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Families Feeding Families promotes livestock production

YANKTON, S.D. — Josh and Deanna Johnson completed a 2,400-head swine nursery near Volin, S.D., last summer, but not without pushback from the Yankton County Planning and Zoning Commission and county residents.

Deanna Johnson says that is why it is imperative they share their story. The Johnsons, along with several other Yankton County farmers, helped form Families Feeding Families to bring awareness about the impact family farms have on the region. It also is a response to the opposition over several proposed swine operations in Yankton County.

"I don't think people realize that agriculture or family farms is a small business and they don't give them the permission or allow them to grow," Deanna Johnson says.

Families Feeding Families shared the story of the importance of livestock production at a recent agvocacy event in Yankton. The event included a free evening meal, speaker, auction and dance. The focus was to bridge the gap between farmers and the community about agriculture and dispel the myths about the negatives regarding livestock expansion.

Money raised will be used to sponsor community and school educational events to raise awareness of modern, best practices used by family farms to protect the environment and produce more with a smaller carbon footprint.

At the event, the Johnsons talked how their swine operation adds value to area grain. Josh Johnson says, "Right now, a lot of the corn or even soybeans, it leaves the county. It gets combined, it might hit a local elevator for a little while and goes in someone's bin and then it all gets shipped off. If we can feed it here then the money stays here Instead of paying somebody over here we're paying people in our community. They'll be more jobs." He says that also adds to the tax base of the county, which benefits everyone.

Ag United President Richard Vasgaard says Yankton County isn't alone in its struggle to expand livestock numbers. He says 30 years ago, farmers were in the majority and ran most of the county commissions, but that isn't the case anymore.

"We're the minority," Vasgaard says. "A lot of times the municipalities have the numbers if we have a vote on an initiative for something, so it gets tougher and tougher."

However, he says growing livestock numbers represents a huge opportunity for rural communities in South Dakota.

"We need economic development in our counties and this is a way for us to that is to bring livestock in, because we already grow the feed and there's no sense in shipping it to another state and have them do it," Vasgaard adds. "We could just as well do it here."

Speaker Trent Loos has been advocating for agriculture for 20 plus years through speaking events and his radio program. He says the early attacks on animal agriculture came from activists that claimed meat, milk and eggs were nutritionally bad for consumers. However, he says those myths were shattered through sound research. Now most of the multi-pronged attacks on livestock have shifted to environmental concerns. He says those claims are false.

"We would not have a healthy environment without animal agriculture," Loos says. "When we confine animals, we have the opportunity to manage the manure which is not a waste." He says manure is reapplied to the land and contributes to soil health and increased productivity.

Loos says farmers need to share that positive story about agriculture with consumers. "I would challenge the farmers to have more conversations with people who have been misled," he says. He says farmers need to have more events where they have a chance to sit down with community members and talk about things they agree on and those they don't, because in the end, they usually find out their goals are very similar. "Quit saying 'us versus them' because at the end of the day, we all really care about one thing. We care about making our communities stronger, we care about making it a better place for our next generation to raise their family," he says.