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South Dakota Loses Farms, Pays Hired Hands Well

Chuck Clement reads the USDA's latest report on Farms and Land in Farms and finds South Dakota lost 300 farms last year. That's a return to the long-term trend that South Dakota was briefly bucking: fewer farms, bigger operations.

37 states lost farms. 10 states held steady. Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming added farms.

If we heard that South Dakota had lost 300 manufacturers, or 300 car dealers, or 300 construction contractors, we might hear some alarm. But hey, South Dakota has the same amount of land (43.3 million acres) in farms, 3% more cattle on feed, 4% more hogs and pigs, and more farms in the million-plus-value class. More machines, fewer Democrats—as long as the GDP numbers look good, what's there to fret about?

By the way, hired farm hands in the Northern Plains region (South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa) earn 17% more than the national average and 17% more than neighbors in the Lake Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan). We can pay hired hands more than the national average, but not teachers.


  1. Nick Nemec 2015.02.23

    Higher than the average farm pay might be because South Dakota farmers are smarter than other South Dakota businesspeople, or the Governor and Legislature. We farmers long ago realized it's cheaper to pay more for smarter employees than to try and save money on a bunch of bottom of the barrel idiots that destroy expensive equipment because of their inexperience or indifference. You save money by paying for quality.

  2. jerry 2015.02.23

    According to the numbers in the article, farm workers would be paid a whopping $23,961.16 before taxes for their 40 hour week, 52 weeks a year. How is this progress and why would these guys vote for the same crap year in and year out? With the cost of living being what it is, this is not really anything more than survival.

  3. PaysTheWagesAndThenSome 2015.02.23

    jerry -

    In a lot of cases, the per hour wage or salary paid to hired hands is not the only compensation they receive. Our hired hand receives a flat salary per month, as well as housing, utilities, beef for the freezer, paid vacation, a startup herd of five head of bred heifers, they can run up to 20 head of their own cattle free of charge, and a pretty flexible schedule. It's not all about the monetary salary, the fringe benefit package is pretty substantial.

  4. Les 2015.02.23

    I've never had the government stop by my retail biz asking how atlas or the drouth losses culd be remediated with their help, Nick.

    You also work them 7 days a week farmer.

  5. mike from iowa 2015.02.23

    I can see Les never worked full time on a farm. Business hours in Spring,Summer and Fall are 24 hours a day/14 days a week.

  6. bret clanton 2015.02.23

    Les.....I do not know of anyone farm ranch or otherwise that requires their help work seven days a week.....

  7. bret clanton 2015.02.23 are leaving out the November to March paid vacation.....

  8. Paul Seamans 2015.02.23

    When one farm can raise 6 million chickens or one farm can milk 5000 cows then I'm surprised that we have as many farms as we do. Oh well, I suppose that is all part of Daugaard's economic master plan.

  9. jerry 2015.02.23

    You might be a good boss paysthewagesandthensome. I am sure that there are many many others who do not receive the same. The dollar amount per hour is where I am coming from for a 40 hour 5 day week. Do you also cover the hired hand's health insurance? Or does he get that from Obamacare?

  10. mike from iowa 2015.02.23

    Brett-it wasn't vacation time around here. In 31 years I never had a vacation,but work slacked off considerably with the snow flying. Except feeding cattle and gathering eggs three or more times per day. And grinding ear corn and bedding cattle,and keeping the tank heater burning and moving snow with an old 620 JD with a snow bucket and no heathouser,etc.

  11. PaysTheWagesAndThenSome 2015.02.23

    jerry - We do not pay for personal health insurance. I agree that there are probably others who do not receive the same, some probably less, some probably more. There are some weeks (calving season) the hired hand puts in very long days, and earns far less per hour. There are some weeks where the hired hand (and the rest of us) get impromptu paid leave day(s) due to weather or other circumstances, and then the per hour wage is much higher. My point is that the per hour wage isn't really the bottom line here.

