PIERRE, S.D. — A state board on Wednesday approved a compromise plan to raise the fee for brand inspections that are designed to prevent theft of cattle and horses in western South Dakota.
The Brand Board unanimously voted to increase the current 80-cent inspection fee to 90 cents a head, a move expected to keep the brand inspection program in the black for another three years. If a legislative review committee endorses the plan, the higher fee would take effect Sept. 1.
The board had voted in March to increase the fee to $1, but the panel scrapped that plan when Gov. Dennis Daugaard urged the board to seek a compromise after livestock groups and other agricultural associations objected.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, the 10-cent increase was supported by officials of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Farmers Union and the South Dakota Livestock Marketing Association.
Larry Stearns, the board’s executive director, said the fee increase is needed to cover the rising costs of inspections. Brand inspectors are getting the same salary increases granted to other state employees, and the cost of traveling to inspection sites has risen with higher fuel prices, he said.
Kenny Fox, a Belle Fourche rancher, was the only person to testify against the increase, saying he believes it is premature. Fox said he believes the board will get more revenue this year because more cattle will be inspected as ranchers sell livestock to cope with a loss of grass caused by drought.
“There are a lot of cattle moving now at these livestock auctions and that’s due to drought,” Fox said.
The program inspects the brands on about 1.5 million head of livestock each year when cattle or horses are sold, slaughtered or moved out of the inspection area, which covers all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. Most of the inspections are at local sale barns, but some are conducted at ranches for private sales or when livestock is shipped elsewhere.
Board members said they are worried that the 10-cent increase in the inspection fee might not be sufficient to support the program if cattle are sold during the drought and sales drop after the herds are depleted. Fewer sales would result in fewer inspection fees paid.
Board member Curt Mortenson of Fort Pierre said livestock numbers could fall because grassland used to raise cattle is being plowed up to grow crops. He said another increase in the inspection fee might be needed in the future if ranchers reduce their cattle herds.
“To keep this program sound, viable and on a sound financial footing, we may have to do this again, Mortenson said.
Another board member, Wanda Blair of Vale, also said the 10-cent boost may not be enough to cover expenses for very long. Future board members may be forced to raise the fee much higher, she said.
“We’re almost setting up the next board for a heck of a fight,” Blair said.