South Dakota looks great and appears to be having one of their best grass seasons ever. We took our annual WLJ Ranch Tour to East River, South Dakota during the last week of June and we were fortunate to have great weather. One week earlier we would have been dodging tornadoes in the area. See photos on pages 8-9.
One thing we found on all of our ranch and farm visits was the implementation of a variety of technology.
Agriculture in South Dakota has become a very technical business and it was encouraging to see all this new technology in action. Our group was fortunate to have the state’s current Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch address the group and the former Secretary of Ag, Walt Bones, hosted our group at his family’s farm, Hexad Farms, where they run a 1,500-head dairy, raise beef cattle and farm corn and soybeans.
In this part of the country many grain farmers are starting to lay down drain pipe or tile their fields, and they do this with a Global Positioning System that will keep the pipe at the proper angle to maintain drainage. They can lay down a mile of pipe in an hour-anda-half.
We also stopped at Raven Industries and learned about more new farm technology. GPS combined with field mapping is giving farmers precise seed placement and spray application inovations, and with the high cost of seed, insecticides and fertilizer, one can see this technology is here to stay. Just put your tractor on auto pilot and watch it happen. Someday we’ll be planting fields without a tractor operator.
We also visited Bruner Limousin run by John Bruner and his family. And he will tell you that he sells genetics and works hard to offer commercial cattlemen fresh progressive genetics. He also uses DNA technology to identify his cattle. John started Dakota Natural Meats and direct markets beef from his cattle at farmers’ markets and on the internet and also has several value-added beef products.
The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has developed a huge farming operation along the Missouri River. They grow about 20 million pounds of popcorn and direct market some of it under the brand name “Lakota.” They also run around 1,500 mother cows. What we found interesting about this reservation is that the tribe turned over the farms and ranches to professional farm and ranch managers; very few Sioux are involved in the operation. They appear to be doing very well with the farms and ranches.
Next was Sutton Rodeo in Onida, with our great tour hosts, Jim and Julie Sutton. There we saw the 2012 Saddle Bronc of the year, “Chuckulator,” penned up in the middle of a pasture—an impressive, powerful horse. They have developed quite a breeding program around him. The Suttons have been producing rodeos since 1926.
We found more technology in use at Rock Hills Ranch, where we were hosted by Lyle and Garnet Perman. They were using a fixed-wing drone to survey the cattle. This drone technology and its use in agriculture is a sure bet. It looks like a toy airplane and would fly itself on a computer-guided pattern and broadcast live images to the computer. Then it would land itself, and the day we were there was fairly windy.
We also learned about and saw the benefits of holistic resource management at both Rock Hills Ranch and Jim Faulstich and family’s Day Break Ranch. They had perhaps the healthiest, most diverse pastures I have ever seen. Both outfits are active in the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, and Rock Hills was the recent recipient of the coveted Leopold Conservation Award.
Eagle Pass Ranch in Highmore showed us even more technology. Steve Munger and his two sons, AJ and Nate, operate the ranch and recently installed a GrowSafe system to measure feed efficiency in their seed stock and, of course, they are using the DNA technology.
Perhaps a little less dynamic, yet still technology used to improve an operation, was evident at Knippling Bros. Ranch. They installed security cameras in their calving pens so they could monitor the process from the comfort of their living room.
Agriculture has consistently turned to technology to produce more, use less and be more efficient. The outfits we visited in South Dakota were all very progressive in their use of technology. These are the progressive types of places we try to visit on WLJ tours and we always have a heck of a good time doing it. — PETE CROW