Press "Enter" to skip to content

South Dakota Not Capitalizing on Organic Agriculture

South Dakota News Watch‘s new report on fraud in organic farming includes some figures on how South Dakota seems not to be capitalizing on the organic agriculture market:

The organic food industry has exploded in roughly the past 30 years as a growing number of Americans and people around the world seek more healthful foods grown with fewer chemicals and less-invasive agricultural practices.

Sales of organic foods have roughly quadrupled in the past [5 years], from about $16 billion nationally in 2016 to more than $63 billion in 2021, according to the Organic Trade Association.

South Dakota has been slower than other states to take advantage of the exploding organic market, and is ranked 38th of the 50 states in the number of organic farms. South Dakota’s 124 certified organic farms and related businesses generated $14 million in product sales in 2019, a 42% increase over 2017. However, acres of farmland devoted to organics in South Dakota still make up less than 1% of the overall agricultural land in the state [Bart Pfankuch, “Fraud and Weak USDA Oversight Chip Away at Integrity of Organic Food Industry,” South Dakota News Watch, 2022.08.03].

California leads the nation in number of organic farms and organic production as a percentage of total ag output value. California’s $3.6 billion in organic produce makes up over 7% of California’s total agricultural output. South Dakota’s meager $14.4 million in organic produce is less than 0.2% of its agricultural output. North Dakota’s organic output, though still less than 0.4% of its total production, is nearly twice as large as South Dakota’s.

Other states’s organic farmers generate more dollars per acre than their states’ average output value per acre for all farming. South Dakota’s farms are also failing to generate that premium on their organic output:

  • California: $3,726/acre organic vs $2,020/acre for all farms.
  • North Dakota: $234/acre organic vs $187/acre for all farms.
  • South Dakota: $197/acre organic vs $203/acre for all farms.

It seems strange that, in a state where we brag about farming being on eo four primary industries, more or South Dakota’s ag-industrialists haven’t figured out how to get more value for their efforts by raising organic crops.


  1. P. Aitch 2022-08-10 07:55

    “We ain’t growin’ that damn hippie food.”

  2. John 2022-08-10 09:02

    It’s beyond pathetic that SD largely does not grow food; it grows feed. Minnesota, North Dakota, and even Montana grow food.
    The state not growing food is a systemic failure of state government: the agriculture department, SDSU ag department, and the farm organizations.
    The absence of farm to table dining opportunities in SD is pitiful.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-08-10 10:43

    Every ag product, meats both wild and domestic not grown organically in the United States is contaminated with atrazine, neonicotinoids, glyphosate, dicamba, DDT, mercury, lead, cadmium, PFAS, E. coli, Imazalil plus other toxins and pathogens.

    Now, a California capitalist is bleeding the little South Dakota town of Belle Fourche of some of its municipal water and a wad of DC supplied cash in a state where environmental protection isn’t even a thing.

  4. All Mammal 2022-08-10 11:23

    That geothermal greenhouse is in the works. Good food is coming soon, my friends.

  5. 96Tears 2022-08-10 12:25

    There’s very little independent, critical thinking in South Dakota, and that especially applies to agriculture.

    First, ag policy is driven from the top down in this state. It also doesn’t help that the best and brightest are not qualities sought in state ag secretaries since the First Janklow Regime. Cooperatives that thrived in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are a thing of the past. They’ve been replaced by the commodity groups, like the corn association, where bigger is always better and a man’s place in this world is determined by his bank account. It’s a mindset and business model that creaks from antiquity. What hasn’t changed over the years is the increase in fear-fueled myopia and suspicion among farmers and ranchers of anything that is new or innovative.

    Thus, organic farming pokes its head out in fits and starts with the so-called farmers’ markets or at Dakota Rural Action meetings. Go to a Hy Vee store and you’ll see the “organic” section where you can spend more believing the higher price guarantees a higher quality. Not much of a movement. Don’t expect big answers to come from Noem. She rides horses on her political ads and collects millions in federal largesse on the family farm, but she’s been completely brain dead on anything involving growth in our state economy or agriculture.

    Consumers have demonstrated they’re willing to pay more for a healthier quality, even here in South Dakota. Go to Tyndall or Roscoe or Agar and Dallas where food (feed) is grown abundantly and explain that to the local producers and they’ll give you an odd glance. Nope. Not gonna do that. Talk to them about hosting a giant livestock lot or mass production of turkeys and chickens, or the latest, biggest, most expensive trucks and GPS computer-driven tractors and combines and now you’ve got their attention.

  6. John Dale 2022-08-10 13:05

    The development of a free market for entrepreneurs within our organic closed environment systems space is a great use of our budgets surplus for South Dakota. Entrepreneurship and free markets are few and far between here because they need early stage, high risk capital to work.

