On Monday, Lisa Richardson, longtime executive director of South Dakota Corn which represents farmers and the corn industry, toured the Poet ethanol plant near Chancellor, southwest of Sioux Falls.
It’s about the size of the new Ringneck Energy ethanol plant in Onida that just began production this spring.
Such tours are part of her job because a good chunk of the state’s corn crop gets fed into ethanol plants. This is a big reason South Dakota’s corn growing and consuming has increased so much in the the 22 years she’s run the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
The two groups represent those who produce the corn and those who use it.
There are about 12,500 farmers who grow corn in the state, about 1,500 of them belong to the Corn Growers Association and some were on the tour Monday.
What really grabbed their attention was getting to and from the ethanol plant, which is right in some of the worst wet conditions that kept so many farmers out of so many fields in South Dakota this year.
This was the record year for “prevented plant acres” nationwide, with farmers saying they couldn’t get the crop in on 19.4 million acres, the most since the USDA’s Farm Service Agency began reporting them in 2007. This represents a full 17.5 million acres more than U.S. farmers reported last year, USDA reported on Aug. 12.
But nobody had more prevented plant acres than South Dakota farmers.
They reported 3.86 million acres as prevented planting.
That means South Dakota farmers accounted for 20 percent of the nation’s prevented-plant acres.
And in a strange mathematical coincidence, the 3.86 million acres too wet and flooded for farmers to plant also adds up to about 20 percent of the state’s total acres in crops, year in and year out.
Corn was the big loser: 2.85 million acres that the state’s farmers intended to grow corn ended up declared “prevented planting,” USDA says.
Prevented planting of soybeans was reported on 850,864 acres; for wheat, the number is 126,403.
Minnesota had 1.17 million acres of prevent-plant, nearly all of it, just short of a million acres, for corn.
North Dakota had 830,650 prevented planting acres; 574,197 of them involving corn not being planted.
The prevented planting program qualifies farmers for payments through the crop insurance program.
The worst of it in South Dakota was the southeast section of the state, Richardson said.
She drove by some of it on Monday.
“Nothing but weeds growing.” she said. “We still have ditches full of water.”
This year looks to be a huge setback in South Dakota’s corn production.
In the past 30 years, the state’s corn acres increased by about 80 percent from about 3.5 million acres to 6.2 million in 2013, largely because of the ethanol industry.
This year, in March, the state’s farmers told federal surveyors they intended to put 6 million acres of corn in the ground, a significant increase from 2018.
But the snows, rains and flooding across the key corn-growing area in the east part of the state mean that by June 28, the count was 4.8 million acres of corn planted, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.
It’s not clear how much of the decrease involves prevented planting of corn, because some acres were planted to other crops; and the March figures were simply farmers’ projections.
Still this is an historic decline in corn acres, Richardson said.
“We have never seen a weather pattern like this,” Richardson said. “It was incredibly wet last fall and we struggled to get the harvest out. We are incredibly wet right now.”
State climatologists said that, like many areas of the country, much of South Dakota saw its wettest 12 month period from last fall through this summer.
The effects still are sitting on the ground to see, Richardson said as she traveled across the southeast part of the state on Monday
“We still have water up to the top of ditches,” she said. “Fields are full of weeds.”
But the fields are still too wet for farmers to run sprayers across them to kill the weeds. Much less put in a cover crop to protect the soil, Richardson said.
“One farmer today said, ‘We are having 100-year floods every other year.’ The weather pattern appears quite dramatic.”
Trent Kubik lives north of Winner and farms with his family in Lyman, Tripp and Gregory counties, including a beef cow/calf operation that feeds the calves up to toward market weights. His no-till farming relies on spraying chemicals for weed control.
Having livestock to feed gives more options when a crop doesn’t turn out right: it can be used as pasture for cattle or the crop can be baled or cut for feed for livestock, instead of grain for cash, he said.
“Many of us around here hadn’t used prevent-plant before,” he said. His farm reported prevented planting on about 10 percent of the crop acres, which this year were corn and alfalfa.
“We didn’t grow soybeans this year.”
Although beans can be an option when conditions aren’t good to get corn in because beans can be planted later, that didn’t work this year, Kubik said.
“We didn’t get in even with soybeans,” he said of the wet conditions.
