Feedlot fanatic Speaker G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) continues to press his one-track vision of rural economic development by threatening to take away state aid to county governments if they don’t loosen their CAFO regulations:
If you come out to Pierre and you got your pockets turned inside out, but your population’s in decline and you continue to ship more and more grain out of your county, then there’s not a lot we can do for you if you’re not going to let your neighbor get into the business of feeding hogs, feeding dairy cattle, feeding beef cattle [Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, audio transcribed from “House Speaker Would Like Counties to Come up with Development Plans,” Hub City Radio, 2017.12.11].
Gee, Speaker Mickelson, suppose a county takes a look at scientific evidence about the health harms (asthma, flu viruses, antibiotic resistance) and economic harms (loss of jobs, depressed property values, strained county resources) of large concentrated animal feeding operations and decides it would rather invest in attracting renewable energy companies, homebuilders, engineering firms, manufacturers, welding shops, and computer/network companies to employ all those vo-tech graduates on whom you’re asking the state to spend more and more money. Do you really want to blackmail them into following your narrow vision of rural economic development? Do you really want to dictate from Pierre that every county less urbane than your Sioux Falls home should tie its economy to the agriculture seesaw and bury itself in cow poop?
And counties, do you really want a Sioux Falls lawyer telling you that all you can do is raise hogs?
Don’t let narrow-minded Mickelson blackmail you, rural South Dakota. Small towns can pursue economic revitalization through arts, tourism, and downtown business development. Rural communities can diversify into craft brewing, small-scale organic ag, and wind farms while improving their water quality. Instead of plodding down Mickelson’s narrow factory-farm chute, rural South Dakota can follow multiple paths to economic recovery and sustainable development.
Dear Mr. Mickleson,
Please come and sit on my porch when the wind is from the southwest, or you can just drive around the section 6400 sows are living on any day–to get a whiff of what industrial ag does to a neighborhood. Watch the trucks carry the pigs to Minnesota; watch the money go to Minnesota; watch the feed come from Minnesota; watch the fuel come from Minnesota; watch the turnover of employees; watch the poop stay in South Dakota; watch it go into our water; watch my home value decline; watch us cover our noses when outside; watch my windows stay closed for three years; watch me get the hell off of the porch when the stink comes rolling in. Watch the ‘industry’ lure young ‘farmers’ into the growing barns serf model with contracts written by their attorneys with lots of small print; contracts that tell them how much they will pay to rent their pens; contracts that can be broken only by the renter (the pig people); and will be broken if the barn owner does anything, and I mean anything, of which they don’t approve; contracts that cost three quarters of a million dollars to build a building with a life span of maybe 15 years–when that money could be better spent buying land that lasts forever; contracts that are secret; contracts that promise the world, but only help the ‘big boys.’
Watch the family dairies disappear as mega dairies take over and big cheese processing plants refuse to pick up ‘small’ loads. Listen to the ‘we need to feed the world’ argument and tell me how many poor people in Africa eat pork chops. Look at our impaired waters–do you swim in the Big Sioux?
Look at the research concerning health issues in counties that have a high concentration of CAFO’s; look at the TRUE research of the economic impact.
Now, look at the co-ops who support families and their operations; look at the local foods movement; look at the increase in organic farming; look at the small towns where small business is the mainstay.
Please don’t threaten counties–county residents know better than anyone what they want their counties to look like.
Boy howdy, if that ain’t big gov’t. wow.
Couldn’t the same be said about South Dakota? Shouldn’t the feds say the same darn thing to Pierre? “if you won’t raise wages, increase health care, or add a state income tax – don’t come crying to D.C. for more money”.
Cory, I’m not seeing a quote from Mickelson supporting the assertion that he is “threatening to take away state aid to county governments if they don’t loosen their CAFO regulations.” Maybe it is buried in the audio from the hub city interview. Additionally, If you consider the way schools are currently funded, an expanded local tax base through CAFOs would actually reduce the amount of state aid to local schools in districts with higher tax bases. If you don’t have CAFOs and thus, you have a smaller property tax base, your school district will get more state aid to education.
