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Diverse Agriculture South Dakota boasts a robust agriculture economy

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 18, 2020

The Wyoming Livestock Roundup is excited to highlight South Dakota farms, ranches and agribusinesses in this 2020 Winter Cattlemen’s Edition. 

            Known as the Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota is a vast and diverse state, with row crops to the east eventually giving way to the ranches of the Black Hills in the west.

Early history

            Exploration of the state began as early as 1743 as French explorers searched for a route to the Pacific.

            South Dakota was eventually a part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, orchestrated by then President Thomas Jefferson. The territory included in the deal doubled the size of the United States at the time. South Dakota officially entered the Union on Nov. 2, 1889.

            Home to the Sioux Nation, consisting of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes, the origin of the state’s name comes from the Sioux Indian word meaning friends or allies. The infamous Black Hills also got their name from the Lakota word Paha Sapa, meaning “hills that are black.” Seen from a distance, the pine-covered hills appear black as they rise thousands of feet about the surrounding prairies. 

            The first permanent settlement was established at Fort Pierre in 1817, though heavy settlement of the territory didn’t begin until the arrival of the railroad in 1873 and the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874. 

            The late 1870s brought a boom to South Dakota farm settlements east of the Missouri River. Many settlers and immigrant farmers raised wheat east of the Missouri River as equipment and milling technology surged.

            Railroad advancement west of the Missouri was long met with native American opposition. 

            Driven by demand for gold, the land west of the Black Hills opened up to cattle in the mid 1870s. Following years of conflict, the Black Hills region was officially opened to settlement in 1877. Cattle operators from across the country swarmed to the region, which is still dominated by cattle today. 

Agriculture today 

            With 43,22,000 acres farmed and 29,600 operations, agriculture remains the number one industry in South Dakota, with a nearly $21 billion impact on the economy annually and over 115,000 people employed. Ninety-five percent of the operations in the state are family farms. 

            Cropland accounts for 19,813,517 acres, while pastureland comes in at 21,997,620 acres. Top agriculture counties by acreage are Meade, Perkins, Harding, Corson and Jackson.

            USDA reports there are an estimated 48,9133 producers in the state, of which 34,051 are male and 14,862 are female. A majority of these producers are between the ages of 35 and 64 and over 10,000 self-reported as being a new or beginning farmer.

             According to USDA, market value of agriculture products sold in South Dakota totaled $9,721,522,000 in 2017, which ranks 12th nationally. South Dakota contributes to three percent of U.S. agriculture sales.

            Fifty-three percent of sales are contributed to crops, while 47 percent are livestock, poultry and other products. 

            Top crops in the state include 5,631,742 acres of soybeans, 5,274,250 acres of corn, 2,846,347 acres of forage, 1,261,014 acres of wheat and 577,539 acres of sunflowers. 

            USDA reports the livestock inventory to include 3,988,183 head of cattle and calves, 1,560,522 head of pigs and hogs and 233,006 sheep and lambs.

National rankings 

            South Dakota boasts a number of top five and top 10 finishes in overall U.S. production for a variety of agriculture commodities. 

            The state is the number one producer of both bison and sunflowers. With over 33,000 head of bison, South Dakota accounts for 20.7 percent of total U.S. production. The state also produces a whopping 42 percent of the nation’s sunflowers at 1,230,040,000 pounds.       South Dakota comes in at number two for both honey and oat production with 12.2 and 14.1 percent total national production, respectively. The state produces 19,140,000 pounds of honey and 12,615,000 bushels of oats. 

            South Dakota has a number three national ranking for flaxseed, alfalfa, all hay and proso millet. The state produces 288,000 bushels of flaxseed and 2.9 percent of the national total. Over four million tons of alfalfa are produced and 7.1 percent of the U.S. total. All hay production came in at 6,580,000 tons and 4.9 percent of the national average. South Dakota produces 1,891,000 bushels of proso millet for 13.4 percent of the national production. 

            The state is the number four producer of both navy beans and spring wheat. With 49,000 hundredweight of navy beans, South Dakota contributes 1.1 percent of the total U.S. production. Spring wheat production comes in at 60,480,000 bushels and 10 percent of national production. 

            Rounding out the top five national rankings are all beef cows, calf crop, lamb crop, land in farms, popcorn and sorghum for silage. The state’s beef inventory was reported at 1,690,000 head and 5.6 percent of national production. The calf crop came in at 1,660,000 head and 4.8 percent of the U.S. production. The lamb inventory included 215,000 head and 6.3 percent of national production. South Dakota was number five for land in farms at 43,300,000 acres and 4.7 percent of the U.S. total. Popcorn production came in at 27,686,379 pounds and 3.5 percent of the national production. Silage sorghum production totaled 243,000 tons and 5.4 percent of U.S. total production. 

            Other national top 10 products include chickpeas, corn for grain, all sheep and lambs, market sheep and lambs, all wheat, duram wheat, all cattle and calves, cattle on feed, on-farm grain bin storage capacity, sorghum for grain, soybeans, wool, corn for silage, cropland, principal crops harvested, principal crops planted, winter wheat, pig crops, other hay and off-farm grain storage capacity.       

Information in this article was compiled from South Dakota Historical Society and USDA.

Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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