Economic conditions might be biggest opponent to new ag lab

By Bob Mercer
Farm Forum Correspondent

PIERRE — No one testified as an opponent at a legislative hearing Thursday on whether to build a new laboratory for animal disease work at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

But no one stepped forward guaranteeing money to pay for it, either.

The legislation has the support of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. His plan calls for $46.2 million of bonds to be gradually repaid from additional fees on the animal industry.

The fees aren’t going over well. So Senate Bill 172 is idling in the Joint Committee on Appropriations.

The panel, which oversees state government’s budget, will take up the matter again next week, said Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings. He is a co-chairman of the committee.

The other pieces of the funding plan call for $7.5 million from the Board of Regents and $17.5 million from the state treasury.

Economic conditions aren’t favorable for any part of the funding. Agriculture producers face low commodity prices. State government revenues are running $25 million behind forecast.

The new lab would be a two-story addition to the existing animal research building, SDSU facilities architect Les Olive said.

The plan includes a bio-hazard level three area, where the air is purified, wastewater is sterilized and people must wear clean gowns, he said.

SDSU President Barry Dunn testified Thursday the lab is philosophically different.

“We don’t wait for them (animals) to get sick and die. We’re ahead of it,” Dunn said. “It will have enormous benefits for South Dakota.”

Among those speaking in favor were Mike Held, representing the South Dakota Farm Bureau, and Lorin Pankratz, representing pork producers and soybean producers. They spoke as well for a coalition of other agriculture groups.

Held said the lab is Farm Bureau’s top priority in the 2017 legislative session.

Pankratz indicated the financing challenge hasn’t been solved.

“I think we’re still putting vegetables and whatnot into the Crock-Pot,” he said.

Margo Northrop, representing livestock auction markets, said her members support the project, but are “apprehensive” about how much is being asked from them.

She said they object to a higher vet inspection fee because it covers only half of cattle sales in South Dakota.

“We believe a solution has to be spread equitably,” she said.

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