The Future of Ag

The Future of Ag

By Lori Walsh

Future of Farming


In The Moment has been covering the future of farming all October and today we bring you a special that takes key interviews from the month and brings them together in one podcast.

You'll hear from ag producers, researchers, and scientists that all have a unique perspective on the question: What does the future of farming in South Dakota look like?

The Future of Ag

As Farmers Face Stress,New Hotline Offers Help


Farmers and ranchers deal with high levels of stress, which often leads to anxiety and depression. That’s why Avera Behavioral Health is offering a new 24-hour Farmers’ Stress Hotline dedicated to serving the state’s farmers and ranchers who want help.

For more than 40 years, Jim Woster visited farms and appraised livestock for the Sioux Falls Stockyards. In that time he got to know plenty of farmers and ranchers, and he understands the way the business can wear on someone’s mental health.

“But if you’re a farmer and you’re awake at two o’clock in the morning, you’ve got 200 acres of soybeans still in the field, and you don’t have enough money already and it’s raining. That’s a tough load," says Woster. "I mean, to listen to it rain…that’s really hard work.”

Many factors that can predict a farmer’s income for the year fall out of their immediate control—from weather to international trade. Woster says in the last three years, there’s been a 50% drop in net farm incomes.

That financial stress can couple with pressure to "just tough it out," especially on family farms that have weathered multiple generations of financial uncertainty. Walt Bones is a fourth-generation farmer in the Parker area southeast of Sioux Falls. He says farmers are famously independent, but it’s important to recognize how things change.

“So you can’t say, ‘Well, my grandfather made it through the 30’s, I can do this too,’ or ‘My dad made it through the 80’s and I can do this too.’ The dynamics are totally different,” he explains.

Bones says it’s important to have a resource to go to for help. That’s exactly what psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Stanley says Avera’s hotline will offer. He thinks the hotline could help ag producers feel comfortable coming forward by removing barriers—like a fear that their neighbors will know they’re struggling.

“So they don’t wanna drive up and park in front of a mental health center or a doctor’s office and everybody’s wondering why they’re there," Dr. Stanley says. "So we needed something that was easily accessible but also very confidential and anonymous.”

Dr. Stanley says the state-wide 800 number is free and staffed by licensed mental health counselors.

Jim Woster says attitudes toward mental health have changed in the last few decades, and that no one is immune to depression. He says talking about the issue is half the battle—and he’s glad to see this new service offered to farmers and ranchers across the state.


An Enhanced Agricultural Future


SDPB continues our Future of Farming conversation with Van C. Kelley, Department Head of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at South Dakota State University. The ABE Department focuses on identifying and improving food production systems and available resources for an "enhanced agricultural future."

Kelley joins In The Moment from the Jeanine Basinger Studio in Brookings to discuss new technologies, applications, and methods that have been emerging in agriculture.

Smart Ag at Dakota State University
Reinventing The Wheel
Technology in Agriculture
SDSMT Talks The Future Of Agriculture


Throughout the month of October, SDPB explores the future of agriculture in the state. Today we welcome a panel from the School of Mines to discuss the future of ag from a decidedly scientific point of view.

Joining us from the Black Hills Studio, we have Dr. Tanvi Govil; she is a student in the department of chemical and biological engineering at SD Mines. One part of her research is in the conversion of ag by-products like corn stalks into value-added products like biodegradable plastic using microbes found in the Sanford Lab. We also have Dr. Rajesh Shende; he is a Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at SD Mines and is the leader of a $2.2 Million Department of Energy research Grant to Turn Biorefinery Waste into Valuable Products. And we have Dr. Sayan Roy, who is an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at SD Mines who is working on new types of battery-less and wireless, GPS enabled soil sensing technology with real-time feedback on important indicators such as soil moisture, nutrients, soil temp, plant maturity and other information important to crop growth and health. The technology also employs a network of unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with multi-spectrum cameras that operate on an autonomous decision-making algorithm being developed as part of the research.

Field to Table