Guest Opinion: Preserving a way of life through ag development |

Guest Opinion: Preserving a way of life through ag development

In South Dakota, agriculture is more than just a sector of our economy. It’s a way of life. Whether it’s a small family farm, a sizeable cattle ranch or a dairy operation, all forms of agricultural businesses are important to that way of life.

In 2013, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) began offering counties a service called the County Site Analysis Program. This service helps counties use data to identify sites suitable for agriculture-related development, and to avoid sites which are not suitable.

Ag investments are vital, especially in rural South Dakota, but development must be done responsibly. Because not every new project is a good fit in every location, the program helps county commissioners and landowners determine where projects best fit.

Through the County Site Analysis Program, SDDA looks at local zoning ordinances, locations of roads, utilities and other infrastructure, as well as other local permitting requirements. This information is used to rate property locations on their suitability for things such as manufacturing, commodity processing or livestock-related enterprises.

This program respects local control, because local officials must initiate the process by a formal resolution, requesting SDDA assistance. County commissions, planning and zoning boards, and landowners can use the produced data to make well-informed decisions. Local leaders use the data in their comprehensive planning efforts; landowners have concrete information outlining options for their land; and agribusinesses learn where their investments will be welcomed.

Even though the County Site Analysis Program is fairly new, a majority of counties have already expressed interest in participating. Since the program’s launch, 49 counties have requested a site analysis, and SDDA has completed analyses in 15 counties.

In addition to this program, local governments may soon have another way to pave the road for economic development. There’s a proposal in the Legislature right now that would revise state law on conditional use permits. Conditional use permits are local zoning exceptions which allow property to be used for specific purposes. Cemeteries, churches, golf courses, gravel pits and livestock barns are some examples of projects that might require this kind of permit.

Under current state law, local governments must have a two-thirds majority to approve conditional use permits. House Bill 1201 would allow local governments to change that requirement to a majority vote, if they so choose. Like the County Site Analysis Program, this proposal respects local control. It does not mandate that local governments change the current supermajority requirement. It gives the option. This bill could make it easier to start an agribusiness in South Dakota within our counties and municipalities who invite those opportunities.

Agriculture’s preeminence in our state economy is not something that is inevitable. Local leaders understand this and they know they must be intentional about allowing for opportunities. The County Site Analysis Program and House Bill 1201 seek to broaden those opportunities.

By furthering ag development in our state, we’ll not only be maintaining our number one industry, but we’ll be preserving a way of life.