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Growing in Agriculture: The Forest and the Trees

Growing in Agriculture


The Forest and the Trees


By Lucas Lentsch, Secretary of Agriculture


December 10, 2015



It’s a festive time of year. Christmas decorations are everywhere and often, the displays center around a tree.


Did you know that South Dakota forest products companies directly employ around 1,500 people in the Black Hills region and pay more than $118 million back into the local communities? These companies and the jobs they provide contribute greatly to the local economy. Annually, forest products companies in our state produce more than $200 million worth of product. This is particularly interesting given the limited geographic extent of the Black Hills compared to the rest of the agriculture producing land in South Dakota.


Contractors and operators face many of the same challenges as other ag industries in our state.  They have to navigate difficult weather, purchase expensive equipment and deal with fluctuating markets. Timber is much like other agriculture crops except, it takes longer to reach maturity for harvest-- and the stem size is just a bit larger.


Not only are timber harvests perpetually sustainable, but the harvest method used in the Black Hills of “thinning” the stand is an astoundingly successful treatment for reducing insects and disease on a landscape scale. This harvest method of thinning is different than many areas of the country that may clear an area of trees and then go back in and replant following the harvest. Importantly, the harvest method employed in the Black Hills aligns with the natural ecology of the tree species and promotes natural regeneration of the forest under a thinned canopy that is more resistant to pine beetles and catastrophic wildfires.


The forest products industry in the Black Hills is incredibly cross-integrated with some companies not actively harvesting any timber but, instead, using products and by-products from other forest products facilities. Forest products companies vary in size throughout the Black Hills from large mills that need 30 truckloads of sawlogs per day to those that are much smaller and need less material to stay busy. Like the majority of South Dakota’s farms and ranches, many of these companies have the common thread of being multi-generational family businesses that have been operating in the Black Hills for a number of years.


The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) has five divisions, one of which is Resource Conservation and Forestry (RC&F). The division provides a number of services, including help with grants and technical assistance for individuals, organizations and communities. We are also very proud that our urban foresters, once again, selected this year’s featured tree in the display at the State Capitol. The 2,700 pound, 29-foot tall Blue Spruce came from Baltic and was donated by Willette Reichert. The South Dakota State Capitol Christmas tree display is open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. through December 26. It’s a great place to celebrate the Christmas season and take great family photos.


For more information about SDDA’s RC&F Division and the services they provide, please go to our website http://sdda.sd.gov. You can also contact Ben Wudtke, Forest Programs Manager for the Black Hills Forest Resource Association at 605-341-0875.




An mp3 audio version of this column can be found on the SDDA website.


A photo of Lentsch can be downloaded here.