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Livestock Friendly designations help Nebraska counties thrive

It's been 13 years since the "livestock friendly" designations came about in Nebraska, and on Oct. 13 the number of counties with a livestock priority reached 40.

Mat Habrock, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, designated Antelope County as the latest "livestock friendly" county. This designation shows the priority placed on livestock operations in the county, which can help bring producers to those counties.

"It's a great tool for counties to have," Habrock said.

A team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln researched the effects of the county designations. Brian Mills used the project for his master's thesis, and analyzed what happened to cattle and pork producers' operations when a county did and didn't have the designation.

“Even in a declining industry for the state, the research Mills worked on found a positive relationship between livestock counties and the decline in hog producers in the state.”

The study found of the 21 counties with the designations through 2012, cattle producers on average had an increase in farm numbers. Habrock said Nebraska is a leading livestock state — particularly in beef — and having an increase in production continues to show the state's dedication to the industry.

Even in a declining industry for the state, the research Mills worked on found a positive relationship between livestock counties and the decline in hog producers in the state. Regardless of the designation, most counties in Nebraska saw a decrease in hog production, but those who lived in the designated counties didn't see the downward trends at such an extensive rate.

Mills' interest in the research stemmed from his own upbringing in a small Nebraska town.

"I grew up on a farm. We had some cows we raised," he said.

His family also grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa to accompany the livestock. Even with his own farming experience, he approached his thesis just looking to see what was happening, rather than looking to confirm or reject assumptions of the designations.

"The research was to see if (the designation) made any difference," said Mills' academic advisor on the project, Azzeddine Azzam.

And it turns out, in the 13 years since the project started that it does. But the designation program isn't only a way to entice producers to come to particular counties or expand, but it also rewards counties that have shown a dedication to livestock operations.

Habrock said there is another county that will get the designation, but which one has not been announced. There are also two other counties that applied to receive the designation.

While the research only included half of the current designated counties, another possible factor the research didn't get to touch on was the state's incentive program that started after the research concluded.

Mills said there are now monetary incentives for counties to get the designation, like helping with road repair.

Mills said he doesn't have any plans to continue his research for his dissertation at Oklahoma State, where he is pursuing his Ph.D. in agricultural economics.❖