New leader of merged ag, environment department says work will be more effective Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Although the merger of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Resources will save money, the new agency’s leader said it will still need adequate financial resources to do its job.

Hunter Roberts, the former secretary of the DENR is the new secretary of the merged Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR).

The new agency has 350 full-time employees, he said. Five full time positions were cut with the merger, Roberts said.

While state officials knew there would be cost savings with the merger the priority was, “Let’s not take away resources from our citizens and producers,” Roberts said.

How the new agency will work with the dairy industry is an example of efficiencies that have been created while still serving a growing industry, Roberts said.

“The industry is growing and expanding and we need more resources there,” Roberts said.

Before the merger, the DENR inspected the exterior of dairy operation once a year. The Department of Ag inspected the cows twice a year.

The DANR will cross train inspectors to do both so that dairies are inspected twice a year, Roberts said.

Governor Kristi Noem merged the two departments with an executive order issued in January. The order was effective this month. The Governor announced her intent in Aug. 27.

Noem cited efficiencies, cost savings and benefits for agriculture producers as some of the reasons for the merger.

“Some might say agriculture is priority. I don’t think that’s the case,” Roberts said.

The DANR still needs to enforce the rules and regulations that exist, Roberts said. Protecting the environment, including water, was not exclusive to the DENR, Roberts said.

Roberts said the former DENR’s riparian buffer strip program is one that will benefit from the merger.

The riparian buffer strip program provides incentives for landowners to establish a buffer strip near waters to improve water quality.

As part of a merger agency, “it gives a lot more validity to it,” Roberts said.

Roberts said officials from other states will be watching how South Dakota’s merged department will do.

As of yet there is no “playbook” to hand off to those states, Roberts said.

Although state officials have been discussing and thinking of the merger for several months, some of the detailed work is still happening, he said.

The merged department has existed for less than two weeks. Employees are still learning of each other’s duties and programs, Roberts said.

The buy-in from those employees has been good, he said. In general, there as been a lot of energy associated with the merger, Roberts said.

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