SIOUX CENTER—For five years, I lived and worked in Brookings, SD. Many people in our area know the place well thanks to the presence of South Dakota State University, a popular agricultural education institution. Given Sioux County’s agricultural instincts, it’s no surprise that many people went there or at least checked it out.

I was surprised by how many people knew of Sioux Center up there and the ways it and Sioux County kept coming up time and time again.

City leaders always talk about finding ways to make Sioux Center a destination by offering unique amenities that other communities don’t have. Sioux Center was even a regular destination for one of my former Brookings Register colleagues and her family thanks to the All Seasons Center and the Vernon Arena. One of her children was in hockey, and they’d regularly come to Sioux Center for matches. Like many others who visit, she was struck by the cleanliness and friendliness of our small town.

But there was one time I got to write an article for the Brookings Register that basically reviewed Sioux County’s agricultural prowess because it was the topic at a county meeting. A representative for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Ag Development division named Ben Stout came to a July 2017 meeting of the Brookings County Commission to talk about how much more livestock development opportunities the county had, making his point by looking at extensive data he had collected from two counties that were similar to Brookings.

He looked for counties with a growing population, a similar land size, a similar culture, a significant industry presence, a significant livestock presence and opportunities for further livestock development. He decided on Kandiyohi County in Minnesota and Sioux County in Iowa.

Using U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers, Stout found that Brookings County had 1,023 farms, Kandiyohi County had 1,310 and Sioux County had 1,618.

Looking at livestock numbers, Sioux County consistently came out on top. His data showed 15,000 dairy cattle in Brookings County, which was double the number found in Kandiyohi. Meanwhile, Sioux County had 35,000 dairy cattle. The number of beef cattle in Brookings was at just more than 19,000 compared to 24,500 in Kandiyohi and 394,000 in Sioux County.

And then there were the swine numbers: Brookings, 46,500; Kandiyohi, 86,500; Sioux, 1.2 million.

Stout had this to say about that: “There are actually more pigs in Sioux County, Iowa, than there are in the entire state of South Dakota. Think about that; a county that’s the size of Brookings, similar population, similar land base, but there are more pigs in that county than there are in the entire state of South Dakota.”

The disparity in livestock numbers was also reflected in the livestock sales for each of the counties. Brookings made $150 million in such sales, Kandiyohi made $211 million and Sioux County made $1.3 million.

The main metric where Sioux County fell behind the others was farm size. The average Brookings County farm was 439 acres. For Kandiyohi, it was 317 acres and 299 acres for Sioux County.

Given the presence of SDSU, it might come as a surprise to learn that were quite a few times when people spoke out against ag development at county meetings, fearing the impact of dairies and hog confinements on the environment, property values and the idyllic country life they sought.

While Stout found mixed results on ag development impact on property values, he said Sioux County shows it isn’t a health concern, as it is consistently ranked among the healthiest of Iowa’s counties.

“Really, South Dakota doesn’t realize what we’re capable of. … We have to remember that there’s not going to be any perfect projects coming to the table, that there are going to be things that people don’t like regardless of what it is,” Stout said. “The main thing I wanted to say is that we have a lot of opportunity.”

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that Sioux County takes its agriculture seriously. But the words from that South Dakota official are a reminder that successful agriculture can’t be taken for granted. It must purposely be sustained by a culture dedicated to seeing agriculture thrive.

So, thank you to farmers of Sioux County, Sioux County Zoning and Sioux County Board of Supervisors for doing your part in taking advantage of those opportunities when they come. Thanks to your work, even the land of SDSU can cast an envious eye our way and learn something.