Nebraska’s Livestock Friendly County program is in its eighth year of operation, but so far just 14 of 93 counties have received the designation. While that figures out to be just 15% of Nebraska counties, Steve Martin, Nebraska Department of Agriculture ag promotion coordinator, says the program is “alive and kicking.”
“Even if counties decide not to pursue the designation, they’re still getting the benefit of the conversation,” Martin says. “I’ve watched quite a few counties have the conversation [about seeking the designation], and each county has to feel their own way through it. We at least would like everybody to have the conversation, ‘What does livestock mean to our county?’”
At a glance
• NDA says its Livestock Friendly program is “alive and kicking.”
• Not a lot of development so far in designated counties.
• Supporters say pursuing the designation encourages understanding of livestock.
The program, which the Nebraska Legislature implemented in 2004, is voluntary and recognizes counties that actively support the livestock industry. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture uses the LFC program to assist counties and agricultural producers in promoting the livestock industry.
Counties that participate in the program do not receive any financial incentives.“More of what we’re looking at is encouraging economic development,” Martin says. “As for advertising and other benefits — it’s up to them.”
The program may help in grant applications, but Martin is not aware of any specific examples. “It is similar to building a resume for individuals. It is a plus in their general evaluations,” he says.
To apply for the designation, NDA works with the commissioners of the county to start a countywide conversation about the program. Any individual or livestock group can ask the commissioners to investigate or apply for designation.
NDA reviews the application and gives suggestions for improvement. The NDA has never denied the LFC designation to a county after its application has been reviewed.
“It’s an evaluation of what they’re doing in their county with a third-party perspective,” Martin says. “With the third-party evaluation, it becomes a partnership. Having that direct contact with Livestock Friendly counties, you get to know them very well.”
After the application is submitted, Martin says it takes two weeks to a month for his office to review and either approve or disapprove it. Discussions can take over a year, and there is no specific timeline.
After they are approved, a “Designation Day” is chosen. The governor or the lieutenant governor has attended this ceremony in every designated county so far.“We make it an event and celebrate the designation,” Martin says.
Martin says another benefit is that the program encourages partnership between agriculture leaders and consumers.
“You have that conversation and you explain that this is who livestock people are, this is what they mean to the county, and that they are good stewards of the land,” Martin says. “It brings people in a community or a county who aren’t involved in agriculture or livestock up to speed.”
The first one
Morrill County was the first county to receive the Livestock Friendly designation, and while County Commissioner Jeff Metz was not aware of specific economic development that has occurred as a result of the program, he says it has raised awareness.
“Basically, it’s the educational and promotional value. We get to show our residents and visitors that we put livestock first above anything,” Metz says. “There’s been a lot of activity, not just one particular thing.”
Metz says the county has had some inquiries from businesses, including ethanol plants. One plant currently exists in Bridgeport, and there were inquiries about building one in Bayard.
“There’s always expanding feedlots,” Metz says. “You can chalk that up to being ‘livestock friendly.’”While Metz is glad Morrill County made the effort to become a LFC, he would like to see the program have a few more benefits.
“I would like to see 75 out of 93 counties be livestock friendly to show other states that livestock is important to Nebraska’s economy,” Metz says. “I wish there were some tax breaks or grants available to counties for participating in it.”
Wayne County, which received its designation in 2008, is one of the more recent counties to adopt the program. County Commissioner Kelvin Wurdeman was also unaware of specific economic development due to the LFC designation.
“A few feedlots have expanded, but if that’s because Wayne County has no zoning restrictions or because of the Livestock Friendly designation, I don’t know,” Wurdeman says.
Wurdeman says that two companies interested in closed-loop ethanol production facilities (a system that combines cattle, corn, ethanol and methane production) were looking into setting up operations in Wayne County, but one proposal failed because Wayne County does not have enough natural gas, and the other “might still happen.”
“We’re an ag community, since Wayne County does not have much industry,” Wurdeman says. “We don’t have an interstate, and we don’t have railroads, and if we can’t grow in industrial, we have to grow in agriculture.”
Wayne County is the only county in northeast Nebraska to have the designation, but this doesn’t bother Wurdeman.“It puts Wayne County more on the top of the map,” he says. “The fewer Livestock Friendly counties in our area, the better Wayne County’s chances are.”
Wurdeman says he doesn’t think the program needs financial incentives.
“You give a tax break, and someone has to pay for it later,” he says. Most important, Wurdeman adds, is the message being Livestock Friendly sends to potential investors.
“Wayne County has its arms open to them,” he says.