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LADNER: A South Dakota rancher's story

District 30 Rep. Trish Ladner.jpg

This week I’d like to introduce you to a rancher from Hermosa, located in Custer County, South Dakota.  For confidentiality purposes, we will refer to her as Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith’s family homesteaded her land in 1899, that is one hundred twenty-two years ago, the same year that South Dakota became a state. She has worked and lived on this ranch most of her life and to her knowledge, the land mentioned below has only been used as grazing land.

In early September she reached out to the Custer County Assessor’s office to outline the discrepancies in a report that she received from them regarding the designation of soils for her land from grassland to cropland. She addressed the parcels of land in question, noted the parcels that were missing from the report and provided a description of the land’s current use, and issues with the terrain.  

Below are examples of the issues she faces with the soil assessment of her property:

Parcels 280, 283, 284 and 287 are contiguous, broken by intermittent and flowing creeks, and with large numbers of cottonwood trees, so that all the fields are small. Used by my lessee as a hayfield where possible, and sometimes grazed after the hay is harvested.

Parcel # 1115, #1123 and # 9566: Acreage listed as suitable for crops is 90.52 acres of 156 total acres. Designated crop acreage is broken up by an intermittent stream leading to a dam, by a highway that has been expanded three times in my lifetime, and by rocky outcrops and areas of sand, rocky slopes, and gullies. Used as grazing land where possible.

Parcel # 1077: Acreage shown as suitable for crops is an irregular blob of 77.47 of a total of 146.03 acres, broken by a railroad, and by intermittent water holes, ridges, and rocky outcrops.

Parcel #945: Cropland shown is 57.79 acres of 146, arranged in patches between narrow, rock-covered slopes difficult for modern equipment to negotiate; used as grazing land.

Parcel # 9576: Section 32: no cropland, too rocky and sloped.

Parcel #1120, #944: Crop acreage indicated as 63.8 of 237 acres. The acreage is located in irregular patches/strips, widely separated and are not contiguous and unsuitable for crops.

Parcel #1116: Acreage indicated as suitable for crops is 4.67 acres of a total of 80; two tiny patches, separated by the entire width of the parcel.

Parcel #1114: Indicated crop acreage is 25.05 of 38 acres. The 24-acre patch lies between a railroad and a gully, and broken by fencing. The 1.5-acre patch lies alongside the railroad.

She noted that, “many of the patches of soil listed as cropland are too small, and too widely separated to be of interest or use to anyone with today’s large haying equipment. If the assessor had walked the ground, they would have seen firsthand that the parcels in question couldn’t possibly be used to crop.”

According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, South Dakota’s agricultural land is comprised of 19,000,000 acres of cropland and 23,000,000 acres of pastureland. In my opinion, with that much acreage, it would be virtually impossible for the state’s county assessors to have boots on the ground and physically walk, and test the actual soil types in order to make the appropriate adjustments to the soil classification.  

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Smith spoke to nearby landowners about using some of this land for crops or hay, but they were not interested, citing the distance they would have to transport their equipment was too great for the small return.”

Even though the Department of Revenue’s newly proposed soil reassessment and tax tables are not in place at this time, they are under review and the timeline for implementation is unclear.

Senator Castleberry, and I are pressing forward with Draft Bill HB-50, a bill that simply states, “If grassland has been grassland for 20 or more years, it shall remain grassland,” helping to ensure that our rancher’s taxes will be fair and equitable. 

Representative Trish Ladner, District 30

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