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Study outlines ag business opportunities in Davison County

The rural, outlying areas of Davison County would be some of the best choices for an animal feeding operation or an industrial ag business, according to a recent state-funded study.

The study, done by Planning and Development District III in Yankton and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, used GIS mapping software and identified which properties in the county would be suited for projects such as a large-scale hog operation or a grain shuttle loading facility.

Paul Kostboth, director of ag development for the Department of Agriculture, said even though the ag projects are critical to South Dakota’s economy, the location of those projects is even more important.

“Just because these projects are so vital doesn’t mean that it makes sense in every county or every community,” Kostboth said.

The study was funded by the South Dakota Value Added Agricultural Subfund, which was created in 1999 by former Gov. Bill Janklow and has the sole purpose of funding feasibility studies on value-added ag projects. The findings of the report were presented to the Davison County Commission earlier this week. Commission Chairman John Claggett said the county wants to be proactive in understanding where it would have chances to add ag businesses.

“You don’t know what you have to work with until you have something like this,” he said.

When it comes to concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, the southern and western parts of the county finished well in the study, in part because of three-phase electricity infrastructure in the county. In addition, those townships have a strong network of paved county roads and are spread out enough to meet setback requirements from other homes. The software used automatically ruled out parcels in the county that were less than 40 acres and would be within 1 mile from existing residences or 2 miles from Mitchell, Mount Vernon or Ethan.

Baker Township led Davison County townships with 10 potential sites for a CAFO facility, followed by eight sites in Blendon Township and four apiece in Tobin and Union townships.

Eight sites were identified for industrial ag development and they were all in Badger Township in the north-central part of the county. Those sites are at least within one-half of a mile of a hard road and within 1 mile of rail.

One of the major detractors for sites in most of the county, according to the study, is the shallow water aquifer that is below the surface. A shallow aquifer was defined as being within 50 feet of the ground in the report. But Harry Redman, the GIS coordinator with District III who helped conduct the study, said the study does not rule out development along the county’s rail lines. He said not every ag development project would impact water aquifers, such as a grain shuttle loading facility or even existing animal facilities that have no impact on aquifers.

Claggett hinted at his desire to see a project such as a grain shuttle loader facility in Davison County, especially if it would make use of the increased rail traffic in the state.

“We should certainly be trying to make use of every opportunity we have,” Claggett said.

The exact sites that would work for ag projects in the county will remain confidential to protect the landowners of those properties. But those who own the properties will receive a letter from the state identifying their status as a potential ag development site. Kostboth said a dialogue with those property owners could be started to see if those people are interested.

Mitchell Area Development Corp. Regional Development Director David Lambert said he’s gotten calls recently about opportunities for a CAFO facility in the county, but said now is a period of concern.

“We’re in a political environment right now where we have individuals who are against any sort of ag development or concentrated animal feeding operation,” Lambert said. “That doesn’t bode well right now for a lot of positive discussion. Hopefully that will all blow over and we’ll all be able to move forward in a positive manner.”