Dakota Rural Voices: Charlie Johnson and the Future of Farming

What IS the future of farming in South Dakota – and how does HB 1140 put it at risk?

Join us this week as we talk with Charlie Johnson, a large-scale organic farmer here in South Dakota. The future of farming is diverse, bright – and put at risk by legislation like HB 1140.

2016 EPISODE 6: Charlie Johnson and the Future of Farming

-Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and get every episode instantly downloaded to your phone! Just search for “Dakota Rural Voices” and subscribe

HB 1140: Taking Last Year’s HB 1201 and Making It Worse

by Catherine Carter

(Note: This is part three in a series on HB 1140. Part one is here, and part two is here.)

HB 1140 is up for a hearing in House Local Government Thursday, February 11, at 10am CT. Email legislators on the committee and ask them to vote NO:

Section 4 of HB 1140 refers last year’s HB 1201, which lowered the minimum vote required for county boards of adjustment to approve conditional use permits. In the past, 2/3 of the members of the board of adjustment were required, by state law, to approve a conditional use permit (required for CAFOs, etc.). However, last year the legislature passed an amendment (HB1201) that allowed counties to change their ordinance so that only a simple majority is required. The problem with allowing a simple majority to approve a conditional use is that there is no appeal of a board of adjustment decision at the county level. The board of adjustment is considered a quasi-judicial board. Its members are appointed (by the county commissioners), not elected. Board of adjustment decisions are considered administrative. Unlike county commission decisions, board of adjustment decisions are not referable, and cannot be appealed to the county commission. Appeals can only be made to the district court, and in board of adjustment cases the court only evaluates whether the board made any errors of procedure (writ of certiorari standard), not whether they failed to consider important evidence or made an error of judgment. So the standard for board of adjustment decisions was justifiably set higher than for an elected board.

So far, most counties have not adopted the simple-majority rule. If they were to do so, such an amendment to the ordinance would have to be passed by the county commissioners, with a public hearing and the right to referendum; unless, as provided by the change to SDCL 11-2-30 as specified in HB1140 Section 1 (above), they decide to characterize such a change as “minor”.

In some counties, the county commission also serves as the board of adjustment. Section 5 of HB 1140 confirms that when that is the case, the exceptions allowing a simple majority vote etc. (in 11-2-59) would apply to them as well.

The HB1140 amendments in Sections 7 through 9 are essentially the same as those above, but apply to municipalities, prohibiting appeals of “ministerial acts” (11-4-19, 11-4-20), and restricting the right to appeal a board of adjustment decision to citizens who are aggrieved, and requiring a $250 bond, etc. (11-4-25).

HB 1140, Part 2: Who Has the Right to Appeal?

by Catherine Carter

(This is the second post in a series about HB 1140. You can read the first post here.)

HB 1140 Section 2 amends SDCL 11-2-55 as follows (underlined): “11-2-55. Appeals An appeal to the board of adjustment may be taken by any person aggrieved or by any officer, department, board, or bureau of the county affected by any decision of the administrative officer, that is not a ministerial act or other preliminary act to bring an application or matter before the board for hearing and a final decision. ,”. and adds a line requiring consolidation of all appeals. Currently under SDCL 11-2-55, a citizen can appeal (to the planning and zoning board or board of adjustment) any decision of the county zoning officer. The HB 1140 amendment would limit appeals to actions based on the zoning officer’s judgment, and would preclude appeals of actions based on routine procedures. If, for example, the zoning officer did not provide sufficient, up-to-date and thorough background information on a proposed site in preparing a conditional use application or variance request for the board to examine, those deficiencies might not be eligible for appeal. The change from “Appeals” (plural) to “An appeal” (singular) also suggests that each person can only file one appeal on any given issue. The effects of the consolidation requirement are unclear.

