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State's largest agriculture organization opposes merger of departments
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State's largest agriculture organization opposes merger of departments

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The South Dakota Farmers Union, the state's largest agricultural organization, opposes Gov. Noem's proposal to merge two major state departments.

In early August, Gov. Kristi Noem announced the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would be merging to form the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR), citing overlap between the two departments and needs for streamlining.

Doug Sombke, the president of South Dakota Farmers Union, published an editorial Friday morning expressing that this merger could put the state's agriculture industry "on the losing end of a solution" when the departments' policies come into conflict. He also noted that, as the state's No. 1 industry, he believes agriculture deserves a dedicated state department and resources.

"The current missions of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stand independent of one another," Sombke wrote. "Because of this, these departments serve as a valuable check and balance system for one another."

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South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation members voted in support of the merger during their annual convention in November, and is the only other agricultural organization to comment on the combining departments so far.

However, South Dakota Farmers Union isn't the first to express distaste for the merger, as both farmers and environmentalist groups have cited concerns about potential conflicting interests between the two departments in the merger as reported by the Argus Leader in September.

"Our organization isn’t saying the current departments are perfect or that they cannot improve," Sombke wrote. "We believe the South Dakota Department of Agriculture should focus even more resources on helping producers find new markets and expand existing markets for the quality products we produce in South Dakota. We are doubtful Department of Environment and Natural Resources engineers have the expertise to expand agriculture markets for South Dakota producers."

South Dakota Farmers Union has 19,000 members, most of whom are farmers and ranchers. The organization advocates for farmers and rural communities through legislation efforts, education and leadership development programs.

Gov. Noem plans to make an executive order during the first days of the upcoming legislative session to combine the SDDA and DENR, which will become official 90 days thereafter. However, a formalized budget for the new department will not be implemented until July 1.

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