Nebraska stands up for farmers in CAFO attack

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post

With contributions in the neighborhood of $13.8 billion in 2018, livestock production is leading the way for the Nebraska economy. According to a report by Glennis McClure and Brad Lubben at the University of Nebraska, the livestock industry, anchored by beef, creates and supports about 41,000 jobs directly and livestock production has a place on nearly half of all Nebraska ag operations.

When an anti-agriculture group proposed a moratorium on new livestock production, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and Gov. Pete Ricketts were quick to respond.

The anti-ag group Nebraska Communities United is comprised of primarily out of state groups and is targeting citizens in Butler, Colfax, Cuming, Dodge, Madison, Platte, Polk, Saunders, Stanton and Washington counties. According to the group’s website, their original concern was over water related to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in farms producing for Lincoln Premium Poultry/Costco.

According to Ansley Mick, director of State Governmental Relations for Nebraska Farm Bureau, there are resources for people living near chicken barns who may have legitimate questions.

“We can answer these people and we want to be responsive to folks who live here and live in these counties,” Mick said. “If you pull back the curtain, you’ll see some of the other individuals and organizations that lent their name to the press release have a much broader agenda and, in many cases, that is just an anti-animal agriculture agenda.”

The growers in Nebraska who are raising poultry, Mick said, are savvy businesspeople, who come to the table with an understanding of vertical integration, modern production agriculture, and with an attorney to review their contracts. Mick said it is a common misconception that Costco will be raising chickens and she said that’s not the reality. Costco is contracting with growers to produce poultry on their farms, many of which have been family operations for generations.

“You see the Sierra Club saying, ‘we have to stop this, these people don’t know what they’re getting into’ and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

With a few exceptions where the barn itself is owned by an investor but is located on a locally owned farm, the poultry producers are local and are diversifying their operation.


Mick said Nebraska has long been heavily dependent upon property taxes and these operations have and will continue to contribute to state and local tax rolls, as well as local economies.

“The problem is allowing these folks to take advantage of individuals and situations and they get their foot in the door and gain traction a little at a time,” she said. “The economic impact of a state-wide moratorium would be huge. In reality, if this were just about vertical integration, if it were really about the regulatory structure surrounding livestock production, they would be having conversations locally.”

In Saunders County Monday night, local officials approved a poultry facility on a 4-2 vote with conditions requiring additional trees to be planted on the property and an annual report submitted to the county.

“There were local residents with concerns about where the barns would be sited, they went to the county, and the county responded,” she said. “There’s a process here for anyone with a legitimate concern to air their grievances and either have it answered or have some additional considerations on the table.”

Food safety concerns claimed by the group in an attempt to drive production elsewhere are misguided, Mick said. Having the production in Nebraska, with day to day operations run by Nebraska farmers is far preferable to forcing production to a location with less regulation.

In a social media post Tuesday, Nebraska Farmers Union said, “Costco’s extreme form of vertical integration puts family farmers, and our rural quality of life at risk.” The post has since been removed. A coalition which includes Dodge County Farmers Union, Nebraska Sierra Club and others is currently circulating an online petition in favor of the CAFO moratorium.

Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen said his organization does not have policy addressing the CAFO moratorium.

“Nebraska Farmers Union state policy does not address the issue of CAFO moratoriums, nor has the Nebraska Farmers Union Board of Directors or Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen endorsed the CAFO moratorium effort. Nebraska Farmers Union county organizations are encouraged to follow state policy but are independent entities that can exercise their own judgment on issues that are important in their county, but cannot speak on behalf of the state organization,” he said.

In a statement released Monday, NEFB president Craig Head said, “The notion that a moratorium is needed ignores the realities of what farmers must do to build and operate a new livestock farm. Nebraska farmers go through an extensive process and must adhere to numerous local, state, and federal regulations, governing everything from where barns can be located, to how they operate for the protection of natural resources and the environment. A moratorium on Nebraska livestock farms, as has been proposed by some environmental and activist groups, would be nothing short of a disservice to Nebraska farmers, our rural communities, and our state.”

Gov. Ricketts released a statement that said, “Let’s be clear: The out-of-state environmental lobbying groups rallying opposition against our family farmers in Nebraska are anti-agriculture. Left unchecked, they would destroy our way of life. This attempt to stop livestock development in Nebraska is a part of the ‘meat is murder’ movement led by radical groups who want to end livestock production around the globe. I urge Nebraskans in our local communities to rise up and protect family farms and stand with our livestock producers across our state.”

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said CAFOs are “well thought out and planned operations across Nebraska with plans that work to address environmental impacts, nutrient management and animal health to efficiently deliver a high quality, safe food supply.”

The Burnett County, Wisconsin, natural resources committee voted unanimously to support a one-year moratorium on CAFOs in their county. The move apparently came in response to a permit request for a new poultry facility in the country, according to the Burnett County Sentinal. The Superior Telegram published a letter to the editor Sept. 20, calling for a letter writing campaign to the Wisconsin governor calling for a one-year moratorium on CAFOs in the state.