Death of family farm causing rural decline Gabriel says towns need to work to maintain quality

Death of family farm causing rural decline Gabriel says towns need to work to maintain quality by Michelle Herrick PIERRE (CNS) � Electric cooperatives met Thursday and Friday in Pierre to discuss possibilities for economic development issues in less populated areas of South Dakota.

Melissa Maher with the Moreau-Grand Electric spoke about a new project called Horizons in the communities of Timber Lake, Isabel and Dupree.

"We have been chosen as a pilot site for this program that is supposed to help reverse the declining economy," Maher said. "It is designed to help improve leadership roles in the community."

The program is sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation and is designed to guide cities through a comprehensive nine-month plan where a coach helps them develop new ideas for growth.

The South Dakota Rural Electric Association hosts a meeting each year for its 30 cooperatives, and this year they decided to their annual meeting programs around the powerful impact of cooperatives on South Dakota, according to the president, Tom Brunner.

"We are always trying to emphasize our commitment to the communities we are in," Brunner said.

Secretary of Agriculture Larry Gabriel spoke at the convention saying rural communities and small towns need to work together to come up with ways to maintain their quality of life.

"Rural South Dakota is dying," Gabriel said. "We definitely need to change this trend. We are at a crossroads. We can either try to compete in the world market by producing low cost commodities, or we can produce high quality products."

Gabriel said in his speech to a packed auditorium that the reason small towns are dying is because the small family farms are closing down.

"Farmers today are working land that 10 farmers used to work," he said. "And the farmer of the future will not only farm in one state, but in many. He will plant timely and will harvest timely."

Ken Cameron is a retired farmer from Wilmot and he said in his area big farms are taking over the smaller farms.

"It's a trend that's wrecking small communities," he said. "There's nothing that can be done. Agriculture is changing so rapidly, and most of the young people have headed off for the city. I wish I could be more optimistic."

The Department of Agriculture is talking with eight meat-processing plants that want to come to South Dakota.

"We have to look for new ideas and we have to look for economic engines for these communities," Gabriel said.

Gabriel is excited about the prospect of genetically modified crops and their potential to be grown in South Dakota fields.

"It won't appeal to everyone, but hopefully it will appeal to enough to generate income and keep families and small towns viable," he said.

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