New S.D. ag secretary dedicated to sustaining family farms

PIERRE, S.D. -- Sustaining the family farm is one of the top priorities for Mike Jaspers, who was newly appointed as South Dakota's secretary of agriculture Tuesday.


PIERRE, S.D. -- Sustaining the family farm is one of the top priorities for Mike Jaspers, who was newly appointed as South Dakota's secretary of agriculture Tuesday.

Jaspers, appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, previously served as the South Dakota Director for U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Rural Development in 2007 and 2008. Jaspers replaced Lucas Lentsch, who served as agriculture secretary since 2013. Jaspers also served as part of the state legislature for four terms.

Jaspers owns and operates a 2,000-acre farming operation between Bridgewater and Freeman, but lives outside of Sioux Falls. Jaspers raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cattle.

Jaspers plans to use his experience in the agricultural industry in his new role. His priorities include improving agricultural sustainability, water quality and continuing to develop the relationship between the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and the Department of Game, Fish & Parks.

"A lot of work has been done to show that they can coincide and coexist and be productive for all parties," he said.


Jaspers hopes that by building this relationship it will also help with the state economy as well as help people recognize and enjoy "America's backyard."

"We have access to rural areas and open space and wildlife running up and down the road," Jaspers said. "I think we all appreciate that even if we aren't real active enthusiasts in hunting and fishing."

He also views water quality issues as something that would be in South Dakota's best interest to take a proactive approach on to deter any future major issues.

Though Jaspers said these are priorities, he views something else as the main issue facing South Dakota agriculture.

"A major issue from my perspective and a potential weakness of the current state of agricultural production is profitability which seems to spill out to the majority of the rest of the state's economy," Jaspers said.

Jaspers said commodity prices will always ebb and flow, but his goal is to manage that and work through it. The bigger picture is the effect it will have on future generations in the agriculture industry.

The potential challenge for the agriculture industry in South Dakota is when it comes to a point where sustainability of family operations becomes jeopardized, Jaspers said.

"For a lot of operations, especially younger generations looking at getting into agricultural production or agricultural business, it takes a lot more capital to get invested than it ever has before," Jaspers said.


Cash flow issues just compound the problems of how to maintain a sustainable family operation with generational changes, Jaspers said.

"It (sustainability) is the biggest elephant to bite off and chew. It doesn't have any silver bullets, I don't think, but it has the greatest and longest impact on how things progress," Jaspers said. "That's kind of the overriding issue."

Though Jaspers' solutions to these issues are in the conceptual stage, he said he plans to support the South Dakota Agricultural Foundation and do whatever he can to help assist that organization.

"Probably the best thing I can do is be the best advocate and voice in those house discussions that are taking place," Jaspers said.

He said he is looking towards the future and making decisions based on how future generations will be affected.

Jaspers grew up in Eden on a cattle operation. After graduating from SDSU, he spent time in agriculture retail management, cargill, a local farm co-op and has worked directly with growers and producers.

Politics has been an interest of Jaspers' since his high school and college days. Jaspers was actively involved in FFA and served as the state FFA president. Then, halfway through his college career, Jaspers said he took a semester off to pursue an internship with the Ag Unity organization and helped support or oppose different legislation.

"It was fun and interesting and gave me a different perspective as a college student of the process," Jaspers said. "I followed issues from start to finish rather than just working with day to day issues."


This continued to light the fire for his passion of governmental service and love for the agriculture industry, Jaspers said.

Though Jaspers is the new South Dakota secretary of agriculture, he still plans to operate his farm. But, he said he will have to take more of a managerial role and hire consultants as well as use the aid of neighbors.

"A lot of folks have their hobby, and I guess my hobby is working on the farm," Jaspers said. "When I have refresher time and I need to regroup, an afternoon in the tractor or sprayer or combine is a way that I get my personal recharge."

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