Agriculture is South Dakota’s number one industry, but anyone who has traveled from East River to West River knows it’s not one monolithic force.

To help further the cause of South Dakota’s agriculture industries, whether it be the timber producers in the southwest to the value-added products in the northeast, the state Department of Agriculture has reorganized its resources, splitting up its Division of Agricultural Development into four distinct regions, each overseen by a supervisor.

The department is still hunting for a regional specialist to be based in Pennington County and oversee the western part of the state, but the central, northeast and southeast districts are already staffed with Department of Agriculture employees.

Lucas Lentsch, who took over as Secretary of Agriculture in May, said in the past the department has focused on having specialists for various agricultural fields such as dairy or livestock. In practice that meant a revolving list of state employees individual farmers dealt with for help with farming issues, he said.

To maintain a level of consistency and provide a single voice a community can turn to with agricultural needs was the driving force behind the new division into districts, Lentsch said.

“To really become that local force, that local expert, you can rely on,” he said.

Lentsch said the rural economy doesn’t happen by accident and it takes these sorts of partnerships, cooperation and growing pains at the local level to make it grow. The move will also help the department to be more nimble in responding to the needs of modern farming.

“Relevance is not a destination, it’s a journey,” he said.

Paul Kostboth, director of the Division of Agriculture Development for the department, said because different parts of the state offer unique agriculture opportunities, it makes more sense to have specialists focus on regions.

It comes down to increased effectiveness, Kostboth said, and this move will help the department be more resource-based and serve the community in that capacity. It will also help the state know the best way to move forward with individual counties, towns and municipalities, he said.

And despite their new duties as regional experts, Department of Agriculture staff can still be called on to help with their particular field of expertise, Kostboth said. For example, Ty Eschenbaum, who oversees the southeast region, will still be in charge of the department’s international trade program.

Lentsch said the new regional division is the first of coming changes to reevaluate how the Department of Agriculture operates and how it can better work with state and local government and farmers.

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