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.

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 of 300 graduates and current class members 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, trade, 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.


  1. 1998

    On December 23, 1998, the SDARL Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of South Dakota – paving the way for the start of fundraising in anticipation of the first class in 2000.

  2. 1999

    Dr. Dan Gee “retires” from the Animal Science Department at South Dakota State University and begins serving as the first Executive Director of SDARL.

  3. 2000

    Class I is convened. The 28 class members represent the broad spectrum of South Dakota agriculture and rural communities – from ranching and farming to banking, media, government, and private business.

  4. 2002

    Class I graduates and Class II is selected. This begins the tradition of ending and beginning a new leadership class every even-ending year.