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Published May 06, 2013, 10:45 AM

SD’s role in global economy to grow

Lentsch, 39, says time serving with the military in Iraq taught him the importance of seizing opportunities when they arise.

By: Ross Dolan, Forum News Service

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch told Mitchell Technical Institute agriculture students recently that when it comes to agriculture, South Dakota is the place to be.

Lentsch, appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in April, officially became state agriculture secretary on April 29.

He replaces outgoing secretary Walt Bones who he called “a phenomenal representative for South Dakota.”

His time in Mitchell was a “meet and greet” opportunity to touch base with constituents at the MTI Student Center building.

Lentsch’s remarks followed comments by MTI President Greg Von Wald, emcee Nate Franzen, president of the ag finance division of the Yankton-based First Dakota National Bank, and Rosie Nold, South Dakota State University Extension director.

In comments to MTI farm program students assembled in the Student Center Commons, Lentsch stressed the importance of education.

His father, he says, had an eighth-grade education, but earning his GED opened the door to learning a skilled trade and a 20-year career with John Deere.

“He wanted to be in agriculture; it just wasn’t in the cards in the mid-60s to come back to the family farm,” he says.

His dad counted himself lucky, he says. Working at John Deere, his father eventually saved enough to purchase his own farm property in Marshall County.

“Everything good in my life, I can trace back to agriculture,” Lentsch says.

His work with the Department of Agriculture has enabled him to move beyond a local view of agriculture to consider regional and international impacts.

“We’re looking at a global economy and we’re in a great spot — the breadbasket of our country is here.” Production agriculture has enabled the region’s workforce to buck national unemployment trends, Lentsch says.

Lentsch, 39, says time serving with the military in Iraq taught him the importance of seizing opportunities when they arise.

“When everything you think you know and cherish may be over,” he says. “That’s when you start living.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power that you have to make a difference. I believe in you and I want you to have the opportunities for a diverse and viable agricultural industry.”

When China’s population increases monthly by the size of South Dakota’s population, Lentsch says, “the demand for food isn’t going to stop any time soon.”

He says he plans to carefully study his department’s seven divisions, but stopped short of announcing any changes. He says the office will explore ways to add even more value to commodities before they are shipped out of state.

Lentsch was unable to coax any questions from MTI’s ag students, but Salem farmer Bedeane Kurth, 82, pulled him aside after the meeting and put in a word for livestock producers.

“I talked to the young fella about all the shelterbelts being torn up,” Kurth says. “Some are old and need to be, but we’ve got to get them replaced. We’ve got to get this grass back and growing because the backbone of South Dakota is livestock, and livestock’s got to have grass.”

Kurth says the state’s farmers must continue doing what they do best.