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South Dakota ag and environment departments will merge

South Dakota ag and environment departments will merge

Some farm groups support the decision, others oppose it

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Two of South Dakota’s state departments will operate under the same umbrella going forward.

The Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources will merge after a Senate resolution failed to change any votes on the topic earlier in March.

Governor Kristi Noem announced her intentions of merging the two departments in August 2020 and signed an executive order in January 2021 to form the new Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR).

“This merger will simplify life for South Dakota’s agriculture producers by creating a one-stop shop in state government,” Noem said in a January statement. “It will also save taxpayers money by streamlining the state’s regulatory bodies, eliminating redundancies, and creating a better customer service experience for all.”

Hunter Roberts, the current secretary of environment and natural resources, who is also the acting secretary of agriculture, will lead the DANR.

South Dakota will be the third state in the U.S. to merge its agriculture and natural resource departments. Alaska and Rhode Island are the other two.

State ag organizations are divided on the issue.

The South Dakota Farm Bureau, for example, supports the merger.

Combining the resources of the two departments helps the ag sector evolve and ensures thorough policy discussions, said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau.

“The agriculture industry is continually evolving, and we must also evolve and be on the leading edge of it,” he said in January. “There is no better time than now to solidify agriculture’s role in protecting our environment and natural resources while ensuring our industry in South Dakota remains economically viable and growing.

“We need the expertise and experience of those who understand production and livestock agriculture to pair that knowledge in the protection of our valuable water, land and air assets in the state.”

The South Dakota Farmers Union, however, opposes the merger.

Agriculture is the state’s number one industry and should have its own department.

“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,” Doug Sombke, president of the organization, said in a March 4 statement. has contacted other members of the South Dakota ag community for comment on the issue.

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