News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Do we know the sound of opportunity knocking?

I don't know about you, but I don't hear opportunity knocking on my door each and every day. Maybe it does, but I don't always hear it.

This month I heard opportunity knocking loud and clear at the governor's beef summit, and not just on my door. Many of the 300 people in attendance heard the same thing.

Most of my life I have heard agricultural producers complain about cheap commodities. We have all heard the stories about the farmer's share in a loaf of bread being a nickel or less.

There are still many people who think they can stop free trade or talk the government into endless price supports so they can make money being a bulk commodity producer. Those things work a little bit and for a short time.

But, taxpayer subsidies on bulk commodities won't last forever and neither will any effort to seal the borders against foreign trade.

I am here to tell you (and the governor already told us) there is a solution: we should stop being commodity sellers and start being product marketers, but it is your choice.

Think we don't have a product? You are mistaken. Our state's clean air, pure water, open range and abundant natural resources are worth a premium to the consumers of the world who can afford to pay extra to get what they want. All we have to do is put that into a food product.

With beef, we are doing that with the South Dakota Certified Beef¨ program, which will offer choosey customers two choices of beef products: one of premium beef and one of natural beef.

Both product lines will be beef that was born, raised, fed and processed within the state of South Dakota in accordance with strict and documented protocols designed to assure quality and traceability. We intend for this to be the world's best beef, not just another "nice steak."

Those who want to tap into an additional premium and the hot market of "natural" foods can follow the South Dakota Certified Natural Beef¨ protocols, which include: no use of growth hormones, no use of implants, no use of antibiotics, and not fed any animal derived feed products.

There is a major side benefit to the natural beef protocols. Because of the natural protocol requirements and the condition that no beef can be slaughtered after 30 months of age, this beef should be eligible to hit plates in Japan and the European Union.

I believe you will see the results of this effort on the grocery store shelves in a couple of years. Shortly after that you will see a major increase in the beef industry's contribution to economic wealth in this state, and the economic benefits will flow all the way back to the cow-calf operator, because if he does not enroll that new calf into the program, the calf can never become a South Dakota Certified Beef¨ product. The program is purely voluntary.

I really believe this is going to work, and I really believe that a similar philosophy can be used to transform a portion of our other bulk commodities into products. (Ethanol is really nothing more than a bulk commodity changed into a product, although not branded.)

I wish you could have been at the governor's summit to hear the inspiration of his vision and the optimism and enthusiasm of the other nine speakers. If you had, you would believe it, too.

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