The real problem with HB 1201

Monday, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed out HB 1201 on a 7-2, party-line vote. The bill was immediately calendared to be heard by the full Senate in a seemingly intentional effort to push the bill through with as little dissent as possible; and just one day later, the Senate passed the bill 22-11.

We’ve written a great deal about this bill, about the Department of Agriculture’s county site analysis program, and about why HB 1201 is an open door to out-of-state, monopolistic corporate ag development. We’ve gathered hundreds of signatures of South Dakotans across the state who believe in keeping families on their farms and ranches, but who don’t believe we should be changing our laws to shut out public input on how we develop in our own communities. We’ve testified alongside people who are being affected by these developments as we speak. We’ve lobbied, emailed, tweeted, rallied, asked questions, called legislators, and done everything you could do to stop a bill from being passed.

Yet on HB 1201 goes to the Governor’s desk, who is certain to sign the bill into law. There are any number of reasons HB 1201 passed, not the least of which is the simple fact that money and power hold a lot of sway in Pierre.

But there is a silver lining in this whole debate, and as the legislative session comes to and end, we can say with confidence that the fight for the family farm isn’t over. The future of South Dakota depends on our on-going vigilance in protecting our right to have a say in how our communities are developed, how our land and water is used, and in how our local governments work. We must continue to protect our voice and the autonomy and independence of our local governments in the face of a top-down, big-ag promotion program being directed from Pierre. And we can and will continue showing there are other ways to grow farms and ranches, other ways to add value to our products, and alternatives to the out-of-date notion that CAFOs are the “future of agriculture.” The signs are there, from all over the country, that mega-CAFOs are the past, not the future.

HB 1201 has some pretty serious issues, from running the risk of violating our right to equal protection under the constitution to setting up two different standards for Boards of Adjustments (county commission acting as the board, anyone?), to opening the door for a “certification” program which doesn’t technically exist in public yet but that we know the Department of Agriculture is just waiting to unveil. But those aren’t the biggest problems with HB 1201.

The biggest problem, and the reason we have opposed this bill from the beginning, is that HB 1201 is the convoluted representation of what a small handful of people believe our state needs to look like, a state where we idolize Iowa and Nebraska for their development but have turned a blind eye to the serious issues facing each state precisely because of that kind of development. It is the vision of South Dakota held by a small band of decision makers who have decided it is more important for our state to have more dairy cows than dairy farmers. HB 1201 is the plan developed behind closed doors with only a few people in the room to ensure we as citizens, as individuals, as people, get cut out because we might disagree with their vision.

Des Moines is suing drainage districts and losing small farmers, and Nebraska is looking at changing it’s livestock concentration laws over fears they’re losing their pork industry. These aren’t the idols of our future; they’re the canary in the coalmine for the dangers of concentration and encouraging one type of production at the expense of everything else.

We see these issues, even if some of our decision makers (not all, certainly not all) have been blinded to them, for whatever reason. And we encourage you to join us in continuing to fight for what we know IS the future of South Dakota: diversified, vibrant family farms and ranches (corporate or not) where the seventh generation can come back to clean soil, clean water, a balanced checkbook, and a future for the eighth generation on the way.

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