The siting of large livestock facilities continues to be a contentious issue across the Midwest, with some states such as Wisconsin preempting local authority and setting statewide standards. But Nebraska has kept local control over the rules determining decisions on new or expanded operations. Thirteen years ago, with an eye toward supporting the industry but not stripping away local zoning authority, the Nebraska Legislature gave counties across the state the chance to be designated as “livestock friendly.”
Today, nearly half of Nebraska’s counties (41 of 92) have sought and received the designation. According to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study, cattle operations in the state’s livestock-friendly counties expanded by 12 percent from 2002 to 2012. Over that same period, the growth rate for other counties was 8 percent. And although the number of hog farms dropped in most Nebraska counties between 2002 and 2012, the decline was much less severe in livestock-friendly counties: 16 percent vs. 62 percent.
Between 2003 and 2009, a string of high-profile foodborne illnesses hit consumers across the United States. There were salmonella outbreaks from produce, hepatitis A infections from raw or undercooked green onions, and cases of pet foods contaminated with melamine. And nine people died and more than 700 got sick from eating salmonella-tainted peanut butter traced back to a single processing plant in Georgia.
In the wake of these deaths and illnesses, federal food-safety legislation that had been many decades in the making finally got signed into law.
Could the Great Lakes be used even more to satisfy the U.S. demand for seafood? There is no question that U.S. consumers seem to have an insatiable appetite for it. In addition to the production of $9 billion worth of edible fish in 2015, we imported more than $20 billion worth. And as a result of decades of overfishing, natural fisheries cannot meet global demand — about half of all seafood is farmed fish from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
In Michigan, state agencies have received concept proposals to establish privately owned net-pen operations (where fish are raised in an underwater net) in the Great Lakes. And various bills were introduced this year to modify state law on aquaculture.
Inspired by some of the farmer-led projects being done in neighboring Iowa and looking for new ways to improve water quality, legislators in Wisconsin are providing financial assistance to groups of agricultural producers that collaborate on new conservation initiatives. The Producer Led Watershed Protection Grants Program was included in the state’s current budget (adopted in 2015), which provides $250,000 annually, with individual grants capped at $20,000. Participating producers must provide a 1:1 funding match.
A fiber optic connection is considered the “gold standard” for quality, high-speed Internet access, and in the Midwest, it’s in pretty short supply.
Except in North Dakota.
In the region’s most sparsely populated state, 60 percent of the households, including those on farms in far-flung areas, have fiber. (That compares to 24 percent in the Midwest, where most of the existing fiber networks serve urban areas.) In all, North Dakota ranks fifth in the nation in fiber access.This is amazing enough, considering many of the obstacles typically cited as responsible for the dearth of high-speed technologies in rural parts of the Midwest — for example, the high costs of serving low-density areas.
But the story of North Dakota’s prominence in fiber access is also a testament to entrepreneurship in the nation’s heartland, and perhaps a model for the rest of the Midwest.
If the plans of a group of investors called Great Lakes Basin Transportation get the go-ahead, the Midwest could soon be home to the nation’s largest new railroad project in more than a century.
The idea behind this proposed 278-mile rail line is to allow some freight traffic to bypass the Chicago rail yards, where congestion caused by the greatest density of rail lines in the world can tie up freight for 30 hours. Current projections show traffic in this rail hub...
Farmers in the states and provinces that make up CSG Midwest’s Midwestern Legislative Conference are the most prolific producers of edible protein in the world. This is an enviable position to be in, especially at a time when demand for high-protein diets is on the rise, and a new binational partnership is seeking to make the most of this regional economic advantage. Developed by the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, the “Protein Highway” initiative encompasses three...
For North Dakota Sen. Terry Wanzek, recently passed legislation in his state to provide exemptions to a ban on corporate hog and dairy farming is all about the preservation of the family farm — including his own.
“My cousin owns a dairy farm next door to our crop farm,” explains Wanzek, who sponsored SB 2351 last year. “He is investing heavily in updated facilities, but if we wanted to incorporate together to add value to my crops, any corporation would be illegal should our children inherit it, because they are not closely enough related.”
SB 2351, passed by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, would provide the necessary exemptions. Specifically, it would allow corporations to own up to 640 acres for a dairy or hog farm; corporate ownership of any other type of farming operation, or of farmland, would remain illegal in North Dakota.
“We have to provide ways for family farms to grow and continue to the next generation,” Wanzek says.
But opponents of the legislation (including the North Dakota Farmers Union) say SB 2351 is not the answer, and they gathered enough signatures to force a statewide vote on it in June. A “no” vote would mean that corporate dairy and hog farms owned by individuals further apart than three degrees of kinship would remain illegal.
Ask Minnesota Sen. Matt Schmit what his rural communities in Greater Minnesota need to prosper, and it doesn’t take long before the discussion turns to the importance of having high-speed Internet. “A good share of our rural homes and businesses still lack access to Minnesota’s very modest speed goals,” he says.
Schmit is not the only state lawmaker concerned about this lack of connectivity. Six years ago, the Legislature passed a bill calling for all Minnesotans to have access to those “modest speed goals” (10 megabits per second download and 5 Mbps upload) by 2015. As of last year, however, only 78 percent of households met that standard.
America’s farmers are aging, fast. According to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, the average age is now 58, up from 50 in 1982 and now nearing the average retirement age in this country (it is 62, a recent Gallup poll found). But there might be a younger group that could at least be part of the nation’s next generation of farmers — military veterans, particularly those seeking new career opportunities as they return from service overseas.