I don't spend much time arguing about climate change here—on Keystone XL, for instance, I can think of numerous reasons the tar sands pipeline will be bad for South Dakota (eminent domain, higher gasoline prices, bogus job numbers, ongoing pollution threat) before I even get to the acceleration of our need to lash our pontoon boats together at Harney Peak and sprout Kevin Costner gills.

But for those of you concerned about greenhouse gases, I happen upon a paper by SDSU dairy professor Alvaro Garcia that contends that today's beef and dairy cattle may not be producing more carbon dioxide and methane than North America's pre-colonial buffalo herd.

Methane emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern beef and dairy herds

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Carbon dioxide emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern dairy herd

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Note that one only finds our modern domesticated ruminants underfarting the mighty tatanka if one assumes the upper-end buffalo population estimate.

Dr. Garcia further contends that the corn our modern herds eat sequesters more carbon dioxide than the grasses old-time buffalo and cattle ate. He also contends that producing more milk per cow uses inputs more efficiently and results in less greenhouse gas output.

In other words, the mega-dairies Mike Rounds promoted with EB-5 visa investment are fighting climate change.

For what it's worth, the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is one of dozens of publications of the American Research Institute for Policy Development. It promises review of submitted papers in two weeks or less and publication within another two weeks, for a fee of $220. Four weeks is crazy-fast turnaround time for real research review and publication. University of Colorado Denver research librarian Jeffrey Beall questions ARIPD's credentials and includes ARIPD on his list of suspected predatory academic publishers. Beall found the peer review report issued for another ARIPD submission appallingly inadequate. ARIPD's address—40 Monticello St., Monticello, NY 12701—appears to be a residential apartment building.

So the journal publishing this information could be as shady as the information our Senator-Elect peddles. Read carefully!


Sometimes I wonder if South Dakotans are so desperate for economic development that they'll sacrifice anything—clean air, clean water, decent roads, decent wages—to get it.

And sometimes, some South Dakotans surprise me by drawing the line. Out in Hand County last week, in the heart of cattle country, the county commission voted down a conditional-use permit for a 50,000-head feedlot.

50,000 head of cattle. There are only 3,388 people in Hand County. That's a lot more poop and smell and wear on the roads hauling those cattle in and out. Neighbor Candice Lockner says good riddance:

Candice Lockner, a neighbor and opponent, says she thinks the issue was over, considering that the conditional use required the project to be “compatible with surrounding properties” and that the “industrial size of the proposal” wasn’t acceptable.

“I pray that this ends it,” Lockner says, adding that she thinks the project failed because the estimates of truck numbers and the cost of road improvements, among other things, were “fluid” [Mikkel Pates, "SD County Votes Down 50,000-Head Feedlot," AgWeek, 2014.05.06].

Northern Prime Feeders organizers Steve Munger and sons A.J. and Nate aren't giving up on their plan, which they announced in January 2013. Dad Steve says they'll just take their business elsewhere:

“We’ll go to another community that actually wants some economic growth,” Munger said [Pates, 2014.05.06].

Maybe they can head up to Brown County, which is surely looking for some sort of replacement for the never-realized economic impact of the bankrupt Northern Beef Packers. A.J. Munger should know all about that: he was Northern Beef Packers' Director of New Business Development, Pricing, and Marketing. The Mungers' Eagle Pass Ranch appears to have had a marketing deal with NBP before it went under.


The Displaced Plainsman is right: Larry Rhoden's new TV ad for his U.S. Senate campaign is a bunch of bull:

Larry, get real. Liberals aren't out to destroy anyone's way of life. Big spenders may be, but they are the corporate oligarchy to which your party is beholden and to which your cowboy act gives no evidence of any serious thought or challenge.

But let me ask this: does slapping a bumper sticker on a critter's hindquarters fall under the new animal cruelty law about which Senator Rhoden raised a false fuss before gladly attending the law-signing photo opp last month?


Via Meade County Town Hall, I find this strong television from Angus TV.

Hugh and Eleanor Ingalls of Centennial Angus, Faith, South Dakota, lost 189 head of cattle in the October blizzard. The video captures the pain of the loss, the ethos of the rancher, and the harsh yet inspiring landscape of West River.

Go to about 2:30, and you'll hear Mr. Ingalls say the hardest line of the video, describing the cattle he lost: "One bunch stayed against the fence. And they were waiting for me."


