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Livestock on the Land (04/12/2006)
Ag Tech Advisor - Fillmore, Winona, Houston Counties

"Livestock on the Land" is a power point presentation that Donna Rasmussen, Fillmore County Water Plan Coordinator and I have presented at a number of livestock commodity group meetings this past winter. It examines the environmental and economic benefits of livestock in southeast Minnesota.

Livestock play an important role in keeping permanent vegetation on the land. Livestock need hay and pasture, which are good land uses for the hilly landscape of southeast Minnesota. A large diversity of livestock have long been an important part of the Ag economy in the southeast Minnesota. The landscape here is well suited to raising livestock and the crops that feed the animals.

Having livestock on the land is important to local economies. A strong livestock sector supports local communities creating revenues for local schools, small businesses, and churches. It is estimated that locally derived agricultural dollars turn over 2 to 4 times in the community. Cash receipts from livestock in 2003 in the six leading livestock counties in southeast MN totaled almost $461 million, which is about 11% of the statewide livestock receipts. This far exceeds the cash receipts from both crops and government payments in these counties.

Five of these southeast MN counties are among the top ten in the state for cattle production. Fillmore County leads the state in beef cow numbers. Houston County is ranked #10. In addition, Winona County ranks #3 in the number of milk cows followed by Goodhue County at #5, Wabasha County at #6, and Fillmore County at #8.

Livestock provide a solution to reducing runoff from the land. When heavy rains come in the hills of southeast Minnesota, permanent vegetation on the land, such as hay and pasture, can make a big difference in how much water runs off the land and how much infiltrates or soaks into the ground.

In the past 20 years, livestock numbers, except for hogs and beef cows, have dropped significantly in southeastern Minnesota. Correspondingly, pastureland decreased in SE MN by 22 percent, or 100,000 acres, from 1982 to 1997. Hay and small grain acres that have been lost have been converted to a corn/soybean rotation, a trend identified by University of Minnesota researchers as "unsustainable" for the soils of southeastern Minnesota.

Hay in contour strips as part of a rotation with corn and soybeans captures runoff from the row crops. Hay in a crop rotation also breaks up weed and pest cycles reducing the need for pesticides.

A healthy hay stand provides excellent land cover. Alfalfa hay fixes nitrogen and ties up excess phosphorus that can be utilized by other crops later in the rotation.

Livestock manure recycles nutrients for growing crops. Good manure management practices enhance soil quality and increase soil productivity. Manure adds organic matter which allows the soil to absorb water better, reducing runoff and increasing ground water recharge. Efficient use of manure reduces the need for commercial, petroleum-based fertilizers.

The combination of conservation tillage and manure application has added environmental benefits. No-till and minimum tillage leave residue to protect the soil.

Injecting manure better preserves crop residue and reduces odor. Injecting manure, or incorporating manure soon after application, maximizes the nutrients available to crops.

Southeastern Minnesota farms provide the products for foods found in our grocery stores and local farmers' markets. Our farmers produce high quality food efficiently while being good stewards of the land.

What happens on Ag land in the rural areas of southeast Minnesota has far-reaching effects. The Ag products grown here help feed thousands of non-farm families. Good land use practices protect water resources for drinking and other needs for everyone in southeast Minnesota. Clean rivers and streams create an inviting place for swimming, fishing, canoeing, and wading.

Having livestock on the land has been a part of our heritage. Thomas Jefferson once said, "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens." Farming is cooperation and teamwork, building a strong work ethic within multiple generations. Livestock are part of our farming history and are a part of our future to help preserve a healthy environment and local economy in southeast Minnesota. 


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