DAUGAARD: Our state has a proud heritage in agriculture
Last week I attended the fifth-annual Governor's Agricultural Summit in Deadwood. Each summer the South Dakota Department of Ag holds the summit for producers, elected officials and local business leaders to network, share best practices and learn about the policies that regularly impact agriculture. This year, there were presentations and demonstrations on the farm bill, regulatory issues, transportation infrastructure, wildland fire and mountain pine beetle treatment.
The summit has always focused on agriculture's potential to impact economic development, and this year's summit examined that theme by focusing on the "state of agriculture." As we celebrate South Dakota's 125th anniversary this year, we also celebrate our proud heritage as an ag state.
From our state's infancy, agriculture has been the bedrock of our economy. For the fourth year in a row, South Dakota's GDP has increased. During the last five years, our state's economy has grown by 25 percent, compared to the national growth rate of 14 percent. This economic growth was led by our ag industry, which rebounded from a drought year in 2012 to post a 34 percent increase this year.
Our incredible growth offers tremendous opportunities for economic development through a variety of value-added enterprises, and many new and existing South Dakota companies are taking advantage of these opportunities. If we can raise more pigs, feed more cattle and milk more cows, the economic benefits will reverberate throughout our entire state.
Of course, engaging in agriculture has always involved risk. In the 1800s, the cowhands who trailed cattle to railheads like Belle Fourche, Smithwick and Buffalo Gap fought rustlers, got trampled by stampeding cattle and broke bones while breaking horses. The homesteaders who followed fought drought, plagues of insects, crop failures and low prices.
Mother Nature is not always kind, and our farmers and ranchers know that more acutely than most. The 2012 drought impacted every corner of our state. In 2013, many producers lost calves in a spring ice storm. Then, in October, ranchers lost tens of thousands of cattle in Winter Storm Atlas. More recently, floods and tornadoes have damaged fields, farms and homes.
Yet South Dakotans have persevered, and despite what the future may hold, our producers will continue to press on. Our farmers and ranchers get up before dawn and quit long after the sun has gone down. They possess the dedication to see a job through no matter how difficult the task. And they have the courage to stand up for what's right even when it is unpopular.
While there will always be some hardship and risk, things are looking good in South Dakota. Our state of agriculture is strong. I'm optimistic about our future, and I hope you are, too.