I have a couple points to make here: CAFO’s are not inherently good or inherently bad. It all depends on whether they are properly regulated or not and the management of the CAFO by the farm operator.
To illustrate this point, take a look at cities. We have concentrated the density of people living in cities throughout the world to varying degrees. Some cities are a cesspool of filth, overcrowding, and disease. These cities usually have insufficient infrastructure and are not designed to handle the density of people. Other cities like New York and Tokyo are very densely populated, but are relatively clean and the infrastructure supports a healthy population of people. They have garbage services, street cleaners, sanitary sewer systems, healthcare systems, clean water and increasingly, clean air. A properly designed and managed CAFO is like the latter cities and improperly designed or managed CAFOs are like the former cities. Thus, CAFOs are similar to cities in that size and density of population don’t make the city inherently good or bad.
You mentioned renewable energy, home builders, welders, and computer/network firms as replacements for CAFOs. With the exception of renewable energy, you are putting the cart before the horse. If you don’t build it, they won’t come. If you don’t have the underlying agricultural industry, there is not need for the supporting industries or jobs. We need an all of the above strategy plus CAFOs to revitalize the SD economy. In most places in SD, there will be no need for a home builder or welder or network/IT technician, for instance, if you don’t have a thriving ag economy.
You mentioned how Iowa doesn’t want to be subject to the “South-Dakotification” of its tax code. Neither would Iowa want to drain their state of livestock to a level like South Dakota. Livestock has been the backbone of Iowa’s economy for decades and you need only look at the numerous businesses and manufacturing plants in their small towns that support and serve their livestock industry to recognize the importance of livestock to an agricultural based economy.
Unfortunately, the word “CAFO” to you is in many respects the equivalent to the word “Muslim” to the Americans First group memebers–the words both trigger an emotional response that overcomes reason and judgement. Each CAFO deserves to be evaluated on its merits much like a person. Location, design, surrounding neighbors, topographical features, and technology all must be considered. I challenge you to come out to the farm and learn more about modern farming and livestock operations. Then, you can make a more informed opinion about the future of SD’s agriculture based economy and the role that CAFOs play. You would do so for many of your stories–why not for the state’s largest, and still most important, industry?
Mickelson may be trying to push the pendulum too far in favor of deregulated CAFOs, but the idea we are going to grow SD’s agricultural based economy significantly without well regulated CAFOs is unsupported by any economic evidence.
I like the way you “look”, Ms. Tyler.
Darin … Why did you use Muslim instead of Catholic?
Great letter, Kathy. I cheer it on!
Even so, the only way to counter this is to have viable economic develop plans that are more responsible ready to submit. Is there anyone who has good ideas on how to prosper small farms and small farming communities?
Porter, Americans First decry the presence in our country of Muslims, not Catholics.
I do. Big Ag has a corner on big farming. Small farms can do localized, organic and specialty farming with the personal touch that Big Ag can’t provide with their hired help paradigm. The issue is marketing. If SoDak citizens would refuse to shop at chain restaurants and chain department stores (Walmart etc.) the state’s economy would over time develop a rock solid foundation that would benefit consumer and producer. I’m sure you see that model in Scotland as it’s still revered in Europe.
Darin … The KKK and White Supremacy groups denounce Catholics, daily. I’m just wondering, if you’re going to compare a religion to pig s**t what your criteria is for choosing the religion?
There’s some history involved here, and it involves how his father’s administration decided South Dakota should regulate CAFOs. Of course, back then these large operations weren’t called CAFOs, because the term hadn’t been coined.
The first operation that wanted to come into South Dakota was National Farms’ large hog operation. The company, in what was a huge mistake, decided their operation should set up a few miles from Lake Oahe just north of Pierre. I think they assumed that the location, owned by a Democrat but in a largely Republican jurisdiction, would make it easier to slam it through.
This was a year or two before the federal CAFO permit system, but the state had some permitting requirements, and the City of Pierre had some requirements, because it was going to be called on to provide the water for this huge system. The local people organized against the project. I and several others contested the state permitting and I suggested an initiative to prevent the City of Pierre from providing the water. Well, the state, more or less, caved to National Farms, but the locals people decided, through their initiative, they would withhold the water. National Farms tried a few other locations, but people turned them down.
