It’s a tough time to be a farmer or rancher.
That, at least, was one of the takeaways from U.S. Rep. and South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem’s Tuesday campaign stop in Pierre. She spoke to and visited with about 15 people who showed up to hear a quick stump speech and ask a few questions at her Pierre campaign office.
The struggles South Dakota farmers and ranchers have faced over the last few years and are likely to continue facing for the next few years were a prominent feature of the discussion. Noem cited the state’s slow economic growth, saying South Dakota’s Gross Domestic Product, a measure of economic output, lags behind the national average.
“We’re just kind of treading water right now,” Noem said.
In fact, South Dakota’s GDP growth in the third quarter of 2017, the latest statistics available from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the state’s GDP growth was .5 percent. That was the lowest rate of growth of any state. The slow growth largely was due to low commodity prices.
Times likely will get a little tougher in the short term thanks to new Chinese tariffs on U.S. farm products including pork and ethanol, which is a big driver of corn prices, which in turn are one of South Dakota’s biggest crops. The Chinese tariffs were precipitated by new U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum pushed for by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“These are very concerning to me,” Noem said. “If we lose another 20 or 30 cents per bushel, that’s devastating.”
Noem defended the Trump administration’s actions, saying the president’s goal is to get better trade deals for the country as a whole. Noem said she’s been in close contact with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue on the issue and has voiced her concerns to the White House about the potential impact of the tariffs on farmers and ranchers.
Noem also offered some polite criticism of South Dakota’s economic development efforts which have, she said, focused mostly on recruiting new businesses to the state.
“We’re not necessarily helping businesses that are already here,” Noem said.
Noem said state government could help diversify the state’s largest industry, agriculture, by more aggressively identifying the best locations for concentrated animal feeding operations such as dairies, feedlots and pig barns.
Looking for biotech companies interested in using the state’s farm products also could be a boon to the state, Noem said.
“I’m a big believer in that we need to find the next big industry in South Dakota,” she said.
After her short speech, the candidate fielded questions on topics ranging from taxes to pheasant hunting.
One attendee, Fort Pierre’s Shane Kramme, who is running this year’s Verendrye Benevolent Association horse races at the Stanley County Fairgrounds, asked about the potential of finding a more reliable source of funding for the races, which have fallen on hard times. There’s a very real chance the races won’t be held next year because there’s just not enough money to pay for such things as insurance, he said. Kramme wondered whether a case about prohibitions on sports betting now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court might provide an answer.
Noem said she wasn’t familiar with the sports betting case but agreed that keeping the horse races at Fort Pierre and the state’s only other track in Aberdeen is worth pursuing.