HB 1140 Section 6 amends the first sentence of SDCL 11-2-61 to read: “Any person or persons, jointly or severally, aggrieved by any decision of the board of adjustment, or any taxpayer, or any officer, department, board, or bureau of the county, aggrieved by any decision of the board of adjustment may present to a court of record a petition duly verified…” This may at first appear to be an insignificant change merely shifting around the word order, but it would have a substantial and detrimental effect on citizens’ right to appeal. As the law currently stands, anyone who is aggrieved, or any taxpayer etc. in the county can appeal a board of adjustment decision to the court. This change would require that all the appellants prove that they are aggrieved, which is often difficult to demonstrate. Even strong evidence of potential damage from an operation may be dismissed as “speculative,” especially when a county has policies that encourage those operations in general. In LHIA et al. v. Brookings County et al., the respondents (Brookings County et al.) claimed that because the petitioners (LHIA et al.) could not show that they were aggrieved, they had no legal standing to make an appeal, and therefore the court should dismiss the case. If the language as amended by HB1140 were used, that may very well have happened. However, LHIA et al. successfully argued that the current language gave them standing, and so the case was allowed to proceed.

It is important to remember that decisions of a county board of adjustment cannot be appealed except by petition to the court. Citizens have other alternatives in appealing county commission decisions, but none in the case of boards of adjustment (SDCL 11-2-22, SDCL 7-8-28). Therefore, the right to appeal is appropriately extended in the current 11-2-61 to a less stringently qualified pool of citizens. HB 1140 would deprive these citizens of the right to appeal.

HB 1140 also adds, at the end of 11-2-61, a requirement for a bond of $250 for a citizen to file a petition to the court appealing a board of adjustment’s decision, plus sureties (additional guarantees of payment), and the commitment to proceed without delay and to pay any costs resulting from the appeal, as ordered by the court. Although under current law any citizen challenging a board of adjustment decision is already contemplating large and possibly prohibitory expenses, and current law against frivolous lawsuits applies, this amendment imposes new, costly, and intimidating requirements for any citizen wishing to challenge a board of adjustment’s decisions. For some, the initial $250 bond may prevent an appeal. For all, it is an intimidating reminder of the potential economic costs of challenging a board of adjustment decision.

HB 1140: What is it, and why is it bad?

by Catherine Carter

(This is the first post in a series that will be posted here throughout the week.)

House Bill 1140 is a bill that would change laws governing county and city zoning. HB 1140 affects how counties amend their zoning ordinances, and whether citizens can participate in some of those decisions; restricts citizens’ rights to appeal decisions by the zoning officer and board of adjustment (which grants conditional uses and variances); limits the kinds of decisions that can be appealed; and adds additional costs and other requirements to the appeal procedure. HB 1140 also makes the same types of changes for municipalities (towns and cities). This post discusses the likely effects of some of the changes proposed by HB 1140.

HB 1140 Section 1 adds five words (underlined) to the first line of SDCL 11-2-30: “After the hearing, the board shall by resolution or ordinance, as appropriate, either adopt or reject the amendment, supplement, change, modification, or repeal, with or without minor amendment.” Currently, county commissions are required to hold public hearings before adopting or changing the zoning ordinance, and they cannot change the ordinance afterwards. This HB 1140 amendment to 11-2-30 would allow the county commissioners to change the ordinance by making minor amendments to it without a public hearing or public input on the changes. The use of the term “minor amendment” sounds innocuous; after all, who wants to quibble over a few minor amendments to a long, detailed county zoning document? The concern is with who decides what is “minor”? Apparently, the commissioners themselves.

Last year in Turner County, following ordinance updates with public hearings, as appropriate, the county commission passed the revised ordinance, but then decided to reduce the setbacks (the minimum distance of an operation from residences, municipalities, schools, etc.) upon the recommendation of an owner who wanted to build a chicken concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) on land that would otherwise have been too close to town http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2015/09/29/chicken-farm-opponents-win-court/73030634/ . Turner county citizens protested the setback reduction and appealed the board’s decision in court. The challenge was successful because under current law (11-2-30), the commissioners cannot change the ordinance at all, even by “minor amendment,” without a public hearing. HB 1140 would allow the county commissioners to make similar “minor” changes to an ordinance without a hearing. Indeed, the argument made by the Turner county commission was that “the changes adopted after discussion of the Sonstegard fax did not constitute substantial changes.” http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2016/01/13/turner-county-deadlocks-animal-rules/78688050/

As Judge Bjorkman wrote in his decision on the Turner County case, the changes in the ordinance imposed by the commissioners without public hearing “contravened basic notions of due process and the specific dictates of South Dakota law by depriving property owners and the public of a meaningful opportunity to be heard as to the business its government was considering.” http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2015/09/29/chicken-farm-opponents-win-court/73030634/   HB 1140 would legitimize similar actions by all county commissions and make such contravention of citizens’ rights an integral component of South Dakota law.

