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HB 1039: Assess Mostly West River Native Grassland and 20-Year Restored Pasture as Non-Cropland

Representative Trish Ladner (R-30/Hot Springs) and Senator Jessica Castleberry (R-35/Rapid City) got off their right-wing radicalism long enough last fall to talk about assessing certain West River grassland as non-cropland to lower the tax burden on their ranch constituents. This morning, House Agriculture and Natural Resources will take up their formal proposal, House Bill 1039.

HB 1039 would extend noncropland status to land seeded to perennial vegetation for at least twenty years and grazed or left unharvested as well as native grassland. But such land must also have an elevation of more than 1,950 feet above sea level, meaning almost anywhere west of the Missouri except for some river valleys and almost nowhere east of the Missouri except for the peaks of the mighty Coteau du Prairie, the Highmore and Gettysburg hills, and Charlie Hoffman’s back forty.

South Dakota elevation map, retrieved from 2022.01.20.
South Dakota elevation map, retrieved from 2022.01.20.

HB 1039 would thus decouple upland pasture assessments from soil type. Grass is grass—leave it alone, or let critters eat it, and HB 1039 taxes you less.

But don’t lie about your grassy fields. Misrepresent your high grassland status, and HB 1039 will whack you with four years of back taxes based on the discount you got from the cropland assessment.


  1. Richard Schriever 2022-01-20

    Should be 10 years back taxes (half the temporal qualification requirement).

  2. jerry 2022-01-20

    Solution, treaty boundary’s of Fort Laramie. Re Tribes the treaty obligations. Don’t make ol’ Trish and Jessica do anymore than they have too, which is really nothing to begin with.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-01-20

    The grassland fire danger index will reach the very high category again tomorrow for much of Trish Ladner’s failed red state and if livestock grazing is the key to preventing wildfires why is ranch country still suffering from near daily extreme grassland fire danger indices? Because Republicans are evil.

    Clear the second growth conifers and restore aspen habitat, prescribe burns, begin extensive Pleistocene rewilding using bison and cervids, empower tribes, lease private land for wildlife corridors, turn feral horses from Bureau of Land Management pastures onto other public land to control exotic grasses and buy out the welfare ranchers Tony Dean warned us about.

  4. jerry 2022-01-20

    I haven’t been around the Cherry Creek on the Cheyenne River Reservation, for many years. When I was there, the grass was burned each year to control the weeds and to promote the good grass. What a place to winter livestock.

  5. Donald Pay 2022-01-20

    I think they should allow this all over the state. Tall-grass prairie was ripped up during initial settling by whites, and became very rare in South Dakota. Certainly those rare relic prairies ought to qualify for a different kind of assessment, and I would suggest that same assessment for anyone who wants to restore native tall-grass prairie.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-20

    Well…restoring native grass prairies is an admirable goal though I doubt that is what these two Republicans have in mind. Yet, anything to slow tearing up grassland for dust bowl wheat farming is healthy for fragile grassland. Periodic burning is also healthy. Grazing is second only to burning to keep the grassland in balance. Bringing back Bison and Elk would also help.We’re mostly talking about short grass prairie in the west though we might bring back the tall grass in the hills of the northeast.Though perhaps for the wrong reasons, it may turn out to be good legislation for conservation, birds, and the general environment.

  7. Jake 2022-01-20

    Those very small segments of original ‘tall grass’ prairie should be given special “NO” tax staus and even more in order to guarantee they would be observable in the future; just like a national treasure in a museum.

  8. John 2022-01-20

    Agree with the conservation comments and aspects of this proposal. It should extend to the remaining grasslands at any elevation remaining in East River.

    That said, there is something about this bill that smells as if the socialist west river ranchers are looking for east river to pay for their ranching lifestyle by deflecting their tax bill to east river.

  9. Mark Anderson 2022-01-20

    Oh come on John, they are sociable, not socialist. Let’s be clear, they take government money but they hate doing it.

  10. John 2022-01-20

    Mark, I’m spitting wine through my nose. Thanks.

  11. John 2022-01-21

    On the other hand . . . our legislature, stuck in the last century, IGNORES the bigger problem. By 2035, tax on ag land will be minimal. Most of the land will be in forms of being re-wilded.

    The cost of cultivated chicken was cut by over half in 2021 to $7.70/ pound. Scale-up will take a little time. Scale-up will further reduce costs. What costs? Feed. Crops for feed, Fertilizers for feed. CAFOs for live animals. Packing plants. Gone.

    KFC went “Beyond Chicken”. McDonalds is scaling up “Beyond Burgers”. Tyson is becoming a “protein company”.

    The state’s “tax base” of present agricultural lands will need a new form of valuation — and land owners willing to pay it. Taxing land on soil type, on productivity potential will be a quaint throw-back to the 20th Century.

