The South Dakota Corn Growers say that Big Oil has "hijacked" the railroads and is cutting into farmers' ability to ship their harvest and access fertilizer:

Dennis Jones, a farmer near Aberdeen, S.D., and co-founder of the South Dakota Corn Growers, said that rail equipment has been “hijacked by big oil,” and farmers can’t move their corn to either the Pacific Northwest for export or to closer destinations to feed ethanol plants.

“We need to get ag products back on the track and get fertilizer here, and move the mountains of grain that should have been shipped by now,” Jones said [Tom Meersman, "Farmers Seek More Rail Capacity for Grain," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2014.04.08].

The Corn Growers could propose solutions that would lessen farmers' dependence on the railroads: Invest in organic farming that cuts farmers' dependence on industrial fertilizer. Grow more crops that can make profit locally.

Instead, Big Ag advocates letting Big Oil hijack more of their land:

Jones said the longer-term solution to help farmers is approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline so that most North Dakota oil could be transported by pipeline instead of by rail [Meersman, 2014.04.08].

I know some folks who'd probably throw a corncob at your head if you told them letting a foreign company seize South Dakota farmland for an oil pipeline is good for South Dakota agriculture. But big corporate lobbies can make any statement sound plausible.

Meanwhile, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is opening a camp near Bridger in the Cheyenne River Valley to train members of the resistance movement against the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps some East River farmers should cross the river, camp out for a few days after planting, and compare perspectives on respect for the land.

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I've tried not to get too hawkish with climate change talk. I know that a majority of my readers, who April sunshine be darned still have their snow shovels at the ready by the front step, would likely vote for global warming.

But ag columnist Alan Guebert says farmers and ranchers should get serious about climate change, for the simple reason that it's going to make it hard to farm and ranch. Guebert pulls grim prognostications from the latest U.N. report on climate change. More drought, declining water supply and water quality, lower crop yields... but we know that since the U.N. says those things, it's just a plot to take over our land and put it under the control of foreign dictators (kind of like Keystone XL... oh, wait...).

Guebert finds Iowa State University agronomy professor Eugene Takle offering similar, science-based warnings:

Currently, Takle and ISU colleague Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Lab for Agriculture and Environment, are lead authors of the ag chapter of the mandated 2014 National Climate Assessment. The report, due later this month, "will paint a sobering picture of climate change globally and its impacts on the U.S.," Takle related when interviewed last fall for a campus publication.

"One of the key messages of the report," Takle said "is that the incidence of weather extremes will continue and will have increasingly negative effects on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded."

At least someone at a respected American agricultural institution believes climate change will be the 21st century farm and ranch game changer. Too bad it's not an actual farm or ranch group [Alan Guebert, "Climate Change an Ag Game-Changer," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.04.09].

Part of the policy problem here is that even if South Dakota's ag producers pay attention to climate change, they can't single-handedly stave it off. They can reduce their reliance on industrial pesticides and fertilizer. They can turn to local markets to reduce their reliance on long-distance transport. But much of what would need to be done to stave off climate change caused by human activity won't happen in their fields. It will happen in the voting booth, where they have to stop voting for candidates like Kristi Noem and John Thune who tell them the Environmental Protection Agency is their enemy, and who promote short-term corporate profit (which bears some relationship to political contributions) over long-term stewardship.

Maybe it's just easier to believe that one's own actions, in the field and at the ballot box, don't really cause anyone else harm. Maybe it's just easier to believe that we either don't have to change or that any changes we make won't do any good anyway.

But will farmers just let the storms and droughts come, let more cattle and corn be lost, let more land wash and blow away, without even having a conversation about what's changing the climate and looking for policies that might stanch that change and preserve their livelihoods?

Whether or not we want to talk about it, climate change will bring changes to agriculture. The difference between thriving and perishing lies in changing our talk and our actions in response.

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South Dakota is on its way to joining the rest of civilized America and punishing animal cruelty as a felony. Senate Bill 46 passed House Judiciary Monday and the full House Tuesday, though a bit more bumpily than it did in its unanimous cruise through the Senate.

Senate Bill 46 is tougher than the legislation brought last year by South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together. But since SDFACT had a good talk with South Dakota's ag lobby and got everyone to realize we're all on the same page, the ag lobby and most of the Legislature got behind this bill.

