AgUnited hosts Mitchell livestock seminar to promote CAFOs

CAFO supporters view eastern South Dakota as hog heaven.

Brian McGinnis with Planning District III talks about county permitting during the AgUnited Livestock Seminar at the Davison County 4-H Center on Tuesday in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Concentrated animal feeding operations have been on the rise recently, and AgUnited continues to be one of the largest advocates in southeastern South Dakota.

Aside from Charles Mix County, each East River county in South Dakota has zoning ordinances to limit the size of CAFOs and AgUnited has attempted to guide farmers on the logistics of obtaining permits, with the hopes of encouraging new people to enter the agricultural world.

After a March seminar was delayed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, AgUnited hosted a six-hour livestock seminar with 52 attendees at Davison County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, providing a variety of speakers to offer information and advice for established farmers and those looking to begin.

“If you want to put up a hog barn or a cattle yard of a certain size, you need a county permit,” AgUnited Executive Director Steve Dick said. “Also, if you’re over 1,000 beef cattle or 2,400-head of hogs, you have to have a state permit. The idea of the seminar is to give producers things they need to think about if they want to build a livestock facility or expand a livestock facility.”

AgUnited was created 16 years ago as a coalition of seven farm groups -- South Dakota Poultry Industries Association, South Dakota Soybean Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Pork Producers Council, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and South Dakota Dairy Producers -- to promote animal agriculture throughout the state.


A number of participants take part in the AgUnited Livestock Seminar at the Davision County 4-H Center on Tuesday in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Seminars were held more than a decade ago, but when the agriculture market changed, AgUnited moved away from them as the price of corn and soybeans grew exponentially. In 2019, seminars reemerged with meetings in Aberdeen, Madison and Watertown when the market slowed. Between 2018 and 2019, nearly 20 new CAFOs were created.

“It’s an opportunity for farms to diversify,” Dick said. “If you have a son or daughter coming back from technical school and they want to start farming, to go find the extra acres it would take to support another family, it’s easier to do that with livestock. The margins are so small on grain products.”

CAFOs have a throng of supporters -- including Gov. Kristi Noem -- as the state had 43.2 million acres of farm operation in 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Last year, South Dakota grossed nearly $10 billion in agriculture products, with $3.6 billion coming from corn, soybeans and wheat. In 2017, $4.5 billion of $9.7 billion in revenue came from livestock and poultry.

But despite the supporters and monetary potential, CAFOs have several opponents, many citing concerns of odor and water pollution. Dick, however, says those concerns can be mitigated through cooperation with county ordinances and communications.

“If you’re going to build a facility, you need to work with your neighbors and let them know what you’re doing,” Dick said. “If you’re going to use three days in the fall to clean your barns out, let your neighbors know in advance. If you’re up front about that, it will go a long way. The way counties can deal with that is saying how far you can be from your neighbors and what kind of practices you do.”


AgUnited will continue to focus on the eastern portion of the state, where corn and soybeans are more prevalent, given easier access to markets. AgUnited hopes to help increase the number of farms in the state after losing 300 since 2017.

Dick says that most of the people that attended Tuesday’s seminar in Mitchell were those interested in having a facility with 500 head of cattle or 2,400 hog-head, which take less manpower to operate.

“There’s a whole section of the state we have touched yet with one of these seminars in the last 10-12 years,” Dick said. “The further east you get, the more likely it is to see a hog barn or a cattle barn. Facilities are going to locate where they have access to a market and feed.”

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