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Grant County Rejects Mickelson CAFO-Mania, Adopts Longer Setbacks for Big Livestock Operations

Competing signs in Grant County CAFO setback referndum; photo posted by Grant County Development Corporation, Facebook, 2016.06.07.
Competing signs in Grant County CAFO setback referndum; photo posted by Grant County Development Corporation, Facebook, 2016.06.07.

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.


  1. HydroGuy 2016-06-10 16:45

    Spot on as usual, CH. Their proponents continuously spread misinformation by positing that mega-CAFOs will bolster the economic productivity of and stem population outmigration from rural communities. That’s a pipe dream often foisted on the local populace of such areas, most of whom haven’t proactively sought out factual, impartial information regarding the issues and are instead swayed by biased, self-serving opinions (see the paragraphs below for a prime example of the latter). Unfortunately, the large-scale, industrial model of agriculture constantly advocated by seed/fertilizer/chemical companies and their lobbyists, farm equipment manufacturers and dealers, the federal government via taxpayer-funded commodity subsidies and crop insurance, and, ironically, the citizenry of agricultural areas will continue to erode rural communities and the environment across this country.

    For the sake of posterity and relevance, I’ll re-post a portion of a comment I made on a blog post from a few days ago that referenced a similar topic:

    “A group unsatisfied and threatened by equitable, common sense changes to status quo—Citizens for a Progressive Grant County—led the effort to refer the amended ordinance to a public vote. Interestingly, and perhaps unknown to county residents, that group was incorporated as a domestic non-profit by the South Dakota Secretary of State on October 1, 2015 and is led by the CEO and CFO of Valley Queen Cheese Factory, Mark Leddy and Brian Sandvig, respectively (

    During the month preceding voting day, the partisan group consistently touted the ability of mega-CAFOs, especially dairies, to increase local economic activity, increase the value of private property in the vicinity of new operations, and benefit the environment, despite the fact they never provided one shred of documentation to support their claims and the peer-reviewed scientific literature is replete with evidence to the contrary. In a further gesture aimed at undermining the will of the majority of voters in Grant County, Mark Leddy stated—before the election, mind you—that the progressive ordinance was a taking of property rights and would likely be challenged in court should the referendum fail (”

  2. Cathy the Nimby 2016-06-10 21:35

    Yankton County has an ordinance that effectively prohibits large CAFOs. The county commission and the planning commission want to set up a “Dairy Overlay” that would circumvent that ordinance and allow large dairies to move in.

    Pat Garrity gave a report at the county commission meeting yesterday (which they held at 4pm instead of in the evening). He said (paraphrasing) that he didn’t understand how anyone could be against CAFOs …which got a few snorts from the audience and me choking on my sodipop. Then he followed with a derisive comment about not-in-my-backyard folks…”NIMBYs, that’s what we call them in the trade”. He laughed, the commissioners laughed.

    It was clear from that meeting and from the shouting match in the hallway afterwards, that the county commission does not care what the public thinks. They are going to try ram this thing through no matter what.

    The last CAFO battle dragged on for almost 2 years and went to the SD Supreme Court. This looks like it’s gonna be worse.

  3. Richard Schriever 2016-06-11 09:43

    Stengel’s ship (the “Concern”?) sailed long ago in Eastern SD. Mostly we are “people that live in the country”; Very few of whom are actually farmers.

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