With more money for research facilities, roads and better internet service, lawmakers in North Dakota and South Dakota have put significant funding into projects that benefit agriculture during their 2021 sessions.
The South Dakota Legislature adjourned in March. The North Dakota Legislature was still in session last week. Both states were poised to make large investments in infrastructure, ag programs and capital projects related to agriculture.
South Dakota invests in infrastructure
The South Dakota Legislature passed a historic $5.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year during the 2021 session with major one-time funding for many projects that will benefit agriculture. The massive amount of one-time spending was thanks to federal COVID-19 relief money and previous savings.
“The state is going to provide us $3 million and the Department of Transportations thought they could come up with the other $3 million. So, we have a partnership with the extra dollars and DOT to provide the funding for it," he said.
Farmers in some areas of the state have been watching the deterioration of rural roads and bridges for many years and townships and counties rarely have the money to maintain, let alone fix those deficiencies. Especially in areas that were flooded in the last few years, there have been roads and bridges closed because those structures were condemned. These closures have forced many farmers to travel many extra miles just to get to their fields to do field work and get their product to market.
“I know our country and some of the countries around us have a lot of the old stone arch culverts they're called, built back in the 1930s and they’re getting to be in very bad shape," Vasgaard said. "There's a lot of them around that need to be replaced. We've got some bridges that are condemned that need to be replaced, so hopefully this will help bring our infrastructure more up to date and help us move our products to the market.”
State fair facility: Several agriculture projects received funding, including the $20 million Dakota Events CompleX (DEX) at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron. This building was needed after the Beef Complex burned down. Vasgaard said with agriculture in the minority in the Legislature, it was tough for other lawmakers to understand the importance of the facility, but Noem made a big push for the facility funding.
“Those of us that go to the State Fair or have events there, we certainly see the need and the opportunity that can be expanded because a facility like that will attract many other projects to the fairgrounds. I know the National Junior Rodeo Finals were there for a couple of years but because of the rain they decided not to come back. Now we’ll have an indoor facility which weather will not impact that,” he said.
Vasgaard thinks it will be a great benefit to the fair and the state. It is scheduled to be completed by fair time in 2022.
Bioproducts building: House Bill 1210 was passed and signed by the governor and makes an appropriation to the Board of Regents to provide grant funding for a a $20 million Bioproducts Facility at the Research Park in Brookings.
“They will be looking at some of the byproducts that come from our crops, whether its corn or soybeans, and try to find new uses for them, such as plastics or adhesives," Vasgaard said. "So, this will be an opportunity for us to get a higher value for the crops we produce.”
State corn and soybean checkoff dollars will also be used to support the project.
Dairy research farm: Legislators also passed House Bill 1153 which authorizes the Board of Regents to contract for the design and construction of a new $15 million dairy research and Extension farm on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings. This would modernize the existing facility and incorporate new technology such as robotic milking and computerized feeding.
Vasgaard said that will provide a unique opportunity for dairy students to learn at the facility and some will be able to be employed at the unit and get some hands-on experience. Marv Post, South Dakota Dairy Producers Association president, said the current facility was in dire need of updates and they are excited about the new project. A study conducted in 2017 helped determine what was needed for research in the dairy industry and what would be most beneficial for students to train them for careers in dairy.
“Now there’s $7.5 million of general fund dollars that can be used for the building and construction of a new dairy and we’ll come along side it with another $7.5 million of industry dollars and be able to build a state of the art dairy production facility,” he said.
He said the unit will feature both a robotic and a conventional parlor system so research can be conducted on both and students can be trained in both environments.
"We’re excited about it and hope to get the building plans drawn up and dirt moving,” he says.
North Dakota prioritizes research
Tuesday, April 27, was a big day for agriculture funding in North Dakota, with both the North Dakota State University Extension budget and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture budget passing through the Senate and House. Those were on top of a number of other ag projects and programs funded through the session.
The original budget for NDSU Extension included big cuts. But things changed.
“As things played out and we realized our revenue numbers are going to be better than we thought, and then there’s a lot of federal money we’ve been able to use to supplant general fund money with,” explained Sen. Terry Wanzek, a central North Dakota farmer who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
By the time the Extension budget passed on April 27, not only had the cuts gone away, but the budget also included a number of capital improvements to be done, along with another list of of projects that could be funded if the state’s budget allows or if COVID-19 funding comes through to help.
"We had a good budget," said Greg Lardy, vice president for agricultural affairs at NDSU. "It was good to see support for our programs."
Lardy said the capital investments are important, as are a number of programs approved in the budget. Those include a livestock initiative to boost research into improving North Dakota's livestock industry, funding for three data scientists and funding for a farm safety initiative that will provide more staffing in the area of farm safety.
"Even if it prevented one farm accident, fatality or injury, it would be worth it," Lardy said.
Wanzek said the projects, in the long run, will help North Dakota farmers and ranchers become more profitable through the research done in the state.
“We look at it as an investment instead of an expenditure,” he said.
During the 2019 North Dakota Legislature, NDSU received some funding for a new agricultural products development center to replace the aging Harris Hall at the school. The proposed center would house both university programs and the Northern Crops Institute. House Bill 1431, signed April 21 by Gov. Doug Burgum, included $50 million in bonding for the project. Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, said a state-of-the-art meats lab to be included in the project has been a priority of her organization.
The bonding bill received bipartisan support and also included bonding for flood control and transportation infrastructure projects.
“This bill is a win for taxpayers and a win for current and future generations of North Dakotans who will benefit not only from having modern, safe and reliable infrastructure, but also from the economic benefits that it will bring in terms of helping to attract new businesses, jobs and talent,” Burgum said.
Lardy said the process of choosing an architecture firm for the building, which in all has received $70 million in state funding and state permission for $15 million of outside fundraising, will begin soon. He said the earliest possible groundbreaking would be spring of 2022, but a lot of planning has to happen prior to that.
Aid for ethanol: Wanzek also lauded the passage of Senate Bill 2230 and House Bill 1475. The bills provide funding and loan buy down programs for value-added agriculture projects in the state. Wanzek said SB 2230 has helped the state’s ethanol plants, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As driving decreased a year ago, pushing down fuel prices and the demand for ethanol, plants struggled.
“This program was used to help our ethanol plants in North Dakota get through that difficult time,” he said. “It allowed them to stay open when a lot of ethanol plants in other parts of the country had to shut down.”
A number of other grant programs were funded at higher levels than in the past, including Bioscience Innovation Grants, and the budget for the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission also increased.
Already approved was a provision that would provide $700,000 for the state Department of Transportation to help townships pay for a cost-share when emergency repairs receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. The cost-share often is too much for townships to afford, and the $700,000 should allow some vital projects to continue.
Wanzek said he and other rural infrastructure proponents also have pushed for the inclusion of $30 million for township roads in the budget. As of Tuesday, it appeared that some of that money would be granted to townships through funding formulas and some would be granted to non-oil-producing townships. Other potential programs were not yet decided.
“Anything we come out of here with will be more than we had when we came in,” Wanzek said.