Southwest Minnesota counties see continued expansion in cattle, hog facilities

LUVERNE -- Whether looking to put grain into livestock or save money on fertilizer by spreading manure, farmers in southwest Minnesota are investing more money into livestock facilities and adding value to their operations.In 2015, the Rock Count...

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Construction on a new feedlot on the Ryan Thier farm west of Rushmore continues. (TIm Middagh/Daily Globe)
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LUVERNE - Whether looking to put grain into livestock or save money on fertilizer by spreading manure, farmers in southwest Minnesota are investing more money into livestock facilities and adding value to their operations.
In 2015, the Rock County Land Management office saw the number of requests for feedlot permits more than double - from 11 in 2014 to 24 in 2015.
Doug Bos, assistant director of the Land Management Office and Rock County’s feedlot officer, said the growth in 2015 included 11 new hog barns (seven of which were newly permitted sites), four new cattle barns (two were newly permitted sites), seven major cattle feedlot expansions and two major dairy expansions.
“We really have seen a pretty marked increase in applications,” Bos said. In 2014, Rock County approved permits for one major hog expansion project and eight major cattle expansions - consistent with permits issued a year earlier.
This year, Bos is already anticipates a busy permitting and construction season, with three new hog barns and four new cattle barns already in the planning stages.
“I anticipate more hog barns coming,” he added.
The same is true in Nobles County, where feedlot officer Alan Langseth said he’s had at least 15 producers inquire about permitting for livestock expansions.
In 2015, Nobles County approved 23 land use permits for livestock. Some were to construct a building over an existing floor, with eight new feedlots and eight expansion projects approved for beef, dairy and hog production.
The 23 permits issued in 2015 compares to 21 permits the year before.
A number of factors are driving feedlot expansions in Rock County, Bos said. It could be low grain prices or access to better fertilizer in the form of manure, or also be farmers want to invest in improving the sites they have.
“I think part of what’s driving (expansions and new feedlots) is cattle feeders are seeing economic advantages to raise cattle in confinement versus open lots,” Bos shared. “With weather conditions we have in southwestern Minnesota (temperatures varying from the mid-30s to below zero in a span of a few days), it’s kind of hard on livestock. What cattle producers are finding with confinement facilities, your daily intake, your rate of gain, your feed conversion are all improved.”
Langseth said five of the 15 people who have approached him about 2016 construction are planning facilities for cattle.
“I think a lot of it is second generation because (the younger farmers) can’t buy farmland,” Langseth said. “They want to stay on the farm and help dad, but they need a source of income. Livestock is probably the way they’re going to do that.”
In Murray County, feedlot officer and environmental services director Jon Bloemendaal said he’s also seeing beef producers inquiring about permits for 2016 projects.
“It looks like the beef guys are looking to make some changes,” he said. “We’ve had four beef operations that have indicated they’re looking to expand - and looking to expand quite large … over 1,000 head facilities.”
Two of the barns planned are deep-pitted; the other two are monoslope design.
“We don’t have much on the horizon so far this year (for hog expansions),” Bloemendaal said. “This is the time of year they start showing interest so they can get things going for construction.”
In 2015, Murray County had about a dozen feedlot expansions - three-fourths of which were for beef or dairy cattle, with the remainder for hog production. Bloemendaal said the year was “a little busier” than 2014, when “farmers were making money off of grain so they weren’t putting money into livestock.”
Jackson County Land Management Water Resource Technician Brooke Burmeister said there were just two permits for larger operations (300 to 999 animal units) issued in 2015 - one was a hog barn and the other was a cattle operation.
“So far (this year), there’s been a lot of people talking about permits,” she said. “Some of them have stopped in saying they might construct this year. It takes a while to get all your agreements in, and you have to do a variance and meet setbacks before construction can actually start.”
The 10 feedlot permits issued by Cottonwood County in 2015 was about normal, according to Planning and Zoning technician Jared Morrill. Two of those permits were for larger sites - expanding by more than 300 animal units.
Morrill said he isn’t seeing the kind of growth in the livestock sector in Cottonwood County as in other counties because of the aging demographic.
“A lot of the smaller feedlots, either it was time to pack it up or sell it off to somebody else,” he said. “We’ve had quite a few (feedlots) in the last year that have dropped off the registration.”
Of the 10 permits issued last year, seven were for beef cattle operations and three were hog operations. Morrill said he’s heard from one producer so far this year, and he’s considering an expansion to an existing lot.
Pipestone County Feedlot Officer Kyle Krier said his office has actually reduced the number of registered feedlots slightly after his office began “truthing” its feedlot inventory.
“If farms haven’t had livestock for a number of years, we’re taking them off the database,” Krier said, adding that the county’s last feedlot inventory was conducted in 2002. 
In 2015, Pipestone County issued 10 permits for livestock projects - eight were swine facilities and two were for beef. Seven of them were new feedlots, Krier said.
So far this year, he’s heard from a couple of beef producers considering expansions.
“We’ve consistently been getting new barns every year - even when construction was way down, we were still getting a handful,” Krier said.
Of the six counties of southwest Minnesota, Rock County has the highest number of feedlots required to be registered at 512, followed by Pipestone County with 451, Nobles County with 432, Murray County with 429, Jackson County with 330 and Cottonwood County with 257.
With several projects already on the radar for 2016 in southwest Minnesota, it may be another busy year for contractors.
As Bos said in Rock County, as far as an economic driver for counties, there isn’t much better than livestock expansions.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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