The last line of SDCL 11-2-30 refers to SDCL 11-2-22, which allows citizens to petition for a referendum on any changes to the ordinance, following a public hearing and vote by the county commission, and publication of the decision. Would citizens retain this right as their only recourse to object to any “minor” amendments the commissioners choose to make, if HB 1140 is passed? Or, would the HB 1140 exception for “minor amendments” preclude those changes from referral? This is unclear.

Weekend Special: The Hidden Costs of CAFOs

by Bill Powers

An unfortunately old report (http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf, 2008) by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) asks why is it that CAFO numbers are increasing dramatically. They argue studies by the USDA indicate that CAFOs are no more efficient than medium sized operations. Instead they suggest that the benefit CAFOs accrue are due to farm policy, among these including processing contracts. Most CAFOs rely almost exclusively upon purchased feed. Alternative livestock operations will rely much more upon their own pasture and crop production. As such, the significant Federal subsidy for grain production indirectly favors CAFO operations.

UCS (2008) estimates are that there is a $3.86 billion/year grain subsidy to the livestock industry by crop subsidies. Other indirect costs that they consider are reductions in property values ($26 billion), and manure remediation costs $4.1 billion totals as of 2008. These external costs are paid for by the US taxpayer.

Optimum efficiency (cost/unit of production) is reached well below CAFO (2008 measures) size. They argue that studies have shown that economies of scale is not a signifcant factor favoring larger livestock operations. Fro example, one study showed that the optimal size for hogs was about 120 sows, producing about 2400 hogs/year. CAFOs do benefit from the more efficient use of fodder for weight gain since it is not expended in moving around pastures or adjusting to changes in climate. These gains, however, have to be offset by considerable increases in other costs. After all, the much higher cost of creating and maintaining CAFO environmentally controlled buildings, in addition to the added cost associated with animal health and manure management have to be offset somehow. The UCS argues that this is primarily offset by low grain costs. They note:

Low-cost inputs spread the high fixed costs of confinement infrastructure
(such as the buildings that contain the animals) over many units of production. CAFOs can compensate for low profit margins per animal by producing large numbers of animals. By contrast, small and diversified producers often have relatively lower fixed costs and higher variable costs, and may attempt to lower their costs by reducing production when prices are low. In this way, CAFOs may expand at the expense of smaller operations.

In effect, then, it is the US taxpayer who is indirectly subsidizing CAFOs. The UCS argue that there are alternative livestock operations that may be more efficient than either CAFOs or medium sized farms. Because of the significant external costs to CAFOs, it would seem that seeking such alternatives are well worth pursuing by publicly funded institutions.

The UCS consider, too, the affect of anti-competitive processing practices, a violation of the Packers and Stockyard Act (PSA). Processing facilities require governmental inspections. It may be that this requirement favors larger processing facilities. With the concentration of processing in the hands of a few, and contract relationships between larger producers and processing facilities favored, access of medium sized livestock operations to consumers is hampered, even when their production costs are competitive. This situation favors both the concentration of processing facilities and livestock operations.

What needs to be asked is why processing operations favor contract relationships with larger livestock operations. We could imagine that there might be vertical integration gains if the processing facilities owned their own livestock operations. While this is the case for some, it is not generally true. One possible problem is that while the cost/unit of production is the same (or even better) for smaller operations, they may require a higher marginal profit to remain in business than a CAFO. A small farmer might be able to competitively produce a profit of $10,000, but could not remain in business long because of external costs, viz., himself and family. A larger operation, employing more people, can simply lay off a whole person. I’m not being overly clear here, but it does seem that large facilities may be able to survive at a lower margin of profit than a smaller unit.

In any case, it appears that for the most part it is only the largest producers than sell their produce under contract.

