HURON, South Dakota — The South Dakota State Fair continues to be one of the most agricultural fairs in the nation, and exhibitors and attendance in 2021 nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Hunter Roberts, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said fair organizers are proud to focus on the state’s No. 1 industry and youth at the event, which ran from Sept. 1-6 in Huron.

“The South Dakota State Fair represents South Dakota, represents agriculture and people of all walks of life can all come see agriculture in a different perspective,” he said.

The state is doubling down on their investment in the State Fair, as organizers broke ground for the new Dakota Events Complex, or DEX, to replace the open class beef barn that was destroyed by a fire last October. Roberts said it’s been exciting to see such widespread support for the new facility.

“It’s been amazing how agriculture in Huron has gotten behind this and our state Legislature. It’s been humbling how willing people have been able to get on their boards or to write their own checks to support the DEX. We’re going to have $6 million of private funds in this facility,” he said.

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That is in addition to the $21 million that was appropriated by the state legislature in the 2021 session. Farm organizations in the state have also provided support and took part in the groundbreaking including the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

“I think it’s important to agriculture in South Dakota in general and we just wanted to be a part of it. It’s going to be a huge shot in the arm for the South Dakota State Fair,” said David Strunk, a South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council director.

Dusty Anderson, South Dakota State Fair Commissioner, said this year the open class beef shows were held prior to the official opening of the fair and utilized the 4-H livestock facilities. Those shows were all wrapped up and the cattle were moved out prior to the 4-H cattle entries coming in.

“We decided to give it a shot and I think it worked well and everyone was happy with how smooth things ran,” he said.

The DEX is scheduled to be completed by fair time in 2023. It will be a much larger facility than the former beef barn and will accommodate activities throughout the year.

“It really sets the stage for a bigger venue, a better place for State Fair, but then also a lot of different business opportunities, show opportunities, rodeo opportunities, for our state to host outside of fair season. So, we’re really excited about that and how we get people to the state fair grounds when the state fair is not going,” Roberts said.

He said the state is already scheduling events for the DEX.

“We put some bids for 2023 already in on some different projects, we’re talking to a couple of different ones too. So, we’re trying to book it out already,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and South Dakota Farm Bureau also celebrated South Dakota’s Century Farms at the fair.

“This is where we recognize farms and ranches that have been in the same family for 100 years or 125 years or 150 and we’ve been doing that since 1976," said South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal.

He said the best part is listening to the history of the farms and farm families and how those operations started and evolved over the years.

The South Dakota State Fair showcases the work of thousands of 4-H and FFA members.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
The South Dakota State Fair showcases the work of thousands of 4-H and FFA members. Michelle Rook / Agweek
The fair also showcases the thousands of FFA and 4-H youth in South Dakota and is the culmination of their project work for the year. Victoriah Buffington, is a 4-H member from Huron, South Dakota. She participated in Special Foods and received a purple ribbon. She said it was a great learning experience for her, and she enjoys 4-H because of the leadership skills she is developing that will help her the rest of her life.

“I’m the vice president of my club, and we have many opportunities through 4-H to learn and grow,” she said.

Buffington also believes 4-H and the fair allow her to show and tell the story of agriculture to people outside of the industry that don’t have that firsthand knowledge.