by Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
State Secretary of Agriculture designee Lucas Lentsch told Mitchell Technical Institute agriculture students Thursday that when it comes to agriculture, South Dakota is the place to be.
Lentsch, appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard earlier this month, will officially become state agriculture secretary on Monday.
He replaces outgoing secretary Walt Bones who he called “a phenomenal representative for South Dakota.”
His time in Mitchell was a “meet and greet” opportunity to touch base with constituents at the MTI Student Center building.
MTI Foundation Director Heather Lentz said MTI organized the event to showcase the school’s ag programs, to welcome Lentsch as the new agriculture secretary “and to let him tell us where he thinks the future of agriculture is going in South Dakota.”
Lentsch’s remarks followed comments by MTI President Greg Von Wald, emcee Nate Franzen, president of the ag finance division of the Yankton-based First Dakota National Bank, and Rosie Nold, South Dakota State University Extension director.
In comments to MTI farm program students assembled in the Student Center Commons, Lentsch stressed the importance of education.
His father, he said, had an eighthgrade education, but earning his GED opened the door to learning a skilled trade and a 20-year career with John Deere.
“He wanted to be in agriculture; it just wasn’t in the cards in the mid’60s to come back to the family farm,” he said.
His dad, he said, counted himself lucky. Working at John Deere, his father eventually saved enough to purchase his own farm property in Marshall County.
“Everything good in my life, I can trace back to agriculture,” Lentsch said.
His work with the Department of Agriculture has enabled him to move beyond a local view of agriculture to consider regional and international impacts.
“We’re looking at a global economy and we’re in a great spot — the breadbasket of our country is here.” Production agriculture has enabled the region’s workforce to buck national unemployment trends, Lentsch said.
Lentsch, 39, said time serving with the military in Iraq taught him the importance of seizing opportunities when they arise.
“When everything you think you know and cherish may be over,” he said. “That’s when you start living.”
He told students, “Don’t ever underestimate the power that you have to make a difference. I believe in you and I want you to have the opportunities for a diverse and viable agricultural industry.”
When China’s population increases monthly by the size of South Dakota’s population, said Lentsch, “the demand for food isn’t going to stop any time soon.”
Lentsch said he plans to carefully study his department’s seven divisions, but stopped short of announcing any changes. He said the office will explore ways to add even more value to commodities before they are shipped out of state.
Lentsch was unable to coax any questions from MTI’s ag students, but Salem farmer Bedeane Kurth, 82, pulled him aside after the meeting and put in a word for livestock producers.
“I talked to the young fella about all the shelterbelts being torn up,” Kurth said. “Some are old and need to be, but we’ve got to get them replaced. We’ve got to get this grass back and growing because the backbone of South Dakota is livestock, and livestock’s got to have grass.”
Kurth said the state’s farmers must continue doing what they do best.
“When you think of the economic impact we have in rural agriculture, we can do it, we can make a future for our communities, but we have to keep investing in what we do, and do well, and that’s agriculture.”
Lentsch is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. He is a member of the VFW, the American Legion and he also volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America.
According to state reports, he served for two years as executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party and spent 10 years in business development prior to moving to Pierre.
He was a founding member and chairman of Glacial Lakes Area Development, a community development nonprofit organization in northeastern South Dakota.
Lentsch and his wife Laura, have four children.