I’m not sure if G. Mark was around for that fight or if he was at Hah-vad. Sometime during that fight I took my daughter to swing at a local park where his father’s Secretary of Labor took his twin daughters to play. We got to talking, father to father, and then moved on to other topics, including the hog farm. He told me something along these lines: “You have a lot more support than you realize. Keep up the fight.”
The next few years on that issue were taken up with establishing some rules for CAFOs. I and many others intervened, and the state’s position was that their would be general permits issued for CAFOs. We objected to that approach, suggesting that individual permits should be required. That would allow for people to intervene and object to each individual operation. The state went the other way, and suggested that the state would set a floor of regulation, and allow local governmental entities to decide on local issues, including whether the operation should be allowed.
That’s the bargain that George Mickelson’s administration made. Lax state regulation, but strong local control. Now, if South Dakota decides to change that it should require the state permitting system to be a lot more detailed and require individual, as opposed to general, permits.
Clearly, this isn’t a new track for Mickelson, whose name was conspicuously absent from hoghouse vehicle HB1188 last session (subjects of the Valley Queen were of course on board), but who was conspicuously present for its defense–in the Appropriations Committee hearing (where respect for his position seemed the only reason it was allowed to survive) and on the House floor where it died.
Speaker Mickelson has little faith in local control, but he does appear to believe in the adage, “don’t ____ where you eat.” He hasn’t yet learned a respect for rural residents of this state that might lead him to refrain from doing that where they eat as well.
Porter, I was comparing the irrational emotional response by people to two different words. For one group, Muslim triggers a response. For another group, CAFO triggers a response.
To be clear, I am certainly sympathetic to Kathy Tyler and people in her position. That appears to be a case where a CAFO was not suitable for its location given its size, infrastructure, and management.
What I am arguing is that just because some CAFOs were ill-suited for their location and/or poorly managed does not mean that all CAFOs are such. We are also not going to turn back the hands of time where you and I would have gone out to milk a handful of cows before breakfast and bring the milk back into the house in a bucket and then slopped the hogs with a pail of table scraps. People generally enjoy a plentiful supply of food at a reasonable price because of advances in technology, science and management and CAFOs are a part of those advances.
Farming and livestock operations have been getting larger since the day a farmer concluded he could just as well milk two cows a day as one cow and double his income for not much more work. The laws of economics of scale apply to farming and livestock industries just as any other. You like to call it factory farming. Well, we don’t outlaw large factories–we regulate them to make sure that air and water quality are maintained, that roads are not overwhelmed, that workers are not exploited, etc. etc. By contrast, most CAFOs are run by family farmers that just want a future for the next generation and the economics of the business are the driving force for these changes. How can you say support the findings of climate science while saying ignore the laws of economics as they apply to farming?
I am fully supportive of policies that tend to favor small farms. The benefits of small farms are sufficient to justify these policies. However, policies favoring smaller farms are not going to result in the reversal of the economic forces that have resulted in ever larger farms. We can only slow down the inevitable. That is not to say that there is not a role to play for niche farm markets and farm to table initiatives for local small farms. More power to them if they can succeed. These local small farms will not feed the world, but they may feed a small portion of their community for a portion of the year. I applaud those efforts, but they are clearly efforts at the margin and are not economically viable to meet the needs of the vast majority of consumers. We need both large and small farms.
South Dakota’s ‘rural ag initiatives’ – touted by decades of political administrations in this state –
have been very costly undertakings at the taxpayer’s expense. No wonder they are now resorting to threats. Lord knows, they can’t get the job done any other way.
Economic forces, Darin?
Example: A farm pollutes and throws its waste in a private pond. The owner of the pond will charge the farm the polluting cost and the farm has to pay. But if the same farm dumps its waste in a river, it does not have to pay anything as the river is a public good. But the dumping of the waste in the river causes many environmental problems. It damages the aquatic life, may lead to a lower water standard and health problems.
Hence to reduce the pollution emissions from these farms in water and air, a pollution tax must be charged from these farms which can be indexed in accordance of the pollution level done by the farms.
