Agriculture in South Dakota

By Deane Barker

We were driving out towards the middle of the state this weekend for my son’s soccer tournament. it’s harvest time, so the farms were pretty active. My wife started asking me about the crops planted in fields…and I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know much about them.

So, I did a little research this weekend and came up with this information. Some of it is surprising.

  • South Dakota’s biggest crop is actually beef. We’re less of a farm state and more of a ranch state. We have almost 4 million head of cattle in the state. In a distant second place are hogs, with just over a million head.

  • Though I’ve often thought of South Dakota as “the cradle of the American farm,” that’s not really accurate. With one exception (see below), South Dakota isn’t in the top 5 producing states for any significant crop or livestock. If you had to name the “farming state” in the U.S., it would have to be Iowa, which ranks ahead of South Dakota in about everything, and on average, is ahead of everyone.

  • Sadly, we’re not even the “cradle of the American ranch” either. South Dakota ranks seventh in total head of cattle, and even further back when the numbers are normalized for size. In head-per-square-mile, Nebraska has almost double the head of cattle.

  • Sources differ, but as near as I can tell, agriculture isn’t even South Dakota’s largest industry anymore – rather, it’s banking and financial services.

  • As for crops, our biggest by acre is corn, with about 5 million acres planted. Sounds like a lot, but on a bushel production basis, we’re dwarfed by Iowa. Iowa produces almost 4x as much corn as South Dakota. We’re actual seventh, behind Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio.

  • Next up are soybeans and wheat, though sources differ on which is larger.

  • A surprising fact – the fourth largest crop in the state is sunflowers. South Dakota is the second largest producer of sunflower seeds and oil in the country. (North Dakota is first.)

Sources (not the only ones I used, but I was clicking around so much, I lost track…)

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