South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday issued an executive order merging the departments of agriculture and natural resources. The order becomes official in 90 days.
The move had been expected ever since Noem named Sec if Environment and Natural Resources Hunter Roberts as Acting Sec of Agriculture. The merger order names Roberts as the cabinet secretary for the new department.
Noem says with the change, the state is “fostering sustainable agriculture and conservation that we can pass on to our kids and grandkids,” while simplifying life for ag producers with a “one-stop shop” in state government.
She says it will also save taxpayers money by streamlining the state’s regulatory bodies, eliminating redundancies, and creating a better customer service experience.
The influential South Dakota Farm Bureau praised the move, but other farmers organizations that focus on conservation are concerned it will reduce the protection of resources including water, oil and soil.
Some lawmakers are working on a bill to make Ag Secretary an elected position instead of appointed, and the South Dakota Farmers Union, the state’s largest ag organization, supports the idea.
President Doug Sombke says that with agriculture providing over $30-billion dollars a year to the state’s gross domestic product, it’s important that it receive strong leadership at the state level.
Sombke says claims that merging the DENR with the Ag Dept will save a lot of money are overblown – estimating a maximum of $400,000 in savings including eliminating positions that are already vacant. He calls it “all smoke and mirrors” by the governor.
South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President Eric Jennings says his group is waiting for more in-depth data from the state on savings before taking sides – adding that they asked for the information months ago and are still walking.