Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kudos To The South Dakota Ag Community For An Excellent Pro-Environment Initiative

     Looks like the South Dakota legislature is lining up pretty solidly behind a bill that will
The Big Sioux River
Time To Start Cleaning It Up
(photo from
incentivize row crop (think corn and soybeans) farmers to let land abutting rivers, lakes and streams to go back to its natural state.
About to go to the full House for consideration and vote, Senate Bill 136 has already gotten unanimous approval in the state Senate and both house Ag and Natural Resource committees, awaiting only some discussion and a final vote tomorrow (3/7) afternoon in the House.  It's hard to see it doing anything but passing easily, if not unanimously.

     The bill will let farmers who decide to participate convert a 50-foot wide strip of land that abuts a waterway back to its naturally grassy state.  In return, their respective county assessors will deem that idled acreage to be "non-cropland" and assess it at rates significantly lower than "cropland."  Using corn farming as a guide, my good friend Cory Heidelberger has done some of the arithmetic on this in his excellent blog Dakota Free Press and informs us that every mile long buffer strip consists of 6 acres, meaning a corn farmer getting average SD yields will give up 900 bushels of product, or, at current prices, $3600 in sales.  Not knowing how much of that is net, nor how much the property tax break in the relevant counties would be, I'm guessing the tradeoff won't amount to much, considering the average farm size in SD is 1400 acres. Going by averages (shaky, I know, but it does provide some context), that average SD farm should produce more than 200 thousand bushels of corn for $800 thousand.  
     As to the state's loss of revenue, Heidelberger tells me that if the entire 419-mile length of the Big Sioux River in SD went to buffer land, the loss of property tax revenue would amount to $122 thousand.  Other buffer-zoned acres throughout the state  would add more, but considering the overall sum of property and other taxes generated by South Dakota's $25 billion ag industry, the amount seems trifling.
     Given the enthusiastic support that SD's ag-friendly legislature is giving this bill it seems
Lots Of Work To Do Here
SB 136 Will Help
(map from wikipedia)
reasonable to figure that most affected farmers will opt-in to the program.  
It won't cost much and it will give farmers a public-relations bonanza.  The whole point of the initiative is to create a natural barrier or filter between farms and their adjacent waterways, reducing the amount of contaminants that flow into the water. If there's some pushback in the legislature from ag groups that might lose a few checkoff dollars (the amount paid by farmers to their organizations to promote their product--the corn checkoff is 1 cent per bushel sold), those groups need to get their their institutional heads examined.  The loss of all the cropland adjacent to the Big Sioux River would cost the Corn Growers Association about $6 thousand, a trifle compared to the nearly $8 million they get every year from South Dakota farmers.  The Big Sioux's history of bacterial pollution makes it an excellent target for this kind of consideration--a few thousand bucks is a cheap price to pay for a good effort.

      South Dakota and its farmers have come up with a great plan here.  The ag industry is showing some real resolve by pushing it through.  


  1. Was there ever a lobbying organization that wouldn't confiscate the stove and come back the next day for the smoke? Sorry John, it's Cynical Sunday.

  2. Please to replace 'John' with Mr. Tsitrian.

  3. Jerry, I like that turn of phrase about the stove and the smoke.

    John, I'm glad to hear someone with your business sense agree that SB 136 is a decent plan: solid conservation reasoning, still voluntary for farmers. Let's hope steams through its final lap in the House tomorrow.

  4. FROM JOHN WREDE: As is customary in South Dakota, we fiddle around while Rome burns and when the fire has mostly consumed half the city, then we go into panic mode and try to figure out ways to put it out. The Big Sioux River has been a source of pollution, eutrophication, and significant water quality issues since I was in College in the 1970's. We've known about degraded water quality, compromised fisheries habitat, siltation, pollution of the aquifer. and every thing else for decades and historical legislatures refused to provide either guidance, money or programs to deal with it when it would have been much easier, less expensive, and more effective. It has taken a citizens effort more or less (Eastern South Dakota Water Development District ) with volunteers to monitor these and many other primary water courses and start blowing the whistle. State Government has failed, miserably, at conducting it's fiduciary responsibility and has, for years, likely because it's a political hot potato to suggest that agriculture practices are destroying water and waterways. This is all due to draining and filling of wetlands and channelization/diversion of the Big Sioux and it will only get worse as we try to figure out ways to clean it up because folks like Mickelson are pushing corporate hog and livestock confinement facilities that have ruined Iowas water sources, along with refusing to regulate tile drainage, continued wet land drain and fill and so on. There is no comprehensive, well planned, reasoned and enforced environmental policy that will either clean up our waters or protect them into the future. We've been on our way toward a Flint Michigan catastrophe for at least 4 decades thanks to environmentally unfriendly government and business in SD. When the 2013 legislature gutted DENR rules governing In Situ uranium mining to grease the skids of economic development, it should have sent up red flags throughout South Dakota's population. It didn't.... We, in this state, are not blessed with long term thinkers and planners. Rather than try and keep our nest clean in the first place, we'd just as soon crap in it and then figure out how to clean it up and who's going to pay for it...

  5. I can't claim authorship, Mr. Heidelberger, it was used to describe Simon Cameron — unsuccessful candidate for president and, briefly, Secretary of War in the Lincoln Administration.