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You may only be one hog barn away from keeping the kids on the farm.

While it’s true that the younger generations are slowly migrating away the farm, diversifying your operation can be instrumental in reigniting their interests agriculture. Some livestock experts agree that adding a hog operation to a row crop farm is the answer to not only the question of succession, but also financial stability, and just maybe a new passion of your own.

“If people add a hog operation to a farm operation, it doesn’t change liquidity, doesn’t affect — on average — farm financial stress on ability to make debt repayments, and sometimes improves farm assets,” explained Elliot Dennis, assistant professor of agricultural economics in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Neb.

Dennis said that contract barns for wean-to-finish, in particular, show an encouraging trend of smoothing operating margins, with the ability for producers to “just set a price and produce”.

However, he added that shouldn’t deter a producer who is more interested in setting up their own hog operation.

“If you are good (at growing your own hogs), there are returns to be made out there,” Dennis said. “If you don’t manage utilities or costs, those are the marks of bad independent producers.”

The Luckey family in Columbus, Neb. has experienced both sides of hog production with positive results.

During a panel discussion at the Northeast Nebraska Swine Summit at Northeast Community College, Norfolk, Neb., in July, Bill Luckey said he first looked into building a hog barn to bring a relative back to the family’s sow, cow calf pair and row crop operation.

When it was time to decide whether they would approach the new venture as contract growers or independent producers, Luckey said it came down to the numbers.

“Contract (production) is steady income and steady labor, it just seemed pretty feasible,” Luckey explained. “And we could have the building paid off in a number of years, and then it could become an income-generating piece of property.

“(Our hog barn) is a ‘cash pig’ now. It has generated substantial income for us because it’s paid off now. We added a new watering system, but as far as expenses, they’ve been a nominal amount so far.”

However, he cautioned producers that with the current costs of construction, it’s vital to do the math and have a genuine interest in growing hogs before committing to it.

He added that thick skin was usually a requirement, too.

“Don’t give up if one neighbor says, ‘I don’t like this’,” Luckey advised. “You have the right to do what you want to do. … There were two petitions people signed to stop me putting the barn up. Everything was done right, they just didn’t want a hog barn in the area. You do have to talk to people … (some) people understand, some people aren’t going to.

“One neighbor who complained now has 12-15 chicken barns to bring his kids back, so I guess he saw the light.”

One way to mitigate siting issues for a hog barn is to conduct an odor footprint survey, which would determine the best location for a barn with regard to odor infiltrating neighboring properties.

Rick Stowell, associate professor of UNL’s biological systems engineering department, recommends prospective hog producers visit agsiteplanner.unl.edu, where they can access UNL’s odor footprint tool, as well as numerous other resources to help guide them through the procedures of obtaining a hog barn. Manure.unl.edu also has educational materials that may be beneficial to hog producers.

The first — and arguably most important — step producers should take, though, is contacting the county assessor’s office to find out if their potential barn site will meet all of the necessary zoning requirements.

Colfax County, Neb. Planning and Zoning Administrator Becky Lerch said the local zoning administrators are a valuable asset to navigating this process. She recommends producers start the discussion as soon as possible, as the zoning permit will take up to 110 days for processing and approval, and acquiring approved applications through the Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality is an equally lengthy pursuit. Additionally, construction will add another eight to 10 weeks to the project.

Still, if done efficiently, a hog barn could be ready for use within a year — a relatively short time when considering the future of a multi-generational family farm.

“(Hog barns provide) so much opportunity to bring the younger generations back home, building equity into their farms,” said Kelly Cobb, general manager of Green Gable Construction, LLC during the panel discussion. “Using manure nutrient back into row cropping is a huge added value.

“If this is something you think you want to do, get out there and talk to existing producers, talk to your county.”

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.

This article originally ran on agupdate.com.

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