Views from the Secretary

Views from the Secretary
What We Need

It is not always easy to know what farmers and ranchers really need from the government. Many of them don't complain during tough times because they are tough people.

Most of the farms and ranches in the western half of the United States have been hit by drought since the turn of this century. For some it has been six years of tough times. We tend to think there is something the government can do about that.

The government cannot do the one thing we really need, make it rain. Governments need to focus on doing for people what the private sector cannot do. What is that in this case? What do these people really need from the government?

For one thing we need public leadership to give focus, direction and hope. Without those, nothing else will work. That's a real need and something the private sector cannot provide.

The next most important need is water. Everything must have to it survive in the West. The number of people, livestock, crops, wildlife and even trees is controlled by available water. Have you ever noticed that all the large cities in the West are near a water source? That is no accident, and most of the time government delivers the water because no one else has the power or resources to do it. That's a real need and something the private sector cannot provide.

So what else can the government do that no one else can? It can give temporary tax relief. Only the government can do that, but there is a down side. Unless government spending is reduced, tax breaks just shift a burden to others.

The government can hand out credit or hand out money, but those things don't really do much to fix the problem. They too just shift burdens in most cases.

The government can perform research and development of methods and products less dependent upon rainfall. That helps.

The government has been promoting no-till and minimum-till farming for many years. That helps.

The government has done a little work on developing new drought resistant or tolerant varieties of crops. That helps.

The government has been promoting some forms of "alternative agriculture" (mostly for very small operations). That helps.

However, what we really need (if we are in for a decade or longer drought) is leaders with vision. We need to take a look at the water we have and think of ways to use that water wisely in combination with our other efforts to build a more drought resistant economy.

Think it can't be done? If so, you are wrong. The people of South Dakota and its leaders will figure out a way.

The impossible is just something we ain't got around to yet.

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