More Counties "Livestock Friendly" but Nebraska May Be Missing Out


It seems nearly everyone loves bacon.

"Bacon on almost anything tastes better," hog farmer Mark McHague said.

But not everyone wants a hog farm in their community, even though the McHargue brothers say farms like theirs create jobs.

McHargue said, "Rural Nebraska, where we're seeing declines in population, it's one way we can help the economic engine of the rural communities."

Nebraska is the nation's number one state for cattle in feedlots. But it's falling behind its neighbors in livestock development.

Despite advantages in the state, a new report by the University of Nebraska said the state is missing out.

Dr. Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for Ag and Natural Resources said, "Other states have seen rapid rises -- Iowa on the pork side, South Dakota and Minnesota on pork as well as dairy -- where we've lost ground."

More hog farms like the McHargues', that's what state leaders want to see, along with more poultry and dairy farms.

If the state reaches its potential, the impact would be astronomical, according to State Ag Director Greg Ibach.

He said, "19,000 jobs, $782 million in direct payroll, and $1.4 billion in economic activity."

So what's stopping us from reaching those levels? Nebraskans believe in local control, and don't want someone else making decisions about large livestock operations. Enter the Livestock Friendly program, a voluntary designation from those who agree to follow similar rules.

McHargue, who is also vice president of Nebraska Farm Bureau said, "I think standardization to some degree is important. In every industry when we do that we get more continuity. Local control is very important though in rural communities. It's figuring out that balance."

Dawson and Merrick Counties say they welcome livestock, the 25th and 26th to be designated Livestock Friendly.

Gov. Dave Heineman made it official, with ceremonies in Lexington and Central City on National Ag Day.

The state has plenty of corn to feed livestock, cheap power and water, and packing plants. But without a concerted effort, it may lose ground.

"If we don't make a move now, being static in the livestock industry will not be good for Nebraska in the long term," McHargue said.

Mark McHargue believes in being a good neighbor, and measured the odor footprint before building his barn.

State leaders say it's the kind of development they want to encourage, but they fear county-by-county rules may discourage more expansion.

Read more in the University's "Livestock Expansion White Paper".