VIDEO: Ag environment issues top S.D. summit

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- Environmentally-sustainable farm production and policies dominated topics at the Annual South Dakota Governor's Ag Summit. About 250 people attended the two-day conference in person, and more online. The event included tours to...

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey speaks about his state's agricultural environmental successes and about the possible impact of a lawsuit that would make townships in the state financially responsible for extra costs of treatment to take nitrates out of water to make it safe for drinking in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Mikkel Pates, Agweek.

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Environmentally-sustainable farm production and policies dominated topics at the Annual South Dakota Governor’s Ag Summit.

About 250 people attended the two-day conference in person, and more online. The event included tours to area dairies, vineyards and facilities at South Dakota State University, including electronic commodities trading laboratory and dairy processing teaching facility.

Agriculture contributes $25.6 billion to the state’s economy and employs about 115,000 South Dakotans.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said concerns of the public for natural resources and the size of animal agriculture enterprises will continue, but livestock production, ag processing and clean water and air can all co-exist.

Livestock good “We want production, we want economic activity,” Daugaard said. “South Dakota is an agriculture state. If we want our economy to be strong we need to support agriculture. As Agriculture adapts to more efficiencies and scales of economy, we need to acknowledge that is the way production agriculture can best serve the consumer for the lowest cost. At the same time, we need to make sure that those large-scale facilities give a nod to, and attention to, air and water quality, and they can and do.”


Daugaard touted the state’s effort to identify counties that are welcoming and promoting of livestock production and processing.

Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, talked about efforts in Iowa to help farmers voluntarily become more environmentally friendly, and discussed a lawsuit filed by the city of Des Moines that seeks to get compensation from several agricultural counties for the extra nitrogen treatment needed to make city water safe to drink.

Voluntary first

Northey prefers voluntary conservation programs, which are improving with cost-share programs and precision agriculture, as well as with improved tools such as cover crops, bioreactors and saturated buffers. “These are tools that weren’t there 10 years ago, and weren’t in a way in which can apply it on our farms,” Northey said.

He predicts that advocates will continue to foment for more regulations and legal actions. At least for now, in Iowa, the process is voluntary, he said. If the lawsuit is successful, it is difficult to say what a judge might impose, whether that could be a regulatory process or limits on tile drainage.

“I think the lawsuit has a heavy lift to be successful,” Northey said, noting some of the township targets are 100 miles from the city and their farms could theoretically supply only a small part of the nitrogen pollution.  

Northey said one-size-fits-all solutions, including the Minnesota buffer mandates, will have less success than targeted programs. He noted, for example, while buffers seem like an answer to keep nitrates out of waterways, more water goes through the soil profile and enters waterways via drain tile, which goes underneath the buffers.

Daugaard thinks it’s possible that similar legal challenges might appear in South Dakota because “citizens everywhere - in agriculture or outside of it - all want clean air and water.”


Initially, U.S. attentions on clean air and water was on point sources - factories or facilities. “In the ag world, much pollution - to the extent that ag contributes - is non-point,” Daugaard says.

Good stories A South Dakota producer panel for the conference included John Moes, a Florence, S.D., beef feedlot operator with a concentrated animal feeding operation. He described how his feedlot has leveraged Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share money. NRCS-administered Environmental Quality Incentive Program money helped to move 45,000 yards of dirt in a month to create holding ponds in outside lots. The system protects the environment, but also improves cattle comfort.

Other panelists were Louie Nigg, of Peever, S.D., who talked about how his operation shifted into more lucrative corn and soybeans during higher price times, and now is shifting back to greater crop diversification.

Mark Rilling, of Pierre, S.D., talked about how he’d cut water irrigation on his vegetable production by installing sub-surface drip irrigation, about a foot under the surface of his 50-acre production.

Moes said agriculture has done an inadequate job to get the story out about its efforts in the environment. “We don’t get the good story out to people.”

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