Beefing up

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. – Doug Goehring thinks now is a good time to beef up his department’s dairy and cattle development.

The North Dakota agriculture Commissioner recently reinstated a vacant livestock development position and added a half-position to expand his department’s advocacy efforts. He appointed Nathan Boehm and Amber Boeshans as livestock specialists. The two will target the beef and dairy industries, but also will work with swine, sheep and even poultry production.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve been putting effort into a Beef Development Plan,” Goehring says. “It’s a working, breathing document.”

The department is targeting existing livestock operations to determine what opportunities exist. In the beef area, that means taking a closer look at cow-calf, background-feeding and finishing.

“Within these systems and practices, we’re exploring the different models – dry-lot (feeding), grazing systems, cell grazing and looking at making more use of the resource of cover crops,” Goehring says.

He thinks here may be opportunities with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts.

CRP options

“Can those be used for livestock production?” Goehring asks. “There could be various reasons why they would be considered for a livestock production enterprise, rather than cultivated for row crops.”

He says some of the CRP land includes shrub and tree growth. Perhaps some of that can be modified to support livestock enterprises with minimal effort. “Some might be put in shallow wells or water lines to support watering systems,” he says.

Boeshans sees the department as a liaison between North Dakota and foreign dairymen or those elsewhere in the nation who are considering expansion.

“Finding financials, finding land,” Boeshans says. “That’s where I see my role, helping with immigration, helping with labor. Perhaps bringing in foreign dairymen on certain visa programs. North Dakota is very pro the EB5 immigration programs.”

For Boehm’s part, he says he’s “not concerned whether it’s a hog, turkey or dairy or beef operation, if they need help with marketing a product, or help with programs on how they produce their product – management and feed system – that’s what I think we need to push a little harder.”

Goehring acknowledges that state livestock development results are not easy to evaluate. There are no specific numerical goals – cow numbers or operation numbers – for determining whether the effort succeeds or fails. “I’d like to see both increase,” the commissioner says.

Hard to evaluate

He says North Dakota’s cooler climate helps enhance cattle health and has a variety of feedstuffs. He says the state has a strong cow-calf beef industry and many producers have feedlots for doing background feeding, or even finishing. He says producers will decide whether to shift their focus to increase feeding, based on the costs and benefits.

“I’m sure one’s critics could say we’ve lost numbers, we’ve lost people even though we didn’t lose the cows,” Goehring says, of dairy efforts. He says the goal is to strive for more opportunities for more people.

“We’ve staved things off a bit, but I believe our effort needs to be to try to increase and enhance this whole, total environment for animal agriculture,” he says. “Dairy is one where you have to work on critical mass, so to speak, just to make sure you can support the processors you have in the area. If you lose a processor, you make it so tough for the (remaining) dairies because there’s added expense for picking up milk. You just increase your distance and challenges.”