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South Dakota State Fair focuses on youth and agriculture for success

HURON, S.D. — From soybean production to value-added ag products, livestock shows and sows giving was all about agriculture at this year's South Dakota State Fair in Huron held Aug. 30 to Sept. 3. South Dakota State Fair Commissioner Dusty Anderson says they were pleased with the attendance at the gate and many grandstand shows, plus entries were up for 4-H, FFA and Open Class exhibits and livestock.

He says their focus is still on youth and agriculture and that is what makes the fair so successful. "It's the youth involvement, whether it's special foods, showing livestock, horticulture, all of the above. That's what really brings the fair together," he says. The South Dakota Farm Bureau and South Dakota Department of Agriculture held their annual recognition of Century Farms, plus 125 and 150-year-old farms. Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal says they've held the event since 1985. "It's always a lot of fun to hear the stories of the people that are being recognized and usually there is someone that gets quite emotional talking about their family over the years and probably a real tough time or two that they managed to survive," he says.

VanderWal says it is critically important to acknowledge these milestones with South Dakota family farms. "It's a family tradition in agriculture. Companies are bought and sold every day in this country, but in agriculture it's a lot harder to do that because we're so emotionally tied to the land." Value Added Agriculture Day on Thursday focused on new ways for farmers to add value to their crops and livestock. Cheri Rath, is executive director for the South Dakota Value Added Agriculture Center, which hosts a tent full of successful value added ag-businesses. "Traditional producers with the commodities the way that they are...traditional commodities of corn, soybeans, beef which are still very important to the state, are looking for diversification," she says. She says farmers are finding that niche through alternatives like aronia juice, wine and spirits, infused honey, and especially local and fresh products. Erica Proefrock, is with Column Greens based in Spearfish. The company grows produce hydroponically in vertical columns and had a display of butter lettuce at the fair. The units are placed in local grocery stores for shoppers to harvest right on the spot.

"It does not get any fresher for sure. You're harvesting right on the spot. Once you harvest it, your nutrients start depleting in your plants and basically your plant is starting to die off. So, the fresher you can get it, the more nutrients and benefits you get out of it," she says. The public was also able to see how farmers and the public benefit from good soil health. The South Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service had a display at the FFA Ag Adventure Center and Value Added Ag Day to illustrate what healthy soil looks like and the practices farmers can use on their farm to get achieve that, such as no-till. Jeff Zimprich, head conservationist, says adopting these practices pays back big dividends for farmers. "Our land is one of our most important resources, I feel in a lot of ways it's like our bank, we can make an investment in it," he says. "It will pay us back big time." The FFA Ag Adventure Center once again featured many hands-on learning events for kids, but a big crowd gathered Thursday to watch one of two sows in the center farrowing.

Taylor Krause, manages the FFA Ag Adventure Center. "It's really nice to put it out in the open and see such a natural process taking place," he says. "Everybody loves baby pigs, so to see that miracle of birth happen it's a really awesome experience."

The sow had 17 pigs, which she says is a testament to how far the technology and genetics have come in the pork industry, and that is the kind of thing they want to educate the public about. Another highlight was Mark Miller, lead singer for country band Sawyer Brown, also spent time at the center on Sunday talking to FFA members and the public about his involvement in the FFA program. Several of the state commodity organizations ran food booths at the fair including the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and Midwest Dairy Association. They say serving locally produced products is a great way to promote their industries and it allows them to interact with consumers to show them how they produce a safe product.