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Renville County commissioners extend contract until year's end for feedlot rules

OLIVIA -- Renville County will continue to contract with its Soil, Water and Conservation District office for feedlot enforcement services for the remaining six months of the year.

The County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to a six-month extension to a contract that had expired June 30.

The commissioners at their meeting Tuesday voted 4-1 in favor of the extension, with member John Stahl voting no.

He had offered a motion to approve a one-year contract.

By their action, the commissioners postponed a decision until next year's budget discussions are under way on whether to continue contracting for the feedlot enforcement services or to return the responsibility to the county's environment and community development office.

Director Mark Erickson said his office has a staff person able to take on the responsibility again, as well as the technology needed for the duties.

Discussions at the meeting Tuesday indicated that there was the possibility of saving money by transferring the duties back to the in-house department. However, the motion to extend the contract with the Soil, Water and Conservation District achieved the same result by reducing the six-month contract by the same percentage as other county departments were cut this year.

Erickson estimates the contract will cost $12,180 for the remaining six months.

Soil, Water and Conservation Districts are legal subdivisions in Minnesota, governed by elected supervisors. Districts provide technical assistance to landowners and operators in soil and water conservation and assistance in obtaining funding for improvements.

Discussions at Tuesday's meeting in Renville County ultimately raised the far thornier question of whether the county should continue an active feedlot enforcement effort, or soften its approach. In discussions at the meeting's end, Commissioner LaMont Jacobson, of Sacred Heart, said he has heard complaints from feedlot operators.

The commissioners said the county initially agreed to contract with the conservation district for feedlot enforcement five or six years ago to save the loss of a position in that office due to budget issues. Eliminating the contract today would still cause the loss of a position in the district office, board members and staff told the commissioners.

They argued for continuing the program based on the benefits they said it is providing both the county and producers. Since the Soil, Water and Conservation District took over the responsibility, more feedlot operations are being inspected and more improvements are being made to bring feedlots into compliance, according to the conservation district board members and staff.

Feedlot inspector Tom Kalahar said an active enforcement effort assures that feedlot operators remain in compliance and cannot be penalized or shut down by state or federal enforcement agencies.

Most importantly, the Soil, Water and Conservation District staff and board members said they are in an ideal position to work with feedlot operators and obtain grant funding to cover 75 percent of the costs for any improvements.

Jeffrey Kjorness, district conservationist with the National Resources Conservation Service office for Region 6, said his office has seen funding provided to Renville County feedlot operators jump from roughly $50,000 a year to $200,000 and $300,000 a year since the Soil, Water and Conservation District office took on feedlot enforcement duties.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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