SIOUX FALLS -- South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn joked 2019 might not be the right year for his talk at the Governor’s Agriculture Summit.

But Dunn spoke about the challenges agriculture faces in overproducing, protecting the environment and delivering leaders for the next generation during his address to summit attendees July 11 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center.

Dunn made the joke about the timeliness of his talk because 2019 won’t be a year when South Dakota will overproduce, with the state feeling the challenges of one of its wettest spring seasons ever.

“I know it’s gutsy to have this talk in a year like this, when we won’t overproduce,” he said.

But Dunn — an SDSU alumnus who previously was an animal science professor and dean of the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences before becoming SDSU’s president since April 2016 — said food remains complicated, and that in almost every major country in the world, they are overproducing food.

“If you came from Mars and walked into a supermarket, you’d be absolutely floored,” he said. “The choices are incredible, fresh fruit and vegetables all year-round. We have very safe food. It’s an amazing experience to go through a supermarket.”

Dunn contrasted that to nutrition stores, which claim to carry a wide variety of nutritional products for people’s health.

“There’s pills and powders and all kinds of stuff but there’s no food,” Dunn said. “The store can be called Complete Nutrition, but that can’t be complete nutrition.”

A crowd of people listen as South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn gives his speech at the South Dakota Governor's Ag Summit July 11 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. (Matt Gade / South Dakota Farm and Ranch)
A crowd of people listen as South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn gives his speech at the South Dakota Governor's Ag Summit July 11 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. (Matt Gade / South Dakota Farm and Ranch)

He said he attended a recent farmers market in Brookings where green beans were priced at $4 per pound, but at Walmart, green beans in the fresh produce section were 75 cents per pound, noting the significant price difference. Dunn said that consumer preference and consumer ability to pay remain important.

“We have producers that sell green beans to both Walmart and the local farmers market,” he said. “Walmart provides very good food at an extremely low price, which is important to consumers. There’s very few people that can pay five times more for something that has the same values and fibers.”

He hopes that more agriculture industries can follow the lead of Certified Angus Beef, which was created in 1977 when ranchers were seeking a way to identify top cattle and provide consumers with high-quality beef. Dunn called it “one of the best success stories in agriculture and business.”

Dunn also touched on the decision from General Mills in 2018 to work with a farm near Pierre to convert 34,000 acres to organic to grow wheat for a macaroni and cheese line.

“We can ask why (General Mills is) entering production agriculture. … But they couldn’t source the quality of cereal grains that they expected and could trust,” Dunn said, noting General Mills has 6,000 food brands and thousands more products. “We better be aware and be ready for change … because it has an effect on all of us.”

Regarding erosion, Dunn said the agriculture community can and must do better, adding that consumers will have more trust in the industry as they look to farmers as stewards of the nation’s collective resources. He said South Dakota’s loss in crop diversity is alarming to him.

“We have a rocky history with the environment in agriculture,” he said. “The Dust Bowl days were the result of production that was out of sync with the climate and conditions.”

Dunn cited the actions that SDSU has taken to advance agricultural efforts. He noted the rural veterinary medical education partnership the university has now with the University of Minnesota, where students would attend two years in Brookings and two years in St. Paul, with the new format set to begin in 2021. The university has opened an e-trading lab and has been building the $58 million South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Brookings, and working to build a new $46 million precision agriculture facility. In 2018, SDSU had 57 students majoring in precision agriculture, with 90 more minoring in the field.

“SDSU has the facilities, faculty, programs, leadership to help South Dakota meet exciting challenges we face,” Dunn said. “We need to encourage and help young people explore leadership opportunities. It’s our duty in a participatory democracy to have those leaders advance.”