Big Ag crowds out pheasants. To restore pheasant numbers and protect South Dakota's shotgun tourism season, Governor Dennis Daugaard proposes more Big Ag, backed with more big government subsidies:

"Winter wheat is probably one of the best habitats for pheasants, and right now 24 counties in eastern South Dakota cannot get federal crop insurance on winter wheat crops," work group chair Pam Roberts said.

It's one of the first priorities Governor Daugaard plans to address.

"If all of Montana can qualify for crop insurance, why should eastern South Dakota, no more susceptible to freeze-outs than Montana, surely, why can't we?" Daugaard said [Jared Ransom, "Conserve Pheasant Habitat, Increase Pheasant Population," KELOLand.com, 2014.09.09].

I can hardly stifle the giggles. Governor Daugaard has as much trouble with his vaunted "South Dakota self-reliance" and his buddy Mike Rounds has with "South Dakota common sense." We need more pheasants, so we need Uncle Sam to hand out more free money for growing crops that may not grow.

By the way, Pam Roberts, SDSU research says pheasants are 2.5 times more likely to nest in grasslands than in winter wheat. If you're going to throw ideological consistency overboard and seek more government handouts, why not ditch subsidies for Kristi Noem's husband and instead get Rep. Noem to undo her cuts to the Conservation Reserve Program to promote more pheasant-fostering grasslands?

14 comments

Want to meet the King of the Netherlands? Go to Emmetsburg, Iowa, Wednesday and see His Majesty Willem-Alexander break a wooden shoe across the bow of the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country.

The King is coming because Dutch bioscience firm Royal DSM has partnered with Sioux Falls-based ethanol producer POET in Project Liberty, an effort to make ethanol out of something other than stuff we eat. DSM has developed the enzyme that breaks down corn-waste cellulose; POET has built the new processing plant in Emmetsburg that will use DSM's biotech to turn 770 tons of corn stover (cobs, leaves, husks, and stalks) into 20 million gallons (and eventually 25 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol each year.

A UNL study earlier this year contended that making biofuel from corn stover would do more harm than sticking with gasoline by removing biomass from the soil and reducing farmland's capacity to capture carbon dioxide. The EPA says the study is based on the erroneous assumption that cellulosic ethanol harvesting would remove all of the stover from farm fields. POET says it is promoting sustainable corn waste harvest methods that would leave about 75% of the biomass on the ground to maintain soil nutrients and prevent erosion. We have to burn more fuel to make more passes over the corn fields to collect this biomass, but POET says removing excess corn waste will allow farmers to make fewer tillage passes over their fields to incorporate the remaining residue or make it easier to go to no-till farming.

So welkom Koning Willem-Alexander, and gefeliciteerd en veel geluk to Poet and DSM on making celluslosic ethanol commercially viable.

12 comments

Mike from Iowa asked for a close-up of bluestem grass. Can do, Mike!

Bluestem, also known as turkey foot, also known as "ice cream for cattle." (CAH, 2014.08.21)

Bluestem, also known as turkey foot, "ice cream for cattle," and the key to putting the prairie back to work. (CAH, 2014.08.21)

Carter Johnson showed me this native grass and a whole lot more on his EcoSun Prairie Farm on a hot summer morning last week. I've written about Johnson's prairie farm and its philosophy before. The SDSU ecology professor gave a stirring speech on his vision for a working prairie at TedX Brookings last winter. But I wanted to see the Prairie Farm for myself.

Read the rest of this entry...

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While Corinna Robinson talked sense about the Keystone XL pipeline (risk to water supplies, oil shipped to China, jobs nowhere near as numerous or impactful as TransCanada pretends), I hear Rep. Kristi Noem is trying to spread the flow by arguing that TransCanada's tar sands pipeline will free up more rail capacity for farm products.

Alas, farmers are buying this baloney:

Farmers and ranchers have a stake in the Keystone XL project, said Randy Miiller, who farms near Mount Vernon.

Miiller said trucks carrying oil from North Dakota are damaging roads in South Dakota. Meanwhile, the oil companies have been driving up the cost of rail for farmers. There is less rail capacity for farm products, and it's more expensive.

