I have stated publicly that North Dakota needs more livestock (Agweek, April 12, 2016), and I will continue to go on record supporting that position.
When one compares to our neighboring states, the lack of livestock activity is apparent. While the livestock industry accounts for approximately 42, 44 and 40 percent of the gross agricultural receipts in Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota, respectively, in North Dakota it only accounts for 14 percent of gross agricultural receipts. In North Dakota, livestock sales account for $1.1 billion in receipts while livestock accounts for $7.1 billion, $1.6 billion, and $3.6 billion in receipts in Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota, respectively.
Clearly, there is room in North Dakota for more livestock. Our agricultural systems and rural communities would ultimately benefit from a greater emphasis on livestock production. More livestock production would mean better prices for feed grains and more jobs in rural communities. For example, a 5,000-sow hog farm will employ approximately 20 people, have an annual payroll well over $800,000, and purchase over $1.5 million in feedstuffs. Those employees shop locally. Their kids attend local schools. And the dollars turn in local economies, meaning more opportunities for Main Street businesses. More livestock means more nutrients for crop production. And contrary to public perception, manure generated by livestock operations is a valuable resource, and one that, when properly managed, provides an array of benefits to the soil and to the crops grown on that land.
Does livestock development need to be managed in a responsible way? The answer to that question is, "Absolutely! Without question." Does North Dakota have appropriate mechanisms in place to evaluate proposed projects and to regulate existing and newly approved projects? Again, the answer to that question is "Yes." The North Dakota Department of Health's Division of Water Quality has a team of highly qualified professionals dedicated to protecting the natural resources we all enjoy. Each project is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with care taken to ensure construction and manure application plans meet all applicable standards.
The North Dakota State University Department of Animal Sciences has a history of supporting responsible livestock development, and we will continue to do so. In 2012, we formed the Livestock and Environmental Stewardship extension program, which is dedicated to helping our livestock producers obtain the technical information they need to continue to improve sustainability and stewardship practices on farms and ranches across the state. We welcome efforts to responsibly grow this important industry and stand ready to assist these operations with the technical information, research and a highly trained workforce they need to maintain their social license and thrive as responsible stewards.
Editor’s note: Lardy is the head of the Animal Sciences Department at North Dakota State University.