Farmers and ranchers in the state sold more than $10 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012, a 55 percent increase in just five years. More than 5 million acres were planted to corn in 2012, placing the state as the sixth largest corn acreage in the U.S. With a total of 4.7 and 2.2 million acres of soybean and wheat respectively, South Dakota ended in the top 10 states for both. The state ranked fourth in the country for “all wheat” in 2014 with 131 million bushels up 53.7 million bushels from 2013 (69% growth!). South Dakota growers also produced more than 4.5 million bushels of oats (fourth in the nation). In 2012, the state produced 5.8 million bushels of sorghum, placing also in the top 10 for this crop. With a strong livestock sector the state is among the top 10 with 3.9 million head of cattle and calves. In 2015 the gross revenue from the livestock industry was 2.28 billion from beef, 621 million from pork, and 362 million from dairy, almost 3.3 billion dollars for all three major livestock sectors combined. Each year South Dakota’s agriculture industry contributes almost $21 billion or 20 percent of the state’s economic activity, and its value added industries employ over 80,000 South Dakotans.

These incredible agricultural statistics for the state have spurred the growth of both rural and urban communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the state’s population grew only 8 percent from 2000 to 2010, but it has grown 3.7 percent just between 2011 and 2013. As of 2014 South Dakota is number six in the top 10 fastest-growing states in the US.

South Dakota was ranked as the top state for business in a 2013 CNBC study with input from business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. Measures of competitiveness were variables such as the economy, cost of doing business, education, etc. This also has impacted well-being and quality of life. In a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being survey conducted in 2014 on more than 176,000 U.S. citizens across all 50 states, South Dakota was third in the country behind only to Alaska, and Hawaii, respectively.

There’s talks about how international markets and prices can affect agricultural development. There are also concerns on how climate can also have an effect by reducing crop production. The pressure exerted by non-agricultural audiences on current agricultural practices is also cited as a matter of concern. The real challenge to agricultural development however may be coming from within, and it is not having these statistics to reflect on and promote the excellence of South Dakota.

Producer’s response to official USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) surveys has declined in recent years affecting data quality and in some cases causing data to be suppressed from publication since it did not meet statistical standards. This decline has been starker in South Dakota than in other parts of the country. Consider the following example: In 2014, USDA-NASS conducted the Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land survey, which provided comprehensive information on the production costs, debt incurred and assets required to produce food and fiber in the United States. This information is used heavily to guide farm policy and measure the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of programs already enacted. The response rate in South Dakota was 55.1 percent, last among the 25 published estimate states. That compares to a response rate of 80.6 percent in Minnesota and 82.3 percent in Iowa. The need for statistical information however is not something new.

Since the founding of our country those most directly involved in the production of food and fiber recognized the need for accurate and timely information on the Nation’s agriculture. Our country’s first president, George Washington, was first to survey the young Republic’s farmers to obtain information needed to help improve farming methods and increase production on farmland. Washington believed that if the United States was to be strong domestically and internationally that it must be strong agriculturally. He also recognized that information was power. He required extensive reporting and documentation on the workings of his own plantation in Virginia to continually improve and perfect his operation. Washington realized that to achieve his dream of the United States being a breadbasket to the world, the same level of information regarding the situations faced by other farmers was necessary.

By 1860, the United States had an estimated 2 million farms valued at 7 billion dollars. Farmers no longer produced food and fiber for subsistence, but for a growing population moving into manufacturing and retail occupations. Farmers realized that statistics were now needed to guide the marketplace and agricultural policy. Farmers, agricultural societies and farm journal editors fought hard for the newly elected Abraham Lincoln to establish a Department of Agriculture to provide agricultural statistics for the Nation. It was commonly believed at the time that shrewd speculators were taking advantage through knowledge of crop conditions and acreages not available to thousands of rural farmers.

While the number of agencies and activities of the Department of Agriculture have grown over time NASS still strives to provide accurate and useful statistics in service to agricultural production, markets and policy. NASS annual programs seek to compile nearly the exact same information George Washington found so important over 250 years ago. Unfortunately, while farmers in 1860 fought for and won an Agricultural Department to provide this type of information, today, producers in certain parts of the country often refuse to support their industry in this way. While NASS goes to great lengths to mitigate the effects of non-response to agricultural inquiries, there is no substitute for producers’ responses to requests for information so instrumental in supporting agricultural research, ensuring an efficient and fair marketplace and guiding agricultural policy and decision making. We can't improve what we can't measure.

South Dakota agriculture has a bright future ahead which has started already by growing 55 percent between 2007 and 2012. The industry has one of the single largest impacts on the economy of the state and indirectly in the well-being of its citizens.

Policy decisions will be made and markets will function on the data that is available. When there is indifference to those informational needs, data quality can be impacted and implausible, unsubstantiated claims from other sources can emerge leading to uncertainty for all involved. Indifference continues to grow in South Dakota as an increasing number of producers choose to decline survey participation. Choosing to underrepresent the state’s number one industry does not support growth, leads to market uncertainty and can affect policy and decision making that impacts future farming generations. Producers are encouraged to reply to official NASS survey programs to accurately represent South Dakota’s agriculture.