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Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

Lots of room for growth

Indiana easily accommodates agricultural diversity

Justin Schneider

Indiana lawmakers met to study livestock barns before the General Assembly convenes in January. The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resourcesmet three times to discuss the management, construction and regulations associated with animal farms.

As director of state government relations at the Indiana Farm Bureau, I was heavily involved in these meetings, and I testified during the Sept. 19 session. The Farm Bureau appreciates that many legislators expressed an interest in learning about livestock, and we thank those who experienced a farm firsthand with a visit. As the largest farm organization in Indiana, the Farm Bureau supports all forms of modern agriculture, everything from the local food movement to large farms and all farms in between.

Some of our members are small acreage producers who sell directly to consumers. Some members manage farms with an agritourism destination. We also have members who run large farms. In some cases, farmers with large livestock farms also operate in the local food and agritourism landscape.

Indiana is big enough for all types of agriculture to thrive.

Indiana is blessed with quality farmland and an abundance of natural resources. When considering the placement of livestock barns, rural Indiana is ideally suited for agricultural production. The livestock barns discussed in the committee offer opportunities for younger members of a farming family to come home and build their own life on the farm. The added income opportunity that livestock farms provide is critical to bringing farm kids back to rural communities that are struggling to maintain population, tax base and jobs.

This issue isn't just about dollars and cents. Communities are concerned about the health of their residents and quality of life where animal agriculture is concerned. Indiana Farm Bureau agrees that public health and well-being are of the highest importance.

Farmers work hard to minimize effects on their community. Farmers also understand that it's important for farms, residences, tourism and agritourism to co-exist.

Farmers use a variety of techniques to increase their ability to operate safely and to act as good stewards of the environment. Some of these practices include increased conservation efforts to improve soil health, basing manure application on agronomic needs and using new odor mitigation techniques. New technology also allows farmers to house animals in barns that are safe and clean, resulting in healthier animals.

There are state agencies that work hard to ensure compliance with existing regulations. Indiana Farm Bureau supports the efforts of these agencies to keep the state's citizens and natural resources safe. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is one of those agencies with oversight on livestock barns.

IDEM has been regulating these livestock barns, which operate at a smaller number of animals than most other states, since 1971. There have been updates over the years to the regulations they enforce. IDEM is responsible for stringent, up-front oversight on the design and construction of livestock barns and manure storage. Once a barn is built, IDEM also regulates nutrient management, stormwater from manure-treated fields, compliance, and manure handling and storage.

It is also important to note that IDEM isn't the sole authority on the approval of livestock barns. Local zoning laws provide an opportunity for each community to have a say in the location of these operations. Indiana Farm Bureau supports wise, locally controlled planning and zoning that reduces the opportunity for conflict between uses, and encourages community members to be involved in the process. Livestock production, regardless of size, is farming, and farming must take place in areas zoned for agriculture.

Considering all the oversight by state and local government authorities, Indiana's ample farmland, and technological advances in agriculture, livestock production should have a bright future in Indiana.

Justin Schneider is director of state government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau.