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Report says Minnesota requires more livestock

Despite a state resolution approved in May that said 2005 would be the year the "Minnesota feedlot war ended," and would be replaced instead with an era of "peace, love, harmony and acceptance of diversity" for Minnesota's livestock farmers, the battle is apparently still raging.

Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said "anti-animal production activist" groups have been "blasting" farmers for so many years that the public has developed a strong negative view of animal agriculture and that view has made it nearly impossible for farmers to expand their operations and make a living.

Dille is now going on the offensive in the battle.

Following two years of writing, editing and review from professionals, Dille has completed a 39-page booklet that shows how livestock agriculture can be good for the environment and the economy. The cover of the booklet declares that "Minnesota needs more livestock."

The report, said Dille, is designed to educate people about the possibility and necessity of livestock animals coexisting with people.

To do it, he said, livestock farmers need to be a good neighbor and carefully follow state and federal rules and implement "best management practices" to deal with issues like odor. Likewise, rural residents also need to be good neighbors and "accept and support livestock production in their areas."

By the end of this week 1,100 copies of the publication, which is being printed by the Senate's duplicating office at taxpayers' expense, will be sent to nearly every county commissioner, county feedlot officer, county planning and zoning officer and extension educator in the state.

As a senator, Dille said he's allocated 5,000 stamps every year for correspondence. He's using that stash to pay for mailing the booklets this month. Come January he will get another 5,000 stamps. "So, I can keep sending them out," he dead-panned.

Dille said he's also scheduled to address a coalition of environmental groups later this month at the Science Museum in St. Paul where he said he will ask the organizations to "modify" their position on animal agriculture.

Since the booklets started arriving in the mail, Dille said he's had daily requests for additional copies from various entities. He's also received some negative responses. "So far I've had two people mad about it," he said.

One caller said Dille had no right to put out such a document unless he lived next to a large feedlot.

Dille, who is a veterinarian, raises livestock himself. His farm neighbors include a 10-barn turkey complex with more than 300,000 turkeys on one side, and a 200-cow dairy farm on another side. "I think I'm qualified to write the report," he said.

He said the "not in my backyard" objection needs to be put aside when it comes to livestock agriculture. He said people in other countries have learned to "peacefully coexist" with animals. The report has two-pages of examples that compare the number of animals and people per square mile with Minnesota and other countries.

One example is the Netherlands, which has 292 head of cattle per square mile, compared with 31 in Minnesota; 11 million hogs per square mile compared with 6 million in Minnesota; 7,692 poultry per square mile compared to 929 in Minnesota; and 16 million people per square mile compared with 5 million in Minnesota.

"If the Netherlands can do it, why can't Kandiyohi County?" asked Dille.

The report states that Minnesotans should "strive to be more like citizens" in the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, or Lancaster County in Pennsylvania who live close to diversified farms. "They live together in the same neighborhood in peace and harmony," Dille wrote in the report. "We should all strive to be farmer-friendly neighbors and neighbor- friendly farmers."

Based on economic records, Dille said a farmer needs about $300,000 in gross revenue in order to net $50,000. The median income in Minnesota is $59,000, he said.

"With farmers working as hard as they work, they should at least be making the median income," he said.

But in order to reach the needed gross revenues, Dille said, farmers need to be able to expand their business and bring the next generation into the farm business. He has no time for residents who use emotions, and not environmental evidence, to put up political and zoning roadblocks to prevent new or expanding livestock operations. Emotional responses are "wiping out animal agriculture," he said. Evidence supplied in the booklet, he said, shows that agriculture is good for the environment and the economy.

It's "outrageous," he said, for people to be fighting farmers who need to grow, modernize and reinvest in their business.

It's not just the farmers who will benefit. The report said that the livestock business provides at least 100,000 jobs and $14 billion in economic activity in Minnesota. It also said that each dairy cow produces about $14,000 in economic activity, with the dairy industry ranking fourth in employment among Minnesota's manufacturing industries.

Dille disagrees with comments that big livestock farms are bad for the environment. He refers to existing state law in the booklet, including a 2004 policy to promote environmental protection by increasing livestock production.

He said dairy and beef cattle can improve water quality of lakes and streams because those animals need alfalfa and pasture land. Putting more alfalfa fields into the corn and soybean crop rotation reduces nitrogen leaching into surface water. Proper application of livestock manure, he said, can actually improve the ability of a field to absorb nitrogen, versus chemical fertilizers.

Copies of Dille's report are available by contacting Dille at his Senate office at (651) 296-4131.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750