SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — More than a third of South Dakota’s 886,667 residents live in three counties. Most of them don’t live on working farms.

The largest urban center in Minnehaha and Lincoln County is Sioux Falls while Rapid City is the largest urban center in Pennington County. Those three counties have a combined population of 371,597, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census classifies urban areas as representing “densely developed territory, and encompass residential, commercial, and other non-residential urban land uses. The Census Bureau delineates urban areas after each decennial census by applying specified criteria to decennial census and other data. “Rural” encompasses all population, housing and territory not included within an urban area.

Based on how the Census classified the population in 2010 as 56.5% in an urban area and 43.3% in rural areas, Sioux Falls and Rapid City would qualify as urban areas. It’s likely Brookings and Aberdeen would as well.

Farms and small towns would likely be rural areas.

The state of South Dakota had 36,736 farms in 1987. The number dropped to 29,600 in 2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The decrease in the number of farms impacts the population of the state and counties.

While the 2020 Census figures for many small cities in the state are not yet available, the loss of farms does not always seem to translate to large losses of population in counties.

In 2000, the population of Sanborn County was 2,675, according to the U.S. Census. The population was 2,355 in 2010 and 2,330 in 2020.

The county had 354 farms with an average acres of 899 in 2007. The county had 351 farms in 2017, which was a 13% decline from 2012, according to the USDA.

From 2012 to 2017, Perkins County, in northern South Dakota at the North Dakota border, had 4% decline in the number of farms. The county had 421 farms in 2017.

The overall decline in the number of farms in the county over the past 10 years “is nothing that we didn’t expect,” said Ben Hertzel, the general manager of the CHS Southwest Grain in Lemmon, in Perkins County.

“We expected at some point there were would have to be some consolidation,” Hertzel said.

The consolidation, in part, is because as farmers get older, they may not have a younger family member to continue the operation, he said.

According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, the average age of a South Dakota farmer is 56.

Economics also plays a role as younger would-be farmers can’t afford to start or continue or older farmers make the economic choice to leave farming.

In short, “you have fewer people doing the same amount of work,” Hertzel said.

As the number of farms declines, the size of remaining farms tends to grow.

In 2020, the average sized farm in the state was 1,419 acres. It was 1,380 in 2002 and 1,214 in 1987, according to the USDA.

Larger city gains doesn’t always mean others lose

Based on figures from 2019, population losses by any city or county did not result in a net loss of in migration for the state.

In 2019, more people moved to South Dakota than left it, according to the Census Bureau. The state had a net migration of 1,382 with 494 of those international and 964 domestic.

Perkins County had a population of 2,865 in 2020. The population was 2,982 in 2010.

But the city of Lemmon’s population has increased or remained steady, said the city’s assistant finance officer Annette Dalzell.

“We’re holding our own,” Dalzell said.

The city of Canton is in Lincoln County, a county which gained about 20,000 residents from 2010 to 2020. The gains were likely mostly in Sioux Falls, Harrisburg and Tea, to the north of Canton. Population estimates for 2020 all projected increases in those three cities.

“We haven’t seen a whole lot of growth because we need rooftops,” said Scott Larson, the president of the Canton Economic Development Corporation.

The city has an opportunity to attract more residents as Sioux Falls continues to grow to the south.

“We’d be a 15-minute drive to Sioux Falls,” Larson said.

Canton and cities such as Dell Rapids have an “opportunity to grow, especially with new business coming to Sioux Falls like Schwan’s and Amazon,” Larson said.

The 2019 estimated population for Canton was about 3,500, which was an increase of about 500 from the 2010 Census.