Since feed costs represent something like 50% of the cost for CAFOs, they are sensitive to feed costs. To determine the subsidy to CAFOs through crop support programs, one would have to be able to determine what the cost of grains would have been without such supports. Starmer and Wise (http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/wp/07-04LivingHighOnHog.pdf, 2007) examine the cost of production of beans and corn and the market price of both. Because of Federal supports make up the difference to keep farmers solvent, the Federal subsidy enables CAFOs to purchase grain at a cost below the cost of production, an advantage that a livestock producer who grows his own grain and pastures his livestock cannot take advantage of. Starmer and Wise estimate that between 1998 and 2005 this translated into about a 15% savings in costs for hog CAFOs. Smaller sized livestock operations that produced their own grains after 1990 can also take advantage of these subsidies even if they do not sell the grain. However, studies have shown that the subsidies do not fully compensate farmers for the difference between production costs and market prices. As a result, there is a “subsidy gap,” one that benefits the CAFO and disadvantages the smaller livestock producer.

There are a number of issues that are worth investigating with regard to commodity prices and CAFOs. It would be interesting to find out what has happened to this “subsidy gap” since 2007. Farmers who rely upon these supports might simply argue for higher supports. By reducing this gap, it would help the smaller livestock producer. The recent bump in corn prices due to increased ethanol production dramatically increased corn prices. It would be worthwhile to consider at what commodity price the operation of CAFO style production would be less profitable than a livestock operation that grows its own feed.

Well enough said and researched for now.

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.

South Dakota’s County Site Analysis Program

by Meghan Thoreau

Questions and thoughts based from South Dakota Focus aired: 02/12/2015 57:22

(Note: These are questions and thoughts from Meghan about the Department of Agriculture’s promotion of their County Site Analysis Program on SDPB a little over a week ago. This should give you some sense of the program the Department is pushing on a local and state level. If this makes you mad, and it should, sign the open letter: http://goo.gl/forms/h6DBQ0IGJZ)

We must remain land stewards in our support of large scale industrial development. We must also ensure that community’s interest prevails over the individual. We do this by including greater environment overviews and impact assessments to industrial development programs.

Q: What are planning districts? They are extensions of the state. They are membership based organizations of local municipal government. Their staff provides technical services to their members in areas, like, grant writing, grant administration, project development, research, planning, policy development, all with the intent in trying to improve local units of government and at the same time trying to enhance community and state-supported economic development.

Q: What do they do? Ensure that local regulations are in line with the state’s agenda.

Q: What is the ‘County Site Analysis Program?’ The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.)

Paul Kostboth, Agricultural Development of Director of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA), states, the program is “all about local control,” despite the plan begin developments from the top down, not the traditional direction for local decision making. Kostboth goes on to state, “We can turn [this study] into a program that really focuses on the local control and try to devise a tool that doesn’t look for specific sites for specific purposes, but rather a much broader look at agriculture and opportunities within agriculture that we can then provide this type of service to the county if they so choose and allow them to use it strictly as a planning tool as they are trying to identify the right opportunities for them and where they would not to go with their county in the future.” That sounds great, but what does such a statement really mean? The program’s whole premise is to pre-qualify sites for CAFOs and ARIDs, making communities land use decisions for them ahead of development requests, sites that meet the counties land-use regulations, and speed up the review/approval process, all to avoid neighbors’ contention in the public hearing process.

Todd Kays, Executive Director of First Planning District of Local Governments, states, “The program was modeled after the Governor’s Office of Certified Ready Sites, for industrial parks, but doing something similar for AG development. A pilot program was started in Grant, Brookings, and Moody Counties were First District highlighted sites that would support certain types of agricultural animal development.” However, Brookings County never formally adopted the program. “Shortly thereafter the SD Department of Agriculture contacted First District in regards to their pilot program in the hopes of development a larger statewide program. In 2013 First District, SD Department of Agriculture, and Planning District Three began working together to develop a methodology that would look at both animal development and ARID. That same year another pilot study was done in Codington, Brule, Hutchinson, and Lincoln Counties. The SD Department of Agriculture was pleased with the results of the study, so that in 2014, 11 additional counties were included and are currently in year two of the program.”

Blog 1 FebPALE GOLD counties requested the study be done; DARK ORANGE = complete counties; deadline of completion 1 July 2015.

