September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Lucas Lentsch will be a great Secretary of Agriculture," said Governor Daugaard. "He is well-known across the state and well-respected in the ag community. Lucas will be an effective advocate for South Dakota's farmers and ranchers."
Secretary Lentsch and his wife, Laura, have four children, Austin (15), Claire (13), Shane (9) and Kate (7). Lentsch, who recently turned 40, has some clear-cut goals for his tenure as Secretary of Agriculture.
"First of all, I want to look for efficiencies," he said. "I want to make sure that the department is relevant for 2013. That means taking a hard look at things and making some tough decisions."
"Second, I want to make sure the stage is set for the future and for the next generation of agriculture. This means developing a diversified ag portfolio. Farming isn't just about raising corn or soybeans; it's about adding value and embracing technology. Livestock development is one of the best ways to add value to our commodities."
Lentsch's background is deeply rooted in the dairy industry.
"My father, John, grew up on a farm near Webster, South Dakota," said Lentsch. "In the mid-1960s he came home from the service after being a paratrooper to find that there was no farm to come home to. So he and my mother eventually moved to Waterloo, Iowa where Dad worked at John Deere for 20 years as a skilled tradesman."
By 1985, John and Karen Lentsch had saved up enough money to make their family farming dream come true.
"They purchased a farmstead and land in Marshall County," said Lentsch. "It had an old hip roof barn that we fixed up. We had 16 stanchions and milked our cows with Surge belly milkers and as we could afford improvements, we upgraded to a pipeline. When my younger brother and I were in high school, many of our friends went out for sports while we did chores. I don't regret any of it though, because we were working together as a family."
Growing up on a family dairy farm taught Lentsch the value of hard work and perseverance. After high school, Lentsch joined the National Guard. He also enrolled at South Dakota State University, where he would earn a Bachelor's degree in dairy manufacturing.
After college, Lentsch landed a position as a production supervisor at Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream in Henderson, Nevada.
"I was given an opportunity to become an executive management trainee," he said. "But when I looked at the offer letter, I didn't see South Dakota in our future so I turned it down. My plant manager said 'You're still young enough, you will recover from this mistake.'"
Lentsch and his wife were in their mid-20s and had a newborn son. Following in his father's entrepreneurial footsteps, Lentsch decided to return to South Dakota and start a small staffing company called DairyCareers.
"We found a place to live that was just a mile from my parents' farm, so I would be an executive recruiter during the day and help my folks with chores in the evenings. DairyCareers taught me that I could make a living in South Dakota while working with people across the nation."
In 2003, Lentsch's Guard unit was sent to Iraq for a 15-month deployment. Lentsch, who was a battery commander, was awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"That experience changed me in that I always knew that I liked South Dakota and America, but I didn't realize that I loved it," he said. "I will never forget the cheer that went through that airplane when the pilot announced that we were back in U.S. airspace.
"When we were in Iraq, I spent a lot of time worrying about the soldiers under my command. But working with the Iraqis made me realize that governments are run by those who show up. This helped spark my interest in the political process."
Lentsch eventually sold DairyCareers. He participated in South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership and became president of its Board of Directors. For two years, Lentsch served as executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party. He then spent two years working as director of agricultural development for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. Until recently, he was with Reinke Gray Wealth Management of Pierre where worked as a financial advisor for farm and ranch families.
"I am blessed to have a second bite at the apple," said Lentsch. "The job of Secretary of Agriculture is not a one-person show. As in dairy farming, it's all about teamwork. The family that works together stays together."
Lentsch will continue the effort to expand existing dairies and recruit new dairy operators to the state.
"South Dakota is open for business. Our goal is to be aggressive in attracting the best producers and the best processors. It's all about being good neighbors and good stewards of the land. Agriculture is the state's number one industry, and my hope is to have a healthy ag industry for years to come. We will do what we can to support the industry and remove roadblocks.
"Technology is continuing to change our agriculture industry. We all need to understand that with growing global demand, there is room at the table of opportunity for everyone."
Lentsch feels that every farmer should be an advocate for agriculture.
"I have learned to appreciate that everyone has a story. We all need to be proactive and stand up and tell our stories."
While he has come a long ways from the old stanchion barn and the Surge belly milkers, Lentsch says that he's still the same guy.
"One thing I look back on fondly is that it wasn't a holiday until the cows were taken care of. It wasn't Christmas or Thanksgiving until the cows were milked and the chores were done and all our animals had gotten fresh, clean bedding."
"It was a tough day in October of 2005 when Mom and Dad's cows went down the road. We had spent 20 years taking care of them, just as they had taken care of us."[[In-content Ad]]