Jonathan Ellis dedicates a few inches of this morning's Sioux Falls paper to telling us that the business plan for Northern Beef Packers never made sense and never will. Mike Keller, dean of the USD business school, thinks bankruptcy auction winner White Oak Global Advisors will have trouble getting a return on its investment:

“They’ve got a real problem now,” said Mike Keller, the dean of the Beacom School of Business at the University of South Dakota. “If they can’t find a buyer who is willing to start it up and run it, then you’ve got to think that it was a bad idea from the get-go” [Jonathan Ellis, "Aberdeen Beef Plant Defies Trend, Maybe Wisdom," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.12.22].

Other experts assess NBP more harshly:

Steve Kay, publisher of the industry newsletter Cattle Buyers Weekly, said the new plant, which opened last year, didn’t make sense given trends in the beef market.

“The plant should never have been built,” Kay said. “Even five years ago, it was obvious the U.S. national cattle herd was declining and that numbers in South Dakota were not increasing” [Ellis, 2012.12.22].

Cattle market analyst Kevin Good says NBP's business plan never made sense, especially not now, when cattle numbers are the lowest they've been since 1952:

That means the U.S. has more slaughter capacity than it needs.

“We could very well see another big packing plant close its doors,” Good said.

Backers of the Northern Beef plant were “flying in the face” of those realities, Good said [Ellis, 2012.12.22].

Local officials continue to talk up the plant, but Kay says White Oak's new purchase doesn't stand a chance as a beef plant.

“I would tell (White Oak) to find some extraordinarily novel way to turn it into a cinema complex, because it doesn’t have a future as a beef processor,” Kay said.

Contrary to reports that the $115 million facility is ready for full production, Kay said the plant still needs millions of dollars of equipment, including upgrades to its refrigerator units and improvements to its wastewater treatment system [Ellis, 2012.12.22].

Kay also adds fuel to suspicions that NBP could have been a scheme to make a lot of money disappear into something other than beef production:

“I find it inconceivable that they ended up spending more than $100 million for a 1,500-a-day plant,” he said. “It was just a ghastly overrun of costs” [Ellis, 2012.12.22].

Correction, Mr. Kay: Northern Beef Packers made $152 million disappear into a now-defunct beef-packing plant.

Northern Beef Packers SWOT analysis, 2008 business plan

Northern Beef Packers SWOT analysis, 2008 business plan (click to embiggen)

A confidential business plan produced by Agrifoods Solutions International for Northern Beef Packers in 2008 looked at those risks and other wekaness and concluded, in all caps, "CLEARLY, NORTHERN BEEF PACKERS IS POISED FOR SUCCESS!" That 2008 business plan cites a "technologically advanced, mid-sized, regional packing plant in Kansas" built in 2002 as a model. But that plant, now the Creekstone Farms Premium Beef plant in Arkansas City, went bankrupt after less than a year in operation and was sold for a fraction of its $94 million start-up cost.

One would think that if the Rounds Administration had been listening to any of these experts, they never would have thrown millions of dollars from the state and many millions more from foreign EB-5 visa investors into such an unwise business plan. But maybe that was the plan all along.


South Dakota's Dairy Queen stores are once again doing good work raising money for their neighbors, and this time it has nothing to do with ice cream treats or jumping out of airplanes.

It does, however, have something to do with a blizzard, a big blizzard of the tragic-weather-phenomenon variety.


Eat a burger, $1 goes to West River ranchers! Eat two burgers, $2 goes to West River ranchers!! Eat five burgers, $5 goes to West River ranchers!!!!! ... but you probably don't feel as good about the decision to eat five burgers.

Lonnie Heier, owner of the Dairy Queen locations in Martin and Eagle Butte, has rallied his fellow restaurant honchos to sponsor Relief for Ranchers Week at locations across the state. From November 4-10, South Dakota Dairy Queens will donate $1 for every burger sold to help support West River ranchers who lost cattle in the natural disaster that swept feet of snow across the prairie at upwards of 70 mph earlier this month.

So, if you find yourself both hungry to contribute to the statewide do-good-ery of helping ranchers overcome their catastrophic loss and hungry for a good meal with your good cause, stop by your local Dairy Queen next week.

Plus, if Kristi Noem takes a quick trip from Castlewood to the nearest DQ in Watertown, she could do more to put actual money in the hands of devastated ranchers by eating one supper on the town with Bryon and the kids than she's done through her robocalls, shutdown hypocrisy, and listening tours combined.

