SD’s largest agriculture organization opposes agriculture, environment and natural resources department merger

Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 5:04 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA) - The South Dakota Farmers Union, the state’s largest agricultural organization, opposes Gov. Noem’s proposal to merge two major state departments on Friday.

Gov. Kristi Noem announced the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would be merging to make the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) in early August. The merge would streamline the state departments.

In an editorial published Friday, Doug Sombke, the president of South Dakota Farmers Union, said the merger could put the state’s agriculture industry “on the losing end of a solution” when the departments’ policies come into conflict. As South Dakota’s top industry, Sombke believes agriculture deserves a dedicated state department and resources.

“The current missions of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stand independent of one another,” Sombke wrote. “Because of this, these departments serve as a valuable check and balance system for one another.”

South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation members voted in support of the merger during their annual convention in November and is the only other agricultural organization to make an official comment on the combining departments so far. KOTA Territory News reached out to the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association for comment.

Eric Jennings, the president, said they aren’t making an official statement until the state provides more in-depth data on how the merger will save at least $450,000. Jennings said the Cattlemen’s Association asked for it months ago and hasn’t received anything. He suspects it will be released at the beginning of the legislative session.

“Our organization isn’t saying the current departments are perfect or that they cannot improve,” Sombke wrote. “We believe the South Dakota Department of Agriculture should focus even more resources on helping producers find new markets and expand existing markets for the quality products we produce in South Dakota. We are doubtful Department of Environment and Natural Resources engineers have the expertise to expand agriculture markets for South Dakota producers.”

South Dakota Farmers Union has 19,000 members; most of them are farmers and ranchers. The organization supports farmers and rural communities through legislation efforts, education and leadership development programs.

An executive order will be made during the first days of the upcoming legislative session to combine the SDDA and DENR, which will become official 90 days thereafter. However, a formalized budget for the new department will not be implemented until July 1.

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