A University of Nebraska-Lincoln study looked at the benefits for counties when they are named “livestock friendly.”
The study surveyed 21 counties that won the designation between 2002 and 2012. One of the study’s authors, UNL Professor Dave Aiken, says cattle operations fared the best.
“Increases in cattle numbers were greater in the designated livestock friendly counties that were studied,” Aiken says. “During the time period, we had an overall decrease in swine numbers but the decrease was slower in the livestock friendly counties.”
Aiken says cattle operations probably rated higher because of the perceived environmental issues associated with swine operations.
“There is a greater concern with the odor for swine than for cattle,” Aiken says, “I think that’s probably where most of the push-back is generated.”
Aiken says overall, their study shows the livestock friendly program is working well, and helping with ag development.
“It gives counties an opportunity to say, ‘We want more livestock development in our county.’ If they get the state department of ag approval, then the ag department is a helpful partner in that endeavor. They can say these are the counties where they welcome mat is out for livestock production.”
The “livestock friendly” program allows counties to ask for a designation from the state Ag Department, declaring them ready for new livestock development.
The head of a Nebraska farm group is not impressed with the study. Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen says despite what the study found, there are no tangible benefits for a county to be designated as livestock friendly.
“Our view of the study was that the counties that were looked at were already livestock-heavy counties to start with,” Hansen says. “The designation which brought really nothing to the table didn’t really have much of an influence.”
He says the livestock friendly designation doesn’t impact livestock operations.
“We have market failure in this country and that’s why we’ve lost all of these livestock operations,” Hansen says. “A livestock friendly county designation has little to do or nothing to do with whether or not livestock operations either flourish or go out of business.”
Hansen says his group opposed the livestock friendly program when it was first suggested because it takes away local control.
“When livestock friendly county was proposed in Nebraska, it included a complete gutting of all local control and planning and zoning authority was replaced with this statewide grid system,” Hansen says. “We think that to go that route is a mistake.”
Hansen says there are serious concerns and issues with how the Nebraska Department of Agriculture is administering the livestock friendly program.