Farmers Union opposes merger of DENR, Department of Ag

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Merging two important agencies into one is a bad idea, according to the South Dakota Farmers Union.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wants to merge the state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture into a new agency called the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR)

Noem’s proposed merger would take effect on July 1 if the Legislature does not act.

The Farmers Union supports Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901 which would prevent the proposed merger if it was passed in the Legislature.

“For one thing, I haven’t heard a lot of good arguments on why the (two agencies) should merge,” Farmers Union member Hank Wonnenberg said of why he opposes the proposed merger.

Wonnenberg works as an appraiser in banking and also operates a livestock and grain farm with his dad and brother near Gregory.

Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry with hunting and related activities not far behind, Wonnenberg said. Why would you merge agency that handle two such important industries in the state, he said.

Supporters like Noem and the South Dakota Farm Bureau said the merger would create efficiencies.

Farm Bureau Scott VanderWal said in a Jan. 22 KELOLAND.com Original story that “To have those people working in one department would create some synergies to where they would consider both sides all the time.”

Wonnenberg said he assumes job cuts is one efficiency referred to by supporters. The state should not lose those good paying jobs, he said. And will job losses impact the a new agency’s ability to do work? he said.

“An industry creating $32.5 billion dollars annually to our economy deserves its stand-alone department ensuring our family farmers and ranchers remain a priority to the great state of South Dakota,” South Dakota Farmers Union president Doug Sombke said in a March 5 news release.

Wonnenberg said a merged agency could favor larger or corporate farm operations over smaller and family operations. Larger operations could figure out how to maneuver through that type of process in their favor, Wonnenberg said.

Now, the DENR and Department of Ag work together but also serve as a check and balance on each other, Wonnenberg said.

Under a merged system, one area could be favored over another, he said.

VanderWal said in the Jan. 22 story that the missions of both agencies would still be fulfilled under the merged agency.

Wonnenberg said he contacted his local legislators several months ago who responded at that time.

He contacted legislators yesterday and as of this morning they have not responded with any thoughts about the proposed merger, Wonnenberg said.

Wonnenberg said the proposed merger needs at least discussion at the state level. The resolution should allow for that now.

The Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901 passed from committee to the full Senate for discussion.

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