Iversen: A Rancher’s perspective

A Rancher’s perspective:

It was once remarked…”cows build towns”. This was true a true statement 70-100 years ago particularly in western South Dakota. So, what changed? Is it possible that federal subsidies and crop insurance could be the culprit? If you think this is nonsense, visit with some of the fruit and vegetable producers that used to raise their crops on what is now corn and soybean fields.

The 2023 Farm Bill needs to include dependable risk management tools for cattle ranchers so that they can insure their crop (pastures) and livelihoods no different than farmers can. Think of it like this, cows harvest our grass just like a combine harvest our cornfields. They are both crops that we depend on to pay our bills and make a living.

I am often asked why it is so hard to convince young people to return to the ranch. It’s simple…it’s hard work, overhead costs are way too high, return on investment is way too low and without a safety net for unexpected and unpredictable circumstances, it’s just too risky. Just like businesses in eastern South Dakota rely on the economic impact of fields of corn and soybeans to generate revenue in their communities, western South Dakota towns and communities rely on ranchers and the grass in the pastures to to be converted into weight gains on cattle to keep their rural communities vibrant.

While NAP, PRF (Pasture Rainfall Insurance) and occasional indemnities are appreciated they are not dependable, targeted and/or specific. I cannot visit my local lender and borrow money to receive an operating note or to purchase land based on an indemnity like farmer a farmer with proven yields can with crop insurance.

When Ted Turner purchased nearly 100,000 acres of land in Jones and Stanley Counties it took 15 ranchers and their families and roughly 6,000 cows out of production agriculture. This affects the area population, rural communities, the schools and main street businesses that rely on agriculture.

That same 100,000 acre ranch today employees maybe three and the majority of the ranch purchases are not done in local communities.

If risk management tools do not become available for today’s ranchers, then I am convinced I will be the last generation that ranches in my family on my land. It is evident that somebody can pay me more to run cattle on my ranch in the summer months then I can pay myself.

Crop farmers from eastern South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota are able to pay more for grazing purposes for our western South Dakota native prairies and this is largely due to revenue based crop insurance. And a bigger concern is: when they realize the return on investment per acre of grassland is only about 20 percent of what the potential returns are if it were to be converted into crop ground, what this will do to our landscape, wildlife populations, diverse ecology and our rural schools and businesses.

It is time to introduce multi-peril revenue based pasture insurance so ranchers can rely on the same risk management tools their farmer counterparts do. I ask you, are American ranchers any less important than farmers to the environment? Are they any less important to the ecosystem or conservation? Are they any less important than farmers to rural economies? Are they any less important to global food security? And it’s not as if ranchers can put their livestock in a storage bin and wait for prices to increase! The question really becomes, why was revenue based pasture insurance not introduced before crop insurance?

A properly developed pasture/grass insurance policy would encourage rotational grazing and other improved soil and plant health strategies in order to “prove up” yields. On the contrary, a rancher with no safety net and a debt load can turn to over-grazing and overuse of resources especially when it’s dry.

Today let’s ask ourselves this question… “With the introduction of multi-peril revenue based pasture insurance, ‘can cows save towns’”?


Eric Iversen

Iversen Angus Ranch

Mellette County SD



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