Passing the bill required excluding the Humane Society of the United States from the summer negotiations over South Dakota's bill, said South Dakota pork and soybean lobbyist Lorin Pankratz in his testimony to House Judiciary Monday. The HSUS, as we all know, is plotting to take over the country, and even talking to seuch nefarious characters would make South Dakotans break out in hives and elect a poodle governor. Stockgrowers' lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy emphasized that "the people in this room"—the state veterinarian, the stockgrowers, the pork producers, all the big ag groups—wrote this bill, not just to color in the map and end South Dakota's status as the only state treating animal cruelty as a misdemeanor, but to make things better in South Dakota for animals and for agriculture.

Shari Kosel, the gal who spearheaded bringing animal cruelty to the Legislature's attention last year, testified concisely that SB 46 is collaboration and compromise in the best interest of South Dakota.

But some people just won't give up on HSUS hysteria. Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle), who called herself the "Lone Ranger" in House Judiciary against the bill, said all of the preceding testimony on SB 46's South Dakota roots was "not factual." She said SB 46 was a problem caused by an organization that has vowed to eliminate animal agriculture. She said SB 46 arose from fear that HSUS would wage war on animal cruelty by ballot initiative. She said SB 46 is bad because HSUS shut down horse slaughter plants. I won't even try to explain the logic, because there is none.

Rep. May also asserted that all of the ag folks she talks to are against SB 46, even though all of the ag folks in the room had just gotten done testifying in favor of SB 46. She essentially dismissed the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, the Stockgrowers Association, and other major ag groups as elitist special interests who don't represent common folks. Boy, I'd like to hear Rep. May repeat that line on the campaign trail!

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) rebutted Rep. May directly in committee discussion, saying SB 46 came entirely from South Dakotans, unlike a previous animal cruelty bill that was copied almost verbatim from an HSUS bill from Oregon. Rep. Anne Hajek (R-14/Sioux Falls) told people to look past the hype and read the bill. She slyly noted that SB 46 includes language that protects Rep. Olson's right to "shoot a mountain lion any time she wants to protect herself." Rep. Peggy Gibson (D-22/Huron) also corrected Rep. May's false fear that individuals convicted under SB 46 would lose their right to vote; she noted that once a convict has finished prison time and/or probation, that felon can regain the right to vote.

Committee Chairman Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) complained that SB 46 costs too much. Evidently, $10,751 a year is too much to spend to more vigorously prosecute and punish the sociopaths who torture animals. Rep. Gosch also complained that "gross physical abuse," "prolonged pain," and "serious physical injury" are not clearly defined and cast one of only two votes against SB 46 in committee (the other came from his faithful lieutenant Rep. Justin Cronin, R-23/Gettysburg).

In the full House, you bet your boots that Rep. Betty Olson (R-29/Prairie City) voted against SB 46. Fourteen other legislators trembling before figments of their imagination joined her in the nay column Tuesday. SB 46 passed 54–15 and goes to Governor Dennis Daugaard for his signature.

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You know who's driving up farm land prices? Corporations and foreign investors:

In November 2012, UBS AgriVest, a unit of the Swiss banking giant UBS, paid $67.5 million, or nearly $7,000 per acre, for about 9,800 acres in southwest Wisconsin. The UBS division was behind similar land grabs in the Mississippi Delta, the Mountain West, and Georgia. Elsewhere, in Michigan, a publicly traded investment firm called the Gladstone Land Corp. is buying up parcels of land used to grow blueberries and other row crops. Gladstone is then finding corporate farmers to rent and cultivate the land.

“We’re tuning up and beginning to buy as much farmland as we can right now,” CEO David Gladstone told MiBiz.com. “There are a lot of farmers out there just leasing their farms (who) have children with no orientation for the business. They’re getting older and looking for some liquidity.”

Foreign companies are getting in on the action too. Family Farm Defenders is trying to keep that from happening in Wisconsin. Previously, a 130-year-old state law limiting farmland owned by foreign investors to 640 acres had prevented this kind of land grab. But Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been pushing for a repeal of the provision, essentially opening up Wisconsin’s farmland for sale to the highest bidder. The provision was dropped from Walker’s 2014 budget last year but is being discussed again among Republicans in the legislature for possible adoption [Steve Holt, "Here's Why Foreign Investors Are Trying to Buy American Farmland," TakePart, 2014.02.12].

