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Additional researched, recommended reading:


South Dakota feedlots in position to face EPA rules (December 20, 2002) iv>

June 3, 2003


By Kevin Woster, Journal Staff Writer or 605-394-8413


Rapid City Journal


Rapid City, South Dakota


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Rapid City, South Dakota - Federal farm programs encourage agricultural practices that damage the land and speed up the depopulation of rural South Dakota, state Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel said Tuesday.

During a meeting with the Black Hills Sportsmen, Gabriel said he drives past a large farming operation on former cattle ground between Pierre and his Cottonwood ranch that clearly shows the effects of wrong-headed federal policy.

"They get a million dollars in government payments," he said. "They killed the chokecherry bushes, the plum thickets, the grasses. It disgusts me that somebody gets that kind of payments and can be that kind of stewards of land they're entrusted with."

The long-term impact of the current farm bill will be fewer-but-larger farms and ranches, and the eventual loss of more small towns as young people move away for better opportunities, he said.

Gabriel, a rancher in western Haakon County, said the local school system is in a financial crunch because of declining student numbers. Like other districts, Haakon County is facing revenue shortfalls and a possible decision on whether to vote out of a state property-tax limit in order to maintain rural schools and programs.

Gabriel doubts voters will approve the tax increase, likely to be about 50 percent. He said the issue of maintaining and rebuilding schools might become moot across much of rural South Dakota if the young people continue to leave at the current rate.

"The student population in Philip is down 40 percent in less than 10 years," he said. "We need students. And I don't know where we're going to get them."

All areas of a community are affected, he said. A recent $3 million improvement project at the Philip hospital might eventually seem like a waste of money, Gabriel said.

"Haakon County has lost 17 percent of its population in 10 years. If we continue to see that kind of decline, who's going to be in the hospital?" he said.

Farm programs themselves don't cause the problems but accelerate them by encouraging large-scale farming that plows up grasslands and hayfields, and displaces traditional farm and ranch families to produce crops that are subsidized by federal money, Gabriel said.

Even conservation programs can work against the well- being of rural South Dakota, he said. Although the federal Conservation Reserve Program has returned millions of acres of fragile cropland back to grass and put money in farm pockets, Gabriel believes it has done more harm than good to rural America.

Because CRP land isn't farmed, grazed or hayed except in emergencies, it doesn't benefit implement dealers or elevator businesses, he said. It ties up land that might be used by young farmers and results in higher land values, making it harder for farmers to pay their taxes or expand, he said.

Ken Schroeder, president of the Black Hills Sportsmen, said he appreciated Gabriel's concerns but believed strongly in the CRP program and its benefits to wildlife, hunting and soil protection.

"I hold the CRP program dear. This program saved soil that would have blown away or washed away," he said.

Gabriel said he understood sportsmen love CRP but argued that farm programs should encourage crop and livestock production that is suited to the land and the rural economy. Programs such as CRP should be targeted to provide wildlife and conservation benefits without having such negative effects on farmers and ranchers hoping to get started or expand, he said.

Provisions in CRP protecting wetlands through payments to landowners already do that well, Gabriel said.

State agriculture secretaries from across the nation are trying to reshape agricultural policy to give states more control in shaping programs to meet local agricultural needs. So far, their efforts to lobby Congress have failed, Gabriel said.

At the state level, he is trying to encourage innovative livestock operations - including increased dairy farming - to provide more jobs in rural areas and more reasons for young people to live here and raise their own families.

The benefits of keeping more people on the land go far beyond small towns, Gabriel said. It's good for urban hunters because farm and ranch families are more likely than large corporations, conservation groups or wealthy landowners such as Ted Turner to allow hunting, he said.

Schroeder agreed.

"Anybody who farms 100,000 acres isn't going to have any time for me. He's going to say 'go away,'" Schroeder said.

Copyright 2003, Rapid City Journal


Additional researched, recommended reading:


South Dakota feedlots in position to face EPA rules (December 20, 2002)