Nebraska has plenty of room to expand the state's livestock sector in an environmentally sound way, particularly hogs, dairy and poultry, along with beef. That's the word from University of Nebraska agricultural economics professor, Bruce Johnson. At a UNL Soybean Management Field Day program near Pierce recently, Johnson said that Nebraska has an advantage over many other states because of the strength of the state's farmers in crop production, biofuels, and a deep-rooted connection to the livestock industry.
These sectors combine to make a production cluster that Johnson calls the "Nebraska Golden Triangle."
But this "Triangle" has become unbalanced. Over the past decade, the value of the state's crops output has risen over 360%, but the livestock sector output has only risen 103%. He said that the livestock sectors are expanding more rapidly in neighboring states.
Although Nebraska has a distinct advantage because the state produces feed for the livestock grown and finished in the state, there is an imbalance because the livestock industry isn't growing as fast as the crops.
"We need strength in all of our components to make it really work," Johnson said. "Like a team, we need to work on this together." If the country loses the base of its livestock production, it has a huge impact on grain producers. "Livestock takes one half of the soybeans produced in the U.S.," he said.
Because the state is exporting so much of the livestock feed produced, "we are losing value-added economic activity," Johnson explained. "We need to rebalance by adding more hogs, dairy and poultry," he said. "Think of the tax revenue impact," Johnson said. "Agriculture pays the lion's share of property taxes for the counties."
There has been a geographical shift in livestock production toward the Midwest in recent years, particularly in the dairy industry, Johnson said. With surrounding states growing their livestock industries rapidly, Nebraska has an opportunity to do the same, and enjoy huge direct and indirect benefits down to the county level.
The crop sector needs the livestock sector, not only as a ready market for its crops, but also for greater economic opportunity to substitute organic fertilizer in the form of manure, for more costly commercial fertilizer, said Johnson. "Crop producers could be the biggest advocates in the county for livestock expansion," he explained. "If we want to keep a viable rural economy, we have to have these things in place."
If you'd like to learn more, don't miss a print article in a future issue of Nebraska Farmer, or contact Johnson at 402-472-1794.