Jennings: Support SB 157 in SD |

Jennings: Support SB 157 in SD

Eric Jennings
President, SD Cattlemen’s Association

A lot has been written about the aging population of farmers and ranchers. It is true, the average age of farmers and ranchers continues to increase and the question of what the future will hold for agriculture is often asked. There are many factors contributing to this phenomenon, the large investment in capital to start an agricultural operation, low commodity prices and increasing costs of living are three big ones. We as South Dakotans can have little effect on those but we can look to find ways to create an environment for younger people to forge their way in agriculture. Because let’s face it, South Dakotans are a tough lot and given a chance they will strike out and try to make their way.

Passing SB 157, an act to revise certain provisions regarding the county zoning and appeals process, is one of the ways we can help create an environment for young people to succeed in agriculture. In counties that require a conditional use permit (CUP), SB 157 streamlines the process for receiving the necessary permit to build a facility. While this bill covers more than just agricultural projects, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) fall into this category in many counties.

Senate bill 157 does nothing to diminish local control, if anything it strengthens it. It creates an opportunity for the individual counties to develop the criteria they feel adequately addresses development in their respective county. The individual counties will be responsible for developing the zoning ordinance if they so choose, including a public hearing process. This bill does not require counties to implement zoning, it only enhances the process if they choose to utilize it. I feel it gives the counties more local control by reducing involvement from groups and individuals outside of the county while still allowing involvement from aggrieved county citizens.

Many people have an image of CAFOs as being owned by multi-national corporations that want to move into our state without any regard to the environment, people, local culture and economy. The truth is, most of the CAFOs in South Dakota are owned by family farmers that are trying to expand their operations to generate enough income to allow a young person into the operation. These families can operate as sole proprietors, partnerships or family corporations. And yes, sometimes these families enter into contracts with other corporations to supply animals for them to feed, but the facility is managed and staffed by people who are our neighbors that live in and support our local communities.

Our way of life in South Dakota has changed substantially since the 1950’s and agriculture has changed too. Machinery has gotten bigger and more efficient; we have a much greater understanding of soil and how to improve its health while growing crops; we do a much better job of working within our environment to minimize ill effects; we understand animal nutrition, health and comfort much better. Nationwide in the beef industry we now produce more pounds of meat with 30% fewer cattle, lessening our carbon foot print. CAFO’s play an important role in that. We have learned how to design them with animal comfort and feed efficiency in mind while creating an environmentally friendly manure containment system that captures runoff from 100 year precipitation events. The nutrients can then be applied to the soil at the proper time to feed the biology of the soil that is necessary to maintain a healthy, well-functioning soil profile. Permitted CAFO’s are regulated and monitored by the SD DENR to ensure that adequate acres of land are utilized for nutrient management so as not to overload the soil with phosphorus that could harm the groundwater. These permits take into account soil types and the kind and number of animals being housed in the CAFO. Comprehensive records are kept and soil samples are taken to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations.

While I feel strongly that agriculture needs to be able to develop feeding operations, I also feel that it needs to be done in a responsible manner. All of us have a responsibility to build CAFOs in locations that do not reasonably adversely affect the quality of life of our neighbors. The CUP process that many counties have in their zoning regulations provides the checks and balances necessary to protect that. SB 157 does nothing to diminish those checks and balances. It still provides aggrieved citizens the opportunity to appeal a permit issued by the county zoning officer, but takes away the ability of special interest groups with anti-agriculture agendas, many of whom are not from South Dakota, to enter into the permit process to push their agenda. The construction costs of an environmentally sound, efficient CAFO can easily reach seven digits. If we expect farmers and ranchers to make that kind of an investment, we need to have a permitting system that gives them some assurances that if they comply with the zoning requirements of the county, they will be issued a permit for construction. If the project is appealed, the appeals process needs to be done in a timely and respectful manner.

We need to do what we can to promote rural development in our state. Developing feeding facilities to keep our raw commodities in the state and adding value to them by feeding grain and forage to livestock helps all South Dakotans by adding dollars to our economy. Please join South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association in asking your Representatives to support SB 157.