Group plans push for expanded livestock sector in ND

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ENGLEVALE, N.D. — As soybeans and corn have increased as crops of choice for North Dakota farmers, Craig Jarolimek said driving through the state feels a little bit like driving through Iowa.

"If you didn't know where you were, you'd think you were in Iowa," Jarolimek told a crowd at a tour at the new Ransom Multiplier gilt production facility near Englevale on Oct. 12. "All we're missing is the livestock."

Jarolimek is the chair of the newly formed North Dakota Livestock Alliance, a group that hopes to propel the development of more livestock production in the state. The group began as a concept about 18 months ago, he explained.

The alliance consists of the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, North Dakota Soybean Council, North Dakota Pork Council, North Dakota Farmers Union, Midwest Dairy Association and North Dakota Ethanol Council, as well as advisors from North Dakota State University and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

North Dakota lags the surrounding states in many classes of livestock, including pork and dairy.

Minnesota, for instance, is the seventh largest milk producer in the U.S. and South Dakota is No. 20, compared to North Dakota's 35th place ranking, according to the Midwest Dairy Association. North Dakota has only 90 licensed dairies, compared to 3,470 in Minnesota and 255 in South Dakota.

Pork production in the state has a similar story. Minnesota has the third highest dollars of production in the pork industry, with more than $2.1 billion in production, according to the Pork Checkoff. South Dakota ranks 11th, with more than $413 million, and Montana is at 23rd with more than $59 million in production. North Dakota, meanwhile, is at 26th, with more than $48 million in production.

The Livestock Alliance has no representation from the beef cattle industry, though Jarolimek hopes that may change. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, North Dakota is 10th in the nation in beef cattle sales with $900 million, compared to South Dakota at third with $2.2 billion in sales and Montana at sixth with $1.5 billion.

North Dakota farmers, Jarolimek explained to the crowd at the hog barn, are at a disadvantage to farmers in states with more developed animal agriculture. In those states, corn, soybean meal and dried distillers grains have ready markets in the livestock barns right down the road. North Dakota farmers, in contrast, pay more in basis to get their crops to market and have fewer markets to explore, he said.

"They're capturing the value of that commodity that is being raised on the fields around us and keeping that value at home rather than sending it on the rail down to someone else to capture that value," he said.

More animal agriculture is needed to add value to crop production here, he said. But there are other things livestock agriculture brings to communities. Existing livestock producers could see more support in the way of veterinary care and feed processing if their numbers were to grow. And communities could see more people moving in, helping churches and schools and other community institutions grow and thrive, Jarolimek speculated.

How the North Dakota Livestock Alliance will help grow the industry remains to be seen.

"We're still in the development stage," he said.

The alliance recently hired Amber Boeshans to serve as executive director. Boeshans previously worked as a livestock development specialist with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and has experience as a herd manager and dairy insurance specialist.

Boeshans said the position is an "absolute dream" and "couldn't have been more perfect." The response to the new group has been "overwhelmingly positive," and she's excited to get to work. Her position, the only staff position the group has budgeted for, is housed by the Midwest Dairy Association, and she is contracted to work as the Livestock Alliance executive director.

The first steps for Boeshans are basic ones: setting up a website, establishing a logo and starting some dialogue with other agriculture groups, communities and landowners about the value of animal agriculture to the state of North Dakota.

What the alliance will not be is another agriculture group lobbying for law changes. Jarolimek said members believe the existing framework in state law for permitting livestock operations works well, and they want to spur growth within that framework.

"You will not see us in Bismarck," he said.

However, the group might be spotted in communities across the state, working to spread "science and knowledge" about agriculture in order to "manage fear and emotion," Jarolimek explained. The alliance plans to work with communities to see whether livestock projects will be good fits.

The group also wants to be involved in consumer outreach, explaining more about where the meat on their plate originates.

"It comes from farms such as this," he said, motioning to the under-construction hog barn.