"Without the XL pipeline, to me it's a slow cancer to all the farmers," Miiller said. "It's going to kill us" [Jonathan Ellis, "Noem, Robinson Disagree on Keystone XL Pipeline," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.19].

Pssst, Randy! Did you notice that the first Keystone pipeline through East River didn't do diddly to free up rail cars for your corn? That pipeline isn't moving any Bakken crude. 92% of the oil in Keystone XL will be Canadian oil. Even if Bakken producers can get any oil into Keystone XL, they might still prefer to use your rail cars, since they get access to more refineries.

Here's a thought, farmers and Republican Congress critters: if you really think the rail shortage is critical, why not entertain some other, less risky solutions? Instead of eminent domaining West River landowners to transfer their property rights to a private foreign corporation, why not impose on the railroad corporations' rights? Why not require that, at the peak of the harvest, the railroads give priority to American agricultural products?

If we're going to use eminent domain, shouldn't we use it for American interests? And what meets American interests more: shipping mostly Canadian oil, or shipping American corn?

36 comments

When Charlie Hoffman and I got done riding four-wheeler around the prairie (and have I mentioned how big I smile when I say that phrase?), we went inside to talk politics. And oh, did we talk.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)

Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) discusses Pierre politics at his dining room table. (Photo by CAH, 2014.08.19)

Charlie Hoffman has served three terms as a Republican Representative from District 23. He sat out this year's election, leaving incumbent Rep. Justin Cronin and new-Pierre-comer Michele (one L, just like Bachmann) Harrison to win the GOP primary and ascend without challenge to the State House.

Hoffman is yielding the House floor this year for a handful of personal reasons. He'd like to travel more with his wife, Survivor survivor and motivational speaker Holly Hoffman. Some business matters require his attention back at the ranch. And he has a new hunting dog that he wants to train and bond with properly.

But Hoffman makes his stepback sound like a break, not retirement. He's already looked ahead and seen 2016 as a good opportunity to get back into the House. Rep. Cronin will be termed out, leaving an open seat Charlie can seek without challenging a fellow Republican incumbent.

Hoffman's break appears to have some political motivation right alongside the personal. Hoffman expresses a notable disgust for several aspects of how things are running in Pierre right now. And he said these things to me, a liberal blogger, without the influence of scotch. "I'm a haystacker at heart," said Hoffman, "not a statesman, not a diplomat."

I should check that: did he say haystacker or haymaker? Here they come:

Self-Servers and Legislative Autonomy

Hoffman sees coming a tussle for majority leader in which he does not want to partake. He cites a Janklovian aphorism: "In every class of twenty-some new legislators, fifteen know they'll be governor someday." Hoffman says lots of legislators are serving their political ambitions and trying to put their names (Hoffman offers none) on the marquee. Hoffman would prefer to serve with and be one of the legislators who come to Pierre to serve their districts.

Hoffman says those marquee-seeking legislators create a major problem for the legislative branch. As majority whip, Hoffman says he has seen the Governor happily exploit those self-servers to encroach on the Legislature's proper autonomy. The night before each Legislative workweek begins, Hoffman says the Governor hosts a meeting for all of the GOP House and Senate leaders at the Governor's mansion (read: homefield advantage). The Governor's entire staff attends. The "conversation," says Hoffman, flows mostly one way, as the Governor informs the "leaders" of his plans and priorities for the week. The Governor does not inquire, says Hoffman, about the legislators' plans and priorities. And the GOP leaders, mostly concerned about their place in line, generally accept their weekly marching orders.

Hoffman says this one-way relationship is not how the balance of powers is supposed to work. The Legislature should act independently to bring forth different ideas and allow the best policies to rise via competition. One branch dictating the policy agenda means poorer policy. (What was that Charlie said about pastures with only one kind of grass?) Hoffman wants the climbers to quit climbing and recapture their autonomy and vision. Short of that, Hoffman wishes he could have the opportunity to serve under a Democratic Governor who would rekindle his comrades' commitment to the separation of powers.

(The weird subtext here: we could encourage Republican Charlie Hoffman to run for Legislature in 2016 by electing his Democratic House-mate Susan Wismer Governor this year. Charlie, want to help?)

