Dakota Farmer

Departments of Agriculture along with Environment and Natural Resources now operate together.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 4, 2021

4 Min Read
Stream and prairie grass
SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP: Agriculture and the environment are closely connected, one reliant on the other. That synergy is now reflected in the merger of the South Dakota departments of Agriculture with Environment and Natural Resources into the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Courtesy of National Pork Board

South Dakota’s Department of Agriculture has now joined with the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to become the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The reorganization of the two departments went into effect April 19, after Gov. Kristi Noem announced the plan in August, and in January issued Executive Reorganization Order 2021-03 combining the two departments into the DANR.

“With this merger, we are fostering sustainable agriculture and conservation of our natural resources that we can pass on to our kids and grandkids,” Noem says in a DANR press release. “DANR will be more effective, more efficient and more responsive to the needs of farmers.”

Scott VanderWal, Volga-area farmer and president of South Dakota Farm Bureau, says the organization’s membership warmed to the merger as they learned more about Noem’s proposal.

“We didn’t take a position at first,” VanderWal says. “We said we were going to listen to people and ask a lot of questions.” The Farm Bureau state board took a favorable position to the merger in August, asking delegates to take a favorable position, which they did at the state convention in November.

Streamlining efficiencies

VanderWal says his organization looked at the streamlining of processes and efficiencies for the department, and found the merger saves about $400,000. But more importantly, “for the farmers that have to have both the DNR permits inspected, and facilities like big dairies where the milk inspectors come in, they can do those inspections at the same time, maybe even the same person could do it,” he adds.

In a Frequently Asked Questions document on the merger, it states: “The merger will save taxpayer dollars through efficiencies. By reducing duplication of services, we can eliminate five full-time employee positions — four vacant and one cabinet secretary. Finally, as we cross-train inspectors and field staff, we can minimize redundancy and travel costs.”

Fear of fewer seats at table

South Dakota Farmers Union, though not issuing a statement upon the new merger, has been opposed to the union of the two state departments. In a March press release supporting the passage of Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901 that would have stopped the merger, SDFU President Doug Sombke from Conde said, “Merging these two departments will result in fewer seats at the table for our farmers and ranchers. South Dakota Farmers Union calls upon the 2021 South Dakota Legislature to reject any plan to merge these two departments or any other state agency.”

Sombke’s comments are from his March 4 testimony before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee: “An industry creating $32.5 billion annually to our economy deserves its stand-alone department ensuring our family farmers and ranchers remain a priority to the great state of South Dakota.”

His testimony continued: “Our agriculture industry depends upon the Department of Agriculture remaining a stand-alone agency to best serve the many hardworking South Dakota community-minded family farmers and ranchers. Invariably, there will be conflicts on land use, water issues or air quality that will involve modern agriculture. Currently there would be someone from DENR investigating those issues. With the planned merger, we are very concerned about who will stand up and defend agriculture in those scenarios.”

VanderWal acknowledges the concern of merger opponents fearing the loss of focus on agriculture at the state level, but he feels those fears are misplaced due to the “good relationship” with Secretary Hunter Roberts, and the assignment of Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden as liaison between the state’s farm groups and the governor’s office.

Agrarian roots run deep

Hunter Roberts will serve as DANR’s first cabinet secretary, after serving as the secretary of Environment and Natural Resources and the interim secretary of agriculture.

Roberts, Rhoden and Noem all come from agrarian roots, so VanderWal feels agriculture will always have a seat at the table. “Gov. Noem has a tremendous vision for the next generation of agriculture and is passionate about South Dakota’s natural resources,” says Roberts, in the DANR press release. “Agriculture and natural resource protection go hand-in-hand. Working together as DANR will help us achieve the best outcomes for South Dakota.”

Farm Bureau’s VanderWal adds, “The point we’d like to make is that there are some symbiotic relationships that, hopefully, could take place. People involved with agriculture could be right across the aisle or in the next cubicle with environmental engineers, and they can bounce ideas off each other, asking each other questions. If an engineer is working on a design for a facility, they can readily ask questions of the ag people, and we think there can be some benefits from those people working very closely together, more so than they have before.”

DANR’s mission is to protect and preserve South Dakota’s agriculture, environment and natural resources through effective regulatory services, natural resource

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

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