(To be fair, there's a chance that Noem can leverage more than a burger's worth of assistance when the Farm Bill Conference Committee begins meeting today. That is, if her colleagues don't simply ignore her for voting to keep the government shut down two weeks ago and now seeking government assistance to help her constituents.)


I wander through the pasture this morning and throw together some beef potpourri (hey, there's a market expander the Beef Board should promote: bottled fragrances to bring the satisfying smell of beef to your house all day long!):

Depends on Whom You Talk To: Senator Tim Johnson says West River ranchers hit hard by this month's blizzard are mad at the federal government and are "pleading for help." Yet State Senator Larry Rhoden, who wants to take Johnson's job next year, insists, "I have yet to receive one phone call from a rancher asking about federal relief or federal assistance. They have a strong sense of independence and responsibility."

Think about it, Larry: why would anyone call you to get federal assistance? You're not in Washington; you can't help! And they know that if you go to Washington, you'll be about as useless as Rep. Kristi Noem and the House GOP.

Spock, Chekov, Slim Jims

Whom are you calling illogical, Mr. Spock? We Russians inwented hand-held beef and forced union membership!

Beef Check-Off and Right to Ranch: An eager reader suggests the Beef Council help West River ranchers by returning the beef check-off dollars it extorts by law from ranchers. A beef check-off refund wouldn't go far: the national Beef Board drew $42 million in revenue in 2012. $1.5 million came from South Dakota. Blizzard losses are estimated at $1.7 billion. So if the national Beef Board dropped all of its propaganda efforts and dedicated every check-off dollar toward West River rancher relief, it could make whole maybe two or three out of every 100 affected ranchers.

But the beef check-off gets me thinking: how does South Dakota let the beef check-off stand? We claim to be a right-to-work state. It is illegal to require employees to join unions and pay union membership fees. Yet if you want to work in ranching, you have to surrender one dollar from every critter you sell to the Beef Board. What gives?

Blizzard No Big Deal for NBP Auction? We lost an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 cattle in the October blizzard. The beef check-off numbers above suggest total sales last year of 1.5 million cattle. That means the blizzard losses constitute maybe 2% of total annual sales in South Dakota.

Will that drop in supply hurt the chances of selling and restarting the bankrupt Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen? One interested Ipswich stockgrower says nope:

Herman Schumacher, part-owner of LDL Cattle Company in Ipswich, said there is an ample supply of cattle in the region.

"It is definitely not a good situation West River, but there is still plenty of supply," he said.

Schumacher, who furnished cattle to Northern Beef Packers before it closed, said other companies are interested in buying the plant.

"I have been contacted by a few entities to see if I would furnish cattle to them," Schumacher said. "They are trying to gauge the support of cattle producers in the area" [Jeff Natalie-Lees, "Plenty of Cattle Available to Feed Northern Beef Packers," Aberdeen American News, 2013.10.22].

I don't know if we should take Schumacher's word as an accurate assessment of the market or an attempt to prime the auction crowd to bid up the plant and help his own business. An SDSU extension expert backs his claim and says beef production is moving our way. But that keeps me wondering: if South Dakota's beef supply is so strong that even the October blizzard won't impact it much, why wasn't Northern Beef Packers able to stay in business?


Speaking of piecemeal privatization being no way to run a country, Heidi Marttila-Losure scolds our Governor and our Congress for not mobilizing government resources to help West River's blizzard-devastated ranchers:

The provision in the farm bill that would have helped these ranchers expired two years ago and hasn’t been renewed. Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff that could have offered some support in this kind of disaster are on furlough. For the most part, these ranchers are now helping one another instead of getting help from anywhere else.

Maybe in other circumstances, they’d be OK with that. But my guess is that the loss of so much of their livelihood has hit them like a punch in the gut. The loss of money is bad enough. Not having an answer to the question “Where do we go from here?” is worse. That’s where the government officials could provide some comfort and direction—if they were on the job.

I’ll give you the link to the donation effort (visit www.giveblackhills.org and search “Rancher Relief Fund”), but I am angry that this is the best our state and nation can do. This is exactly the kind of farming and ranching that keeps our rural places vibrant. The fact that there’s no official monetary help from either the state or the federal government for these ranchers in this dire need is a national embarrassment [Heidi Marttile-Losure, "Livestock Losses Come to One of the Last Independent Links in Our Food Supply," Dakotafire, 2013.10.11].

You know, if those ranchers were just closer to places where people could see billboards, I'll bet the Governor could find more help....

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