SD secretary of ag outlines future plans
for Tri-State Livestock News
Five months into his new job as South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Lucas Lentsch spoke at the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association (SDSGA) annual convention in Rapid City on Sept. 28, covering the events in his life that lead to his new position and what plans and goals he has for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) going forward.
“My dad is from Wayward County and was an airborne paratrooper. The family farm didn’t survive the 1960s, and he had to reinvent himself. He ended up taking a career opportunity in Waterloo, Iowa with John Deere,” began Lentsch.
Upon arriving to Iowa, he was required to take an apprentice exam, and missed passing by one point.
“He had all his work on the side and told the man he had the answer, but didn’t get it transferred. It was the square root of 144. They gave him the job and answering that questions started my parents down the road of doing a little more for their family. They believed in paying as they went and saved and saved and took care of four of us boys,” continued Lentsch.
In 1985 his father’s dreams came true when he was able to move back to South Dakota and buy a farm.
“We also happened to move into a spot surrounded by World War II bachelors. We didn’t know how lucky that was for us, and had no succession plan, but they saw our young family and helped us get a start and expand,” noted Lentsch.
Upon graduating from South Dakota State University, Lentsch and his wife left the state for a position with Good Humor-Bryers Ice Cream in Henderson, Nev. A year and a half into the position came a major opportunity, and change, for the Lentsch family.
“I had the opportunity to be promoted and take on an executive managing trainee role. I brought that opportunity home to the kitchen table with my wife – we had a toddler in the room and were hoping for two more, and I remember saying to her this is a five year commitment, a corporate career. She said it sure looks right, and I asked why doesn’t it feel right, and she answered that she didn’t know. I asked her what we talk about, and she replied, ‘home,’” explained Lentsch of what caused him to turn down the offer, be told he was young enough to get over making such a big mistake, and move back to South Dakota anyway.
Upon returning, Lentsch had the idea of working with food and beverage companies as a talent and recruiting manager, which allowed him to be home enough to help his parents on their operation.
“I remember getting an invitation to go into Belvin and talk about what I was doing at the senior citizens center. I walk through the door and the first face I see is a guy I went to church with, and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘well, you must not have been able to make it in the real world.’
“At that point I didn’t know what I was going to talk about, he wiped my mind clean. So, when I stood up I asked if they liked seeing a young couple back, who had a brand new baby girl and an older daughter. I told them I needed favor, and asked them to stop telling us to leave and go away and do something with our lives, because the next generation is here and willing to come home and make it happen. That conversation was a call to action for me, and I knew I wanted to figure out if it was a mindset unique to my hometown or not,” explained Lentsch.
That was what Lentsch listed as the first thing that set him on the path to becoming the SDDA Secretary of Agriculture. The second was he enlisted in the National Guard right out of high school, and in 2003 was the rank of Captain, and commander of 87 men deployed to Iraq.
“I always knew I liked being a South Dakotan and an American, but I never knew I loved it. I fell in love with our state and country because everything was on the line,” he noted.
Upon returning home Lentsch’s curiosity for politics resulted in becoming involved at the state level and with Walt Bones and Sarah Jorgensen.
“Then I decided to step out of state government, and a few short months later I got a call from the office of the Governor, asking me to come in, sit down and talk. I didn’t know what it would be about, and was thinking I would sit down with staff, and here I ended up with the governor, just he and I, alone,” said Lentsch.
The Governor asked Lentsch to consider putting his name in for the position of SDDA Secretary of Agriculture, which he did, ultimately landing the job and officially starting April 29, 2013.
“I figured if I were in the Governor’s shoes I would want someone to tell me like it is, even if I didn’t want to hear it,” began Lentsch of his approach to his job. “When talking about the vision of our state, one of the biggest things I told the Governor was to make sure we’re in a position to help South Dakotan’s make plays and not get played, and to look at what we’re doing to make sure were in the best position to lead our state and our country in terms of food production.”
Within SDDA, Lentsch took a strong look at the relevance of everything the department was doing, and how it helped South Dakotan’s make plays in the year 2013.
“One thing we found is the Rural Rehab Fund, which we’ve had since 1930’s, and which is a revolving loan fund. We took a look at how else we can get those funds back out there working for us and our producers. We ended up collaborating with FSA (Farm Service Agency), and all those funded FSA loans that are approved but have no funding – the SDDA has now partnered and formed a bridge loan program with them. A few have been completed already,” explained Lentsch.
Working on the COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) issue and taking a stand that it’s a good thing to know that meat was produced in America and South Dakota is another topic Lentsch has worked on since starting in his position, as is encouraging the next generation to return to South Dakota agriculture.
“I am looking forward to the future in this role, and I it’s very important to remember that I work for you. Our communities and state are ran by the people who show up, and if something is impacting you I encourage you to show up and collaborate with us so that we can work with you,” concluded Lentsch. F
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