The future of agriculture was the topic of discussion at Dakotafest on Aug. 17, in Mitchell, SD. A large crowd gathered to listen to forum speakers. Moderated by Lucas Lentsch, South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) director of agricultural development, featured speakers included Steve Dick, executive director for Ag United For South Dakota; Barry Dunn, dean of South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences; and Walt Bones, South Dakota ag secretary.
While there were differing opinions on how the agriculture industry could navigate toward success, all agreed that the future of food production looks bright. Here are the highlights:
On information access
"SDSU is deeply engaged in solving the challenges facing producers, especially young and future farmers. One thing we are very excited about is iGrow, an online service of SDSU Extension, that serves as a web portal of information that’s important to you," says Dunn.
The iGrow service can be found online here. The program contains information and data for 4-H youth, livestock, agronomy, healthy families, community development and gardens.
“If we went back to production levels we had in the 1950s, nine of our most populous states would not be fed today. Back then, farmers were worried about feeding themselves. Today, we struggle with doing more with less; 40 million acres of prime farmground have been taken away for development as the world population grows. Every minute, we have 100 more people in the world to feed,” adds Bones.
“Consumers are seeking the locally grown option,” explains Dick. “They want and need that market of production. It’s hard to do that with concepts from the 1950s. Today, we are better stewards of the land, and our genetics have allowed us to produce more with less resources. The opportunity for farmers to sell land for development is huge, but we need to be able to replace that land for crops. Houses don’t produce crops every year.”
On agriculture banking
"The economic scale of agriculture has exploded. Producers are enjoying the financial help from agriculture lenders, and I think loans are actually down in some industries because farmers are able to pay off their land. This is a healthy situation," says Dunn.
"Land prices are going to stay the same or get higher," notes Bones. "Pasture grounds are being torn up for crops, leading to problems. In 1931, we had the record for the most corn planted in South Dakota, and 2011 is right behind that record. We are losing livestock numbers, which is a huge demand base for our crops. The debt has shifted and now is being held by livestock producers."
On growing the cattle business
"The number-one potential for profit is investing in farm kids; they are the best in the country," says Bones. “How do we keep these kids engaged and interested in production agriculture? Our kids can’t be hired hands forever. They need to know they can partner in the operation in the future. Agriculture is truly a higher calling, and we need kids in the industry."
While there are certainly challenges facing food producers, the future continues to look bright -- all words echoed by the featured panelists at Dakotafest. What's your take on sustainability, profitability and the future of agriculture?