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SD senators get second chance to halt Noem’s DENR, Department of Ag merger

(KSFY)
Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 3:20 PM MST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal of a new state department is in limbo as senators reconsider a resolution of disapproval.

Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901 would block the merger of South Dakota’s Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Noem wants to combine the two to create the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Monday, the Senate failed SRD 901. Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) moved to reconsider the resolution on Monday after it fell a vote short 18-17. The resolution is back on the calendar Tuesday.

The resolution argues that since agriculture is South Dakota’s main economic driver and 48 other states have “recognized the necessity of having a stand-alone Department of Agriculture.”

“A combination of the two departments will diminish the focus of services to the agricultural producers in the state,” the resolution states.

As separate departments, the DENR and SDDA can do checks and balances on each other, Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmer’s Union, 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. KOTA Territory 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.

“Our organization isn’t saying the current departments are perfect or that they cannot improve,” Sombke wrote. “We believe the South Dakota Department of Agriculture should focus even more resources on helping producers find new markets and expand existing markets for the quality products we produce in South Dakota. We are doubtful Department of Environment and Natural Resources engineers have the expertise to expand agriculture markets for South Dakota producers.”

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