Livestock expansions: Boom or rebound?
PIPESTONE -- After a multi-year lull in livestock and facilities expansion in southwest Minnesota, area counties are seeing increased demand for special permits that allow farmers to build new barns and expand existing feedlots.
Stories about new building projects in Nobles County in recent weeks show that growth is taking place in the swine, dairy and cattle industries. The same seems to be happening in neighboring counties, as well.
In Murray County, zoning administrator Jean Christoffels said 13 livestock producers have either completed the public hearing process or are in the midst of it now.
"We're seeing both new construction and expansion," she said. "It's been a while since we've had as many livestock facility expansions or even new ones (built)."
Swine barn expansion has been the most prevalent in Murray County, and the same can be said for building activity in Pipestone County.
Kyle Krier, environmental administrator in Pipestone County's Conservation and Zoning Office, said one new hog barn is currently going through the permitting process, and a new nursery barn was approved last year. His office also recorded two new beef barns in 2011.
"We kind of had a lull there for the past five years," Krier said. "It's kind of picking up where it left off five years ago."
Robert Taubert, managing partner for New Horizon Farms LLP, an 11,000-sow farrow-to-finish swine production operation with barns in Pipestone, Rock, Murray, Nobles and Lincoln counties, said the pork industry is showing a rebound after a period of downsizing that began in 2006. That rebound is leading not only to new construction, but expansion of existing facilities and reopening of idled barns.
"The U.S. swine herd went into a big decrease for a lot of years after ethanol came out," Taubert said. "Some of these facilities got shut down in the late 2000s."
With ethanol vying for a major share of the region's corn crop, Taubert said the swine industry experienced an immediate 18- to 24-month downsizing of herds.
"The industry wasn't allowed to adjust in a rational form," he explained. "The weakest financial producers ... got shoved to the wayside"
These days, New Horizon Farms is in the process of expanding by putting sows back in idled barns. They restocked a barn near Sheldon, Iowa, in 2011, and have projects planned in Murray County this year.
Taubert said the reason for growth now stems from a multitude of factors.
"Our export market keeps increasing, and (the pork industry) has improved demand on the product," he said. "Corn is still the cheapest in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota, and you can't afford to haul feed around."
Also leading to growth in livestock facilities is that sow productivity has increased two to three percent in the last six or seven years, Taubert said.
"You just need more facilities to put them in," he added. The average sale weight for swine has also increased, leading producers to keep the animals on their farms longer. Feeding larger pigs means needing larger facilities to house them in.
Cattle feedlots, not swine facilities, have sparked requests for permits in Rock County.
Eric Hartman, director of Rock County Land Management, said there has been a resurgence in livestock building projects there, although it's still not back to the level of activity seen in the county six or eight years ago.
"I think I could safely say last year was the beginning of the renewed interest, considering the fact that we went through part of 2008, 2009 and into 2010 where it was quite a dry spell --it was pretty quiet," Hartman said.
There were two large cattle feedlot expansions in Rock County in 2011.
"There's some interest in smaller expansions," Hartman said. "We don't have anything quite to the magnitude those projects were.
"We're starting to see more of an interest in swine," he added.
In Cottonwood County, Planning and Zoning Administrator Andy Geiger said he has more than half a dozen requests for either swine or cattle facilities that are in the preliminary stages of the permitting process, two are in the midst of permitting and one has already been permitted. The projects include four or five new facilities and a few expansion projects.
"We are definitely seeing an influx compared to the last couple of years at least," Geiger said Thursday morning.
Jackson County's director of planning and environmental services, Gordy Olson, said there wasn't a single permit issued in 2010 for new swine barns, but there's already been a couple of new sites that are under development in 2012.
"Last year there was a little more interest, and in 2012, it looks like a little more," Olson said.
Some of the development taking place in Jackson County is in the far southwest corner, where Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water (LPRW) added service through a contract with Osceola Rural Water in Iowa. Olson said he didn't know if the additional water available in that area had anything to do with the expansions.
Dennis Healy, CEO of LPRW, said he assumed the availability of rural water is "part of the picture" for some producers moving forward with livestock expansion projects.
"In many cases ... people didn't have adequate wells on their property," Healy said. "How extensive that is compared to market conditions -- that's hard to figure out.
"We've noticed a substantial increase in the number of large customers as a result of the (LPRW) expansion," Healy added. "I assume the economic aspects are more of a driver than us. If we're not available, we become the drag on the system."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.