News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary By Larry Gabriel Are we sleeping?

Sleepy little hamlets may be viewed as wonderful things back East, but in South Dakota we like our people to be awake, aware and involved.

It took 90 of these columns for one of them to generate significant debate, but it finally happened when the "Are you among the contented?" column prompted reaction on the Web and in the news media.

The debate centers around our attempt to build South Dakota's dairy herd to a sustainable level and the opposition's attempt to ban everything labeled a "CAFO" (concentrated animal feeding operation).

My column referred to a letter posted on an opposition Web site related to dairy development in Brookings County. The letter was written by a local woman to a potential foreign purchaser who wanted to build a dairy in the same township where the woman lives.

I found her opposition to every "CAFO" in the region to be not open minded. Unfortunately, due to an error by one of my staff, a number was used instead of the term "CAFO" and we referred to it as opposition to every 200-cow dairy. That was not correct.

What constitutes a CAFO depends on whose definition you use. Herd size is an overly simplistic criterion. It's meaning changes depending on whether the discussion is in a local zoning context or a state or federal water protection context.

In Brookings County zoning rules, every dairy which meets the "confinement" criteria is a "CAFO" regardless of herd size. The rules place CAFOs in four classes and as few as 72 dairy cows with a mere "potential water pollution hazard" can trigger a permit requirement.

Under the federal and state definitions, a dairy with fewer that 700 head of cows is a CAFO only if there is some discharge from the site. A 200-cow dairy with some discharge is a "medium CAFO", but any size dairy can be a CAFO. The laws are more complicated than that but that's the gist of it.

The Web sites of some organized corporate opponents use the terms "CAFO" and "factory farm" interchangeably.

I must apologize to this woman for not using her precise term when she said she opposes every "CAFO" in the region, but I have no idea where the limits of her opposition begin and end. Almost every dairy farm is a CAFO to Brookings County officials. Every dairy farm can be a CAFO under the right circumstances. All of them with more than 700 dairy cows are "large CAFOs" under state and federal definitions even if the discharge is zero.

This is a great opportunity for people to get to the heart of the issue: we need more cows to support our processing plants and keep that industry alive.

Our dairy promotion effort encourages new dairy development of all herd sizes. We don't promote a particular farm size, but some people do. Whatever your view, I applaud you for being awake and involved.

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