OMAHA (DTN) -- A "livestock-friendly" designation has helped some counties become home to more livestock operations, while also keeping a bigger share of existing producers, according to a new study.
That study from ag economists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows that more than a decade after the state created its livestock-friendly county designation, participating counties have gained more cattle farms and lost fewer hogs farms than counties without the designation.
Study authors Brian Mills, Azzeddine Azzam, Kate Brooks and David Aiken looked at 21 counties that achieved the livestock-friendly designation between 2002 and 2012, comparing the number of farms reported in 2002, 2007 and 2012 censuses. Regression analysis showed the livestock-friendly designation had a stronger positive correlation to livestock expansion than almost any other factor measured, including the nearby presence of meatpacking plants.
Counties designated as livestock friendly saw larger growth in cattle operations -- a 12% increase between 2007 and 2012 -- compared to an 8% increase in counties without the designation. More than three fourths of counties (16 of 21) with the livestock-friendly designation saw a net increase in their cattle farm numbers.
While most Nebraska counties saw a decline in the number of hog farms during the study period, the decline was significantly less in counties designated as livestock friendly. From 2007 to 2012, there was a 15.6% decline in the number of hog farms in livestock-friendly counties. From counties without the designation, the decline was 62%.
"It does seem to attract more farms," Brian Mills, co-author of the study, said. "For that, I think it's good."
The study looked at various factors including population density, per capita income levels, cattle and hog prices, corn prices and the presence of a meatpacking plant in the county or a neighboring county.
In addition, other items examined in the study were the presence of an ethanol plant in the county or a neighboring county, the concentration of livestock in the county as measured by cattle per square mile and by percentage of the state's total cattle inventory, the county's geographic region of the state and the number of years a county has been in the livestock-friendly program.
The Livestock Friendly County Program was adopted in 2003, in the wake of controversy over large hog confinement operations being established in central Nebraska in the late 1990s. Some opponents of the facilities unsuccessfully sought to give counties emergency powers to block the development of large livestock facilities.
By contrast, the livestock-friendly program enables counties, on a voluntary basis, to seek a designation from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, declaring them receptive to new livestock developments. The program appears to be unique in the nation, with Nebraska ag department officials saying they have received inquiries from at least one other state considering a similar strategy.
Greg Ibach, director of NDA, said they are pleased the study confirms that the program works. The designation is used to market Nebraska sites to the livestock industry nationally and internationally.
"It signifies at the county level they're more open to projects and more open to growing their industry," Ibach said. "Livestock-friendly counties have made a commitment to transparency and consistence to their producers."
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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