Buffer strip boosters plan another go during 2017 session

Farm Forum

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Seeking improved water quality in South Dakota, advocates of a bill vetoed this year to encourage buffer strips between farmland and waterways plan to try again in 2017.

They may get a boost from the source of their discontent: Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who rejected the plan to offer tax breaks for buffers in March. Daugaard cited constitutional and property tax concerns over the bill, which overwhelmingly passed the Legislature.

Daugaard supports the concept and will offer a buffer strip proposal later this year to the Legislature’s Ag Land Assessment Task Force, spokeswoman Kelsey Pritchard said in an email, declining to offer additional details.

Buffers help trap fertilizer, pesticide and sediment before they reach water.

“We’re firm believers that riparian buffers are one of the best things that we can possibly do to protect our rivers and streams and lakes” in South Dakota, said Jay Gilbertson, manager of the East Dakota Water Development District, which backed the 2016 legislation.

Supportive legislators didn’t muster the support necessary to override Daugaard’s veto of the bill, which would have allowed farmland along a lake, river or stream that was turned into a 50-foot buffer strip of vegetation to be classified as non-cropland for property tax purposes. That would have meant a lower tax burden for those landowners.

There were questions about the impacts of the measure this year that need to be answered, including which waterways would be subject to the policy, Gilbertson said.

The governor had also offered concerns that the bill would shift the property tax burden onto other property owners.

The South Dakota Corn Growers Association opposed the measure as messing with the tax structure without effectively inducing farmers to install buffer strips. The group instead wants to see more education efforts so farmers can learn about available programs, executive director Lisa Richardson said.

“We are 110 percent behind buffer strips,” she said. “This bill did not address the issue. It’s not going to get more farmers to participate — that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Democratic House leader Spencer Hawley, a main sponsor of the 2016 bill, said he hopes to offer a plan next session that addresses the governor’s concerns and maintains lawmakers’ support.