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Hand County Commission votes down feedlot plan

MILLER — The Hand County Commission on May 6 voted 3-2 against the approval of a conditional use permit for a 50,000-head cattle feedlot. Northern Prime Feeders LLC has been working to build a lot on the Eagle Pass Ranch property in the Ree Heights area, between Highmore and Miller.

Earlier hearings had been held for what would have been the state’s largest feedlot. The commission meeting included no testimony, but only a vote, according to witnesses.

Commission chairman J.D. Wangsness had been in favor of the project. It was controversial because of concerns about its environmental, economic and infrastructure impact.

Owners would have been Steve Munger who lives in Brown County, and his sons A.J. and Nate. They had announced plans to build the feedlot at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January 2013.

A similar request for a smaller, adjoining 15,000-head feedlot in Hyde County, was withdrawn earlier. It would have simply put “some of the assets” of the 50,000-head lot in that county, but would not have been added to the 50,000, Munger says.

After the vote, Munger said in an interview the vote ends the project in Hand County and Hyde County, but that it might go elsewhere.

“The commission went against the wishes of the business community and voted against it,” he says. “We’ll go to another community that actually wants some economic growth.”

Candice Lockner, a neighbor and opponent, says it was over, considering that the conditional use required the project to be “compatible with surrounding properties” and the “industrial size of the proposal” wasn’t acceptable.

“I pray that this ends it,” Lockner says. She says the project failed because the estimates of truck numbers and the cost of road improvements, among other things, were “fluid.”

Driving need

Munger said in his testimony that the feedlot was driven by a need for the beef industry to produce cattle more efficiently and the need for consumers to have “more supply chain transparency,” for state cattlemen to capture more of their calf crop’s value and for corn producers to have a better crop market. He noted that South Dakota produced 1.75 million feeder cattle but feeds out only 400,000. “Our cattle are exported along with our corn,” Munger says.

The project would have allowed individuals in each pen to have a permanent identity and account. He says they expected it to be a prototype for new feedlots in the state.

The Mungers’ ranch sells 400 bulls to other ranchers in South Dakota each year, Munger says. Their 2,000 bulls in service typically produce 50,000 calves annually.

“Our ability to add value to these ranchers’ lives is very important to us,” he says. “If we can add just $50 value to each of these calves (through feeding), our customers will see their incomes increase by $2.5 million each and every year.”

He indicates the feedlot might add 10 cents a bushel to the value of corn raised in the area.