BROOKINGS – Ben Stout came to the Brookings County Commission on Tuesday to talk about livestock development opportunities within the county. He used comparative information from two counties in Iowa and Minnesota, which are similar to Brookings.
A representative for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Ag Development Division, Stout said data indicates there’s plenty of room for further development in Brookings County.
“I think the perception is that we don’t have room for growth, but the data shows that there are a lot of other places that have grown more than we have, and we still have some opportunity here,” Stout said.
He was careful in selecting counties with which to compare Brookings, since Brookings is a unique county in South Dakota.
“Seventy-eight percent of our counties in South Dakota have been losing population consistently for the last 80 years,” Stout said. “Obviously, Brookings County isn’t in that boat; Brookings is growing.”
In order to show potential opportunities for the county, he selected two other counties with similar attributes: Sioux County, Iowa, and Kandiyohi County, Minn.
With similar features, these make for easy comparisons to Brookings, he added.
“The reason why I did this is the counties are similar in land size, population, all Midwestern communities with a similar culture. There’s consistent population growth in all these counties, there’s a significant industry presence in all these counties and there’s also a significant livestock presence and opportunity for further development in the livestock side of things in all these counties,” Stout said.
Each county is similarly sized, with only about 100 square miles of difference from the largest and smallest of the three. They also have a nearly identical amount of land area (as opposed to water area).
Population-wise, they are, again, quite similar, falling within 8,360 from least to most populous. According to the USDA’s numbers, there are 1,023 farms in Brookings County, 1,618 in Sioux County and 1,310 in Kandiyohi.
Lagging in livestock
Looking at livestock data from these three counties, Brookings lags behind the two others in almost every category.
There are 15,000 dairy cattle in Brookings County, which is more than double the amount found in Kandiyohi County. However, Sioux County contains 35,000 dairy cattle.
The number of beef cattle in Brookings is just more than 19,000, compared to 24,500 in Kandiyohi and 394,000 in Sioux County.
And then there are the swine numbers: Brookings, 46,500; Kandiyohi, 86,500; Sioux, 1.2 million.
“There are actually more pigs in Sioux County, Iowa, than there are in the entire state of South Dakota. Think about that; a county that’s the size of Brookings, similar population, similar land base, but there are more pigs in that county than there are in the entire state of South Dakota.”
Not much poultry
As for poultry, Kandiyohi County has 2.5 million and Sioux County has 9.7 million.
Brookings County didn’t meet the USDA’s threshold to even be reported. According to Stout, the USDA typically only reports data if there are more than three producers for a given commodity in the reporting zone, with some other exceptions made, such as if one producer owns more than 70 percent of the commodity. In that case, the USDA reports data if the producer signs a waiver allowing the information to be published.
As Stout said, “It doesn’t mean that Brookings County has no poultry. It just means that there are only a few operations, and to basically avoid disclosing personal information, the USDA doesn’t report that data if there are only a handful of operations.”
This disparity in livestock numbers is also reflected in the livestock sales for each of the counties. Brookings makes $150 million in such sales, while Kandiyohi makes $211 million and Sioux County makes $1.3 billion.
“When it gets to livestock sales, that’s a heck of a lot of money turning over in the community in those other places that we’re not seeing here. Like I said, it’s important to keep in mind that Brookings is a leader in South Dakota, but we still have room for growth. That’s the point I want to make.”
On the other hand, the average farm size in Brookings County is greater than those of the other two comparison counties. An average farm in this county is 439 acres, 299 acres in Sioux County and 317 in Kandiyohi County.
And then there are the historic numbers for the state of South Dakota, comparing present numbers with record highs in the state.
All in all, there are 3.8 million cattle in South Dakota, but the record number was 5 million, which was set in 1974. There are now 1.2 million hogs in the state, but that number was 3.1 million in 1922. Chickens are only 2.8 million now, but it got to be 11.6 million in 1944.
“There were actually 675,000 dairy cows in South Dakota in 1934. Today we have roughly 115,000. So, if you think about what was going on the ag world in 1934, there have been a lot of changes since then,” Stout said.
With all the changes that have come to the ag industry since those days, reaching those same numbers in the present isn’t out of the question. As Stout noted, the average corn yield in 1934 Brookings County was six bushels per acre, and the county could still support those 675,000 dairy cows.
Referencing economic impact studies, dairy cows generate $25,000 per cow per year in Minnesota and $34,000 per cow per year in Wisconsin, with most of the money spent within a 50-mile radius.
As shown in an SDSU study, the South Dakota beef industry has a multiplier of 1.95, meaning that for every dollar the beef industry spends, it generates an additional 95 cents of revenue.
And for South Dakota swine, an SDSU study indicates $2,500 per sow per year.
But what of the economic impact on property values, a common concern about ag development? Studies show various findings.
“Seven of those studies found that property values declined, six stated that they could either increase or decrease and one stated that there was no impact on property values. So it really could go either way. … You can find good and bad examples of everything,” Stout said.
And if Sioux County is anything to go by, health isn’t necessarily at risk from heavy ag development. Sioux County is consistently ranked as among the top healthiest of Iowa’s 99 counties, and was ranked No. 1 for last year.
What does all this data mean for Brookings County?
“Really, South Dakota doesn’t realize what we’re capable of… We have to remember that there’s not going to be any perfect projects coming to the table, that there are going to be things that people don’t like regardless of what it is,” Stout said. “The main thing I wanted to say is that we have a lot of opportunity.”
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected].