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Coalition wants to strengthen state’s livestock sector

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Minnesota’s Farm and Food Coalition wants to strengthen the state’s livestock sector.

The coalition of 12 agricultural organizations grew out of discussions that began in 2004, said Tara Sammon Meyer, the coalition’s animal agriculture specialist. Meyer joined the coalition in June. She is the only employee.

"Our sole purpose is to work with livestock producers who are growing their farm," Meyer said.

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She can help farmers market their proposed project and connect them with others who have experience in navigating the state’s permitting process. She works closely with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture livestock development team.

They work with county commissioners and township officials, Meyer said. "I focus on producers."

She has worked with about 20 producers in the past six months.

The first step in the process is to make an on-farm visit and see what producers are trying to accomplish and determine where they are at in the expansion process.

"That first on-farm visit is crucial," she said.

From that visit forward, she can offer advice based on what the producer needs, be it business contacts or farmers to talk to about their expansion projects.

Ideally, producers call when they are in the financial planning process of their proposed expansion, Meyer said. If she’s called early, she can help producers proactively tell others about the merits of their project before naysayers have an opportunity to build a case against the proposal.

More often though, Meyer receives calls anywhere from two weeks to a day before a public hearing is scheduled on a proposal. Her job is to help the producer try to combat the misinformation that is already circulating.

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Her first question is to ask if producers have someone to speak on their behalf at the public hearing. She counsels them to line up supporters and their consultants to attend the hearing. Meyer said she doesn’t know if people realize how important it is to speak in support of a project.

"We always need to be promoting agriculture and filling that void and combating the misinformation that’s out there," she said.

Meyer said the No. 1 and No. 2 issues raised at public hearings are odor and water quality. She tries to make her clients aware that these questions will be raised and encourages them to think about how they will answer these questions.

Meyer has worked primarily with turkey, dairy and pork producers, but is available to help any producer of any size with any livestock species expand his or her livestock operation in the state of Minnesota.

"I like working with farmers and I like to see people be successful," she said.

The Farm and Food Coalition is in the middle of an advertising campaign to spread the word about its services, Meyer said. The coalition offers services at no charge to producers, she added.

The coalition has a monthly e-newsletter and is building a database of subscribers. They also hope to introduce Lunch & Learn, modeled after a successful Kentucky program, where people are brought to the site of the proposed livestock expansion or a similar site, to ask questions and learn. They also hope to do open houses after projects have been completed to allow the public another opportunity to learn more about Minnesota’s livestock industry.

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