Should South Dakotans decide the next Agriculture Secretary?

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 9:01 AM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - South Dakota’s largest agricultural organization, the South Dakota Farmers Union, plans to testify against Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to merge the state Agriculture Department with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

An executive order will be made by Noem on Jan. 19, which will become official 90 days thereafter. However, a formalized budget for the new department will not be implemented until July 1.

President Doug Sombke told WNAX in Yankton, the organization is now working with lawmakers to write a bill that would put the State Agriculture Secretary position on the ballot rather than Governor Noem appointing the position.

“Agriculture provides over $30 billion a year to the GDP of South Dakota. That’s a pretty big number. Nothing even comes close to it that our director of that, or secretary of that department, should be elected by the people rather than appointed by the Governor now that you’re going to put these two very important departments together. We feel it’s even more important. So we’re looking at a bill being introduced to do just that,” Sombke said.

He said merging the DENR with the Agriculture Department won’t really save much money.

“This is not a good idea. I mean the most you’re going to save is $400,000. And then I question that with the synergies because four of the positions they’re looking at combining currently don’t have anybody employed to fill those positions. So again, this is all smoke and mirrors by the Governor,” Sombke said.

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.

Black Hills Fox 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.

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