Challenges for next generation of livestock producers discussed

Farm Forum

Evan Haar learned at a forum at Aberdeen Livestock on Jan. 14 that he was, in many ways, a typical cattle producer in South Dakota.

He is hardworking and produces good-quality cattle, but is 60 years old and has no children who want to keep up the cattle business. The fact that producers like Haar, who farms northeast of Onaka, may retire someday without someone taking their place has the South Dakota Department of Agriculture concerned.

In order to encourage people to raise livestock, the department, along with SDSU Extension, is hosting 24 meetings around the state entitled, “The Next Generation of Livestock Production.”

The meeting on Jan. 14 in Aberdeen was the first one.

“The livestock industry has many opportunities,” Warren Rusche, cow/calf field specialist for SDSU Extension in Watertown, told the group of about 18 participants. “The cattle market is decent, not great, but decent. I am not going to say this (raising cattle) is a slam-dunk to riches, but it is time to start a conversation that there are opportunities.”

Rusche said that South Dakota has many advantages for raising livestock, such as an excellent feed supply made even stronger by the presence of ethanol plants producing dried distillers grain and soy processing plants producing soy hulls. South Dakota also has quality livestock genetics and quality workers, he said.

The presence of Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen is also is plus, he said. Having a packing plant this close will save money on shipping costs, he said.

Rusche said there are challenges to raising cattle. Livestock production is labor intensive and swings in feed costs can make it tough to make a profit at times.

Creating larger operations, such as feedlots, can be a challenge because of zoning requirements and the ability to find workers in state where there is low unemployment.

Many farmers who used to raise both crops and livestock have gotten out of livestock because of the amount of work involved. Livestock require daily attention, while corn

does not.

“I have relatives who farm who are in Arizona right now, but I can’t be there because of my cattle,” said Haar.

The disadvantages of raising livestock, however, can be flipped to an advantage, Rusche said.

“There are opportunities for people who are willing to do what others won’t do,” he said.

The economic benefits of livestock production to the state are enormous, said Alison Kiesz, agriculture business development specialist for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

The beef industry has a $2.8 billion economic impact. That includes not only the value of the cattle, but of the grain produced to feed the cattle, the trucking industry, veterinary services and spin-off industries.

There are 3.7 million cattle and calves in South Dakota, according to state Department of Agriculture statistics.

Those numbers are down from the high in 2005, Kiesz said.

Assuring that livestock numbers remain stable and grow will depend on finding individuals to keep raising cattle.

The average age of a South Dakota farmer is 55.7 years, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

During the 10-year period from 1997 through 2007, the number of farmers under the age 44 dropped almost by half, from 40 percent in 1997 to 21 percent in 2007, said Kiesz. The trend is for fewer younger people to get into farming, including livestock production, she said.

Haar said that he is encouraged by the beef plant opening in Aberdeen and may raise cattle to finishing weight. Right now, he ships his cattle out-of-state after they reach a certain weight to save money on shipping costs.

If the South Dakota Certified Beef program comes to fruition, he will be more likely to raise his cattle to finishing weight, he said.

“Right now, I plan just to maintain what I am doing for awhile,” he said. “At my age, I will have to see what happens. I have two daughters who don’t want to farm. My only hope is my grandkids.”

Scott Kilber of Ipswich, who works for North Central Farmers Elevator and Dakota Land Feed, said that he came to the meeting because livestock was his business.

“There are a lot of opportunities here for livestock,” he said. “We have the feed, we have the land, we have all the resources we need.”

Tom Leonhardt, who farms and raises cattle west of Mansfield, said he learned a lot at the meeting, and especially enjoyed hearing how South Dakota compares to other states.

In livestock production, the state ranks first in bison production; first in pheasants, third in honey, sixth in sheep, eighth in cattle, 11th in pigs and 21st in dairy, according to state Department of Agriculture statistics.

Leonhardt said he may increase his operation and finish more cattle, but he needs to learn more about possible zoning restrictions.

Livestock production is an important part of agriculture and with demand for exports increasing, it could provide many opportunities for South Dakotans, said Kiesz.