South Dakota department merger brings about new program

Rebekah Tuchscherer
rtuchscherer@gannett.com

A newly dubbed Livestock Services Program is the first of many forthcoming changes as two major departments in South Dakota merge over the coming year.

In early August, Gov. Kristi Noem announced the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources would be merging to form the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, citing overlap between the two departments and needs for streamlining.

The first program that’s been announced under this merger will manage concentrated animal feeding operations permitting, inspections, manure management planning and licensing for dairy and egg facilities, according to Gov. Kristi Noem’s most recent op-ed. These functions were previously split between the two departments.

“It’ll allow me to eliminate redundancies (and) create a lot less headache for producers,” Noem said during a conference call with farmers on Wednesday. “They’ll know the inspector understands agriculture when they’re stepping foot on the operation.”

According to Hunter Roberts, DENR secretary and Noem’s pick for secretary of the merged departments, the Livestock Services Program will essentially combine the Department of Agriculture’s dairy and egg inspection program with the DENR Feedlot Permit Program, which protects the state’s surface and ground waters by regulating concentrated animal feeding operations and on-site wastewater systems.

“None of the existing regulatory programs will be eliminated,” Roberts said. “We’re not getting rid of the rules and regulations. We’re just, hopefully, implementing them a little better.”

Currently, an inspector from the Department of Agriculture visits dairy farmers twice a year to ensure that all milk regulations and sanitary procedures are being followed. Separately, an inspector from the DENR ensures the producer’s manure management system is working properly.

As the Livestock Services Program takes hold, inspectors will be trained to do both, so one inspector can do work currently done by two, Roberts said.

Noem is expected to sign an executive order during the first days of the upcoming legislative session to combine the two departments, which will become official 90 days thereafter. However, a formalized budget for the new department will not be in place until July 1.

Dairy cows at Daley Farms near Lewiston, Minn., last year. Forum News Service photo
Roberts