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Point of Ag/DENR Merger: Fewer Inspections of Polluting Factory Farms

Predictably, the pro-corporate Farm Bureau has overcome its initial hesitance and now supports Governor Kristi Noem’s hasty, surprise move to bury the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Department of Agriculture. The somewhat less pro-corporate Farmers Union opposes the “merger”. The South Dakota Stockgrowers are remaining neutral.

While ag interests are divided, I’m having trouble finding any conservation advocates who think putting the pro-business Ag Department in charge of environmental protection is a good idea. The South Dakota Wildlife Federation says this merger is bad policy:

Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, called the merger a bad idea.

“The two organizations perform distinctly different missions and should be separate,” Hesla contended. “The majority of the DNR’s mission has nothing to do with agriculture, although the portion that does overlap primarily is [of] a regulatory nature.”

Hesla worried a merger would weaken enforcement efforts for pollution from farm runoff. Some ag-industry leaders have expressed concerns as well, especially if future governors place a greater emphasis on protecting the environment.

…He noted surface-water conditions are deteriorating, and agriculture has been a key contributor to climate-related issues.

“Agricultural pollution is a threat, and it’s a worry,” Hesla cautioned.

A report last year by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said 78% of South Dakota rivers and streams are “impaired” in terms of water quality [Mike Moen, “Ag Dept., DNR Merger for SD Back in Spotlight,” Public News Service, 2021.01.15].

Catching and mitigating that widespread water pollution requires inspections, and the alleged cost savings on which the Noem Administration primarily justifies this move would come from doing fewer inspections, as revealed in the Governor’s proposal for merging the inspection duties for giant factory feedlots, one of the biggest polluting sectors in agriculture and one of the Noem Administration’s favorite constituencies:

According to Hunter Roberts, DENR secretary and Noem’s pick for secretary of the merged departments, the Livestock Services Program will essentially combine the Department of Agriculture’s dairy and egg inspection program with the DENR Feedlot Permit Program, which protects the state’s surface and ground waters by regulating concentrated animal feeding operations and on-site wastewater systems.

…Currently, an inspector from the Department of Agriculture visits dairy farmers twice a year to ensure that all milk regulations and sanitary procedures are being followed. Separately, an inspector from the DENR ensures the producer’s manure management system is working properly.

As the Livestock Services Program takes hold, inspectors will be trained to do both, so one inspector can do work currently done by two, Roberts said [Rebekah Tuchscherer, “See the First Program for the South Dakota Department of Ag and Natural Resources {paywall},” Aberdeen American News, 2021.01.11].

The Farm Bureau thinks fewer inspections are great, but Representative Oren Lesmeister (D-28A/Parade), a practicing agriculturalist himself, recognizes that we need different inspectors because they are focusing on different things:

“There is some redundancy there, but there is a checks and balances’ reason for it. In 73, when in 1973 when it was reorganized and had a Department of Ag and a Department of Natural Resources, one of the reasons was it was too much of a burdensome on one department to try to handle both sides of the entity. I still think today, that would still be an issue. Especially with limited staff. So, there’s a lot of red flags. A lot of concerns to understand. Maybe trying to get rid of some redundancy, but at the end of the day, I still think we need to do what’s right for our state and not just for a budgetary cut,” Lesmeister said [Lura Roti, “What South Dakota Agriculture Leaders Think About a Merger of Departments,” SDPB, 2021.01.14].

Contrary to Secretary Roberts’s claims, merging DOA and DENR is all about reducing regulations and environmental protection for the sake of farm profits. It is more South Dakota Republican cheapskatery for which our quality of life will suffer. The risk to South Dakota is great enough that even farm organizations are divided on this departure from South Dakota’s already meager commitment to protecting our natural resources from over-exploitation.


  1. Donald Pay 2021-01-15 08:43

    Yes, added inspectors would be important, but you do have to have some idea why and what it is you’re inspecting, and that takes considerable training. Most of the DENR folks have graduated with science or engineering degrees, and you need that sort of background to know what you are doing. You don’t go to a proctologist to deal with a mental illness, though perhaps that would help cure Noem’s ailment.

    South Dakota only has the ability to do inspections because it gets money and authority from the EPA to handle the federal CAFO program. I think there needs to be someone there who digs into whether this merger is going to actually provide inspectors with the right background to be anything more than a fraud on the federal government.

