Resolution of disapproval could halt Noem's merger of Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources

Rebekah Tuchscherer

A resolution of disapproval filed by Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, D-Mission, opposes Gov. Kristi Noem’s joining of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a move that’s been met with skepticism since its proposal.

The Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) was first proposed in early August, when Noem cited overlap between the two departments and a need for streamlining. Since that time, DANR has been met with mixed feelings from farmers and environmentalists alike.

Agriculture “deserves a state department whose resources and expertise are devoted to the promotion of the agriculture industry,” the resolution reads. It goes on to note that agriculture is South Dakota’s number one industry and economic driver.

“The DANR merger makes state government more effective, more efficient, and more responsive to the needs of farmers,” Gov. Noem’s communication director Ian Fury said in an emailed statement. “Governor Noem is working to strengthen South Dakota agriculture for the next generation while ensuring that our vital natural resources are conserved.”

Heinert filed the resolution Feb. 25, but said he expects that other legislators from both sides of the aisle will sign on in support of their constituents’ concerns.

“I understand this is the governor’s idea, but we’re supposed to be an equal and separate branch of government,” he told the Argus Leader on Thursday. “I’ve heard from many people that do not support this idea, and I hope the legislature listens to them as well.”

Heinert noted the resolution has the power to stop the merger of the two state departments with a simple majority vote by the senate.

Agricultural organizations have expressed mixed opinions about the merger since its announcement.

South Dakota Farm Bureau members voted to back the department merger during their annual meeting, according to an op-ed by President Scott VanderWal written in mid-January. Meanwhile, the South Dakota Farmers Union formally opposed the merger in the same fashion with a mid-January op-ed from President Doug Sombke, citing a need for “checks and balances” between the departments.

The resolution goes on to note only two states currently have combined departments for agricultural and environmental industries, referring to Rhode Island and Alaska, which both have relatively small Ag sectors compared to South Dakota.

Noem signed an executive order at the beginning of the legislative session to merge the two departments. If the resolution fails, a formalized budget for the new department will be implemented July 1.

Governor Kristi Noem gives the State of the State address on Tuesday, January 12, in the House of Representatives at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.