Livestock has a big role to play in the future of North Dakota, according to Amber Boeshans.

The executive director of the North Dakota Livestock Alliance welcomed folks from all areas of agriculture to the North Dakota Livestock Summit on Jan. 14 at Black Leg Ranch southeast of Bismarck.

Boeshans said the day was about celebrating livestock and providing information about what livestock development can do for communities and the state.

“This a coming together of all the different commodity groups, landowners – pro livestock people who want to learn more about what livestock development can do for our state and how it can happen,” Boeshans said. “Everybody is enthusiastic about it, but it’s about how we can make it happen.”

Boeshans said despite the differing goals of those in animal agriculture, the approach in informing the public needs to be the same.

“The dialogue needs to happen with community leaders,” Boeshans said. “Discussion about what modern animal agriculture looks like and what it will look if a (Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO) comes to their community. We really want to get rid of the fear of the unknown.”

To close the conference, the panel “Livestock Development and Our Communities” discussed the questions community leaders often have about CAFOs.

Foster County Commissioner Pat Copenhaver said the key is to make sure it’s a good operator.

“It’s a lot of how you operate – get a good operator who does a good job,” he said.

Larry Syverson, executive director of the North Dakota Township Officers Association, agreed and said one bad operator can ruin the area for interested CAFOs indefinitely.

“A bad operator will give you a lot of history and that’s hard to overcome,” he said. “It’s gonna stay in people’s minds for a long time. Part of the problem now is the stigma from years of bad operators in different parts of the country.”

Bob Thaler, an Extension swine specialist for South Dakota State University, spoke during another session about the economic benefits of livestock. He said a 5,400 sow barn can employ 13-15 full-time workers and could have a positive impact on local commodity prices.

“When it comes down to livestock development, we all need to work together,” he said. “Livestock is one thing that can really keep our rural communities stable.”

Karl Hoppe, a livestock specialist for NDSU Extension, went through the different types of byproducts that come from processing and said ranchers have an opportunity to fill nutrition gaps by incorporating these byproducts into their feed. One example is when phosphorus gets low in grass, adding wheat middlings can pick up the slack.

“There are needs that your cattle have that these can help with,” Hoppe said.

To open the conference, a panel on labor spoke about the benefits and challenges of bringing in temporary agriculture workers from other countries using programs.

Pavel Danil, from Moldova, has been working at the Nelson County Pig Cooperative for the past 10 years. He originally came to the United States on a J-1 visa, which is a cultural and educational exchange program that lasts for only 10 months. He came back on an H-2A work visa, but now has a green card and would like to be an American citizen.

“I never planned to stay in the U.S.,” said Danil, who received a veterinarian degree in his home country. “Most people who come over don’t plan to. My plan was to come over and make some money. Then I got involved with the North Dakota (Pork Council) and the North Dakota Rural Leadership Council. It became about something much bigger than just income.

Todd Erickson, who manages the Nelson County Pig Cooperative, said Danil fit in well, which is why Erickson helped him take the next step in the process of being able to stay in the country.

“It’s a long process and takes some time,” Erickson said. “We felt it was necessary to invest the time and dollars. With him, we felt comfortable investing that time and money. He’s an individual who fit our community and fit our business, long-term.”

Jerry and Jay Doan of Black Leg Ranch also spoke, giving a presentation about their family’s history on the ranch, their commitment to being good stewards of the environment and how regenerating soil health can unlock the future.

– Chris Aarhus, NDFU