  2. marvin kammerer 2021-01-15 10:17

    i would hope & pray that the EPA be kept separate from the state Dept of Agriculture in SD. i know that the present head of the dept of agriculture of sd.will always do as kristi says for sure !.I would hope that that the stock growers of sd.with the exception of of the present head of the Transportation Department be against such a move, especially i hope the president of the stockgrowers & former presidents say enough of this nonsense & say no-way ! these 2 departments should never be joined together. Big ag.& the environment & natural resourceses are certainly different issues entirely! big feedlots, huge feedlots & huge hog farms benefit corporate agriculture not local communities or local taxpayers.

  3. Dave 2021-01-15 11:21

    hmmmm, dairy is not the only issue… what about hog facilities? beef only? and egg inspector isn’t going to know squat about pig poop…….

  4. Jake 2021-01-15 16:48

    The whole idea seems to be “hatched up” in the mind of the one guy who has been driving the ability of the CAFOs and big dairy to locate along or near !-29. These CAFO advocates have met resistance from those in the counties where they wish to locate. Recent year’s legislation has given county commissions power from the legislature to silence much of the protest to the smell and environmental concerns.
    By putting the DENR into the AG Dept silences those who would speak up against a project from an environmental science point-of-view simply by the head of the agency silencing the scientist. One of the best Republican governors we’ve had would be rolling in his grave did he know of this!
    This is like putting the FBI into the Highway Patrol to save money…….

  5. Jake 2021-01-15 16:54

    Dave, hog, dairy, feedlots (cattle/sheep), chickens , mink or whatever; the excrement, urine and odors are all issues that AG would push under the rug, naturally. Like the when old packing plant in Rapid City
    would at times produce a horrible stench when the wind was right, the comment from the owners was
    Smell like MONEY to me!”

  6. Mark Anderson 2021-01-15 17:03

    Come on folks, I had six bypasses two years ago because I was a South Dakota boy. I’ve been vegetarian ever since and I’m healthy as I’ve been in thirty years. Good luck. I still really miss renner corners spitzmur but what the hey.

  7. leslie 2021-01-15 18:49

    Mark you sound mote qualified than Roberts!

    Kristi: “…this department will serve our producers better than ever before” [Governor’s Office, press release, 2020.08.27].

    Environment needs it’s own IG!!!!!!

    Otherwise her excitement to deregulate will have odious consequences.

    “Hunter’s background and knowledge of state government will be an INCREDIBLE asset as we continue moving this department forward and working to safeguard our environment.” (Snark added)

    HE HAS NO BACKGROUND OR KNOWLEDGE IN thevENVIRONMENT-perhaps THE most important office of expertise we could have in this coming DECADE OF GLOBAL WARMING CONSEQUENCE, and PANDEMIC.

    This governor is an idiot rewarding a political crony. He likely was a primary Rounds EB5 fraud prophylactic!

  8. leslie 2021-01-15 18:54

    Reminds me of when her predecessor tried to turn Spearfish Canyon into a state park. What is it with SD Republican governors fercry’inoutloud?

    Producers don’t need protection!

  9. leslie 2021-01-15 19:06

    Wisconsin’s Republican governor was just as inept.

    “2017…[made] way for a proposed 20m sq ft hi-tech plant owned by the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn, a plant Donald Trump had said would soon be the “eighth wonder of the world.***Mount Pleasant officials had used the promise of 13,000 jobs and $10bn in private investment by 2023 as justification for forcing hundreds of residents from their homes and turning the property over to Foxconn. Officials vowed to transform the sleepy rural village into a bustling, hi-tech hub for manufacturing known as “Wisconn Valley” – a promise that appealed to many in the state who suffered as traditional manufacturing jobs have disappeared.”

    It was a complete con by Trump and the governor.

  10. leslie 2021-01-15 19:13

    Cite: Chris Hayes podcast “Why is this Happening” MSNBC 12.29.20

    “…almost none of that has happened. Instead of thousands of new jobs and a promising facility, Wisconsin looks to have been left holding the bag on a deal that was over promised and under delivered. This week, investigations editor and feature writer at The Verge, Josh Dzieza, joins to talk about what happened with the Wisconsin-Foxconn deal and why its promise was doomed to fail.

    The Eighth Wonder of the World by Josh Dzieza 

    Foxconn tells Wisconsin it never promised to build an LCD factory by Josh Dzieza

  11. mike from iowa 2021-05-10 16:45

    WAPO has story showing nearly 18k yearly US deaths from farm pollution. Paywall in place.

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