For some time I have wondered why South Dakota's Republican leadership has consistently favored big ag over small ag, going to great (possibly criminal) lengths to recruit investors for megadairies and meat processing plants and subsidizing big cheese factories while imposing greater regulatory burdens on small dairy producers and shutting down raw milk producers on bogus inspections. Why would Republican leaders not pay at least as much attention to small farms?

Then I read gubernatorial chief of staff Tony Venhuizen's contribution to Seth Tupper's thoughtful Sunday report on the demise of the South Dakota Democratic Party, and policy and politics click:

One of the themes he noticed during his research was the tendency of Democrats to make gains in gubernatorial politics during periods of “agrarian discontent.”

That’s no longer the case, Venhuizen said, because farm numbers have declined so far that even a massive shift of farmers to the Democratic Party could no longer swing an election.

The numbers support the theory. There were more than 80,000 farms in South Dakota during the 1930s, but a steady drop has reduced that number to about 32,000 today. That’s a 60 percent decline, even as the state’s population has grown by 20 percent during the same period [Seth Tupper, "The Seeds of Democratic Decline: Theories Attempt to Explain Party's Nov. 4 Drubbing," Rapid City Journal, 2014.12.21].

Despite the state's antipathy and a collapse in dairy numbers, South Dakota added nearly 1,500 small farms from 2007 to 2012. But that's not nearly enough to restore the leverage McGovern Democrats used to have to play to agrarian discontent. Republican leaders can focus their ag policy on big players, scratching their backs with EB-5 money, tax breaks, and other corporate welfare. Those big players scratch right back at election time with votes and campaign contributions.

I know, I know, I shouldn't peddle conspiracy theories. A political party would never let its selfish political interests sway its policies. South Dakota Republicans would never drive small independent farmers out of business just because small independent farmers helped McGovern rebuild the South Dakota Democratic Party. South Dakota Republicans would never ignore the input of teachers and make bad education policy that drives teachers away from the state just because teachers tend to vote Democratic. South Dakota Republicans would never squeeze out unions with "right-to-work" laws just because labor is an important Democratic power base. South Dakota Republicans would never make it harder for Indians to vote just because Indians pick D over R 90% of the time.

But Venhuizen's observation makes on thing clear: top Republicans are perfectly aware that fewer farmers, as well as a higher proportion of the remaining ag player beholden to Republican state largesse, aligns perfectly with South Dakota Republican political fortunes.