Bill Hansen, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member, stated, “The board provides opportunities to young farmers and ranchers in SD through a tax exempt bond program to beginning farmers, agribusiness, and nutrient management projects. Two years ago the value added sub-fund was put into the department of agriculture, prior to that it was in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The money is used for feasibility studies for projects; in the case of the County Site Analysis Program, $100,000 is allocated from the sub-fund to support the program. All members of the board are appointed by the Governor.”

Who conducts the analysis?

First District is the prime contractor with the state, but Planning District 3, the SECG in Sioux Falls, and the NECG in Aberdeen are also involved. The GIS technology and methodology identifies sites that comply with county zoning regulation and outside the aquifer protection zone, near supportive infrastructure (e.g. 3-phase power, roads, available water sources, rail,) and sites 40 acres or larger. Kays stated, “The planning districts themselves do not do the recruitment or the outreach.” But planning districts do have a heavy hand in drafting the local laws and regulations used in associated communities. Kays stated, “We are out there collecting the data and helping and assisting in site locations. We work with the counties to review their policies regarding land use, long range development, and that is where our role comes in.”

Kostboth stated, “We are not trying to push anything on anybody, we are not suggesting anyone should do anything. It’s merely using data to try to proactive planning and give everyone the opportunity to be involved and respecting where they stand.” The involvement is between the landowner and the industrial business, not the general public. The laws have already been developed by the assistance of planning districts to support such uses and now specific locations will pre-qualify sites for a quicker decision making process. Hansen states, “I use to be on the planning and zoning board in the county of Turner and I know we had a lot of people come to the zoning board meetings when there was a large livestock operation that was thinking about coming in and it would have been so much easier if that site would have been identified ahead of time.” In other words, the program may limit concerned citizens ability to take part in the decision making process of development in their communities.

In fact, a caller to the show from Big Stone City stated, “I happen to be next to the hog set up that they are talking about here on the TV and they said they checked with the local people, and they did not check with the local people, they checked with the landowner in particular. And the immediate folks right around the site were not informed. They lacked to tell the folks that this things was coming. And we have been fighting that for two years in Big Stone Township and this isn’t what they are saying, being such a great opportunity for communities. It’s good for the folks that are getting the pigs, it’s not good for the folks putting up with the manure.” Kostboth stated, “We are trying to establish a process that does get more people involved. “ Kostboth went on to state, “The long sustainable growth in the state has and always will come from local producers and the local farms that are continuing to grow and expand.” Will this reality remain true after the program is in full swing remains to be tested?

Missing Components. More local input is needed in an analysis described that allows the public to provide input prior to the analysis phase that pre-qualifies industrial sites in communities. Besides the aquifer zone no environmental factors were applied, no buffers or setback from waterways, sensitive environmental areas, or projected growth areas. We have to start reviewing and permitting development that is more accountable to people, places, and the environment. What a site can support and how the development impacts the surrounding area are two very different analyses.

We cannot keep ignore the impact our developments have on our people and land. It was stated over and over again by the panelist that the County Site Analysis Program has created a high bar for development to pass, but what exactly is so different in the criteria that doesn’t already exist in our communities land use regulations? Nothing new was proposed.

The sites are just pre-qualified and identified on a map. We cannot continue to ignore environmental realities that are directly related to our land use behaviors. The Big Sioux River is the 13th dirtiest river in the nation! That fact alone should stir up more regulations, but it hasn’t, we continue to permit developments under the same county regulations that created the river’s dirty ranking. Our water quality standards and reclamation practices are weak to say the least. (1)

The Big Sioux aquifer, which is at or near land surface in eastern SD, has had incidences of nitrate-nitrogen concentrations above the 10 milligrams per liter regulatory limit established for public-water supplies. Several water supplies that draw water from the Big Sioux aquifer have been impacted by nitrate contamination. These include two rural water systems and several municipalities: Brookings-Deuel Rural Water System, Sioux Rural Water System, Alcester, Aurora, Elkton, and Fairview. Some pesticides have also been detected in the Big Sioux aquifer, but nearly all have been detected at concentrations below limits set in drinking-water regulations or health advisories. Research regarding the impacts of agriculture on shallow groundwater is ongoing in South Dakota. The city of Aurora cannot even drink water from the aquifer below, the city pipes their drinking water in from the city of Brookings municipal system.(2)

