2021: a look back at South Dakota’s agriculture industry

RAPID CITY, S.D. — As the final days of 2021 tick by, NewsCenter1 decided to take a look back at highlights in South Dakota’s second-largest industry – agriculture – over the past year.


Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was confirmed with minimal opposition in February for his second stint as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack’s focuses include climate change, fair markets, and food security.

“Agriculture is one of our first and best ways to get some wins in this climate area,” Vilsack said during his confirmation testimony.

He spent eight years leading the same department for former President Barack Obama.


South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem successful in her push to merge the Departments of Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources into one.

The merger aimed to streamline access to information, create a new livestock services program, and make a one-stop-shop for local producers.

While residents didn’t see much change at the outset, the first major change was the launch of a new website. 


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Ph. D. student Patrick Kozak points to salt and evaporite deposits along the bank of a stock dam

While drought conditions persisted across much of the state, South Dakota Mines scientists worked fervently to understand a growing problem: rising salinity in stock dams.

With virtually no naturally existing surface water year-round in our area, stock dams are a critical source of water for cattle. Increased temperatures and decreased rainfall compound with minerals in the ground to push salt concentrations above safe limits.

“In 2019, we had no impoundment over 4,000 microsiemens [per centimeter],” says Ph. D. graduate student Patrick Kozak. “That is all consumable by livestock and wildlife with minor irritations but no major problems. Starting in 2021, when we got out this year, we started running into impoundments that were over 10- to 15,000 microsiemens.”

Some ranchers were even forced to truck-in water for cattle during those driest months, while others took advantage of both federal and state orders regarding hay-hauling flexibility.


South Dakota legislators in Washington pushed for mandatory country-of-origin labeling to give American producers a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Senators Thune and Rounds, along with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, worked to redefine “Product of the USA” labels to mean that meat was born, raised, and harvested in the United States.

“If we want a strong rural America, we need a strong family farm and ranch system of agriculture – and the only way we’re gonna get that is if our independent producers can compete in the marketplace,” says R-Calf CEO Bill Bullard.

Currently, the label is only given to meat processed in the U.S., even if it was raised elsewhere.

The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association praised Thune and Rounds’ efforts. 


Integrating technology into ranching practices is a major focus for scientists at South Dakota State University’s extension office.

New tech like virtual fencing and smartfeed scales are being designed to give ranchers an edge.

Scientists at SDSU’s extension even created an app to allow producers to track mineral consumption across pastures.

“It’s really focusing on helping beef cattle producers make better management decisions regarding nutrition – specifically mineral nutrition – and then that will equate to improved health performance of their cattle,” SDSU Extension Specialist Adele Harty says.


Two state legislators are preparing for the introduction of land tax legislation designed to correct the balance of state tax assessment issues between east and west river ranchers.

Representative Trish Ladner and Senator Jessica Castleberry are co-sponsoring Draft Bill 50 to allow ranchers the ability to request a reclassification of cropland back to grassland. Draft Bill 50

“Our ranchers could be facing a tax increase of between 280 to 300%. Many ranchers have told us that their family ranches, that have been operating for 100+ years, may not be able to survive the increase,” Rep. Ladner says.

Ladner and Castleberry say that if implemented, Draft Bill 50 could correct between 80 and 85% of the grassland assessment issues.


Only time will tell what the new year has in store, as the landscape of 21st century farming and ranching changes.

Categories: ConnectCenter1-Ag, Local News, Politics & Elections, South Dakota News