Harmful Partisanship

Hoffman also expresses annoyance with partisan politics. He says the South Dakota GOP has damaged itself and its candidates by allowing Tea Party agitators to pull the party further right. Local radicals may have gotten a kick out of the SDGOP's impeach-Obama resolution, but recall that such absurd radicalism has boosted Democratic fundraising. Hoffman looks beyond our borders to add that such honyockerism may damage the chances of the national party choosing John Thune for Vice-President in 2016.

Partisanship can damage policy along with party. Hoffman says that, without Medicaid expansion, county governments face higher indigent-care costs, and hospitals either eat losses or pass them on to the rest of us. Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would erase those costs, says Hoffman. Permit me to remind you that, as Rep. Wismer said Wednesday, the only reason Governor Daugaard seems to have for not expanding Medicaid is partisan ideology.

Future Plans: Raise Teacher Pay!

If circumstances draw Hoffman back to the House, he says he may spend his entire term working on one project: raising teacher pay. He suggests starting by diverting 10% of all gambling revenue (that cut would be over $10 million) to a teacher-pay trust fund. When the fund accrues enough interest, start writing checks, once a year, to every public K-12 teacher in South Dakota.

Our quick calculations suggest this plan might initially place just $500 extra in each teacher's pocket, only a small step toward beating lowly Mississippi, but one must start somewhere. And Hoffman agrees that raising pay will boost the labor pool and ease the teacher shortage.

But wait: gambling revenues currently support property tax relief. Would Hoffman really support taking away that relief? Yes. Instead of handing out pennies per acre, the state could hand that 10% of gambling revenues to the state Investment Council to generate a far larger return.

Agricultural Productivity Tax

If landowners feel harmed by the reduction of gambling-revenue tax relief, Hoffman will make it up to them by getting rid of the agriculture productivity tax. Hoffman says this bastardization of the property tax is even worse than a straight income tax. This tax, which based on the predicted agricultural production value of land instead of its actual productivity or sale price, deters farmers from raising prairie grass and drives hyper-production of only a few high-priced crops. Farmers who switch from corn and beans to grass this year will still pay tax based on what they could have made raising corn for the next eight years. Even farmers who stick with corn will suffer as corn prices drop: they'll makes three to four dollars per bushel this year, but the county will tax them for the next couple years as if their land were seven- or eight-dollar-a-bushel corn. Hoffman says the Legislature needs to change the productivity tax to something fairer.

*   *   *

I asked Hoffman if he worried that my reporting the above comments might harm his chances of returning to the House. He paused to think, but pretty quickly said nope. If I'm reading him right (and stop me if you think I'm letting my hopes and the joy of riding four-wheeler all afternoon confound my judgment), Hoffman is professing a commitment to a less partisan, more pragmatic, and more independent Legislature. Let's see if Charlie and District 23 share that commitment in 2016.

Bonus "Did You Know?": One of the photos in Hoffman's home office shows a man riding down Main Street (I forgot to ask where) atop the backseat of a red convertible with a placard on the door reading "Hoffman for Governor."Charlie said that's his dad Leroy Hoffman, who ran against Bill Janklow in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 1978.

Leroy Hoffman also sang opera. He built the house in which Charlie and Holly have raised their family with a beautiful vaulted ceiling for his singing. In the 1960's Hoffman sang well enough to tour Europe professionally. Charlie lived in Europe with his dad for two years during that portion of Leroy's career.

But if you're looking for records, you have to search George Hoffman, not Leroy.

"What," I asked. "Leroy not operatic enough?"

"Yup," said Charlie.

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Senator Larry Tidemann chided Rep. Susan Wismer yesterday for only talking about the bad side of the EB-5 scandal. In that spirit, I am happy to point out that, contrary to the examples of Chairman Tidemann and Governor Daugaard, some Pierre pols keep their eyes, their ears, and their hearts open.

