The Changing World of Livestock – Agweek
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Livestock producers are running their operations differently than they did a decade or two ago, and sustainability is now a goal for most of them.
What has not changed, however, is the impact that local animal production has on rural communities.
Dave Mensink, past president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association and a hog farmer in Preston, Minnesota, said rural communities in southeast Minnesota are realizing the toll that cattle farms have on local economies.
An ethanol plant with a million bushels of corn running through it provides less than five jobs, Mensink said, with the jobs being highly automated. We need those ethanol plants, he said, but livestock operations contribute more in terms of labor.
“A million bushels of corn fed to hogs produces 33 jobs,” he said. “So I mean there’s a lot of labor in our pork industry, and that’s reflected in our communities – and not just the producers like our family who own the pigs, but also the contract farmers. .”
Mensink, along with Shelly DePestel, president of the Minnesota Dairy Producers Association, and Paul Brietzke of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, spoke Wednesday, March 9, at the Agweek Farm Show, during a panel discussion titled “The Changing World of Animal Agriculture”. The panel was moderated by Michelle Rook of AgweekTV.
Livestock producers still contribute to local economies through the costs of repairing and expanding their operations, Mensink said.
“A rancher is always spending something to fix a barn – so we are always in contact and doing business with local electricians and feed companies and plumbers,” he said. “Livestock are a very complex part of our local communities.”
DePestel is the president of the Minnesota Dairy Producers Association. DePestel is also a dairy farmer, working as a partner with Daley Farm of Lewiston where she operates a farm with her four brothers, three sons, a niece and a nephew.
She said the local appreciation for southeast Minnesota dairy farmers is felt by her and her family. Like pork producers, dairy producers rely on the region’s network of professionals to get the most out of their operations.
“I saw a lot of people I do business with in the next room,” DePestel of the Agweek Farm Show said. “It’s the vendors, it’s the small town businesses that we work with on a daily basis.”
She said across the state in other small communities that have a significant livestock presence, “rural businesses and main streets are full.”
Switch to sustainability
Mensink said he expects there will be stamps on pork packages in the future confirming that the product has been raised sustainably. He said the National Pork Board had hired a separate company to carry out its sustainability study and producers had submitted detailed information about their operation.
“How many gallons of water per site, how many kilowatts of electricity per site, and how many gallons of manure – and on how many acres do you apply it?” he said. “What we’re trying to do is accumulate that data and the end result here would be to demonstrate to this consumer that we’re sustainable.”
Mensink said he hoped to avoid new sustainability regulations.
“Maybe we just need to prove to this consumer that we’re doing the right thing by increasing our product,” he said.
DePestel said when it comes to sustainability, the Southeast Minnesota dairy industry is keeping up with the times.
“Dairy products have the potential to have a zero or sub-zero carbon footprint,” she said.
Over the next two to three decades, DePestel said she expects state-enacted sustainability regulations to be applied to dairy operations.
“I see these as opportunities to do the right thing for the environment. The right thing for the animals, the right thing for the land and the water,” DePestel said. “Sustainability is something that’s not going away. It’s something we can contribute to, and so I think it’s valuable.”
Paul Brietzke worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for 14 years. He is based in the Rochester Regional Office where he is responsible for nutritious manure management.
From a regulator’s perspective, Brietzke said the MPCA constantly hears from consumers and community members, whether positive or negative about the industry.
“Now understanding agriculture from personal experience over the years, I think we would all agree, and that’s outside the purview of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is that the general public has a very limited understanding of agriculture,” he said. .
For producers, regulatory bodies such as national pollution control agencies should be used as collaborators to meet requirements for expansion or modification of operations.
“We really want to try to communicate that to the GA, that if you talk to us, we’ll work with you. It’s a two-way street,” he said.
The next step, Brietzke said, is to consult with neighbors.
“I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve found that a surprised neighbor can be a little disappointed,” he said. “But if a farmer approaches him up front and explains what he’s planning to do, a lot of times that worry that he might have can be alleviated.”
As for the regulations, Brietzke said the majority of them “have been on the books for a while.” He said the majority of animal agriculture he has overseen during his career with the agency is aware of all the necessary requirements.
“You can tell right away where an individual farmer’s level of management is,” he said. “And the majority of the farms I have the opportunity to go to are very well managed.”
But it’s a double-edged sword, he tells farmers who have never dealt with him or a regulator before.
“If you don’t meet our requirements, I have regulatory authority,” Brietzke said. “But if you meet our requirements, and I get a complaint – which we get, we get it from neighbors and whoever it is – I will investigate it.”
Again, he said the majority of these cases end up in the operation in accordance with all requirements.
“I will call this complainant back and explain to him, these are our requirements and the farmers respect them,” he said. “They have every right to farm and do what they do.”
As for future regulations around sustainability marks, Brietzke said he had no idea what was in store. He hopes to be retired before there is a major rule update, he said with a sigh.
“Because it’s a big public process, and it turns into a huge food fight,” Brietzke said. “You have the industry, and they understand what we need, and they’re looking at any issues that they’re concerned about and rightly bringing those concerns to us.”
But producers aren’t the only ones coming to this table, he said, there are also environmentalists and local government units.
“So we have a good selection and lawyers who come to explain their position to us,” he said. “And everybody wants something – as usual – and so sometimes we feel like we’re doing a good job because we’re disappointing the majority of people, environmentalists and the agricultural industry.”
“We found the middle of the road to annoy everyone,” he said.