Now he and his family are figuring what to do with the acres that didn’t get seeded. “The biggest concern is weed control,” he said on Monday. “The plan at this point is to kind of move to a fast-growing grazing crop, like sorghum, a crop for the cows. But we had an inch of rain last night so we had to push it off again.”.
Kubik said the prevented-plant payments “are a bare-minimum.”
“By the time we pay our rent, and spraying and putting in cover crop, we’ve used up the prevent-plant check,” he said.
But his region has been spared the worst of the wet weather, he said.
In the eastern part of the state, it’s more critical, Richardson said.
“Our biggest concern is the soil health of the land, in getting it ready for next year,” Richardson said.
Soil and crop scientists say that farm land needs something biological going on in the dirt to stay healthy, she said.
“Farmers need something growing on it. But they just have not been able to get out there.” ‘’
Dan Ahlers, a former state legislator from Dell Rapids, has filed a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment. Ahlers seeks to create a commission that will establish legislative districts, rather than the legislature doing its own districting.
“My reason for petitioning this constitutional amendment comes from my personal experiences as a legislator,” said Ahlers. “Over the years, my legislative colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, have expressed concerns over some of the district lines. As I am out campaigning, constituents have questioned why someone from Dell Rapids (which is on the north end of Minnehaha County) represents the southeast side of Sioux Falls. In some cases, these lines have been drawn to protect legislators, on both sides, from primaries and to secure their seat in the legislature. This practice is not limited to South Dakota. Redistricting and gerrymandering has been in the national spotlight for some time.”
“Redistricting by a commission takes the politics out of it,” Ahlers said. “A non-partisan redistricting commission ensures the district lines are drawn fairly and represent the communities they serve. The reason this comes as a constitutional amendment is the power to redistrict is delegated and defined within the state constitution. In order for this process to change, the constitution needs to be changed.”
Ahlers petition is entitled, “An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution providing for state legislative redistricting by a commission.”
“I filed a little more than 60 days ago,” said Ahlers, “though it’s something, as a former legislator, I’ve been thinking about for some time.”
A state Attorney General’s explanation for a proposed constitutional amendment has also been filed with the Secretary of State.
“I’ve seen some crazy lines, and heard complaints from representatives and senators,” said Ahlers. “You put legislators in a precarious position, representing different groups, like rural and urban voters. The main reason for doing this is to have districts that better represent the public. Better lines draw for a better make-up of South Dakota.”
The explanation by the Attorney General must be on the petition that will be circulated by the sponsor of the proposed amendment (Ahlers).
If Ahlers gets enough signatures by November, the proposed amendment may then be placed on the ballot for the November 2020 general election. The validity of the signatures to make the necessary total on the petition would be certified by the Secretary of State.
“To be placed on the 2020 ballot, a Constitutional Amendment petition will need 33,921 valid signatures — 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election. Those petitions and signatures must be turned in by Nov. 4, 2019, no later than 5 p.m.,” said Tim Bormann, Office of Attorney General chief of staff.
“We are working with strictly volunteers,” said Ahlers. “Once we get the language back from the Attorney General, we get to work. All the volunteers and I will get the petitions out.”
“I don’t think it’s meant to be easy,” said Ahlers. “You have to get quite a few more names to petition to change the constitution. And, the time is now limited. I like a challenge. Good things don’t come easy.”
“When I was first elected to the legislature, my district was all rural. District 25 was northern Minnehaha, McCook and Hanson County. These demographics are important because of the rural and agricultural link to the people you represent,” said Ahlers.
“Today, District 25 is northern Minnehaha and the southeast side of Sioux Falls,” he continued. “The needs of the people you represent can be very different, and legislation in Pierre can sometimes pit the rural and urban needs against one another. There was a case in a Sioux Falls district in which a candidate ran under one affiliation (which gave this candidate an advantage based on voter registration) and upon being elected switched parties. After the census, their residence was carved out and put into another District that was more favorable to their current party affiliation. This practice would not only be prohibited, but impossible with this constitutional amendment.”
Bormann also supplied the following information.
According to South Dakota Statutes 2-1-1.2 and 2-1-10, those circulating petitions are required to provide each person who signs the petition a form containing the title and explanation of the initiated measure as prepared by the attorney general.
As for individual circulators of the petition, each initiative petition contains a mandatory circulator affidavit. The circulator is required to sign these affidavits before a public notary and send these statements to the Secretary of State. They must swear to and sign a statement, under penalty of law, that they personally witnessed every act of signing the petition.
The statement from the individual circulator must also contain the following information:
Their driver licensing state of issue, and its expiration date
The state in which the circulator is registered to vote
The length of time at the circulator’s current residence, and the addresses of his or her two previous residences
A sworn statement indicating the petition circulator’s intention to stay in the state following the petition effort
Other information to prove residency, such as a library card or utility bill
whether or not the circulator pays in-state tuition at any college or university, and
information about whether or not the circulator “obtains any resident hunting or resident fishing license of any kind.”
Once circulation is completed, the signatures are submitted to the South Dakota Secretary of State.
“The information we have on our website is all the contact information we have at this time,” Bormann said.
“Dan Ahlers is the individual who submitted the text of the measure to the Legislative Research Council and the Attorney General’s office,” said Christine Lehrkamp, state election coordinator, office of the South Dakota Secretary of State. “You can view the potential 2020 ballot questions and documents at https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/upcoming-elections/general-information/2020-ballot-questions.aspx.”
Ahlers said his contact information is 605-940-3071 and email@example.com.
The Pierre City Commission declared an emergency Tuesday at the request of Utilities Director Brad Palmer who says a new sinkhole found Monday in Griffin Park will require hiring outside help quickly to fix the old, faulty sanitary sewer mainline before winter.
The new work could cost $650,000, he told the Capital Journal.
Palmer briefed the Commission, saying that after five weeks of city crews working with local and out-of-state contractors to fix flaws found in the 24-inch clay sewer mainline lying 12 feet under Griffin Park, it seemed the job was done on Friday.
The site of the initial sinkhole which first appeared on a walking path on about July 12 and a site later found by inter-sewer-pipe camera work at a manhole 600 feet “upstream,” at the corner of Missouri Avenue and Ree Street were the scene of much construction ever since.
Smaller-diameter PVC pipe replaced the 60-year old three-foot sections of 24-inch clay pipe. The old clay pipe sections were losing their “integrity” in a year of high levels of ground water pushed higher by high levels in the Missouri River. The increased river flow was caused by above-normal releases from Oahe Dam necessitated by the second-largest runoff in the Upper Missouri Basin in 130 years.
The ground was buttoned up, the hose-and-pumps bypass system was turned off and as of Friday, Aug. 23, the repaired sewer pipe began again taking two-thirds of the city’s sewage for the first time in natural “gravity flow,” since the repairs began July 18, Palmer said.
But Monday morning dawned with a new little sinkhole forming just a few feet from where all the heavy equipment had been parked working on the big sinkhole first seen in the park on about July 12 by passersby.
Palmer said he didn’t know why it happened, exactly.
“We had run cameras through the sewer line . . . and everything looked good,” he told the Commission. His best theory is that the continued high ground water and high river releases have made the soil so unstable it doesn’t support the sewer pipe.
“They call them ‘flowing sands,’” he told the Capital Journal about the nature of the earth below Pierre by the river. When the soils get as saturated as they are this summer, “there’s no structural support” for the sewer pipe, he said. It’s as if lengths of sewer pipe mainline 8 feet beneath the surface of the ground are lying in water, he said. It leads to the old clay pipe sections leaking in groundwater. “The pipe collapses,” he said.
Similar problems developed in 2011 after the historic and devastating flood, he said.
The plan since mid-July was to do a quick fix for now before winter and then go in and do a permanent fix next year, Palmer has said.
But now it’s an emergency requiring a permanent fix this year, he told the Commission, because the bypass system of hoses lying on top of the ground with portable pumps can’t be used in the winter. The emergency declaration will allow the city to use funds that hadn’t been budgeted for sewer work.
The work done the past five weeks on the sewer pipe in Griffin Park using mostly city crews has cost perhaps $100,000 to $150,000, Palmer told the Capital Journal.
