: 3/3/2011

By Walt Bones, South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture

Telling Agriculture's Story

Farming has definitely changed from the "good old days" chronicled in the stories that our forefathers have passed down through the generations. Today's farmers and ranchers, like everyone else, have learned to do more with less. When my great-grandfather homesteaded our family farm in 1879, he produced enough food to feed his family. Fifty years ago, my dad produced enough food to feed 26 people. Today, I can produce enough food to feed 155 people. 

The truth is more people are becoming more disconnected from the farmers and ranchers that grow their food. In South Dakota, only about 5% of our state's population are farmers and ranchers. On a national scale about 1% are farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, our way of life is being defined by people who don't' know what we are doing. 

As producers, we need to tell the positive story about agriculture and rural South Dakota. 

From my great-grandfather's roots, our family has created the base from which we have grown a diverse modern agri-business. Our core businesses of grain and livestock production have remained the same as they were a century ago. We grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. We also have a beef cow herd, develop the replacement heifers for the Turner County Dairy, of which we are a partner, and finish beef cattle in our feedlot. 

Over the years, our farm has experienced many of the same trends seen in most businesses. Twenty-five years ago my dad paid salaries to 45 people. Today, we are farming more land while raising and caring for more livestock with eight full time employees (family members included) and one to four seasonal employees, as needed. 

But don't mistake the progress on our family farm as a move away from our traditional values. We have retained our ancestors' core values of ethical stewardship and community service. We understand that we are temporary caretakers of the land and we are charged with the responsible management and protection of the wildlife, soil, and water resources entrusted to us. 

Last spring, as I was planting corn on the "tree claim" farm that was originally homesteaded by my great-grandfather, I began to wonder what he was doing 130 years ago on that very same day. He woke up , did his chores and it is possible that he started planting his crop on that same piece of land that I was then planting. I like to think he was anticipating the growing season with as much hopefulness as I do today. 

Thank you to Governor Daugaard for giving me this opportunity to serve him and you as your Secretary of Agriculture. And thanks to all of you. I really appreciate all that you do to make agriculture our State's number one industry. I hope to continue to use this type of forum to visit with you on issues facing those of us in agriculture every day. 

As a producer, I want to keep my ear to the ground and listen to your feedback on how you see agriculture today and tomorrow. You can register your comments at or call the office at 1-800-228-5254.




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