Variety Development – Jackrabbit Edition

August 18, 2022 in Crops



Variety Development – Jackrabbit Edition

Soybeans, Sunflowers, and So Much More in South Dakota

When most people hear the name South Dakota, they probably think of Mount Rushmore and maybe the Black Hills. Still others might think of bison, the Badlands, Deadwood, or even Wall Drug. The South Dakota Department of Tourism offers a bunch of state-specific trivia here. How else would you learn that Bob Barker of The Price is Right fame is a native of South Dakota? 

When we at Medius hear about South Dakota, we think of an agricultural powerhouse. Of its 77,123 square miles, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports that 43.2 million acres, or 67,500 square miles, is devoted to agriculture. That means that 87.5 percent of the 17th-largest state in the U.S. is used for agricultural production. This substantial agricultural landscape was leveraged for the production of 740 million bushels of corn worth $4.1 billion in 2021, according to NASS, ranking SD seventh nationally for both volume and value. For soybeans, 216 million bushels valued at $2.8 billion were produced, placing it eighth for both measures. For wheat, those numbers are 44.5 billion bushels (12th) and $349 million (10th), respectively. 

South Dakota is also a significant producer of other crops that are not as widely grown. For example, it is one of only six states that produce sorghum grain as reported by NASS, valued at $79 million in 2021. For millet, it is one of only three producing states reported–2.3 million bushels valued at $21 million. Also in 2021, it produced the fifth largest volume of oats (3.75 million bushels) that were valued at $17 million, or third-highest in the U.S. South Dakota was one of only five states reporting safflower production: 11.25 million pounds valued at $3.3 million. For dry edible peas, it was one of six states reporting production: 131,000 hundredweight (cwt, 100 pounds) that were valued at a total of $2.5 million. Suffice it to say, South Dakota is a major player in both national and more regional crops. 


Back in April we penned a post that focused exclusively on global sunflower oil markets in light of the geopolitical unrest associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two countries account for about half the entire sunflower seed production in the world and no other country is particularly close behind. Here at home, the 1.35 million metric tons produced by the U.S. in 2020 was enough for #10 globally, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics service, FAOSTAT. Meanwhile, USDA pegged the total 2021 production at 1.9 billion pounds, or 950,000 tons. Total U.S. production by state broke down as follows: 

STATE PRODUCTION IN U.S. TONS % of U.S. PRODUCTION
SOUTH DAKOTA 408,900 43.0%
NORTH DAKOTA 380,950 40.0%
MINNESOTA 47,110 5.0%
KANSAS 26,400 2.8%
CALIFORNIA 24,925 2.6%
COLORADO 23,598 2.5%
TEXAS 22,335 2.3%
NEBRASKA 17,275 1.8%
Tons of Sunflower Production, 2021. Source: USDA NASS Quick Stats, retrieved August 15, 2022

Once again, we see South Dakota playing a leading role for a crop that has a more limited U.S. footprint. 


Now that we have a better understanding of South Dakota’s role in the U.S. agricultural landscape, we can turn our attention to its supporting research network. South Dakota is home to four land-grant universities (LGUs), including 1994 institutions Sisseton Wahpeton College (founded 1979), Oglala Lakota College (founded 1971), and Sinte Gleska University (founded in 1970). The backbone of the state’s agricultural research is South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the principal focus of this stop on our tour of America’s LGU system

Although SDSU was founded in 1881, the Mount Rushmore State would not be admitted to the Union until 1889. Since its beginning, SDSU has been heavily connected to the state’s agricultural sector. Even today among seven other colleges housed within the university, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences “is the largest at SDSU in terms of student enrollment, faculty and staff and building space.”


SDSU is home to Dr. Melanie Caffe’s oat breeding program, which has developed two commercialized oat varieties. She also has a winter wheat variety to her credit. Dr. Sehgal’s winter wheat breeding program and Dr. Glover’s spring wheat breeding program can also be found at SDSU. Dr. Glover has 10 hard red spring wheat varieties to his credit while Dr. Sehgal has four varieties with a fifth pending. Although their research undoubtedly takes them to growing regions around the state and beyond, they are all headquartered in Brookings, which is the home of South Dakota State University. 

Outside of Brookings, seven research stations scattered across the state can be found from Sturgis in the west to Astoria in the east. Together, the stations make up the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station and can serve as useful locations for variety trial testing. With the robust volume as well as variety of South Dakota’s agricultural landscape, you would be correct to guess that the state has a substantial variety testing program. 

Courtesy of South Dakota State University

South Dakota’s Crop Performance Testing (CPT) program is the final piece of SDSU’s agricultural research apparatus that we’re going to look at today. Although it is housed within SDSU’s Extension system, it leans on the Experiment Station for some of its testing locations. However, the CPT program greatly exceeds the footprint of SD’s Experiment Station network. In fact, according to published 2021 and 2022 variety testing reports, in recent years the CPT program has used only four SD research stations for variety testing: the Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, the Northeast Research Farm in South Shore, the Southeast Research Farm in Beresford, and the West River Research Farm in Sturgis. At the same time, winter wheat varieties were tested at 14 different locations. Meanwhile, spring wheat varieties were tested at 11 locations, corn and soybeans at 10 locations each, oats at seven locations, sorghum and sunflowers at three locations each, and a single location hosted field pea trials. It’s evident that the collaborative relationships fostered by South Dakota’s CPT program across both the Experiment Station and SD grower community has served the farmers of South Dakota very well and provides them with the tools needed to stay competitive across several crops critical to the state’s agricultural sector. 

Courtesy of South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station at SDSU

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