Agtegra, the huge new farm co-operative, wants to land crop spraying planes on Hughes County roads, a company representative told the County Commission on April 1.
On Monday, April 15, the Commission was handed a resolution drafted by County Manager Kevin Hipple that would grant Agtegra “permission to use Hughes County roads for operations, take off, or landing aircraft so long as Agtegra assumes all liability for such operations, holds Hughes County harmless for any loss associated with Agtegra’s use of county roads, gets permission from Hughes County in advance for the specific roadways to be used, carries sufficient liability insurance and names Hughes County as an additional insured on their insurance coverage.”
The draft resolution continues on for another three pages spelling out conditions for Agtegra to follow.
Agtegra made national news when it began operating Feb. 1, 2018, based in Aberdeen, as the merger of two big long-time ag cooperatives into a really big one which has about 900 employees and 6,700 members and facilities in 60 communities, mostly east of the Missouri River and north of Interstate 90 in South Dakota, with a few in North Dakota.
The co-op has grain elevators and merchants and fertilizer plants and farm supplies and an army of agronomists, all aimed at giving farmers an edge in growing bigger and better crops. Including a squadron, or wing, of airplanes which put weed and bug killers and fertilizer and other nutrients on crops from the air when time is tight and fields might be too wet for tractors.
Agtegra has eight spray planes flying out of six locations: Harrold, Highmore, Webster, Huron, Clark and, added just recently, the airport at Mitchell, according to the company’s website.
Adding the Mitchell airport will provide services, such as spraying “nutrients, fungicides” and other products on farmers’ fields along the Interstate 90 corridor, said Craig Bair, Agtegra’s aerial operations manager, in the news release.
On April 1, Brodie Glanzer, one of Blair’s employees, was in Pierre and asked the Hughes County Commission if it would consider allowing the co-op’s spray planes to land on county roads near fields being sprayed, to be re-filled by a tanker truck. It could save miles of flying to the nearest airport and allow Agtegra to save its customers a few bucks per acre in spraying pesticides or nutrients on crops, Glanzer said.
The Agtegra aerial spraying crew would flag the road to keep traffic away and it would take only a few minutes to circle to make sure the coast was clear, touch down, load up and take off, Glanzer said.
He said the co-op does it in other counties in the state.
The first co-op’s first choice is using a small, nearby airport, but in some cases, being able to land and take off from low-traffic paved roads near crop fields could save time, fuel and farmers some money, Glanzer said.
County commissioners had lots of questions, including who would be liable if a rocky road led to a rocky landing.
“I’m all for saving our ag guys money,” Commissioner Randy Vance told Glanzer, with a smile. “But I don’t know if we are saving the ag guys money or are we saving you money?”
On Monday, April 15, Hipple told the Commission that Fort Pierre attorney Randy Seiler had approved the draft document.
No one from Agtegra was at Monday’s meeting.
“Agtegra has not reviewed it and asked if we could push it back to the next meeting,” Hipple said.
But Commissioner Norm Weaver said such a delay, even to study the new document drafted by Hipple, likely would waste everyone’s time.
He was against the idea in general and more details wouldn’t change his mind, Weaver said, in effect.
Vance said he, too, was not open to allowing airplanes to land on county roads.
Others chimed in with similar, short but dismissive declarations, saying the idea sounded too risky for the county.
“I move to deny the request,” Vance said. He got a quick second and a 5-0 vote to kill the idea.
Vance then, with an apologetic tone, thanked Hipple for spending so much time drafting the resolution filled with detailed restrictions only to see the Commission quickly deep-six it.