    My proposal for this was to award grants to working prototypes, then you don’t have to pay a bureaucrat to count the beans and manage a grant.

  7. WillyNilly 2022-08-10 13:40

    When I read the first line I immediately thought that you might be commenting on fraud, not food. I suspect that the Republican dominated state does quite well capitalizing on fraud.

  8. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-10 17:03

    Don’t hold your breath, Mr. Dale, waiting for the South Dakota legislature to appropriate money for small scale, sustainable, organic agriculture. Shelling out cash grants to organic farmers, who, in your words, “to award grants to working prototypes …then you don’t have to pay a bureaucrat to count beans and manage a grant” is just a huge invitation to fraud. Neither end of your proposal will ever receive any support. Dream on.

  9. Edwin Arndt 2022-08-10 20:31

    If it becomes apparent that there is a sufficient sustained market for organic food or produce
    most likely there will be a supply. It will have to be driven by economics. I believe that organic
    production is more labor intensive so that will be a factor.

  10. larry kurtz 2022-08-10 21:14

    South Dakota is a hole— always has been, always will be. The best dispensary in Santa Fe for several years running is Fruit of the Earth Organics.

  11. John 2022-08-10 22:11

    All Mammal,
    You go!!
    Are you working with Russ Finch, or doing your own thing?
    Reason I ask is my interest to doing a smaller version of the Russ Finch model. A smaller version is “not commercially viable”, but I’m not interested in growing for marketing. (I retrofit my house with geothermal. My gas bill is $14 a month, electric about $60 a month. My future will reduce that with either solar or a fuel cell.) I’d love having a recirculating geothermal under my 110 yard driveway so I never have to plow it. As Russ shows us, it ain’t rocket science.

    Where the heck is SDSU? Ag engineering? SD extension service? SD Department of Ag? Farm Bureau? Farmers Union? Crickets. Owned by corporate ag, then they complain about corporate ag.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-11 05:13

    John makes a key point about the strange seeming absence of South Dakota’s ag institutions from the organic farming field. Even if SDSU, the SD Department of Ag, and the farmers’ organizations have all been captured by corporations, corporations like money, and the numbers from California and North Dakota show that there’s money to be made. Why would those corporations and the institutions they have captured not support organic farming?

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-11 05:23

    96 and P are likely correct to say that a big part of the problem is mindset. The market Edwin says we have to demonstrate is there, but too many South Dakota farmers and their institutions are too narrow-minded to see it. Kristi Noem can’t see it; as 96 says, she is very much all hat and no cattle, all Carharrt and no dirt. Farming for her is about imagery, not about real policy and support to put more South Dakotans to work growing food and enriching the soil for future generations.

    Maybe part of that narrow-mindedness has to do with what Edwin said about the greater labor-intensivity of organic farming. If that is true, then maybe South Dakota’s drive to get by on low wages is blocking some organic farming growth. I’d think encouraging a model of farming that puts more people to work would be in South Dakota’s interest. Maybe it’s not even about hiring people; it’s about moving to smaller organic farms, where instead of one guy in a tractor tending two sections with bulk chemicals, you have a dozen farm families tending their own smaller plots, growing actual food by organic methods.

  14. John Dale 2022-08-11 08:15


    Hypothesis: that we pay for someone who doesn’t contribute to a project to “administer” a grant is worse and more expensive than the fraud.

    With a working prototype of some fundable model, there is no opportunity for fraud. The farmer-entrepreneur invests themselves in building the system (before you get too dismissive, I worked for 10 years with the College of Ag as an independent contractor and employee, and traveled all over Arizona on behalf of The University of Arizona meeting with local food advocates .. I will testify that there is HUGE opportunity to apply automation, closed systems technology, and lots of room for the application of configurations of tools that researchers can’t fathom because they don’t live the problem like a farmer .. The University of Arizona is not the only university doing closed env systems, but because of their work with the Mars project, they are the best). Farmers are immensely creative and motivated anyway. Since the product/focus of the “grant” is the prototype, there is, by definition, no opportunity for misallocation of funding since the scope of the work is already completed. If there were Chinese national participants, you would want to police intellectual property theft, but that should be happening anyway.

    Find me a farmer – left or right – that will disagree with this.

    Bureaucrats do not add sufficient value to the process in my opinion, and should get their butts out of the office and start digging in the (real) dirt rather than being parasites on government funding meant for another purpose.

    “I count the money for farmers” is not a noble goal on its face.

    Willie, your subjective bias has overtaken you.