Economic forces without heavy and persistent regulation are rampant greed satisfiers and societal pariahs.
~Using a religion as an example in a discussion about hog waste is dog whistle discrimination!! Many will call my assertion “political correctness”. That group has invented a term attempting to justify something they know is wrong with the salve of “freedom of speech” and “personal liberty” but it’s still dog whistle discrimination.
Amen, Kathy Tyler! The RWNJ automaton who’s currently the District 4 Senator doesn’t hold a candle to you :>)
Really tired of everything becoming fair game for ethnicity or religion and pretty sure God is REAL SICK OF IT. Make a logical argument and if you can’t then shut up. The people who “run the state” are so far off base in understanding how to build a local economy, there isn’t time enough in the day to explore all the rat holes they go down. Mickelson is definite a city boy out in the weeds on this issue. Draw whatever religious inferences you want but please don’t share them with me.
Dumb question: how does a CAFO add to the benefit of the County, State, and / or School District?
CAFOs are taxed as agricultural which has a pretty low levy, right?
They employ a couple of people? The owner and a son?
No sales tax at any point?
How do the CAFOs across the border in IA put real dollars back into the county, state, school?
The nightmarish predictions of cafos on local air, ground and water quality as well as community life have been validated by studies.
That is an interesting point, ironically made by Mr. Mike who is from Iowa. The CAFOs must contribute something to whatever qualities of life are viewed by Iowegians as the best ones. And have you see what that Mr. Dix wants to do with the taxes in Iowa? He wants to make them like South Dakota! I, for one, don’t like the smelly CAFOs and would like them to mostly stay out of South Dakota and prefer if cattle was all raised on family owned ranches, but I doubt that will happen.
CAFO’s are a good idea as long as they aren’t in my backyard.
Darin, you ask for a direct quote. What I quote above is the closest I’ve got. No, Mickelson did not say, “Counties, loosen your CAFO zoning rules, or the Legislature will tie up your state aid.” But then Rocco and Tony never say they’re going to burn your restaurant down if you don’t pay protection money; they just say, “Gee, swell place here—sure hate to see anything bad happen.”
I do appreciate your point, Darin, about the need for well-regulated CAFOs. I’d contend we could stand to have more regulation, but we had a certain balance pre-Mickelson, ably described by Donald P., in which local residents had more power to regulate CAFOs and plenty of CAFOs (at least one too many, Kathy T will tell you) were still able to make their case and start and operate profitably. Mickelson’s desire to loosen CAFO regs takes us in a bad direction that will crowd out other farms, businesses, residential development, and recreational opportunities that we need for sustainable economic development.
We need both large and small farms—do we, Darin? What if South Dakota just said, “No corporate CAFOs.” What if the Department of Agriculture adopted a “Too Big to Help” Rule and threw all of its resources behind genuine small farms? What if every state government agency ignored every request for financial assistance, TIFs, variances, etc., from any ag/industrial operation exceeding certain head/acre/capital criteria? What if we said, “You bet, some people can make money raising 7,000 head of dairy cattle, but they don’t need to do it here.” Could we not compose an economic development portfolio of small farms, farmers markets, direct-to-consumer sales, and a whole bunch of other retail, entertainment, and service businesses that would cater to all those small farmers we employ?
I still believe in fighting the “inevitable”.
Planning Student gets to some fiscal nuts and bolts. Do factory feedlots provide the same revenue bang for the buck that several small farm operations would?
Darin, maybe I’m setting up a softball question that you can knock out of the park, but tell me: why is talking about recruiting welders, computer companies, and other non-ag technical businesses putting the cart before the horse? Why does South Dakota have to put agriculture first? The CAFOs aren’t producing for our local market; they produce primarily for export. Why can’t we recruit other industries who produce mostly for export (wind energy: transmit power; computers: remote technical assistance and programming; homebuilders: Custom Touch shipping houses to the Bakken and other markets.
What if we decided food would no longer be an export industry in South Dakota? What if we decided, as a matter of economic sustainability, to use only as much land as necessary to produce food for our resident population and to dedicate the remaining land to wetlands, wildlife habitat, and recreation? Those aren’t anti-ag questions; I’m simply wondering what’s possible.