South Dakota's Family Farm Act (SDCL Chapter 47-9A) is supposed to protect our farm land from foreign corporate monopolization. So I got to wondering how all those foreign EB-5 investors could invest in corporations like the state's favored mega-dairies and Northern Beef Packers.

Ah, loopholes. SDCL 47-9A-3.2 exempts beef processing plants from the Family Farm Act. SDCL 47-9A-3.3 exempts dairy operations. That change came in 2008, when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 173. The state apparently realized that all those giant corporate dairies into which they were funneling EB-5 funds might violate the corporate farming ban... so they lifted another corner of that ban. The Legislature approved the exemption partly on the testimony of serial polluter and lawbreaker Richard Millner. The Veblen dairies went bankrupt two years later, and the DENR blackballed Millner from further dairy ownership. The Veblen dairies remain under corporate ownership.

Coinciding with this state-favored corporate ownership is the ongoing decline of small family dairies. Since 2000, the number of small dairies in South Dakota has decreased from 329 to 37. Meanwhile, Governor Dennis Daugaard is recruiting more corporate-scale dairies from out of state to expand to South Dakota and fill the demand for the French cheese factory he lured to Brookings with corporate welfare.

You could argue that corporations foreign and domestic are scooping up our ag resources because there aren't enough young independent farmers going into the industry, and someone has to feed us. But when young people thinking of farming see the deck stacked against their profitability by laws and handouts that stack the deck in favor of already big corporations, why would they want to roll their dice against such big-capital competition?

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Senate Bill 46, this year's animal cruelty bill, is cruising through the Legislature. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources passed it unanimously on Tuesday; the full Senate gave SB 46 the same favor on Thursday. False fears of evil out-state animal activists waging tyranny against our ranchers have disappeared. Senator Larry Rhoden threw some baloney forward about SB 46 permitting warrantless searches and seizures by non-governmental officials, but his two ayes (one in committee, one in the Senate) for SB 46 indicate he has taken the memo that animal authorities can already act without warrants thanks to legislation Rhoden himself backed in 2006.

I don't want to alienate good neighbors for changing their minds and supporting sensible legislation. But I can't help pointing out that last year, when South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together brought forward a more limited bill on making cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses a felony, state vet Dustin Oedekoven, SD Farm Bureau lobbyist Mike Held, SD Farmers Union lobbyist Mike Traxinger, Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones, and Gary Sanborn of the South Dakota Pet Breeders Association all testified in successful opposition to the large but lonely cadre of animal protection activist fighting for the bill. This year, Oedekoven, Held, Sanborn, the Farmers Union, and the Ag Department all testified in favor of a much tougher animal cruelty bill.

In a similar flip-flop, last year, Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources chair Shantel Krebs, Meade County rancher and Senator Larry Rhoden, and five of their colleagues voted against making cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses felony. This year, Secretary of State candidate Krebs, U.S. Senate candidate Rhoden, and their fellow 2013 naysayers all flipped and voted for a broader law than what the anti-cruelty activists wanted last year.

"Finding common ground was easier than we might have guessed," said state vet Oedekoven at the top of his testimony. That's a heartening statement. If we look past our stereotypes and assumptions and just talk to each other, we South Dakotans will find we all want a lot of the same practical policies.

We should celebrate the Senate's willingness to find common ground on this practical policy to protect our four-legged friends. We should be glad that our legislators will act to change our embarrassing position as the only state to punish animal abuse as a mere misdemeanor.

Unfortunately, we should also recognize the unpleasant subtext to the SB 46 story: regular folks have a tough time being heard in Pierre. Get some conscientious neighbors together to propose a good idea, and lobbyists and legislators will dismiss your proposal as a mere "constituent bill" (shouldn't every bill be a "constituent bill"?). They'll dismiss you as "greenies from out of state" (I predict Rep. Betty Olson will spoil unanimity in the House).

But hand the bill to state officials and big business, let them take the lead in promoting it, and suddenly, the Legislature thinks your idea is great. Our legislators are much more inclined to listen to the Daugaard administration and big industry lobbyists than to grassroots South Dakota activists.

