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Governor Kristi Noem officially notifies on merger between two state departments

The official merger of the two departments by way of executive order is something that Governor Noem and her administration have been advertising for months.
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 11:30 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Governor Kristi Noem (R- South Dakota) went forward with her intent to merge the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Noem had officially announced the plan in August of last year.

The Governor’s executive order on the matter came down Tuesday. The South Dakota Constitution requires that executive orders reorganizing agencies come “within five legislative days after it convenes.”

Interim Secretary of Agriculture Hunter Roberts spent the morning testifying to both the State House and Senate committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources. Roberts is slated to become the head of the new Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) once the merger is officially complete.

In remarks and a presentation to the Senate committee, Roberts said that the merger would result in the state getting rid of five full-time positions, one of those being a cabinet member, saving the state roughly $450,000 a year. Roberts pointed out that none of those five positions are currently filled at this point in time.

“If you’re the right sized dairy (farm), DENR is visiting your site once a year,” said Roberts. “Our thought is instead of two state vehicles, and two staffs going there three times a year, we can cut it down two, and make it just one trip.”

Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden (R- South Dakota) also testified to the state’s commitment to agriculture. Roberts said that it was their intent for Rhoden to have a more involved presence in agriculture moving forward. Rhoden served as the interim secretary of Agriculture for several months last year.

The South Dakota Farm Bureau endorsed Noem’s merger. President of the Farm Bureau Scott VanderWal was featured in Governor Noem’s announcement of the executive order, saying, “We believe this merger will make government work better for farmers and ranchers and will strengthen the future of agriculture.”

However, the South Dakota Farmers Union landed on the opposite of the issue, endorsing against the merger. Both organizations said that they got a consensus of their members before making an endorsement one way or another.

South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke cited the environmental impact.

“I think that there is a reason we have it the way we do now, so it is not a ‘one stop shop.’ Why should protecting the health of individuals from, for example, dairy, and also (protecting) the environment, and (preventing) damage to the water, soil, and air, why should that be an easy thing to do?”

The Farm Bureau pushed back on that idea.

“There are those that are concerned it’ll erode the environmental protection,” said VanderWal. “Some on the agricultural side who say that it is going to erode the focus on agriculture. We think that (it) can be maintained on both sides. Agriculture is working hard to convince consumers of how we can help maintain the environment, the natural resources, and by combining these two departments, those two aspects can really work together.”

If the merger were to be completed, South Dakota would be the only state in the country that has its environmental protection agency, and department of agriculture under the same roof.

The divide on the merger tends to break down along party lines, with Democrats opposing. To upend an executive order, the state legislature would only need a simple majority in either the house or the senate.

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