  12. jerry 2015.02.23

    My point was not to question your payment schedule or for that matter, any producer. What I was pointing out was the wages that were posted in the article. If you dollar that out for a 40 hour, 52 week income, the dollars speak for themselves. I know what ranch life work is. Even if the weather is crappy, there is still things to be done in the shed. One of my sons works on a large ranch and his situation is that what you say. They get to run some cattle, have the freezer deal along with a place to live. They like it and that is all good and more than I could allow. My son has the VA to provide for his needs, his wife is covered by the Obamacare due to their income. I hope that you encourage your help to seek the coverage offered by the Obamacare for their protection and for yours. A sick hand is not doing you to much good when the barometer goes crazy and you have a bunch of heifers to deal with. In short, for the price of beef and its demand, producers and those that are in their employ, should be paid more. While this is being done, the educators that work the long hours that ranching knows, should be paid much better.

  13. Les 2015.02.23

    All my biz from ranch to retail have required 7 day weeks, Brett. Yes, we can choose to do less.

  14. leslie 2015.02.23

    paythewages-what does he do for health care?

  15. PaysTheWagesAndThenSome 2015.02.23

    leslie - I do not know what the hired hand has done for insurance, it is not part of the benefit package and I feel it is not any of my business what she (everyone assumes it is a he) has done. We do however ensure that our insurance is up to date and covers any job related injuries.

    jerry - For the price of beef, don't look to the producer to be the one benefiting from the supermarket prices you are paying for your beef. If you're paying $8 per pound, the producer is not pocketing that $8, probably more around $2. That $2 must pay for cattle, feed, vet services, equipment, fuel, the hired help, the land payment/lease agreements, non-hired help (We have to eat and have a place to live too).... You get the picture.

  16. jerry 2015.02.23

    I look to the producer to be getting more for the product produced not less. I do look at the shelf price and know full well that this is not going to where it should be going. I understand the economics of sales and know full well that the shelf price is certainly does not go into the producers pocket, but more should be going there from these sales.

  17. BIll DIthmer 2015.02.23

    Damn MFI, your getting a little to close to my nostalgic thoughts for your own good stop thinking about the good old days,at least in writing.

    I myself have been guility of remembering only the good times. Sometimes, in order to bring myself back to reality, I force myself into remembering coon hunting one night in the dark, and peeling on an electric fence. I had to reach down and check my chair the other night it was so real.

    Tell me more, just don't make sound like so much fun.

    Have you ever been hungover on Sunday morning, late July, and your folks get you up to clean the chicken house? Oh the arroma.

    The Blindman

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.23

    I spent most of my first 30 years on the family farm in central SD. We didn't have hired help because there were 6 of us kids. 2 sisters were not much for farm work, but that left 4 of us, plus dad and sometimes mom.

    Small grain harvest was probably the longest hours we had, but we rarely worked 7 days per week, except for livestock chores. Sunday was for our tiny, rural church.

    We did get in one annual vacation, usually in September after small grain but before weaning calves and row crop harvest. We always went to Iowa for most of a week to visit mom's family.

    Winters were less work, but feeding livestock in a blizzard or -20° weather sucks. Just getting dressed to go out there took 15+ minutes. Seriously!

    Farm help deserves good pay. So do teachers.

  19. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.23

    MN is losing more farms than it gains. The gains are coming almost entirely from young couples operating very small specialty farms.

    The farmers raise vegetables and perhaps a small number of livestock. Often the stock is unusual breeds or even unusual species. I'm talking about yaks, goats, alpacas, Highland cattle, heirloom hog breeds, etc. The farmers sell online, through subscriptions, or at farmer's markets. It's not unusual for the farmers to have other jobs too.

    MN farms continue to trend towards more and more acres requiring more and more expensive machinery. The exception is the new little farms of less than 100 acres.

    How feasible are the little, specialized farms in SD? Does low population make them unfeasible?

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