*   *   *
The only opponent testimony came from Anita Lee of Hereford, SD, whose argument against SB 46 consisted mostly of her concern that making animal cruelty a felony would have serious consequences. A felony conviction, after all, takes away one's right to vote, hold office, and carry a gun. In my own vein of old-fashioned conservative advocacy personal responsibility, I would suggest that SB 46 is all about making people realize that evil actions should have hard consequences. If you don't want to lose various rights, maybe you shouldn't run dog fights or skin cats alive.

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Senate Bill 46, the animal cruelty bill that would finally end South Dakota's embarrassing status as the only state in the Union not to issue felony penalties for such sadistic behavior toward our four-legged friends, gets its first hearing Tuesday morning, before Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources.

I don't know if Senate Ag committee member Larry Rhoden has gotten over his hypocritical and ahistorical reach for some reason to posture against this sensible bill. But in case Rhoden and other conservative hypesters haven't gotten the memo, here is the memo—i.e., the text an eager reader tells me the Department of Agriculture is distributing to legislators to tell them to get real (with emphasis in original):

Vote YES on SB 46

(Provide a felony penalty for cruelty to animals, and clarify exemptions)

South Dakota laws have worked well for years in dealing with cases of inhumane treatment of both livestock and non-livestock species. However, South Dakota is the only state without a felony penalty for acts of severe animal cruelty.

Ag and Non-Ag animal interests in South Dakota are united against reprehensible acts of willful, malicious cruelty to animals. SB46 proactively addresses the most severe acts of animal cruelty with a Class 6 felony penalty for such acts. Usual and customary animal ag practices and other time-honored animal uses are protected under a combined and expanded exemptions section.

SB46 is supported by agricultural organizations in South Dakota in order to:

  • Define animal cruelty separately from animal neglect (Sections 1, 3, and 4). Under existing state law, both cruelty and neglect fall under “inhumane treatment”, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor. SB46 would continue to provide for Neglect, abandonment, and mistreatment of an animal to be charged as a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
  • Create a Class 6 felony penalty for “intentional, willful, and malicious” acts of cruelty toward animals. (Section 4). There is a difference between acts of malicious cruelty and acts of neglect or mistreatment. SB46 provides definitions that clearly differentiate these acts.
  • Resolve a disparity between “dog fighting,” which is currently a felony, and “animal fighting,” which currently has no penalty assigned for instigating the fight. (Sections 8 through 12). These are combined into one section, “animal fighting” (Section 10).

This bill does not change the authority of the Animal Industry Board in their purview of all livestock issues. Provisions of current law will remain, authorizing the Animal Industry Board to administer and enforce provisions of 40-1 for cattle, horses, sheep, swine, and other livestock.

Local humane societies, operating by the authorization of the local County Commissioners, will continue their roles to prevent neglect, abandonment, mistreatment or cruelty to dogs, cats, and other household pets. Local humane society members who are animal control officers must continue to seek judicial authorization. The activities of local humane societies that are currently in place will continue to be limited to species other than cattle, horses, sheep, swine, and other livestock.

The provisions of the bill do not apply to:

  • animals under the direct and proper care of a licensed veterinarian;
  • persons engaged in standard and accepted agricultural pursuits or animal husbandry practices;
  • any usual and customary practice in the production of food, feed, or fiber, including all aspects of the livestock industry;
  • in the boarding, breeding, competition, exhibition, feeding, raising, service work, showing, training, transportation, and use of animals;
  • in the harvesting of animals for food or byproducts;
  • humane killing of an animal;
  • lawful hunting, trapping, fishing, or other activity authorized by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks;
  • lawful pest, vermin, predator, and animal damage control, including the disposition of wild animals;
  • reasonable action taken by a person for the destruction or control of an animal known to be dangerous, a threat, or injurious to life, limb, or property; and
  • actions taken by personnel or agents of the board, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Game, Fish and Parks, or the United States Department/

Supporters of SB 46 Include:

  • Ag Unity
  • South Dakota Association of Cooperatives
  • South Dakota Association of County Commissions
  • South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association
  • South Dakota Dairy Producers
  • South Dakota Farm Bureau
  • South Dakota Farmer’s Union
  • South Dakota Livestock Auction Market Association
  • South Dakota Pork Producer’s Council
  • South Dakota Poultry Industries Association
  • South Dakota Stockgrower’s Association
  • South Dakota Quarter Horse Association
  • South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association
  • South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together
  • Sioux Falls Humane Society
  • Beadle County Humane Society
  • Dakota Pet Breeder’s Association
  • South Dakota Department of Agriculture
  • South Dakota Animal Industry Board

Hmmm... no out-state activists, no expansion of warrantless searches, no big-Ag backlash... it looks like Rhoden and his fellow retrogressives will have a hard time finding an excuse to vote no on Senate Bill 46.

