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Livestock production is a powerful engine for Iowa’s economy

Livestock production is a powerful engine for Iowa’s economy
Mark Sybesma, right, chairman of Sioux County Board of Supervisors, tours the Bar-K feedlot near Sioux Center with manager Gerry Franken.

In Sioux County, it’s dif­­ficult to find a business that’s not positively touched by the impact of the livestock industry.

"We have a livestock culture here in Sioux County," said Mark Sybesma, the chair of the Sioux County Board of Supervisors. "Livestock is accepted by the public and embraced. I think our citizens recognize the benefits that come from that economically."

It’s been that way for as long as Sybesma can remember. He’s been the chair of the supervisors for 14 years and grew up in Sioux County. "We have a vitality here because of the livestock culture, and that’s on several different levels," Sybesma said.

Nearly 20 percent of all jobs in Sioux County came from livestock production, according to statistics compiled by Decision Innovation Solutions (DIS) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2012 Census of Agri­culture. According to the study, agriculture and ag-related industries accounted for more than one-third of all jobs in the county. In the 2012 study, taken from the most recent county-by-county breakdown of wages, ag contributed 9,438 jobs in the county and $590.8 million in wages.

Throughout Iowa

While Sioux County is Iowa’s livestock leader, the positive in­­fluence of raising hogs, cattle and poultry is seen all over the state. It creates thousands of jobs, strengthens demands for the corn and soybeans grown here and contributes resources to schools and communities that benefit from those involved in the industry.

"We certainly have a large livestock industry, lots of jobs associated with the production on the farm but then a lot of the processing and the feeding of that livestock as well," said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

According to DIS research, 6.2 percent of all jobs in Iowa come from livestock production. The market value of Iowa livestock sold in 2012 was $13.45 billion, based on the USDA Census of Agriculture.

David Miller, director of re­­search and commodity services at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, says livestock’s contributions are clear. "Where you have livestock, you have more robust local economies," he said.

Local businesses and service providers are supported through the livestock in­­dustry, he noted.

"A lot of the supplies tend to be purchas­ed locally. Vet­­erinary ser­­v­ices, auction barns and feed mills also tend to be local," he said. "Sioux County is a prime example. You have the densest concentration of livestock in the state, and some of the strongest local communities."

Geographic advantages

In many ways, Iowa is the ideal place to raise livestock, said Lee Schulz, assistant professor and Extension livestock economist at Iowa State University (ISU).

"Iowa’s animal agriculture in­­dustry is very favorably located geographically. It’s in an area of competitive advantage for feed ingredients," Schulz said.

There’s no doubt that Iowa’s rank as the leader in corn and soybean production has served as a competitive advantage for Iowa’s livestock raisers.

"Ultimately, we have the calories and the protein to grow livestock here," Miller said.

One of the essential elements in raising livestock in Iowa is the access to high quality grain to feed to livestock, Northey said.

"We’re a great crop production state. We produce more corn and soybeans than all but three countries in the world. So we have a tremendous crop production system here that allows us a feed product that is as inexpensive as any place in the world, and high quality feed. And it’s done on family farms that are out there," Northey said.

Producing fertilizer

In return, grain farmers can use the manure produced on Iowa livestock farms as a high quality fertilizer to produce bin-busting crops.

"Since we’re producing products (corn and soybeans) that can utilize that manure, I think that really shows that we are really favorably located as a synergistic crops and livestock production state," Schulz said.

Also, Iowa’s infrastructure and accessibility with two major interstates make Iowa a good place to market livestock as well, Schulz noted. "We have two large interstates that cut through the state, which allows transportation to large population centers to market those products," Schulz said.

All of those things contribute to a healthy livestock industry in the state, Northey said.

"Both the feed industry and all the inputs going into that livestock production, but then being able to process all of the eggs and the dairy products and the meat that is produced on those farms allow us to have lots of jobs connected to agriculture and livestock production right here in Iowa," he said.

Sioux County success

An example is Bar-K Cattle, which is based in Sioux Center. Established as a cattle feedlot in the late 1800s, the family-owned farm helped start the local ethanol plant. They have shares in the plant and purchase corn co-products to feed their cattle.

More than a century since the farm began, the family farm includes multiple generations working together. They’ve added on to the family’s farm, hiring employees to work in its trucking division, microbiology division and even in developing human probiotics.

In all, brothers Kraig, Kelly and Kirk Hulstein employ more than 100 people.

Environmental rules

While feeding nearly 8,000 head of cattle in their feedlot near Sioux Center, the Hulsteins and their employees work to not only care for their cattle, but they also work with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to ensure they’re protecting their land and water resources and abiding by the rules and regulations that apply to livestock farming today.

"It’s important to stay within the regulations to protect our resources," Kelly Hulstein said.

Not only that, Sybesma said, the rules and regulations govern how a livestock farm can operate.

"Our producers recognize that these are the laws, and they follow that," Sybesma said. "They realize that if they don’t, there’s some liability on their part."

Bar-K composts the manure that’s generated on the family’s farm and sells it as fertilizer. Bar-K is able to ship the fertilizer to customers outside of the county. They’ve shipped the compost up to 60 miles away, and there’s a waiting list, Kelly said. "Composting broadens the scope of land management and being good stewards of the things we’ve been given," he said.

That business venture has not only created more employment opportunities, but in the long run, it’s also generating more revenue for the county since those employees will likely spend money there.

Aiding young farmers

The livestock industry has also been a way for young people to get involved in agriculture.

The Hulstein brothers started as young farmers, working with their family to get started. Now they are working on transitioning the farm to their children. "It’s nice to keep it in the family, but it’s also nice what the family farm can do for the community. There’s a lot of jobs that depend on it," Kelly said.

Raising livestock is a good way for the next generation to get involved in agriculture because it requires less land and money to get started, says David Baker, a farm transition specialist at the ISU Beginning Farmer Center.

"I think livestock is the key for any young person getting their start in farming," Baker said. "Younger entrants would not have the assets to dive into a high-cost, low-return land type of proposal as opposed to the lower capital required, but faster return for livestock."

Businesses like local banks and manufacturers, genetics companies and cooperatives all benefit from the livestock industry in Sioux County, Sybesma said.

"Our livestock culture in Sioux County permeates the entire county and is beneficial," he said

This is a special two-part Spokesman report on the important role that livestock production plays in Iowa’s economy. You can access a number of other articles on how livestock production drives Iowa’s economy, as well as videos, photos and graphics on our Spokesman Extra web page at: goo.gl/gpp5xF.