In this case, the restaurant is already smoldering. “What are you going to do Rocco and Tony burn it down again?”
Cory states: “Could we not compose an economic development portfolio of small farms, farmers markets, direct-to-consumer sales, and a whole bunch of other retail, entertainment, and service businesses that would cater to all those small farmers we employ?”
Could we do more to support the efforts of small farms? Absolutely, we could do many of the things you suggest. Would it move the needle on your vision for a “worker’s paradise?” [just joshing you a little, comrade, :-)] No. In my view, you could do all of the above and more and the percentage of small farm revenue compared to large farm revenue would still be negligible. Around population centers, farmers markets and farm to table operations could gain more traction, but they are always going to be niche markets. Stensland Farms store in Sioux Falls has a good thing going with ice cream and dairy products (they’re from NW Iowa). It would take a nationalization of the land to make a serious change in the big/small farm dichotomy in our current economy. That is never going to happen until North Korea detonates an EMP over North America and reduces us to a 19th century subsistence existence.
More Cory questions: “Do factory feedlots provide the same revenue bang for the buck that several small farm operations would?” I have wrestled with this question and if you look at the numbers it is quite clear that they do and that CAFOs are a huge boost to our economic engine in this state.
Cory asks: “why is talking about recruiting welders, computer companies, and other non-ag technical businesses putting the cart before the horse?” My point was if you don’t have a thriving ag economy (and you won’t have a thriving ag economy in SD without all sizes of farms) there would be little need for the ancillary jobs that are supported by agricultural producers.
Cory asks: “Why does South Dakota have to put agriculture first? The CAFOs aren’t producing for our local market; they produce primarily for export.” No, I disagree with that assessment. Dairy CAFOs in South Dakota produce milk primarily for processing plants in SD and Northwest Iowa. Another plant that I have heard is in the feasibility stage could transform SD into a net importer of milk. Beef and Hog CAFO’s in SD produce mainly for the domestic market, but processed pork is a big SD export product. (I assume you mean domestic as in US and not domestic as in SD). South Dakota produces a lot of grain that is exported, but these are not produced by a CAFO. Oilseeds and grains are our top exports, including DDG’s.
Cory asks: “What if we decided food would no longer be an export industry in South Dakota? What if we decided, as a matter of economic sustainability, to use only as much land as necessary to produce food for our resident population and to dedicate the remaining land to wetlands, wildlife habitat, and recreation? Those aren’t anti-ag questions; I’m simply wondering what’s possible.” Yikes, my comrade comment is looking like it hit closer to the mark than the joke it was intended to be. We produce way more food products in SD than could ever be supported by a population of 800,000. We are part of the breadbasket to the world. If we were just going to produce food for 800,000 people, we could lay off a bunch of farmers and ranchers and our economy would shrink tremendously. Although keep in mind that I like fresh vegetables in the middle of winter so we are still going to have to import certain foods at certain times of the year.
“net importer of milk”—would that status only apply at the input stage? Would the product of that proposed project still be sold mostly to outside markets?
Cory, it is probable that the products of the dairy processing plant would include cheese mostly for the US market, but some products might be exported as well. This is a “value added” enterprise and would almost certainly raise milk prices that dairy farmers receive here in SD.
When are you coming out for some fact-finding on CAFOs?
Enough of the low-grade cheese for low-grade frozen and delivery pizza. The milkfat content of SoDak milk is high enough for the state to become a connoisseur cheese front-runner. Start thinking like Vermont and Oregon. Two very high quality cheese producing states, recognized in world wide competitions. Be proud and act like it … or at least, fake it ’til ‘ya make it.
CAFOs economy of scale excuse for polluting EVERYONE’S air and water does not hold water. They simply shift the costs of production to the taxpayers by receiving TIFs, damaging roads which are repaired with tax money, reducing the taxable value of neighboring properties, (less tax money for the county), pollution in waterways and drinking water . (VERY EXPENSIVE, if it is even possible to rectify) – ask Des Moines, well documented health risks to low paid workers, hello Medicaid dollars!
