South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Foundation

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SDARL Program Overview & History



Agriculture needs leaders! Recognizing the need to develop leaders to serve South Dakota agriculture and our rural communities, a forward-thinking group of farmers, ranchers, educators, and agri-business leaders formed a non-profit corporation in December of 1998 – the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Foundation (SDARL). The first class of the SDARL leadership program began meeting in 2000 and graduated in 2002.


With the number of graduates approaching 300, a sizeable graduate association was merged with the main SDARL Foundation in 2016 for the purpose of enhancing and growing our mission. This unification of resources has created a leadership development organization that provides lifelong leadership development opportunities.


Today more than ever, farming and ranching in South Dakota is affected by changing consumer preferences, environmental regulations, national agricultural and monetary policies, rural issues, and international markets. The SDARL leadership program builds the skills, knowledge, and character of agricultural and rural leaders to meet these challenges. Our program graduates are having a positive and profound impact on their communities and on the success of a thriving agricultural community.


The flagship 18-month leadership program is a unique forum designed to provide leadership training to residents from farming, ranching, agri-industry, community development, and agricultural organizations. Training seminars are also provided to FFA and agriculture instructors and other organizations that align with our mission. Additionally, educational programming for our graduates is provided to further build the leadership capacity in South Dakota.


Our Vision


Engaged leadership for a vibrant South Dakota!


Our Mission


Identify and develop leadership for agriculture and rural communities to enhance the quality of life for all South Dakotans.



Class Structure / Seminars


Each SDARL class is composed of approximately 30 individuals who are actively involved in production ag or in agribusiness.  Applications for the next class, Class X, will be taken during the first quarter of 2018 with a class start date of November 2018.


Class members are required to attend all seminars, complete pre-seminar reading assignments, participate in informal question and answer periods, evaluate seminars and report highlights to the media, civic groups, and/or community organizations.


The SDARL program consists of 12 seminars over an 18-month period. Ten of the seminars are 3-4 day in-state seminars held at a variety of locations across South Dakota. The National Study Seminar is a week-long study seminar to Washington, DC in February of the first year. The International Study Seminar is a 10-12 day seminar held typically in February of the second year, just prior to graduation. Class I visited New Zealand/Australia; Class II went to the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. Brazil and Argentina were the destination for Class III with Class IV looked at agriculture and culture in China. Class V conducted the international seminar in South Africa and Class VI went to China. Class VII researched agriculture and trade in Chile and Peru, Class VIII went to Portugal and Spain, and Class IX visited the large U.S. trading partner, India.




The cost of the SDARL program  exceeds $540,000 per class for the two-year program. Participants are responsible for approximately one quarter of the actual costs incurred on their behalf. Foundation, organization, corporate, alumni, and individual contributions are utilized to provide the balance of funding for each participant. SDARL receives no state or federal funding, but rather is supported by organizations and individuals who share our passion for developing strong leaders for agriculture and our rural communities.

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Contact Us


Lori Cope, Executive Director

West River Ag Center

1905 Plaza Boulevard

Rapid City, SD 57702-9302

Cell: 605-216-6178



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