Rep. kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) writes that immigration is actually good for South Dakota business:

Dairies and other work intensive ag businesses rely heavily on foreign workers. I received a letter from a local farmer during the past year. I learned a lot from it and will quote directly from it:

“We began employing foreign workers through the H-2A visa program in 2011. We had experienced increased difficulty in hiring capable local employees. We made the decision to try the H-2A program as a last resort before being forced to liquidate…….due to lack of labor…The program has provided excellent employees…" [Rep. Kathy Tyler, "Immigration of Children," Kathy's Corner, 2014.07.27].

Rep. Tyler then turns to the Latin American children currently entering our country under a Bush Administration anti-trafficking policy and asks where our hearts and minds are:

These children are fleeing for their lives. I cannot imagine a situation where sending my child away would mean that he or she might live. Let’s be thankful that we don’t need to make that choice. The issue is not settled, and looking at the way things go in Washington, it probably won’t be for a while. I think it’s time to open our hearts and our minds a bit. Remember, they are children [Tyler, 2014.07.27].

We could use more voices of calm, practical decency like Kathy Tyler's in Pierre.

p.s.: If we invited more immigrant children to our fair state, maybe Stickney and Corsica wouldn't have to consolidate.

14 comments

While Mike Rounds fantasizes that the Albertan tar sands oil that Keystone XL would ship to the Gulf of Mexico for export to China somehow secures American energy independence, and while pols and hustlers insist that maybe South Dakota can stick a straw in West River and suck some Bakken oil our way, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that South Dakota has the resources to cash in on a real, renewable domestic source of energy growing and plopping right in our backyards... or the back forty.

UCS-Top 10 States for Crop Residue Manure Bioenergy 2030

According to a new UCS analysis, by 2030, South Dakota can sustainably produce the ninth-most biomass—crop residues and manure—for renewable energy production. (Add Mike Rounds's speeches on coal and oil, and we boost our rank to seventh.) We're not talking about turning more food into fuel; we can squeeze energy from all that stuff we and the cows leave in the fields without burning one more bean or kernel of corn.

UCS crop residue manure by county 2030

(click to enlarge!)

Why would we want to convert cornstalks and cowpies into energy?

Clean, renewable energy resources for transportation and electricity are an im- portant part of the solution to the climate, economic, environmental, and security challenges posed by our fossil fuel use. Bioenergy—the use of biomass, including plant materials and manure, to produce renewable fuels for transportation and to generate electricity—can provide a sustainable, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels while enabling communities to benefit from local resources. Bioenergy is one of several elements of a comprehensive climate strategy that can cut projected U.S. oil use in half by 2030, and help put the nation on track to phase out the use of coal in producing electricity [Union of Concerned Scientists, "Turning Agricultural Residues and Manure into Bioenergy," July 2014].

Oh, those darned scientists, trying to get us to use less of a polluting fuel source that will run out. Don't they know that all this talk of conservation and renewability messes up the business model for Mike Rounds's favorite industries?

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South Dakota, represent!

I learn all sorts of fun South Dakota facts from my Twitter friends. For instance, the USDA reported that in 2013, South Dakota was the nation's leading producer of bison, oats, and sunflowers. That list sounds so much more concrete, so much more vivid, than health, wealth, and beauty... let's update DeeCort Hammitt!

Hail, South Dakota,
A great state of the land!
Bison, oats, and sunflowers,
That's what makes her grand!

Then this evening, a friends shows me this map created by Seth Kadish showing USDA data on cattle per capita in the United States:

Map of cattle per capita, by Seth Kadish, based on USDA data

Map of cattle per capita, by Seth Kadish, based on USDA data

There are 87.7 million head of cattle in the United States. That's 0.28 cattle per American.

Nine states have more cattle than people, all adjacent on the Great Plains, plus Iowa. The highest cattle count per person is right here in South Dakota, with 4.32 hoofed mooers per person.

In other words, South Dakota has more bull per person than anywhere else in the country.

As you drive by those bovine pastures on your way to the 14-81 for a Jacks Burger, consider that each pound of beef your 4.32 cattle produce requires nearly 2,500 gallons of water to produce. Each dairy cow produces 120 pounds of wet manure per day. (Feel free to weigh your own production... or take the EPA's word that it takes 20 to 40 people to produce the same amount of poop.)

And still, with all those cattle around, Northern Beef Packers couldn't turn a profit. Go figure.

13 comments

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