Knock five points off whatever lead you think G. Mark Mickelson has in the 2018 gubernatorial race. The Sioux Falls Representative and railroad consultant (remind me to bring that up next time G. Mark pushes a bill through committee) spoke to annual meeting of the Grant County Development Corporation May 26. His visit came amidst a contentious referendum campaign, in which livestock and dairy interests in Grant County sought to reverse via public vote a new county zoning ordinance that revised how far concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) need to be from homes, wells, and other establishments. The previous setback was a half-mile for any size CAFO; Ordinance 2016-01, approved unanimously by the commission on March 1, created a sliding scale, from an eighth-mile for CAFOs with under 1,000 head of livestock to a mile for CAFOs with 7,000 head or more.
Rep. Mickelson has been working hard to deregulate CAFOs, which Mickelson sees as the only way to keep young people in rural South Dakota. Grant County voters repudiated his deregulatory insistence, voting Tuesday 59% to 41% to support the new ordinance and require bigger CAFOs to leave more room between their stink and their neighbors.
(An online poll on the local Valley Express conducted up to the day before the public vote showed 61% against the new CAFO setbacks. Once again, online polls are fun, but don’t bet your lunch on them.)
Commission chairman Doug Stengel voted for the ordinance, but he sounds uneasy about its implications for Grant County’s economy:
Stengel, who runs Stengel Seed & Grain Co. in Milbank, said zoning for CAFOs is a heated issue all across the state, not just in Grant County. He acknowledged that voters are in favor of larger setbacks, but he said he struggles with what it means for the future of farming.
“We also have to remember that this country is agriculture out here,” he said. “Are we going to be a farming country, or are we going to be people living in the country?” [Janelle Atyeo, “Grant County Voters Uphold Bigger Setbacks for Livestock Operations,” Tri-State Neighbor, 2016.06.08]
I question Stengel’s either-or, which is implicit in Mickelson’s CAFO-mania. Every community protects its overall quality of life by requiring that large, polluting industrial facilities be placed safe and respectful distances away from residences, parks, and water supplies. Larger setbacks for CAFOs don’t mean the end of farming. There’s still plenty of room in South Dakota for factory feedlots. And factory feedlots aren’t the only form of farming available to young rural entrepreneurs. One can raise all sorts of profitable livestock and crops that don’t require setting one’s operation a mile back from neighbors. And in the space that one big CAFO operator would need under the Grant County ordinance to site a 7,000-head dairy, Grant County could support hundreds of small community-supported agriculture operations, enough to create a whole new town.
So if you want to play either-or, consider: would you rather have one big CAFO or a couple hundred new neighbors (taxpayers, Lantern Inn and Schuneman Equipment customers, PTA members with kids boosting K-12 enrollment) making their living off the land?
Evidently G. Mark Mickelson would prefer to cast his lot with a CAFO moguls with whom he can trade favors for campaign support than a bunch of unruly, independent-minded farmers and residents who might vote for someone else.