$86 million Hamlin County dairy proposed on land owned by governor’s brothers

October 5, 2023

Joshua Haiar

HAZEL — An $86 million, 12,500-cow dairy project is proposed on 250 acres currently owned by Gov. Kristi Noem’s brothers in northeastern South Dakota, and it faces opposition from some local residents.

The brothers plan to sell the land to the company proposing the dairy. One of Noem’s two brothers, Rock Arnold, spoke at a public information meeting Tuesday evening at the Hazel firehouse. He said the dairy’s demand for cattle feed would increase local grain prices, which would be good for farmers.

“They are a rural, farm-family owned and operated business,” Arnold said of the project’s backers. “They have small-town values. They want to be a member and partner in our community.”

He added that small communities like Hazel — which has about 100 residents — have seen their populations decline and businesses close in recent decades, and the dairy would bring new jobs and more tax revenue.

But the project has critics. A petition is circulating against the project in Hazel. It has about 30 signatures so far, one opponent said.

One concern is about the higher grain prices that Rock Arnold touted. An attendee asked how his small cattle operation would benefit from higher feed costs and greater competition for feed. That comment garnered applause.

Concerns from the community also include new traffic and its impact on roads, the company’s request to waive the county’s mandatory 3-mile setback from the town, and the 160 million gallons of water required for the project, which would come from a new well or the local rural water supplier.

“How is this going to impact our environment?” asked Vanessa Namken. “And will there be an environmental impact study?”

The company behind the Brantford Dairy project, Riverview LLP, already operates five dairies in the state and one feedlot. The new project is proposed at a location two miles south of town.

Riverview’s Cassidy Watzke spoke at the meeting. She said the state is not requiring an environmental impact study. She added that the company prioritizes being a good neighbor and takes environmental concerns seriously.

Watzke said the project would need the equivalent of over 10,000 acres’ worth of local hay and grain for feed, and manure from the dairy would be available for fertilizer on local fields, making the project a win-win.

Watzke said the company will mitigate odor by covering the stored manure – rather than leaving it in an uncovered pit – and having fans moving air through the facility.

“It is a livestock facility, and odors are tied into livestock facilities,” Watzke said. While pointing to a model of the odor the project would emit, she said, “As you can see, the odor is pretty much over the dairy itself.”

Once operational, Watzke said the project would provide 45 jobs each making between $50,000 and $90,000 per year.

“We do actively recruit in the United States and Mexico,” she said.

Win Noem, the mayor of Bryant and the uncle of First Gentleman Bryon Noem, also spoke in favor of the project. He said Bryant’s tax revenue has doubled since the Riverview Dairy near Bryant was constructed.

Gov. Noem has said publicly, “My dad always told me, ‘Never sell the land, Kristi. God’s not making any more of it.’” She was referencing her late father, Ron Arnold, who died in a 1994 farm accident.

Rock Arnold told South Dakota Searchlight that Ron Arnold also cared about ensuring local communities thrive and farmers receive a good price for their grain.

“She made that comment way before she knew about this proposed dairy,” Arnold said. “If my dad were alive today — and a lot of people in this room knew him and knew that he was a forward thinker, knew that he wanted to do what’s best for the community — I think he’d be 100% on board with this.”

Gov. Noem’s mother, Corrine Arnold, agreed. She told South Dakota Searchlight that she gave her blessing after “the boys talked to me first.”

Rock Arnold said Gov. Noem does not have any ownership in the land targeted for the dairy.

The dairy will need permits from the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Hamlin County Board of Adjustment. The project is applying for a Governor’s Office of Economic Development program that would refund up to $4.5 million of the sales and use taxes spent to build the project.