It’s been an extreme year, with 160 percent of normal precipitation for Pierre so far this year and in the larger picture, the second-largest runoff into the Upper Missouri River since the 1800s, in the words of the emergency declaration he persuaded the City Commission to approve. He made a late amendment, asking the Commission to add after one of the the “Whereases,” that the needed sewer pipe fix is a matter of “public health and welfare and safety.”
The best answer, Palmer said, is hiring Burns & McDonnell, a “ full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm, based in Kansas City,” according to its website.
They are experts who know how to get such a project done, and can find the right contractors who can fit this project into their schedule in time for the city of Pierre to have sewer service this winter, according to Palmer.
The plan now is to replace a 600-foot length of the mainline, from the corner of Missouri and Ree to the site of the original sinkhole in Griffin Park with 24-inch PVC.
He’s already talked with Burns & McDonnell engineers because for two months the firm has been the consultant on a sewer-lining project on smaller pipes uphill across town.
“We are going to work with them and do a complete fix,” he says of the 600-foot area, which handles two-thirds of the city’s sewage on its last run to the wastewater treatment plant to the east along the river.
It will mean redoing some of the work already done under the site of the original sinkhole, where smaller pipe was inserted inside the faulty clay pipe as a temporary fix. But Palmer said the sewer pipe upstream from the repaired manhole area at the intersection of Missouri and Ree has been repaired in previous years and should be OK.
An interesting local connection to the new plan: Working out of the Denver office of Burns & McDonnell as the ramrod on this project will be Brian Knadle, a graduate of Riggs High in Pierre, Palmer told the Capital Journal.
He knows Knadle to be a good engineer, he said.
Burns & McDonnell will be charged with getting all the construction contractors needed to get the job done in time, maybe Octoberish, Palmer said. That will allow city workers to get back to some of the previously scheduled work projects that had to be paused for five weeks, he said.
The Commission voted 5-0 for the emergency declaration.
“We have no choice,” Commissioner Jamie Huizenga said. “We can’t be running that bypass in January when it’s 10 below.”
Asphalt resurfacing work on highways 1804 and 204 near Pierre will start Wednesday, Sept. 4, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
The start and end points of the project are from the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 north on South Dakota Highway 1804 (just north of the Criminal Justice Center in Pierre) to one mile north of the Hughes/Sully County line (approximately two miles north of the Spring Creek turnoff), and also across the Oahe Dam on South Dakota Highway 204.
The contractor — Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg, Minnesota — will first mill off one inch of the existing surface. Then, weather permitting, asphalt resurfacing will begin Sept. 12.
This is a $4.8 million project.
“In loose numbers, it’s 14 miles of road work on 1804,” said Dean Vandewiele, SD DOT. He said the exact miles are 14.6 on Hwy. 1804, and 2.1 on Hwy. 204, thus a total of 16.7 miles. “It’s going to be pretty quick, in a good way. I don’t think folks are going to see a grind, a continuous slow process. Be careful, but things should go pretty smooth,” said Vandewiele.
During the project time, traffic will be guided through the work zones by flaggers and a pilot car. Motorists can expect delays and will need to plan accordingly. It is anticipated that the majority of work will be done, and normal traffic restored, by Oct. 15. The overall completion date is set for Nov. 1.
Two men and a woman were killed and two small boys injured in a head-on crash just west of Sioux Falls on Saturday in which one of the vehicles caught on fire, according to Highway Patrol spokesman Tony Mangan in Pierre who released their names on Tuesday.
Alyssa Skogen, 39, was driving a 2005 Pontiac Vibe — a compact hatchback wagon — east on state Highway 42 between 466th Avenue and 467th Avenue about 12:55 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24 when the Vibe crossed the center line of the two-lane highway, Mangan said in a news release.
The Vibe collided with a westbound 1994 Ford F150 pickup truck driven by Fredrico San Miguel, 44.
The pickup caught fire shortly after the crash.
Skogen and San Miguel and his passenger, David Keiffer, 57, died at the scene.
Two boys, 10 and 5, riding in the Vibe were taken to a Sioux Falls hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Mangan said.
The three in the Vibe were wearing seat belts. Whether the men in the pickup were wearing seat belts is under investigation.
All five people were from Sioux Falls.
That part of Highway 42, just a half mile from city limits where turns into West 12th Street in the city, was closed for a time after the crash.