Soil Tax Reassessments: a dirty debacle for South Dakota’s ranchers
NewsCenter1's Darsha Nelson brings us an inside look at new legislation designed to correct land classification issues affecting West River ranchers
BUFFALO GAP, S.D. — On a chilly afternoon in January, I climbed into the back of Randy Schroth’s pickup with James Halverson, State Rep. Trish Ladner (R.-Dist. 30), and State Senator Jessica Castleberry (R.-Dist. 35), and began the bumpy trip across Randy’s ranch.
Randy, whose family has owned their 10,000 acre ranch near Buffalo Gap for generations, offered to show us sections of his property affected by South Dakota’s proposed soil reassessment.
As we made the steep climb up, James, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, turned to Randy and jokingly asked, “How are you expected to get a combine up here?”
As the light outside faded, I asked Randy why that land – which the state reclassified as cropland – can’t be farmed.
“A lot of [those] rocks are eight-to-10-foot around and even accessibility…you can’t even get a tractor into that country,” Randy says. “A lot of it is timber; there’s just no way to even get equipment up there, let alone getting more production out of that.”
Randy is one of nearly 5,000 West River ranchers facing substantially inflated tax bills from the South Dakota Department of Revenue’s reclassification of grasslands to croplands. Ladner says ranchers are facing up to a 300% increase in taxes with the new soil reassessment.
The reclassification was done by satellite in 2016; with 43 million acres of agricultural land in the state, an assessor’s ability to walk the land and make individual adjustments is what Randy says is near impossible.
Ladner and Castleberry are on a joint mission to introduce a bill which is designed to give ranchers like Randy another option to change these reclassifications back and balance their share of the tax.
“This land has never been farmed; it’s never going to be farmed,” Rep. Ladner says. “Their land would be taxed at a different rate; grassland is taxed for Fall River County at $1.82 an acre for extremely great grassland, where cropland is assessed at $8 and…I believe…75-cents an acre, so the difference in taxes is extreme for the rancher who is growing cattle.”
Ladner says these inequities are taxing ranchers off their land, making it impossible to pass down through generations, and putting South Dakota’s number one industry at risk.
“It’s been said [if] our farms and ranches die, the whole country dies,” says Bill Kluck, a rancher in Meade County and former Stockgrowers Association President. “Without a good ag economy, South Dakota has nothing.”
As I left the Buffalo Gap Community Center, a rancher stopped to offer his thoughts. “Don’t forget about us,” he said, before climbing in his truck and driving off into the inky black winter’s night.
South Dakota’s 2022 legislative session begins on January 11.