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Hand County Votes Down 50,000-Head Feedlot; Connection to NBP

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.


  1. mike from iowa 2014.05.15

    Thanks Cory,I knew I had heard the Munger name somewhere before. You tied them together for me and saved my last few brain cells a world of wondering.

  2. John Tsitrian 2014.05.15

    This one's a tough call for me, Cory, mainly because the most natural pathway for economic development in South Dakota is adding value to our raw materials, including finishing cattle once they come off our abundant pastures. I fed quite a few cattle out here in western SD during the 90s and always though it was a shame that more of our calves weren't retained here in the state, where we have all the raw materials (mainly calves and feed) available right here. I believe that if we had a more extensive feedlot industry (I recall back then that something like 80% of our calves went to other states for finishing--I'm eminently correctable on this if somebody here has more current numbers) that a sizable meatpacking plant like NBP would have a realistic chance at making a go of it. As it is, millions upon millions of dollars of value are lost to South Dakota as our calves move across state lines, mainly south, to feedlots in the central Plains. Nothing against the good citizens of Hand County who have every right to determine their own economic destiny, but the result of their antagonism to a plan like this simply means that a lot of economic development will have to look elsewhere for a home.

  3. Charlie Johnson 2014.05.15

    We do need more livestock in South Dakota. We just need to "man up" to do so on a widespread and diversified basis. We don't need or want 50,000 cattle on one section of land. We need 100 cattle being finished on 500 diversified farms in South Dakota. That is closest connection we can make to efficiency of cattle feeding. Feed the cattle where the feed is!! Let the land take care of the livestock and the livestock take care of the land. There's an old axiom---"Raise everything(that includes the calf)you feed and feed everything(that includes the calf) you raise."

  4. Joe 2014.05.15

    50,000 is big, but I wouldn't be opposed to 10K. The whole argument 100 people finishing 500 is a poor argument. The problem is when people finish 500 they don't have the proper facilities and the pollution is actually worse then one of 5,000. You get above 1,000 and the EPA is involved and you can't mess around with them. Now the problem with 50,000 is that the size and material intake it takes becomes too large. There is a 100,000 head feedlot in Broken Bow that I've seen a couple times and its alright, but for numerous reasons it couldn't work in South Dakota.

  5. mike from iowa 2014.05.15

    Fed cattle for years for my ex-FIL. He'd buy feeders(many from SD) and we picked ear corn and had alfalfa field and pasyure for grazing and baling. We used corn stalks for bedding and all the waste was hauled back onto the fields in the fall. The cattle ran the stalks and bean stubble unto it was too cold and then we finished them in the lot. Never had more than 120 head at any time. Most of the fats went to National Beef in Dodge City,Kansas. Some went to Nebraska or IBP in Denison,iowa. I didn't think West River had the ag land to grow enough feed for cattle. Someone please enlighten Moi.

  6. mike from iowa 2014.05.15

    50000 head of cattle would be swimming in anti-biotics and growth hormones. Yuck!

  7. John Tsitrian 2014.05.15

    We have a 10k head lot in Pennington County, where I successfully fed cattle, Mike. Trucked corn in from the central part of the state and sent the cattle to Greeley, Lexington or Dakota City for the most part. It's still going strong. The largest (I'm pretty sure) feedlot in SD is south of Hot Springs. Fall River Feedyard--I believe it has a 50k head capacity--gets corn from NE, mainly. Been around for many years. Calves out here are generally within a stone's throw and trucking in corn has never posed much of a challenge.

  8. Jerry 2014.05.15

    To me, there is no need for a feedlot period. Cattle do not need corn to finish them, grass fed will do just fine. The ageing of the meat is what makes it special with the jacking these animals full of corn and anti-biotics a real dumb idea. Grass fed is the way to go to stop polluting the water along with the ground.

    I have disagreed with Mr. Charlie Johnson on other issues, but I think he is correct on this one.

  9. JeniW 2014.05.15

    The thing is, is that I do not think there are 500 people in SD interested in, or have the resources to "finish" cattle. So, what is the alternative?

  10. lesliengland 2014.05.15

    u mean repubs haven't eliminated local environmental (county) regulation regarding feed lots?? kochs et al where are you? cows are more important than nukes?? just being a sa. Is fall river lot that big, and what is envtl impact on cheyenne river, if any??

  11. Michael B 2014.05.15

    With land prices at a premium, all of the hay ground has gone away along with pastures.

    Most of my friends have sold their cattle and don't have to lose sleep during calving. They also can enjoy time away on vacation during the Winter months. None of them regret selling the livestock.

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.15

    I think a smaller feedlot might have worked because Hand County is cattle country and they know the reality of farm and ranch smells.

    Regarding hay, Newell is the center of alfalfa production for an area larger than SD. The land is gumbo mostly, and not all that fertile, but they irrigate from Orman Dam. That's why the high school nickname is the Irrigators. Seriously. One of the worst team nicknames ever. And one of the worst school songs ever. Seriously.

    Anyway, feed is not an issue. That being said, I do agree that grass fed is the way to go. Grass fed commands a higher price in the elite restaurants and groceries.

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.15

    BTW, excellent digging Cory. Thanks.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.05.15

    Deb, as you know, my readers do a lot of digging for me. I am deeply indebted to my eager readers. :-)

  15. mike from iowa 2014.05.16

    Trucking in corn may not be a challenge,but it has to be expensive. Irrigated land will turn white with alkali in time. As long as there is a demand for beef,there will be huge feedlots. Some of us are priced out of eating beef already. And I seem to remember several times back in the last twenty five years where SD had severe enough drought that ranchers were forced to sell cows and calves.

  16. joelie hicks 2014.05.16

    The idea that the EPA will do anything is a joke. The SDDENR has not updated their guidelines since long before tiling became the norm. As a result the SDDENR says that tiling is not man made drainage. If the EPA was worth anything it would have stepped in long ago and held the SDDENR accountable for not following through on the agreement to update guidelines every 5 years. In Minnesota the EPA looked the other way for years while the Excel dairy routinely broke the law regarding hydrogen sulfide emissions. Where are they now in southwestern Minnesota where the water and wells are a mess? I say bravo to Hand County for standing strong. The sad part is that this will now become some other county's headache. I also believe there are 500 people in SD willing to finish 100 cattle properly. What gets in their way? ED, the farm bill, the check off dollars, state and county governments and everyone else who will whore themselves out for big ag, while not making things hospitable for the small to mid size farm people.

  17. lesliengland 2014.05.19

    I missed reference to epa??

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