  15. John Dale 2022-08-11 08:21

    Many farmers could get paid for things they have already completed!

  16. John Dale 2022-08-11 08:23

    Edwin – we must make sure the $ goes to the creative farmers doing the work.

    Greedy thieving bureaucrats salivate at the opportunity to strap a financial plow to farmers, infantilizing them and convincing everyone they can’t function without someone in Pierre overlording them and running their lives.

    It’s a SICKNESS.

  17. larry kurtz 2022-08-11 08:38

    Real conservatives at the Heritage Foundation have called for subsidy reform for years. Both Kristi Noem and Mike Rounds have taken handouts.

    The number of acres in ‘agroecosystems’ has tripled since the 1940s but poor ag practices like tiling have made soils unable to absorb rainfall creating toxic runoff and flooding. In Iowa voluntary buffer strips and other conservation practices have simply failed desertifying parts of the state and causing the Raccoon River to be named one of the most endangered waterways in the United Snakes.

    President Joe Biden has established a task force to determine the social costs of carbon and has required federal agencies to immediately begin applying their findings in their regulatory actions and other decision-making. South Dakota owns loads of the means of production: part of the very definition of socialism.

    South Dakota has joined with other mostly red states to resist the Biden initiative in what they say is federal interference because with guidance from the Koch Machine Republican Governor Kristi Noem has learned how to raise money from the extreme white wing of the Republican Party so she’s a pro now.

  18. larry kurtz 2022-08-11 08:42

    In the 80s when he visited us in Spearditch Dad was able to see how most of the fertile land in Lawrence County was incrementally being covered with concrete and housing for white people. In the 90s and 2000s he wept as shelter belts were being cleared for center-pivot irrigation and fossil water was being pumped from fragile aquifers for the industrial agriculture now killing his once-beloved Brookings County.

  19. All Mammal 2022-08-11 09:25

    John-We haven’t reached out to Mr. Finch. Yet. I find myself needing reminded to stick with his KISS method before I get too carried away with time consuming alterations, which have become minor catastrophic mistakes.

    For as long as I can remember, there’s always been old trailer house alluvium along the Cheyenne and White rivers. We have rounded up more of these structures than intended and are stacking them to use as alleyways and wind/snow breaks. It isn’t hard to find all kinds of wasted building material to recycle. The hard part is not picking up perfectly good looking crap we don’t need. We are a sinfully throw-away society.

    People seem let down once I explain it isn’t going to be a cannabis operation. They’ll come around once they try some unadulterated South Dakota produce. I would love to get thermal community greenhouses in my neighborhood, near Rapid Creek too. Greenhouses should come standard with their own bee colonies as well as rain water collection systems…

    Nighttime is the right time for grunt labor, the heirloom seeds are generously given, the polycarbonate panels are the richest expense and we have been comparing the light-admitting fabric-type quonsets for certain crops down the road. It is really a community of do gooders eager and willing to share their knowledge and experience. The free advice has saved our skin.

    Kids from town can farm and it is a great choice. I started out just harvesting my black walnuts and drying crabapples from across the street to share in a trail mix. Only needs a little seasoning and maybe some pepper jack cheese cubes and it could stay edible forever without preservatives. It goes so fast it barely justifies the time cracking the rock hard nuts and enduring the squirrels’ tantrums. They’ve cracked 2 windshields while cussing me out! I can’t hang clothes on the line anymore either. I caught a baby squirrel and he bit onto my finger. I have to pay them off in Swiss Rolls. Looting walnuts from squirrels takes consideration. Now I have corn all over the place for Mexican street corn treats. I can’t grow enough corn to sate the corn forn yourn fans.

    The good earth couldn’t spoil us more. Always like, “Here you go”, “Try these”, “I made this for you.” It is humbling and gratifying. Thanks for the seed, John. It’s a sprout yet but it’s growing(:

  20. All Mammal 2022-08-11 09:31

    Speaking helpful tips, the old timers’ folklore in the Fox Fire books are invaluable to have for reference as well.

  21. P. Aitch 2022-08-11 11:29

    @All Mammal – Best of luck to you and your plants. May Great Spirit watch over you and them. (I refer to my 50 year old Foxfire books, often too.)
    Warrior Wisdom for You:

  22. T 2022-08-11 19:25

    We are unable to because of paperwork plain and simple. Organic requires 5 years free from pesticides fertilizer etc. no farmer can go 5 years wo income. The duck people won’t let us tile, the government won’t let us grow organic because farmers checks are spent before they get them. Medicaid dependent.
    Blame us if you want but it’s not like we are not trying.

  23. T 2022-08-11 19:26

    Read Silent Spring……..
    Those of us that care are trying with hands tied….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.