There is no doubt that livestock development is economically beneficial to Nebraska. However, widespread public opposition to new Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) will continue to stymie that development. Following are a list of issues that should be addressed relative to future Nebraska livestock development.
1. Odor footprinting techniques should be developed and evaluated for use in AFO zoning decisions. University of Minnesota researchers have developed odor footprints for swine confinements, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have developed footprints for open cattle feedlots. This technique has generated considerable interest within the Nebraska zoning community, and may be a way to establish a more science-based foundation for AFO zoning setback regulations in the future.
2. Counties should consider providing incentives for livestock operators implementing advanced odor reduction and environmental protection practices and facilities. Many
Nebraska counties already do this by having different setbacks for AFOs, depending upon the manure handling system or processes employed. AFO operators can qualify for a smaller setback by e.g., covering manure pits or by using facultative lagoons to reduce odors.
3. Livestock operators and their allies should directly address the odor issue. Livestock odors are an inevitable byproduct of livestock production. Yet many livestock proponents act as if livestock odors don’t exist, except in the imagination of AFO opponents. Livestock groups should be proactive in promoting odor-reducing management practices and even regulations, but should also admit that livestock odors can be reduced but are difficult to eliminate. Pretending that odors are not a legitimate issue for discussion robs livestock proponents of the credibility they need if progress is going to be made over the current livestock development impasse. Failure to do so only increases the likelihood that the political defeat suffered by livestock development supporters in 2002 will be repeated.
4. Livestock advocates must accept that not all counties and not all Nebraska citizens will embrace very large AFOs. It seems likely that very large livestock facilities will generate significant (and in some cases unacceptable) levels of odor, dust and flies, despite the use of the very best management practices and facilities. Livestock industry supporters should acknowledge this. Failure to do so runs the risk of creating strong public opposition to all livestock facilities, not just the very largest ones.
Livestock production is crucial to Nebraska’s economic future. But until livestock advocates become more candid about the adverse impacts of large-scale livestock production, little progress is likely to be made in promoting additional livestock development in Nebraska.For more information or assistance, please contact Allan Vyhnalek, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Extension in Platte County. Phone: 402-563-4901 or e-mail AVYHNALEK2@unl.edu