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The South Dakota Department of Agriculture unnecessarily shut down Brookings-area dairy Jerseydale Farms two weeks ago. The Department of Agriculture still hasn't apologized. Read their terse little oopsie, which studiously avoids saying oopsie:

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture announces Jerseydale Farms of Brookings, South Dakota, has resumed distribution of bottled raw milk.

Jerseydale Farms’ permit was suspended on Jan. 21, 2014, due to a positive test for Listeria from a sample of bottled raw milk. A follow-up sample was collected; this second sample tested negative for Listeria.

Further testing of the original sample determined the species to be Listeria innocua. This species of Listeria is generally not considered pathogenic bacteria [South Dakota Department of Agriculture, press release, 2014.02.03].

Good grief: I issue bigger apologies when I spell stuff wrong.

Analyze the press release from a journalistic perspective, and you see our ag officials pressing their attack on small dairies and burying their own error. The first and second paragraphs maintain the impression that Jerseydale Farms did something wrong. THe third paragraph avoids saying the Department did anything wrong. It throws in "generally," a weasel word that leaves the door open for the possibility that Jerseydale Farms' original sample might have been dangerous.

"Generally" is not the word Professor Russ Daly from SDSU uses:

But scientists told the Capital Journal the Listeria species found in the Jerseydale Farms milk, Listeria innocua, is not the strain that poses health threats. “If you look at everything that has been published on Listera innocua, it is not a significant pathogen at all,” said Russ Daly, a state public health veterinarian at South Dakota State University. Daly said a different strain, Listeria monocytogenes, is responsible for “99.9 percent of Listeria infections” in humans [Joel Ebert, "Listeria Hysteria?," Pierre Capital Journal, 2014.02.04].

The Department of Agriculture whimpers back that they had to report the Listeria finding, even though the lab hadn't finished its analysis of the sample. The Department felt that taking precautions for public safety was more important than waiting for the final scientific verdict.

Not waiting for the absolutely final scientific verdict to take action? Imagine if South Dakota officials took that approach to climate change: the state would be banning Keystone XL and subsidizing wind turbines for every town!

The state has unduly harmed a business through improper enforcement of onerous regulation. The state at least owes that business Jerseydale Farms, an apology.

42 comments

In the Hidebound Worldview Department, Queen of Crotchety Commentary Rep. Betty Olson (R-28B/Prairie City) now dismisses the ag-industrial lobby, as well as the state veterinarian and a bunch of other South Dakotans, as dastards and dupes. Rep. Olson is vowing to fight Senate Bill 46, the new and improved bill to make animal cruelty a felony, just like it is everywhere else in America:

"It’s always been against the law," Olson said. "We don’t do any of those things that those evil PETA people think we do. But I don’t like the idea that it’s going to be a felony. We’re caving in to a bunch of greenies from out of state who have no business messing with our agriculture business" [David Montgomery, "Despite Push from Ag, Rural Lawmakers Doubt Animal Cruelty Bill," Political Smokeout, 2014.01.17].

There's just no talking to some people... but let's talk anyway. For the umpteenth time, Betty:

  1. PETA is not evil. Occasionally wrong, occasionally silly, sure, but aren't we all?
  2. PETA is not behind this bill; real South Dakotans just like you are.
  3. Greenies from out of state aren't behind this bill.
  4. Senate Bill 46 is not messing with our agriculture business. Just like last year, this bill specifically exempts standard agricultural activities.

Rep. Olson won't drop her febrile personal attacks to listen to an evil greenie like me. Maybe she'll listen to her colleagues in agriculture:

"They need some additional information and some education on the background and the work that went in to do this, and the reasoning for why some of the sections are written as they are," said Mike Held, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Farm Bureau, of skeptical lawmakers. "We will do that" [Montgomery, 2014.01.17].

Rep. Olson will likely brand Held a coward for caving to animal activists from elsewhere. Maybe Held can explain his way past Olson's paranoid fantasy and get her to see that Senate Bill 46 is just South Dakotans working together to pass decent legislation.

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