DANR merger has come with challenges, Secretary Hunter Roberts says

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum
South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Secretary Hunter Roberts, center, talks to Rotary Club members following their weekly buffet on Monday, April 25, 2022, in Sioux Falls. Roberts assumed office on April 21, 2021 after Gov. Kristi Noem merged the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Hunter Roberts, cabinet secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, fielded agriculture-related questions during a stop this week in Sioux Falls.

The department was created after Gov. Kristi Noem merged the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources in April 2021. The move drew criticism from producers and environmentalists who worried if streamlining departments would leave room for competing interests. And that's a topic that came up during Roberts' Monday visit with Sioux Falls Rotarians.

The SDDA-DENR merger

Roberts, who started the discussion by humorously noting his apprehension of public speaking engagements, admitted it has been difficult to bring the two teams together into one consolidated department.

He said the overlap in work and trying to find common ground between two departments with similar values but different priorities -- using the environment versus protecting natural resources -- is a struggle exacerbated by the pandemic.

Roberts added that his staff continues to work on team-building and has worked through some complications derived from the merger.

Cannabis and hemp

Rotarian Cindy Peterson also asked Roberts where he saw the future of cannabis and industrial hemp in South Dakota, a discussion that led him make a distinction between the products.

He said DANR is trying to shy away from involvement in THC-related products, and directed those inquiries to the state Department of Revenue. That department regulates adult-use marijuana programs in South Dakota.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the prime psychoactive compound in marijuana.

More: Medical marijuana law changing after Gov. Kristi Noem signs cannabis bills into law

Roberts was more positive about hemp. The secretary said there is "opportunity to grow" in the industrial hemp market, mainly where multi-use applications are concerned, like construction materials and feeding filters.

According to latest U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, 1,850 acres of hemp have been planted in South Dakota so far. Roberts hopes the industry reaches 2,400 acres by the end of the year.

He also claimed the CBD oil market has "tanked."

According to Hemp Benchmarks, most major CBD companies reported average or slightly less-than-average net revenue in 2021 compared to 2020.

The pandemic and supply chain issues have shuttered stores nationwide, limiting market growth, but the industry is still expected to expand during the next decade.

Every week, the Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls invites industry leaders and experts to give visit about hot topics within their sectors. This week was Robterts' turn to answer ques