Keeping Livestock Operations in Iowa with One-on-One Assistance

Joel DeJong, crops field specialist

Properly and legally managing manure in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner is a challenge for many Iowa livestock producers. Every operation is unique in design and faces different situations. Also, with the wide array of regulations producers often find it hard to keep up. Many of these producers need one-on-one help to insure they are doing the job right on their farm, both legally and environmentally. As an extension field crop specialist, I get many questions on these topics; however, I don't find enough time to offer the individual help needed in each situation.

I believe that the Plymouth County Extension Council was the first to identify the need to have additional one-on-one help available for producers in that county. This council even made a commitment to find funds in their budget to help this idea develop, stirring Jack Frus, Plymouth County Extension Education Director, and myself to begin development of this project. Other counties were approached to see if they would be willing to make a similar commitment, and the Sioux and Cherokee county extension councils saw a similar need.

After cooperatively designing a proposal to hire and train a part-time Livestock Environmental Advisor, the Farm Bureau offices in each county was approached to see if they would help fund this position. Plymouth and Sioux county Farm Bureaus committed two years of funds to this project, in addition to some additional funds from the state Farm Bureau organization. Ron Johannsen of Cherokee County Extension was hired to fill this position, and training began in early 2002.

Since his hiring, Ron has made visits to dozens of farms, discovering problems, identifying solutions and answering questions. In addition he has answered many phone and e-mail questions. Ron is not an expert in the field of livestock environmental management, yet he is an expert on finding the right answers or who can help each producer.

Ron assisted managers in devising good manure management plans and taught them how to implement them properly. He identified issues with solid settling in outside feedlots and facilitated help to design initial installation or improvements of solid settling basins. He dealt with many operation issues of beef, dairy and swine producers.

Johannsen helped organize two manure application field days and assisted with some solid settling field days, too. Ron also helped extension in these northwest Iowa counties by strengthening our relationships with Farm Bureau, the media and other agencies and organizations who work with manure management issues.
A prime example of the impact of his work occurred in one instance in Plymouth County. Ron was contacted by a producer who was considering moving his feedlot to another state because he thought environmental regulations in Iowa were making it impossible. Johannsen was able to connect the local producer with ISU Extension Agricultural Engineer Kris Kohl, a civil engineer, a bio-security specialist and NRCS officials to help him develop a plan for a cattle feedlot operation that would meet environmental regulations. With the assistance he received, this producer was able to put a workable plan in place and keep his viable livestock business in Plymouth County.

I think this is a great example of a need identified by a local extension council, then directed to staff who — thinking creatively and working cooperatively — recruited non-extension help to meet the needs of northwest Iowa residents.


Page last updated: July 2, 2006
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