SD's Dept. of Agriculture and Natural Resources officially created despite skepticism from farmers, environmentalists

Rebekah Tuchscherer
Sioux Falls Argus Leader
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.

South Dakota's Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) was officially created on Monday after months of hesitation by farmers, environmentalists and lawmakers alike.

In early August, Gov. Kristi Noem first announced the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would merge to form the new department, citing overlap and needs for streamlining.

"With this merger, we are fostering sustainable agriculture and conservation of our natural resources," Noem tweeted Monday morning. "We want to pass these on to our kids and grandkids."

More:South Dakota Ag, Environment department merger will move forward after Senate resolution fails

South Dakota joins just two other states — Alaska and Rhode Island — in having a combined department for environmental and agricultural needs.

Gov. Noem has steadily combined the departments over the past nine months. Hunter Roberts, formerly the DENR Secretary, was hand-picked by Gov. Noem as cabinet secretary for the new DANR department. Additionally, a Livestock Services Program was created to combine Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) duties for the two departments.

Five positions were also cut, resulting in state savings of $450,000.

The merger won't affect any federal regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Environmental Protection Agency; however, some state lawmakers expressed concern during the 2021 session that combining the two major departments would lead to more big government and put environmental concerns on the back burner. Some also expressed that agriculture, the state's No. 1 industry, deserves its own dedicated department.

Subscribers:Noem combined two state agencies. Now both groups fear their interests will lose out.

A resolution of disapproval brought to the senate floor by Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) that would have stopped the merger from going through failed by one vote in March.

The South Dakota Farmers Bureau members voted at their November convention in support of the merger. South Dakota Farmers Union, the state's largest agricultural organization, opposed the merger.

DANR is a result of an executive order made by Noem on Jan. 19. The formal budget for the new department will take effect on July 1, according to DANR Secretary Roberts. Until then, DANR will operate under the remaining budgets for SDDA and DENR.