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Agriculture’s future will be driven by more technology and increasing diversity. Better solutions may include both

Technology will continue to change the way we farm.

Technology and diversity will feed efficiency and growth in South Dakota agriculture’s future, according to the state’s Secretary of Agriculture.

Mike Jaspers. Photo by Heidi Marttila-Losure

Mike Jaspers. Photo by Heidi Marttila-Losure

Mike Jaspers, speaking from his second office on his family farm near Bridgewater and three months into his new position, recognizes the two trends as ways to help production agriculture continue as one of the state’s top industries, having a $25.6 billion economic impact.

Technology aids in more detailed production and efficiency, animal-by-animal and acre-by-acre, for the health of the animal, crop, soil and the operation’s income and expenses.

“The things you can do with your smartphone … are the same technologies we’re able to utilize in the ag industry, to be able to be more precise in our operations,” Jaspers said. One example is more detailed management of a cow/calf operation or managing specific seed and fertilizer placements in crop production.

“We’re going to be more micromanagers in the future and really dialing in,” he said. “To me, it’s more exciting. It’s not the same old thing. It’s not your grandfather’s farm anymore.”

The younger generation moving into production agriculture is already accustomed to using technology, Jasper noted, and their skills are needed as the industry changes, especially since the average South Dakota farmer today is 57 years old.

Yet, with tight profit margins and high costs of land and inputs, new producers face financial challenges entering the field or even jumping in the family farm. Of the more than 31,000 farms and ranches in South Dakota, 98 percent are family-owned.

Diversification is a solution, Jaspers said, which essentially grows into a value-added ag situation.

“How do we make room for our son or daughter to come into the operation, with or without a spouse, to makes things work?” he asked. “Maybe it’s putting up a hog farm so the second generation can manage that and … now we’re consuming more of our corn and we’re not just shipping a raw commodity off our farm, so we’re processing more of that locally, so that’s added value as well. It’s bringing in extra revenue and income without having to add more mass to the operation.”

Looking across the landscape of South Dakota’s ag industry, Jaspers also points to profitable growth of smaller, niche markets, like organic, small-scale production of milk, grains and meats. They require less capital, he said, but more management and employment.

“It shows the South Dakota spirit. I think you’ll see more of that kind of entrepreneurship,” he said. “We’re not going to see the whole of South Dakota turn into niche markets … but I think you’ll see more of them.”

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