News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel Have you seen any lost farms lately?

I recently saw a headline that said, "S.D. Lost 1,455 farms in Five Years." It is easy to get the idea we are fighting a losing battle, if you believe everything you read.

The story was a rewrite of a press release from the Agricultural Statistics Service, which surveys farmers (that word includes ranchers by the way) every five years. It takes almost two years to compile the answers, so they became "news" this month.

Because a person living in town can farm a 10-acre garden and be a "farmer," "lost farmers" might be more accurate than "lost farms."

The declines tend to make the news. Declines included the total number of farms, total cattle, wool production, the number of vegetable farms, dollars spent on chemicals, and several other aspects of our industry.

Not everything went down.� Total farm-related, per-farm income increased 37 percent. (But don't give up your day job.� The average per-farm amount went from $5,589 to $9,500 a year.)

Sales of direct-marketed and organic products went up, as did total acres under irrigation.� Land values went up. The total investment in equipment went up. The amount paid in property taxes each year went up $34 million, and government payments total went up by about $32 million.

The only "up or down" number that concerns me is this one:�harvested cropland in South Dakota dropped by 1,278,159 acres. Pasture and grassland acres increases account for some of that, but farmable land is rapidly disappearing and society will regret losing it someday.

I like to compare our state with the neighboring states of Nebraska and Kansas. All three states have about 45 million acres in farms and ranches and a little more than 10,000 farmers who each operate more than one thousand acres.

The "average" farm is worth more in Nebraska, but we beat Kansas on that count. Nebraska gets the most government payments, and South Dakota gets the least. Nebraska also has the highest total farm income, but their expenses are nearly triple those of South Dakota's farmers.

When we get to the "bottom line" it looks like this: More than 43 percent of Kansas farms lost money in 2002. In Nebraska it was 38 percent, and in South Dakota, only 35 percent.

That may not seem like much to brag about, but we must remember there are many different kinds of "farms," and not everyone does it to make money.� Also, there was serious drought in all three states that year.

In California about 56 percent of the farms reported a net loss in 2002. We must not follow that fad.

I have heard it said that eliminating government subsidies would cause about one third of the farmers to go out of business in the United States.� That might be true for the nation as whole, but we are determined to prevent that in South Dakota.

We will adapt to changing times and markets, and we will make a lot of new things work for South Dakota. Meet me at the State Fair and we will talk about them.

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