You’ve probably seen one of the signs as you cross a county line in Nebraska – welcoming you to a “Livestock Friendly County.” What does that mean anyway?
“It’s a way for a county to say that it’s open for business when it comes to livestock development,” said Steve Martin, ag promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
“A lot of counties are starting to realize that, in attempting to control who comes into their county, they have limited the opportunities to producers who already live in the county – and in some cases, have driven them out,” Martin said. “The reality is that most of the growth we’re going to see is going to happen within the community.”
The impetus for Livestock Friendly designation must come from the counties themselves; the Nebraska Department of Agriculture does not “recruit” counties to apply for the program. In fact, some of Nebraska’s largest livestock-producing counties are not officially designated.
It’s a simple process, according to Martin. “A public hearing of the county board, supervisors or commissioners is held to discuss whether or not the make application for designation. If they resolve to apply, they submit the application and we evaluate it based on six main criteria,” he said.
The program is making a difference. “We are fortunate that two of the four counties we serve have received Livestock Friendly designation,” said Dave Behle, key accounts and economic development manager with Dawson Public Power in Lexington. “We’ve been able to get support from the elective bodies as they have seen the importance and positive impact of agriculture on their communities.”
Knox County saw immediate results when it achieved designation. “The day after we adopted our new regulations to become livestock friendly, two operations began working with me on applications to expand their feedlots,” noted Liz Doerr, Knox County zoning administrator. “We’ve focused on siting livestock operations in our primary ag district, while also protecting the lake and river areas that are critical to tourism in our area.”
“The program is not necessarily about making it easier to site new livestock facilities; it’s more about adding clarity and consistency to the process,” Martin said. “That process is still a public process, but there are clear zoning and permitting guidelines that officials can use to make a determination – and that producers can use to prepare a proposal that meets those standards.”