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Organic co-op surrenders grain dealer license in South Dakota

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission said Nebraska-based OPINS -- Organic Producers of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota -– operated without a license from July 1, 2019, to Nov. 8, 2021. A fine and settlement was approved by the PUC on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

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The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission granted a delay in reporting requirements for the South Dakota Hutterian Co-operative.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek file photo
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PIERRE, S.D. — A co-op of organic farmers is surrendering its grain dealer’s license in South Dakota as part of a settlement with regulators.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission said Nebraska-based OPINS — Organic Producers of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota — operated without a license from July 1, 2019, to Nov. 8, 2021.

Under South Dakota law, a grain buyer without a license can incur a fine of $1,000 for each purchase of grain, with a maximum fine of $20,000. Commission staff said there were at least 20 illegal grain purchases by OPINS.

But instead of the maximum $20,000 fine, PUC staff and OPINS negotiated a $5,000 fine plus the surrender of the license.

OPINS can’t get a new grain dealer’s license until June 1, 2023.

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Surrendering the license was something “my clients did not want to do, but that's kind of the nature of a settlement,” Ryan Cwach, attorney for OPINS, said during the Tuesday, Dec. 6, PUC meeting where the settlement agreement was approved.

Commissioners noted that surrendering the license was an unusual step.

“Very rarely does this commission ever want to put somebody out of business,” PUC Chairman Chris Nelson said, but because that was the outcome of the negotiations, he would vote to approve. The approval was unanimous.

Tuesday’s action was not the first time OPINS, based in North Bend, Nebraska, had skirted licensing requirements.

In 2020, the Nebraska Public Service Commission, issued a cease and desist order against OPINS after it let its license lapse in 2019.

A news release issued in 2010 said the first goal of the newly formed OPINS co-op was to “form partnerships between and among our processor customers and our farmer members that provide benefit to everyone involved in the organic foods business.”

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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