Sunday, March 20 marks the first day of Spring — at 10:33 a.m. CT/9:33 a.m. MT precisely, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. Spring is a crucial season for both of our state’s two largest industries: agriculture and tourism.
Spring is always a great time of year. Easter is right around the corner. Every day we see signs of renewal that give us hope: the warm sun melting away the chill of winter; Buffalo calves on the prairie; and Spring blooms returning to the fields and trees.
After two years of COVID looming over the lives of people across the country, Americans are looking for wide-open spaces like what we have in South Dakota. Even as inflation climbs to record highs, recent data from experts like Expedia suggests Americans are gearing up for another big year of travel. After our record-breaking tourism year in 2021, we are optimistic about another big tourism season for South Dakota.
As gas prices blow past historic peaks, fueled by a 40-year high for inflation, Americans are planning to put a higher premium on travel and vacation this year. With airlines potentially ending mask mandates in mid-April, we could also see a rise in air travel in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and other regional airports.
While it is impossible to know for sure how many visitors will make their way to South Dakota in the coming months, a look back at 2021 shows that folks want to visit our great places and see our great faces. Record numbers of people visited our parks, and our airports in Rapid City and Sioux Falls saw a 74% increase over the previous year.
All told, our state saw about 13.5 million visitors in 2021. That’s because we have so much to offer: national monuments, the most beautiful parks, plenty of places to hunt & fish, rodeos, livestock shows, some of the best county fairs in America, and rich cultural experiences such as Pow Wows and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
All of these attractions led to visitors spending a record $4.4 billion last year in South Dakota. That’s an amazing figure for our state’s No. 2 industry.
As we look forward to warmer days and the chance to enjoy the outdoors, my thoughts are also turning to our farmers and ranchers. A milder winter has given way to earlier spring weather. Unfortunately, the lack of snow hasn’t helped ease drought conditions. As Spring comes, let’s all pray for some April showers (and some March showers, too) to help our farmers as they put crops in the ground.
Last year, Agriculture accounted for more than $32 billion in our state economy, making it our largest industry by far. With the drought hanging around, it’s likely our Ag economy could take a hit this year.
Without additional moisture, our farmers and ranchers will face challenges. They are already feeling the pinch on their margins thanks to inflation, including rising diesel prices. Without adequate spring showers, ranchers will be spending more to keep their stock fed, and farmers will have a harder time growing their crops.
In times like these, I turn to my faith. The Bible tells us not to fear, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.” It also says “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.” Let’s remember those promises and pray for rain.
Hope springs eternal as we approach the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. May we remain thankful for our blessings in South Dakota and work together to lift our neighbors who are waiting for their blessings to come in the form of rain clouds.