Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Value-added agriculture.

The phrase has become as popular as America, motherhood and apple pie among those seeking office in the upcoming June 4 election.

Practically every candidate running for every major office in South Dakota has been talking about the importance of agriculture to our state�s future.

They talk about the importance of processing our agriculture products here, instead of shipping them out of state so that others can reap the benefits of South Dakota farmers.

Finally, someone is paying attention to a rather scary trend in our state.

For too long, we�ve been loading our grain on rail cars and sending it away because not enough ethanol plants or other types of processing units exist in South Dakota to provide a market for all of the bounty our farmers produce.

Grain isn�t the only thing that we ship away. Many of our farmers utilize the crops they raise to feed cattle and hogs, only to eventually ship them out of state.

And, finally, for a variety of reasons, some areas of agriculture in our state are in a state of decline.

For example, in 1995, there were 5,400 farmers in South Dakota raising hogs. By 2000, according to an issue of Hogs and Pigs report from USDA-NASS, that number dropped to 1,900 farms.

Lower (and perhaps more volatile) prices, changing farmer demographics and marketing difficulties hastened the exit from hog farming, according to experts in swine production.

The decline in farms was mainly among the smallest sized operations. At the same time, the remaining producers have increased the size of their operations, on average. There may be significant economies of size in raising hogs, as the number of large operations has increased.

Despite the decline in the number of sows in South Dakota, the number of hogs marketed has increased. The pig crop declined from 1995 levels, but inshipments, presumably of feeder pigs, has made up the difference. The ability to use existing facilities and relatively inexpensive feed are potential causes.

Ironically, South Dakota has seen a decline in the number of hogs slaughtered in the last couple of years, in contrast to the increase in the number of marketings. The reason for the disparity is that some South Dakota producers ship hogs to Minnesota or Nebraska for slaughter.

So, to recap: In the past seven years, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of hog farmers in South Dakota. Remaining hog farmers have helped fill that void by increasing production. But it appears the only way we can market higher numbers of hogs is to ship in more feeder pigs.

And when they are ready for slaughter, our state doesn�t benefit as it should. That�s because some of our hogs are slaughtered in Minnesota and Nebraska.

There are many more variables involved in today�s hog market. This entire page wouldn�t be enough to explain them all. Farming has grown to be a very complex business.

A couple things seem to stand out, however. Declines in hog farm numbers have occurred despite the Family Farm Act of 1974, and Amendment E, approved by South Dakota voters in 1998. Both of these measures have been strongly described as necessary components to ensure that family farms don�t disappear in South Dakota.

In the world of hog farming, neither appear to be working.

On top of that, now we have to endure shrill, hysterical ads from out of state environmental groups who oppose Amendment A.

Amendment A, designed to make Amendment E a bit more farmer friendly, will bring disease and pollution to the land, according to these so-called environmentalists.

We urge our readers to ignore the hysteria and focus on the facts. Amendment A seeks to preserve farmer control, personal responsibility and the viability of rural communities, while allowing unrelated people to form business relationships that provide the capital necessary to keep small farms operational.

Amendment A allows research farms, corporate ownership of agricultural land for wind power projects and corporate ownership of livestock for research or medical purposes.

It stands to reason that it would also open up new opportunities for value added agriculture in South Dakota � the panacea to many of our economic woes, according to our political candidates.

South Dakota risks missing out on such economically important projects under Amendment E (which has been found unconstitutional in federal court, by the way) even though these projects pose no threats to small farms.

We urge a yes vote on Amendment A.

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