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Livestock takes center stage

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

Gov. Tim Pawlenty put livestock agriculture on the front burner when he named a Livestock Advisory Task Force in November 2003.

There's been much talk since about the importance of animal agriculture to Minnesota's economy and environment. Corn and soybean grower groups have financed campaigns to boost consumer understanding of the role livestock plays in Minnesota's economy. A coalition of land-grant universities have released a plan, "Green Lands, Blue Waters," that details how livestock are vital to keeping soil in its place.

The governor's task force released its findings in the fall. As expected, some hailed the plan and others criticized it.

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Meanwhile, in January 2004, the Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota National Farmers Organization, the Land Stewardship Project and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota formed the Citizen Task Force to review the status of the state's livestock farmers and rural communities. The task force produced its own recommendations in September.

The reports take a different view of agriculture in Minnesota: "Animal agriculture is a vital part of Minnesota's economy," the Governor's Task Force Report reads. "While Minnesota's livestock industry is a major economic force, its future is uncertain."

"The Citizen Task Force on Livestock Farmers and Rural Communities has studied the challenges and opportunities facing livestock farmers and rural communities and has assembled a list of priority recommendations …; to increase the number and profitability of Minnesota livestock farmers in ways that benefit rural communities …,"; reads the citizen's report.

Both task forces realize there is a problem in that livestock operators are being lost and that the trend has to be reversed, said farmer and business owner Jim Falk of Murdock.

But how the two groups addresses the issues is different, he said.

The Citizens Task Force started from the position that a community is dependent on having people out in rural Minnesota, and that the larger operations get, the more they displace the family farmer who is the heart and soul of local communities, Falk said. Workers don't share the pride in the community that a landowner would, he said.

Sandy Ludeman, a farmer from Tracy who served on the governor's task force, says the two groups have a similar goal of keeping as many people out on the land producing what they want to produce.

Leander Wagner, a farmer from Elko who served on the citizens task force, agrees.

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"We're not saying that they're all wet," he said. "There are good things in the governor's report."

Joe Swedberg said the governor's report helped set the stage for things already taking place. The governor's report helped everybody understand the value of agriculture, said Swedberg, Hormel's vice president of legislative affairs and marketing services. It identified areas that are doing well and areas with real challenges. Swedberg served on the governor's task force.

BOX: The Governor's Livestock Advisory Task Force says:

Local siting of livestock operations: The LTF believes the lack of predictability and uniformity in the siting process at the local level is a significant impediment to modernization and new investment.

Permitting and environmental review process: The goal is "to improve the consistently, scientific basis, predictability, timeliness and efficiency of the state's permitting and environmental review process for livestock operations while continuing Minnesota's leadership in protecting the state's natural resources."

Access to capital: The goal is "to encourage and enhance investment opportunities in the state's livestock industry."

Research, technology and productivity: Direct and support investments in the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Farm Financial Management Systems that improve the competitiveness of the livestock industry.

Preservation of investment: "Support legislation that strengthens Minnesota's Right to Farm law. Support and encourage education programs on the importance of animal agriculture to rural communities and to the state's economy as a whole."

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BOX: The Citizen Task Force on Livestock Farmers and Rural Communities says:

Ensuring fair prices and open markets: Competition must be restored to the marketplace by limiting corporate concentration and encouraging farmers to use collective bargaining strategies.

Creating the next generation of livestock farmers: Creating incentives and programs that encourage young people to become livestock farmers is critical. Beginning livestock farmers need opportunities to enter farming that rely on low-cost production systems and do not require large amounts of debt be incurred.

Promoting livestock farming that benefits the environment: Livestock can play a major role in protecting the environment through the use of farming practices that improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create wildlife habitat.

Creating local food systems that benefit farmers, consumers and rural communities: Minnesota needs to be proactive in meeting the growing consumer demand for food that is locally grown or grown in an ecologically sensitive manner.

Protecting rural democracy: Local communities should maintain the right to enforce planning and zoning standards that are stricter than state standards.

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