More Groundwater Contamination. South Dakota is not a very populous state, but it’s not the people per se that are causing contaminates, but its industries. Between 1973 and October 28, 1993, a total of 3,327 releases of contaminants to the environment were reported to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. To put this number of releases in perspective, there were only two reported releases in 1973 and only about 30 to 40 reported releases prior to 1982. The increase in the number of reported releases is attributed to the implementation of regulations and a greater public awareness of potential environmental problems. Of the 3,327 reported releases, 1,346 are still being investigated and/or cleaned up. (2)

Human activities pose a threat to groundwater and may result in the contamination of the groundwater. Some examples of these routine activities are the application of fertilizer and pesticides to golf courses and private home lawns, the application of agricultural chemicals to cropland, the disposal of municipal solid waste in landfills, the use of septic systems where there is no centralized sewer system, and the discharge of storm-water runoff and treated sewage effluent into surface water. Other examples of common potential sources of contamination, which were identified near the Sioux Falls airport; e.g. agricultural equipment dealers, manufacturing and distribution sites, petroleum products, production, storage, and distribution centers, pipelines, quartzite quarry, etc. (2)

Another example of contamination in South Dakota is in the northern Black Hills area. Unusual levels of arsenic are found in the groundwater along Whitewood Creek. Mine tailings were discarded into Whitewood Creek for over 100 years. These tailings make up a large portion of the present day flood plain sediments. (2)

DENR Environmental Spills Interactive Map Viewer. Visit the site and explore in detail your state and its environmental spills that have been allowed to occur.

Blog 2 Feb


  1. http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/south-dakota-s-big-sioux-among-dirtiest-rivers-in-nation/article_26094a6e-984c-11e1-a46d-001a4bcf887a.html
  2. http://www3.northern.edu/natsource/WATER/Contam1.htm

CAFO bill #3 up tomorrow – losing local control

CAFO bill #3 is up

House Local Government will vote on HB 1201 Thursday, February 19, at 10amCT in room 414

Great news – two out of three bad CAFO bills have been killed by the legislature. But there is still one left, and it might just be the worst of the bunch. HB 1201 takes away local control, makes approval of CAFOs easier, and would spell disaster for many of our communities concerned about public input and involvement in CAFO decisions.

HB 1201 is up in the House Local Government Committee in less than 24 hours. Please email the committee before Thursday morning at 10amCT! Make sure to say in the subject line “Vote against HB 1201.” If you are a farmer, rancher, or in any way involved in the agriculture industry, please tell these representatives so they get the message: we are not opposed to agriculture development – but this is the wrong way to do it.


CAFOs, family farms, and our unique way of life

The South Dakota Legislature has introduced three bills designed to chill citizens participation in local zoning decisions, make it easier for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to get approval from County Boards of Adjustment, and remove the Family Farm Act restrictions to corporate ownership of hog operations.

These bills reflect the state’s push to site more CAFOs in eastern South Dakota, a policy that plays loose and fast with our water, air, and quality of life. As the citizens of this state, we do not support these measures. Moreover, we do not support any measure that removes or makes more difficult citizen involvement in our government, whether it is through challenging decisions made by counties or by citizen initiative on a state-wide level.

We are asking the legislature to reject the following bills. Please click here to sign our open letter to stop these bills:

HB 1173 – Introduced by Representative Qualm (R-21) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would penalize citizens appealing land zoning decisions seen as frivolous. Since courts already have the authority to award damages in frivolous or malicious suits (SDCL 15-17-51), this bills is clearly targeted at preventing citizens from challenging zoning decisions made in their county.

SB 127 – Introduced by Senator Rusch (R-17) and Representative Rasmussen (R-17), this bill would create an exemption to South Dakota law allowing non-family farm corporations to own and operate hog confinements in South Dakota.

HB 1201 – Introduced by Representative Mickelson (R-13) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would reduce the number of votes needed on a county board of adjustment to allow a conditional use permit from 4 out of 5 to 3 out of 5, making it easier for CAFOs to get these permits and move forward. Dakota Rural Action supports family agriculture, and we believe community members should be encouraged to participate in decisions that will affect their water, air, and quality of life.

