S.D. lawmakers want data on pesticide drift complaints

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Farming

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state official who oversees agricultural pesticides in South Dakota is promising more information about farm chemicals that drift over other fields.

Taya Runyan said she’ll get provide data to legislators who want to know about such things as how many applicators have been penalized in recent years and the amounts owed.

Some lawmakers are especially interested in dicamba, a chemical that is frequently sprayed over soybean fields and sometimes damages neighboring crops.

Runyan, director for the state Agricultural Services Division, presented some answers Thursday to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

One was a chart showing annual totals for drift cases. The line was steady at 45 to 50 per year, then spiked to 136 in 2017. There were 90 cases in 2018.

She said the state Agriculture Department has taken many steps for 2019, including setting a June 30 cut-off for using dicamba.

Legislators considered dicamba-related measures in 2018 and 2019.

“Neither of those pieces of legislation passed,” Runyan said. “Ultimately, for a variety of reasons, we did oppose both of those bills.”

The Senate’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee killed a bill in the 2019 session that would have required a commercial applicator to show at least $300,000 of surety bond or $100,000 of liability insurance before getting a license.

SB 147 also would have required the state secretary of agriculture to cancel the license of an applicator who couldn’t provide proof of the coverage.

One of the those testifying against the bill was Tom Gere, who is Runyan’s deputy director.

Senator Art Rusch, a Vermillion Republican, was its prime sponsor. The lead sponsor in the House was Representative Nancy Rasmussen, a Hurley Republican. They spoke in favor.

But the committee defeated it 5-4. Senator Gary Cammack, a Union Center Republican and the committee’s chairman, cast the decisive vote.

Rusch, a retired circuit judge, brought his arguments to the GOAC meeting Thursday by telephone. Also on the phone was Senator Justin Cronin, a Gettysburg Republican whose family is heavily involved in agriculture.

Rusch wanted tighter restrictions. Cronin wanted more time beyond the June 30 deadline.

“We planted four days on our farm. That’s it,” Cronin said about the wet conditions this spring.

Runyan said it’s not a possibility to go beyond June 30.

Replied Cronin: “I think that’s very interesting. We’re going to have a lot of late crops planted this year in South Dakota.” He said it needs to be revisited “sooner rather than later.”

Gere said there are other pesticides that can be used on soybeans after June 30.

Rusch wanted to know amounts of civil penalties. “I do not have a total amount,” Runyan answered. She also said she didn’t know how many were assessed penalties.

She said “general ballpark” had been about 25 percent of the time. “There’s a wide range of possible violations that could occur,” she said.

Runyan compared a violation to speeding, with someone caught driving 100 miles per hour over the posted limit drawing a harsh punishment, versus someone caught driving one mph over.

Another witness Thursday was Glenn Pulse, a Vermillion farmer and former law enforcement officer.

Pulse said he suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damaged crops from dicamba that was improperly applied. He said the pilot was fined $350.

State law allows penalties up to $5,000 per incident, as well as suspension or revocation of the applicator’s license.

Runyan said her duties on pesticide drift are regulatory. She said circuit courts are the place for arguments about possible damage.

Directly under the names of Runyan and Gere on the department’s website are these statements:

“The Division of Agricultural Services develops policy and legislation to ensure agricultural commodities will be eligible for export from South Dakota.

  • “Protects environmental and public health by effective enforcement of statutes and rules.
  • :Protects South Dakota producers and consumers of agricultural products from unsafe actions, product misrepresentation, and unfair trade practices.”

Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat, asked for “one solution” that came from a meeting the department hosted in April about pesticide drift.

Dani Hanson, a policy advisor for the department, said one of the things that became clear was the classes hosted by South Dakota State University Extension needed to get applicators the correct information to mitigate risk of drift. Hanson said Secretary Kim Vanneman would work with SDSU.

Wismer asked how many applicators have been penalized more than once. Gere said, “Occasionally we see them, but not very often.” He added, “A commercial applicator, maybe one a year, tops.”

Runyan acknowledged her office doesn’t have specific data compiled on repeat offenders. “We can certainly gather that for you,” she said.

Pulse, the Vermillion farmer, said he agreed with changes the department made since 2017. But he said bee kills weren’t being reported as federal regulations require and information was outdated on the department’s website.

He agreed collecting insurance would be burdensome but suggested a box should be added to the license form so the applicant could state there was insurance coverage at the time the form was filled out. He called for “continuous and rigorous oversight” by legislators

“What is my right against chemical trespass?” Pulse asked. “I have a right to be in business. They have a right to be in business.”

Gere said the division has seven inspectors spread across South Dakota. Wismer said the 2019 legislative analysis of the department’s budget request showed 374 inspections and 87 investigations in 2018.

Runyan said she didn’t think any applicator had a license revoked during the two years she’s been division director. “But I could be wrong about that,” she said.

Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked whether bee kills should be a performance measure for the department. Peterson also asked that inspections and investigations be counted and reported to the committee.

You can read the division’s two-page report to the committee at


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