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South Dakota Land Use Trends (2012-2017)

Updated August 26, 2020
Professional headshot of Anthony Bly

Anthony Bly

SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist

Significant education efforts for natural resource conservation have occurred in South Dakota during the last five years. Many stakeholder groups have brought awareness for soil health and water quality to the forefront. Food security is the core mission of these efforts as population increases, natural resources are challenged, and climate extremes are experienced.

Census of Agriculture Findings

Evaluating progress for adopting sustainable and regenerative practices is difficult. The Census of Agriculture (USDA/NASS) is a good evaluation tool because producers are contributing with their actual on-farm information. The 2017 Census of Agriculture was recently released and provides a good opportunity for land use trend evaluation.

Tillage, cover crops, tile drainage, commercial fertilization and organic food production are reviewed in Table 1.

Table 1. Land Use Trends (2012 and 2017)

Land Use Practice 2012 2017 difference % change
Farms 7462 7774 312 +4
Acres 7,158,414 7,656,188 497,774 +7
Conservation Tillage
Farms 5017 6185 1168 +23
Acres 3,460,096 4,300,330 840,234 +24
Intensive Tillage
Farms 8421 4979 -3442 -41
Acres 4,012138 2,674,732 -1,337,406 -33
Cover Crops
Farms 1369 2154 785 +57
Acres 149,383 281,649 132,266 +89
Tile Drainage
Farms 2105 2485 380 +18
Acres 390,572 658,711 268,132 +68
Commercial Fertilizer
Farms 15,887 15,535 -352 -2
Acres 11,331,665 11,331,760 95 +<0.01
Farms 78 209 131 +168
Acres NA 42,495 NA NA

Source: USDA/NASS 2012 and 2017 Census of Agriculture


The number of no-till farms and acres increased 4 and 7 percent, respectively. Farms using conservation tillage rose 23 percent with acres increasing 24 percent. The number of farms using Intensive tillage practices sharply decreased by 41 percent with a 33 percent decrease in acres. The tillage trends are very positive towards conserving our most important soil resource. However, a significant amount of education needs to happen to encourage more producers to adopt no-till and conservation tillage.

Cover Crops

The number of farms using cover crops increased 57 percent which supported an 89 percent increase in acres. Since the number of acres increased at a much higher rate when compared to the number of farms, this could indicate that farms that had previously grown cover crops, used them on more acres on their farm. This could indicate these farmers found benefits to cover crops and were willing to expand their use to more acres.

Tile Drainage

Farms installing tile drainage increased 18 percent while the number of acres increased by 68 percent. Much like the possible response of farmers to cover crops the similar conclusion could be made for tile drainage. The farmers that had previously installed tile drain invested in more on their farms.

Commercial Fertilizer

Commercial fertilizer use remained relatively constant, with a slight decrease in number of farms and a very small increase in the number of acres.

Organic Farms

The largest percent change in any land use practice came with the number of organic farms which were up 168 percent. Acres were not previously reported however there was only 42,495 acres of organic production in South Dakota during 2017.

The Bottom Line

Land use trends supporting natural resource conservation are very encouraging and the stakeholder groups educating farmers about soil health and water quality should feel their efforts are successful but at the same time accept the challenge to continue their efforts.