Kim Vanneman is not boastful about her new role as South Dakota’s agriculture secretary.
She doesn’t need to be. After all, her new boss is handling that.
Gov. Kristi Noem picked Vanneman, a Tripp County farmer and former state legislator, to be her new secretary of the state’s Department of Agriculture. Noem then specifically praised Vanneman in Tuesday’s State of the State Address at the Capitol.
“Kim is very different from any ag secretary South Dakota has ever had before,” Noem said. “She truly brings a new perspective to the table. I’m grateful for the ways she has been an ag leader in our state — on the farm, in the legislature, in the boardroom and as a mom passing along her love of agriculture to her kids. She is going to make a great ag secretary.”
Vanneman said in an interview this week that “agriculture is my life,” while adding that Noem and herself were “both pretty much on the same page” when they met about the job. As secretary, she’ll be the state’s top representative for a $25 billion industry that is responsible for 20 percent of the state’s economic activity and has 46,000 producers on 31,000 farms or ranches.
“I’m just honored to be asked to be in this role and excited to get started, and basically ready to roll my sleeves up like I do out on the farm, and get the tasks done that need to be done,” Vanneman said.
Except for four years to go to college, Vanneman said she has spent her entire life on the farm. She graduated from South Dakota State University in Brookings with a degree in animal science and a emphasis on business.
“And I was back home on the farm on the weekends,” she said of her time in college.
Vanneman represented Gregory and Tripp counties while in the Legislature, and believes that time will serve her well in leading the ag department. She spent all six years of her time in the House of Representatives on the Agriculture Committee, with two years each as the committee’s chairman and vice chair.
She has been heavily involved with the Farm Credit System, including as an elected director on the board of Farm Credit Services of America for the last 12 years. She was involved in the governance of the system, as well as supporting legislation and policy on the federal level.
Vanneman said she’s appreciative of where South Dakota stands in agriculture today, as a state that doesn’t overburden farmers with regulations.
“You know, I think right now we’re fortunate in South Dakota in a lot of regards. … The state doesn’t overburden us a whole lot,” Vanneman said. “As far as right now with the way the agricultural economy is, and the low prices, me as a producer, I feel that pinch.”
As secretary, Vanneman said she will work to provide as many opportunities for South Dakota farmers as possible, including trying to open trade on a state level.
Noem on Tuesday outlined a few items that will be different under her administration from an agricultural perspective. Most significantly, she said she will move the agriculture development personnel previously located in Vanneman’s department to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Under the Department of Agriculture, that division has been involved with site analysis, beginning farming operations, retaining dairy, local food products and international trade.
Noem also said she wants to put an emphasis on using agriculture to innovate on a worldwide scale, possibly working on new therapies for human disease or crop technologies.
Adjusting to the new job
Vanneman, who will turn 62 on Sunday, said her family’s farm includes raising row crops, small grains, a hog-finishing operation, a beef cow herd and a feedlot. Her son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Tasha, are also involved in the ownership of the farm. Vanneman said they’re increasing involvement in the operations, which makes this a fitting time to transition to the new position. In all, Vanneman has three adult children, all involved in agriculture, along with four grandchildren.
Vanneman will be paid $123,000 annually as secretary. Her husband, Clint, has been a commissioner on the South Dakota Wheat Commission Board of Directors since 2010. That commission is administered under the state Department of Agriculture and his term ends on Oct. 30, 2019.
In her first week on the job, Vanneman said she’s been having a “fantastic time.”
“It was overwhelming, it was at some points hectic, it was great,” she said. “I just kind of got in the car to go home and I had to pinch myself. This is something I’m really excited about.”