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New swine unit faces opposition, illustrates growth in SD pork industry

VOLIN, S.D. — A new 2,400-head swine facility built by Johnson Farms LLC near Volin was the first unit to be built amidst public push back to livestock development in Yankton County.

Lewis Johnson and his son Josh originally sought a permit for a finishing facility, but settled on a nursery. "This is something my Dad and I decided to do last year," Josh says. "We were going to do a finisher and then after the opposition, we decided to do a nursery because it was easier to get through and get started and it's cheaper."

Josh has been farming since 2002 when he got out of the military. He says he built this barn for the sixth generation on his farm. "I've got two boys growing up that are three years old and six months. I want them to have an opportunity to, if they want to stay on the farm, to be able to do so," he says.

His father Lewis says the farm dates back to 1874. "This is the home place, my grandpa was born on this place," he says. He too wants to preserve that heritage, but also wants to leave a legacy for his grandchildren. "My son is going to be managing the unit and basically we're doing it so when his kids get older, and the rest of my grandchildren get older, they can work in there and learn what it is to actually work," Lewis says.

The Johnson's project is indicative of the growth and expansion going on in the pork industry in South Dakota and the region. They see it as a way to add value to their grain, instead of shipping it somewhere else to get fed, and it provides economic development to the area. "This new facility is a nursery. We take isowean pigs and we raise them up to 55 pounds," Lewis says.

Josh Johnson says they will get new pigs six to seven times a year. "We'll be feeding our own corn instead of shipping it out to Hudson or to wherever else." They're hoping the lawsuits against the Yankton County Commission can get settled and other swine units will be approved so they go together and get a feed mill in the area.

Josh is one of many young producers getting into the swine business. South Dakota Pork Producers Council Vice President and Centerville pork producer Craig Andersen says part of it is the enhanced marketing opportunities with the new Seaboard Triumph pork processing plant in Sioux City, Iowa and the expansion of the Smithfield Foods facility in Sioux Falls.

Andersen says the other factor is that the next generation of farmers are looking for a way to get into the business, and putting up a swine barn offers that opportunity. "It's a cheaper way for them to get involved with the farm. You can't go out and buy 10,000 dollar an acre ground right out of college," he says.

With the opposition the Johnsons faced to the project, they decided to have an open house to show the public how modern the facility is. "People don't quite understand what the new buildings are like," Josh says. "They're thinking about stuff from the 70s and a lot of it has changed quite a bit. Just the management of the manure is a lot different. The way the barn operates there's a lot more automation and warnings."

Josh says they also had experts on hand to talk about how their operation is strictly regulated by the state and how they are producing livestock responsibly and environmentally. "You have to have a manure management plan. You have to have your acres set aside that you have manure on. And then we will do soil testing all the time so that we make sure we never get too much manure in one spot," he says.

Father Lewis says he hopes that the public will look at states like Iowa and the success they've had with livestock production and realize it can be a good thing for the area. "It is super economic development. Where else can they (Yankton County) get this kind of investment and not have to buy it? It's great. The tax revenue base goes up and if you pay any attention at all, you go to Iowa or Minnesota; you cross the line and the roads get better," Lewis says.

He says some of the push back is because people hate change, but he is embracing it. "I've listened to people say that's not the way my grandpa did it. Well he went broke and there was a reason for it," Lewis says.

He says livestock growth is one of the few ways for rural areas to continue to provide a future for farmers, especially when grain prices are unprofitable.

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