They destroy the environment, they destroy family farms, they come like locusts, destroy the local economy and leave the devastation behind for the local government to clean up. They are bad for everyone but the greedy corporations who abuse us all.
I commend you Kathy! You have described life in the Hog capital of Iowa!
Darin, I’m afraid I can’t agree with much of your ideas. Darin, hog processing in Sioux Falls is now done by the biggest vertical integrator of the hog industry….Smithfield Foods…owned by the Chinese government. I do have to agree that as of now in this country CAFO’s seem imminent. The producer, in order to stay on the farm, he thinks, builds a building and gets tied into a contract. What has happened to the broiler industry that has been vertically integrated the longest has been documented. It ain’t pretty. We were in the chicken business till the vertical integrator’s took that away. We were in the hog industry till eight dollar per hundred weight hogs left only the integrator’s in that industry. You can win any hand when you hold almost all the chips.
We don’t need more CAFO’s. We need a national move towards more regulation of these big company’s and taxes that take away their advantage. For that matter a national wealth tax that is severe would do this country a world of good. That is what South Dakotan’s should be fighting for.
While I have your ear, I read a post a while back that makes imminent sense for what is truly wrong in this world. This wag suggested that before we make international trade agreements that we ought to be making international tax agreements so that trans national corporations and big banks that have taken over the world can be taxed by the world! Suggest that to your Republican lawmaker’s.
Darin, I visited the Powertech fellas (before they became Azarga); I guess I could stand a day tromping around at a CAFO. Is one season better than other for a visit?
Cory, come on down any time of the year. Give me a day’s advance notice to line things up.
Here’s an idea….instead of CAFO’s the state make an all out effort to be the leading producer of organically grown meat and produce. Every item branded as South Dakota organic. If Mickelson can go to bat for the vertical integrator’s there is no reason leaders can’t go to bat for a value adding venture like this.
Of course we would likely run afoul of “country of origin” labeling laws and that would be a good thing as well. National news that international trade agreements are keeping Americans from eating healthy!
Clyde, I am very sympathetic to the plight of the small farmer and I think that we could be doing a lot more in terms of regulating the monopolies and oligopolies that rule the meat packing industries. We need to put some teeth in the law probably starting with the Packers and Stockyards Act and the FTC enforcement powers. We should also regulate the contracts of adhesion in the contract grower arena. There are many more things you and I would agree on that we could do in this area.
However, CAFOs have very little, if anything, to do with anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking and contract grower industries.
These are ag zoned districts and animals are agriculture. The rural residences not involved in 21st Century Ag are the non conforming use not 2400 finishers, 5000 cow dairies or 5000 sow breeding facilities. The facts are smaller is not going to happen because of labor.
“…smaller is not going to happen because of labor”—if I understand that comment right, it’s funny that we can discount the notion of recruiting workers to work their own small farms but not the notion of recruiting workers to work for big farms.
Mickelson is merely reading the Montana papers and then trying magically make them appear in SD. Daines made a deal with China to export beef and the Chinese are throwing in the money for feedlots and a packing plant for their beef.
The Montana deal is not all that it is cracked up to be – The cattle export is for a few “special” well connected people. Putting the Chinese as the owners of the feedlots and packing plant is risky because they then control the food chain, so if they decide they want to devastate the economy it can be done in a matter of 5 minutes.
Clean water cannot be given back. Lifestyle cannot be restrained. Animals deserve to supply us w food in a natural habitat. It is not about profit and size but about the value of rural lifestyle where neighbors are friends, not land owners to manipulate. Safety first.
Debbie, I just saw this. From past conversations with my daughter I understand that China’s concern over US meat products has been related to health and safety. They have recently lifted the ban on US beef products, which now allows them to beginning gaining confidence in the US meat market. They will be starting out small. They do like to know the people they are dealing with, and they very much want to have a say in how feedlots and plants operate, so to do that here they have to buy into the operations. I assume they could expand this trade as they gain confidence. They also want to learn from us we do things, and that’s easier when they deal with trusted people on a small-scale.