Recently SD Governor Kristi Noem announced the merger of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This proposal raises many questions and concerns.

While the Governor’s focus on agriculture is clear from the announcement, it leaves questions regarding the separate and substantially different duties of these departments. One ominous indication of this focus shift is the removal of the word “environment” from the name of the proposed new department, the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 

The DENR’s mission statement includes the language, “to protect public health and the environment by providing environmental monitoring and natural resource assessment…” The Department’s website also lists over 30 topics worked on by the department ranging from abandoned wells and dam safety to waste management and water use. The Department also houses the Water Management Board and the Minerals and Mining Program.

The Department of Agriculture’s mission statement is simply, “to promote, protect, and preserve South Dakota agriculture for today and tomorrow.” 

“Water is the most precious natural resource we have. Protection of the environment and promotion of agriculture are two distinct and important elements of life in South Dakota. Both elements deserve a department focused on their unique issues,” said John Harter, Dakota Rural Action Chairperson from Winner, SD.

While the Governor’s announcement about the new Department’s formation indicates a focus on agriculture, it will likely have a very narrow focus on the perceived problem of citizen involvement in the siting of large animal feeding operations called CAFO’s, regulatory oversight and environmental regulations. However it seems unlikely the new department will address issues like: the long term impacts of climate change on agriculture, persistent low prices or market control by fewer and fewer multinational corporations. In addition, this change likely signals a continued lack of programs or interest in local foods and farm to school opportunities.

“Our government is supposed to be a watchdog and focus on the needs of everyone. Although ranchers like me have suffered from low cattle prices for at least the last five years, I haven’t heard any concern from the state about my low prices or support for important policies like mandatory Country of Origin Labeling. This merger appears to be a continuation of the state’s focus on the needs and wants of large corporations,” Harter said.

News reports have indicated this proposal would need to be approved by the SD Legislature. However, additional public input is needed in light of the complicated nature of this merger.

“A very public and open process is needed to answer the numerous questions and concerns about this merger. We hope the Governor and ultimately the legislature will listen to the comments of local consumers and producers  and take them seriously,” said Stephanie Peterson, DRA Board member from Brandon, SD.