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Posted on  

May 6, 2002

South Dakota must do all possible to grow ag industry

By: Robert Pore, of the Plainsman May 05, 2002

Along with developing new opportunities for agriculture to prosper in South Dakota, infrastructure projects such as the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad improvement and expansion project will also be a key to agriculture's success in the state, said Jim Abbott of Vermillion, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

"I have always been a supporter of the DM&E; project," Abbott said last week during a campaign visit to Huron. "If we don't have significant railroad activity, I think our tracks are pretty much done for. DM&E; is going to have to upgrade its tracks. That is going to be a benefit for South Dakota agriculture."

Abbott said not only will the DM&E; project open up new markets for South Dakota agricultural products, but it will also create thousands of new jobs and bring additional revenue to state and local governments through new sources of property tax from its developments and new business expansion that will result from South Dakota having a Class One railroad.

Finding ways to sustain family agriculture in South Dakota will be a top priority for Abbott if he is successful in his bid for governor.

While he believes the newly agreed-to federal farm bill will help family farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, state government can also play an important in helping develop agricultural opportunities throughout the state.

"The state can play a significant role," he said. "Just think of the things the governor has had the ability to deal with over the last couple of years, such as incentives for ethanol. The governor not only helps to set policy, but also assists in creating it or making sure that agenda gets on the table with the Legislature."

Abbott said the way the governor and the Governor's Office of Economic Development address agriculture and value-added processing can be either hugely beneficial or a detriment to agriculture, depending on the governor's attitude.

He said it is also important for the governor to have a good team in place to carry out programs that will promote agricultural development.

"I think any governor who is interested in agricultural issues wants a secretary of agriculture who reflects the governor's feelings about ag," Abbott said. "Somebody told me a long time ago that if corn is $1.60 per bushel and you sell it to somebody else in Iowa or Nebraska, you have $1.60, but if you feed it to your own cattle, in essence you have $3.20 per bushel. I feel the same way about value-added agriculture.

"I'm really pleased that we have had so much movement in terms of processing plants because they take our raw product and add another level of opportunity for our farmers. That has to continue because we need for agriculture and the family farmer to have a cut every step along that way, leading to the final product that consumers buy. There is not much relationship now between what a farmer gets for beef on the hoof and what hamburger sells for in the supermarket. We need to have more involvement along the way in those steps."

Abbott said other states have offered better incentive packages for ag development than South Dakota has in the past.

"That is a subject of great discussion, and money is always tight, but I do think we need to continue the ethanol incentives, because we are going to go from 70 million gallons per year in ethanol production to 200 million gallons within 18 months' time, and we need to be sure that we can keep up our end of that bargain," Abbott said.

He also believes mandating ethanol use at the pump in the state is a good idea.

"I'm interested to see what the Minnesota experiment leads to and how successful, along with its efforts with biodiesel," he said. "If we triple ethanol production in the U.S., it would still only reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 7 percent, which is the amount that Iraq sells to us each year."

Abbott said there are two reasons to like ethanol. First, corn growers and family farmers benefit from it, and secondly, it reduces this country's dependence on foreign oil.

"How do you put a price on that?" he asked.

Abbott said the state needs to change its perspective about the use of taxpayers' dollars for agricultural development and look at it as inducements, incentives and investments instead of considering it a cost.

"It's an investment in the future," Abbott said. "If you think about our forefathers, they came across this country in covered wagons and any form of transportation they could get to create something out of a barren land. That wasn't an easy existence for a long time and it isn't easy now. But I think we are only limited by our own limitations. We have always had high aspirations for our state, for our kids and for our grandkids, and we should continue that."

But to accomplish those goals of developing the state's agricultural industry, it will take leadership, starting with the governor and his office.

"South Dakotans understand that investments in the future are important," Abbott said. "They want the same opportunities for their children and grandchildren, and I think they are willing to do that if the leader of the state gives them a good reason to do it and demonstrates to the people of South Dakota that the down line what we do now is going to be really helpful for the future. There is no question we have to convince people because they need to see the outcome, but the people in this state are pretty wise when it comes to making investments today that pay off tomorrow."

While it is important to grow the state's agricultural industry to provide opportunities for the citizens of the state, Abbott said that it must be done in a way that protects the environment.

"There is no incompatibility between the success of agriculture and good conservation efforts," he said. "Family farmers have known for years that they have to be good stewards of the land on which they live, and that is the kind of things that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can assist them with."



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