HURON — If the geography of the world was somehow rearranged on the basis of oil reserves, the United States would be a bit player.
But the map changes dramatically in a world according to agriculture, South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones said.
“When the world goes shopping for food, where do you think they’re going to come?” he said in a presentation at the MarketPlace conference in Huron on Tuesday.
“You don’t think that opens up opportunity for each and every one of us that are in agriculture or some kind of a business that’s associated with agriculture?” he said.
China is next in line when compared with U.S. agriculture production, but it’s not even close. And China has to turn to other countries for imports because of its huge and rapidly growing population.
“They’re not going to go to China,” Bones said of nations shopping for food. “China is busy just trying to feed their own people. China grows every month by about the population of South Dakota.”
The two-day conference has the South Dakota Farmers Union and the Center for Rural Affairs of Nebraska as its main sponsors.
Agriculture in South Dakota, with a $21 billion economic impact, is far and away the state’s No. 1 industry. It represents one-fourth of the economy and is responsible for 80,000 jobs.
Much has changed since homesteaders first arrived to work the virgin prairie in the 1800s, but much has remained the same.
“Although the tools have changed, agriculture remains the common thread linking the citizens, businesses and communities of our state,” Bones said, quoting a South Dakota Agriculture Department brochure.
In another slide in his presentation, he showed what happened to the unemployment rates in individual U.S. counties as the Great Recession worsened. Spared dramatically high jobless rates were the Dakotas and Nebraska.
“I’m a little prejudiced,” Bones said. “I think a lot of it’s due to agriculture. I think a lot of it’s due with the fact that we have small businesses in South Dakota and the Midwest that do so well.
“I think it’s because of the economic policies of our state,” he said.
With China and other nations hungry for U.S. farm commodities, there are growing opportunities in South Dakota. China, for example, imports 37 million bushels of soybeans every week. India’s population is expected to surpass China’s in 10 years.
The demand for U.S. commodities is obvious.
Countries look to the United States for their food because it’s a reliable supplier and it has an outstanding production system and food safety practices.
“We are delivering the most choices and by far and away the safest food supply, the most affordable food supply, than anywhere else in the world,” Bones said.
Even with one of the worst droughts in decades, the country still produced the eighth largest corn crop in history this year.
“That’s a huge testament to everything that’s going on on the farm,” he said.
But while agriculture is successfully feeding the world, its story must be told, particularly to consumers in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New York City where people are totally disconnected from the farm, Bones said. However, a rural state like South Dakota also is home to people who don’t always understand.
Bones likes to tell the story of the day he was asked how farmers know they are planting corn with the seeds the right side up so they grow upward and not downward.
Or the story of the woman who wrote to a newspaper several years ago saying she didn’t believe large dairy operations are necessary because all kinds of milk can be found in the grocery store.
Agriculture is a noble profession and a higher calling, and young people who enter it each day are just as excited about the future as those original homesteaders were so long ago.
Still, the misconceptions are there, and those who work in agriculture need to clear the air.
“We need to tell them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it the way we are,” Bones said.
For the complete article see the 10-10-2012 issue.
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