    It’s time for the legislature to discuss transitioning that ag tax revenue, through say taxing income . . .. And what roles and value will accrue from having a land grant university, especially one that didn’t see coming the world’s largest transformation in agriculture in 200 years and, when it did see it, did little to nothing?

  12. Nick Nemec 2022-01-21

    The current soil type valuation system needs a revamping. I own native grasslands that have never been farmed, and never will be farmed because of a permenant grassland easement, some of those grasslands are valued higher for tax purposes than adjoining farmed land. It makes no sense because in this area farmed land commands a 50% or greater premium over grasslands. Sadly for me if this bill passes the elevation of this land is around 1900 and doesn’t meet the cutoff.

  13. cibvet 2022-01-21

    John–If you were to tax income, how do you avoid the systemic problem of only the wage earner paying the tax on their income? Wage earners cannot cheat on their income where as the self employed can live a wonderful lifestyle that the wage earner can only dream of, and yet pay next to nothing in taxes. It is wealthy politicians who make the rules and they do so to exempt donors and themselves.

  14. O 2022-01-21

    cibvet, I feel your same frustrations on the issue of “income.” Most frustrating is that any reasonable person can define what ought to count as income (even taking into account the costs of doing business for self-employed earners), but lawmakers deliberately confuse that definition. Getting money our of politic HAS to be the first step of getting the guys with all the money not running policy for their unenlightened self-interests.

  15. Francis Schaffer 2022-01-21

    Soil classification–Land categorization–Director adjustments.

    All soils shall be divided into classes based on soil classification standards developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. All agricultural land shall be categorized as either cropland or noncropland. The department shall provide each county with soil ratings for all soil types present in the county. The director of equalization shall implement the soil ratings and utilize the ratings as the basis for determining the value of each soil type in the county. The director may make an adjustment to a parcel pursuant to § 10-6-131.

    I have been trying to understand this particular law. So all soils are defined based on the NRCS standards and the Department of Revenue provides soil ratings for each county, yet the instrument which provides these ratings was never designed to be used at this scale, nor is there standardization across county lines nor are the surveys from the NRCS all current. The Hand County soil survey is from the 1950″s and it was a poor survey then. So I am not sure what the contention is for grazing land versus farm land. Grass is their crop, use the value of grazing the land compared to planting corn/soybeans and be done with it.

  16. Mark Anderson 2022-01-21

    Cibvet and O, a big part of the Trump love is that he’s just so smart to figure out how not to pay income tax that his followers worship him. Ignorance wins.

  17. RS 2022-01-21

    The problems of South Dakota’s tax system. First remember it is rigged to work for the politicians that write the laws and the lobbyist and donors that keep funneling them the cash.

    While the idea of a soil classification for production differences can highlight some general differences in value, the evaluation of each soil type’s production was (never meant to be) and is only a small contributor to that value. This ignores all the aspects of location, dimensions, management style and the most important, current use. It basis its value on what could or might be, not on ‘what is’. The crux of this problem is the landowner that has land with both some good soils and also some with limitations on their use for cropping. Examples of rocks, gravel areas, steep slopes, flooding, equipment access, that would hinder or prevent cropping of these parcels. The State is stuck on “could be” used in a cropping manner to come up with values. Using the current system and just adding as “currently used” would reflect a more accurate economic value.

    To turn this into non-rancher’s understanding, it would be like assessing a house in Timber Lake or Miller at the same value as one in Sioux Falls or Rapid City because you “could move it there”.Or to go further if we had an income tax to say you could have gone to more school and training and made a higher wage so that is what you will be taxed on.

    At one time I think the idea of soil classification used for productivity value and thus income value was an endeavor to act as an income tax, without using that vulgar word in South Dakota, and also avoiding the problem associated with manipulating a federal income basis from farming. Used correctly it could have circumvented the ability of self employed ranchers/ farmers to utilize the federal tax code use of depreciation along with a myriad of deductible expenses to post no taxable income. Example, the farm/ranch operator made $150 net profit from an acre of corn or a cow that ran on 4 acres of pasture, but that net profit gets reduced because a machine shed was built, a new pickup, snowmobile, ATV was purchased along with upgrades to all equipment. In the end with the “Cash Accounting Model” for figuring Federal taxes the true net profit is offset by discretionary expenditures that result in a minimal taxable income even though the operation has had an increase in accrued value.
    The point is correct that someone with a paycheck job cannot escape even Social Security as well as a rancher can if they choose to. I am certain that is why the SD Revenue Department knows a straight income tax based on federal income would be a non-starter for fair Taxes.

    Not knowing the full intent of HB 1039 sponsors is a mystery, but as far as fixing a problem it is no solution.

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