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Is this just the start? Edmore, N.D., farmer says animal operations can rescue rural population decl

Published on 23 February, 2006, Last updated at 05:10 GMT

12th Feb, 2006: EDMORE, N.D. - North Dakota is prime ground for growing hogs.

"It has lots of agricultural land, lots of grain and lots of open space ," said Kevin Tyndall, a consultant from Canadian hog producer Hytek.

Paul Ivesdal, an Edmore farmer, agrees. "I'd like to see 1 million hogs in our school district," he said. "We could site a hog operation in each township."

That's a lofty goal, considering that Ivesdal has unsuccessfully attempted to get one 21,000-hog operation approved. Viking Feeders LLC, a group of local investors that has Ivesdal as its general manager, is still negotiating with Ramsey County, which wants to impose stricter regulations than the state.

Frustrated by a year's delay, Ivesdal said he might move his proposed hog operation a mile north, into Cavalier County. He said Viking Feeders also is considering a switch to a 5,000-sow farrowing operation rather than the 21,000-hog business that finishes the animals and sends them to market.

"The farrowing operation means 17 or 18 jobs, compared to the six jobs with the finishing barns," Ivesdal said. "But the finishing uses about four times as much grain. I'm leaning toward creating more jobs over more feed."

A farrowing operation, a nursery operation and two 20,000-head finishing sites constitute what is called a loop.

"We could get 10 loops in the school district," Ivesdal said. "We could site one in each township. Sure, that's a dream, but I don't see any other business coming here."

Although it might be a dream to Ivesdal, it's a nightmare to others, judging by the resistance to his current plan. Most Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations meet with complaints from neighbors, but Viking Feeders has had detractors from the entire Devils Lake basin. The lake's flooding has been disastrous to many, but the one plus is that it's made for a great fishery and the tourism that comes with it. Some fear his hog operation will pollute the water.

Ivesdal scoffs at the suggestion. "I'm 60 to 65 miles from the lake and Devils Lake city's lagoon is right up against the lake," he said. "What's safer?"

Economic development

Ivesdal said Viking Feeders is about providing jobs, providing area growers with another market and the survival of Edmore and its school.

"If we could have 10 loops, that would be 350 jobs," he said. "That would be a lot of kids in our school district. We don't have 160 kids in our whole (K-12) school now."

He said the most basic jobs would pay $10 an hour, plus provide health insurance, retirement, vacation, other benefits and the chance to advance. "Here in rural North Dakota, that's not bad for the lowest job on the totem pole," he said.

"With what we'd be paying, we'll drive wages up in town, which I don't think is all bad."

Two loops would make a feed mill viable, Ivesdal said. A feed mill would mean more jobs and higher grain prices for area growers, who would no longer have to pay shipping costs.

The hog manure also is an asset, he said, as its spread in fields would lower fertilizer costs. "Some talk about manure like it is hazardous waste," Ivesdal said. "It's not; it's a nutrient."

Jobs, added value

Bryan Boll said his proposed cattle feedlot by Gentilly, Minn., will diversify his farm and grow profit. But it will benefit others, too, he said. It will mean seven full-time jobs, more spin-off jobs and added value for local farmers. It will consume more than $1 million annually in feeds that are produced locally.

"We'll be using 2,000 acres of corn, 400 acres of alfalfa and 20,000 tons of beet pulp," Boll said. "Local owners have the opportunity to retain ownership of their cattle longer, which will result in increased revenue."

The two hog operations in Cando, N.D., owned by cousins Bruce and Jim Gibbens will cost a combined $11 million to build. Combined, they will provide 25 full-time jobs, some part-time jobs and an expected annual payroll of $800,000.

But Gibbens said the value-added aspect is even more important.

"Corn has a value of $1.75 a bushel," he said. "You take that value and run it through an animal, and it comes out to $3.50 a bushel. You've captured that value and retained it for your area."

Next step

With animal production and a feed mill in place, the next step could be an ethanol plant or a slaughterhouse. Ethanol plants provide synergy with grain and cattle operations.

"It's all about building the industry as a whole," Ivesdal said. "If we don't develop it here, it's like exporting jobs. Then the same thing will happen to our ag industry that happened with our auto industry.

"We have to get over our hurdles and get the first one up."


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