“These three bills are intended to increase the number of CAFOs, especially hog CAFOs run by outside corporations; lower the standards used by county boards in voting on conditional use permits for CAFOs; and deter citizens from exercising their already severely limited opportunities for recourse,” says Dakota Rural Action member and farmer Nancy Kirstein. “The result will be increasing pressure on the water supplies, increased pollution of water and air, decreased quantity and quality of resources for South Dakota farmers and residents, and degradation of the environment.”

Confined Animal Feeding Operations


  • Most of the environmental concerns come from the makeup and amount of manure produced by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO).
    • Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities.  For example a CAFO with 800,000 pigs could produce over 1.6 million tons of waste per year.  More than 1.5 times the annual sanitary waste production of the city of Philadelphia, PA. (1)
    • The contamination of both surface water and groundwater are concerns for citizens facing the siting of new CAFO’s.  These concerns should demand the stringent oversight of both federal and state agencies.  In 2005 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report finding two major flaws with the EPA’s efforts to regulate CAFO’s
      • allowing an estimated 60% of animal feeding operations to go unregulated.
      • A lack of federal oversight of state governments to insure they are adequately implementing required federal regulations for CAFO’s (2)


  • CAFO’s focus on short term economic gain for the few at the expense of long term gain for the community.  University of Missouri Professor Emeritus John Ikerd, says “There is no short run economic benefits for investing in healthy rural communities. … there is no short run economic benefits from protecting the natural environment.”(3)
  • Studies going back to 1978 have shown that the economic concentration of agricultural operations tends to remove a higher percentage of money from rural communities than communities where agriculture is in the hands of smaller farms. (4)

Developer’s Agenda

  • South Dakota Government and CAFO developers are pushing hard for the creation of new CAFO’s in eastern South Dakota.  These three bills are part of a larger body of work focused on the fast, short term economic gains these developments offer at the expense of the long term health of our state, our communities and our people.


1. Government Accountability Office , Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: USEPA Needs More Information and a Clearly Defined Strategy to Protect Air and Water Quality from Pollutants of Concern, GAO-08-944, (Sept. 2008)

2. Government Accountability Office, Livestock Market Reporting: USDA has Taken Some Steps to Ensure Quality but Additional Efforts are Needed. GAO-06-202 (Dec. 2005)

3. Presentation at Annual Meeting of Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Inc. Fairield, IA October 7, 2009.  http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Fairfield%20IA%20-%20Economics%20of%20CAFOs.htm

4. Goldschmidt W. 1978 Agribusiness and the rural community. In as You Sow: three Studies in the Social Consequence of Agribusiness.

SB 44 – Classifying agricultural land – updated

by Bill Powers

SB 44 is a hold over from last year. It’s stated purpose is: “revise the criteria for classifying property as agricultural land and to provide for additional requirements for small agricultural acreages and timber land to be classified as agricultural land.”

I was concerned about it last year because I didn’t understand it. I feel the same this year. It appears to be affect small land owners (less than 20 acres) or those who don’t obtain a significant portion of their income from the land. I can’t even tell whether the bill would affect only state designations of Ag land or municipalities as well.

I think real estate taxes ought to be imposed according to services provided to the land owner, however you would calculate those services. It is clearly not done that way now. I pay over four times as much taxes for equivalent adjacent land because some of it is in a municipality, although the services provided for both tracts is the same. It seems odd to me to tax land based wholly on what value it is to you. It seems to me that some kind of service is being provided by having ag land near roads, railroads, schools, and hospitals. If the land were near no such services, the owner ought to pay lower taxes. But that’s not how its done now.

In any case, Jim Peterson of District 4 says the bill will probably not get out of committee. Still, I’d like to understand what its trying to do and why.

Note: This bill is up in Senate Taxation at 10:00am today. You can listen live to the proceeding here.

UPDATE: The bill was sent to the 41st day, meaning it didn’t pass. It is going back to the Ag Land Task Force over the summer for revisions; legislators feel it is “85% there” but aren’t ready to give it a full go.

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