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Column

Livestock report means several good things for Illinois

I’ve always considered school the start of fall and fall activities such as pumpkin picking, tailgating and late-night bonfires. No tailgate would be complete without a burger or hot dog and no burger or hot dog would exist without the dedicated farmer behind it.

According to the USDA, the average American will consume 222 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018. Today more and more farmers are looking for ways to diversify their farms, and these numbers are good news. Raising livestock is certainly not the easy decision for these farmers due to the labor involved and the strict rules and regulations they must follow, but at the end of the day, a farmer’s very livelihood rests on the animals they raise and the soil they plant into making these rules easy to follow.

The Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Milk Producers’ Association and Illinois Pork Producers Association chose to announce at the State Fair the results of a yearlong project to determine the true environmental performance of livestock farms in Illinois, as well as the effectiveness of state regulations already in place.

This is the first-ever report issued by Illinois agriculture and commodity groups to reveal four truths about today’s Illinois livestock farms: Environmental issues are uncommon in Illinois livestock farms; Illinois livestock farms are environmentally sustainable; livestock farms are economic engines for Illinois; and livestock farms create opportunities to bring the next generation back to rural communities.

In Illinois, the combination of existing, robust regulations, farmer investment and ongoing industry educational efforts have significantly improved the environmental performance of today’s livestock farmers. In 1996, Illinois was one of the first states in the Midwest to pass legislation (the Livestock Management Facilities Act, or LMFA) related to building livestock farms.

The LMFA governs siting, construction and certain operating aspects of livestock farms in the state. It ensures that livestock farms are sited on scientific, objective criteria, and that the rules are applied uniformly throughout the state.

The project examined 30 years of publicly available data from the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), as well as information from other state agencies and academic research, highlights the environmental sustainability and economic impact of livestock farms across the state.

“Livestock farmers like me have to comply with multiple layers of regulation here in Illinois,” said Brian Duncan, vice president, Illinois Farm Bureau. “Agencies including the IDOA, IEPA, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office all play significant roles. And that’s not all – we are also impacted by federal agencies.”

Here in Illinois, the layers of regulations and rules are working and working well. Data compiled in the final report show that the total number of livestock-related complaints into the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, including water pollution and odor complaints, have dipped drastically, down from 259 in 1996 to just 24 in 2017.

“This report not only shows Illinois’ regulatory program is effective at improving environmental performance of livestock farms, but also shows livestock farms across the state help support rural communities,” said Don Mackinson, president, Illinois Milk Producers’ Association, “These farms add jobs, stimulate the economy, and provide a place for young family members to stay or return to work on the farm.”

At a time when farmers are battling record-low income due to dipping commodity prices, the data also show livestock farms across the state are helping to stabilize bottom lines, both for farmers and small business owners.

“We see it again and again, in rural communities across the state,” said Joni Bucher, president, Illinois Beef Association. “These farms – both large and small – provide for more than just the family who lives there. Livestock production contributes $14.1 billion annually in economic activity in Illinois and adds more than 52,000 jobs. That’s more than just a little ripple in a big pond.”

I encourage everyone to check out the full 2018 Illinois Livestock Report, which can be found at www.ilfb.org/livestocktruth. As time passes, innovation allows livestock farmers to continuously improve their farms and produce more food with fewer resources. These innovations are supported by university research that give farmers additional ways to become more environmentally sustainable.

When you’re enjoying your next burger or hot dog at this fall’s tailgate, I hope you take a moment to appreciate the farmer behind it and the innovations that have led to more sustainable farms for today.

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