Nic Anderson’s first 4-H project was with chickens before his father let him work up to hogs. He has built his career the same way — learning skills one place that serve him well in the next.
After graduating from Western Illinois University in Macomb where he did of livestock judging, he headed to Dubuque, Iowa, to gain more experience as a hog buyer. He upped his knowledge in swine genetics while working at Premier Pork Systems in Indiana.
So he was ready when the Illinois Livestock Development Group named him livestock business developer 15 years ago.
IFT: What is a lesson you learned growing up on a Henry County farm?
ANDERSON: A dairy farmer once told me to pick up a bale once and put it down once. He always knew when he picked it up where he would put it down. Anything else is a waste of time. That is true about anything you do.
IFT: How did the Illinois Livestock Development Group get started?
ANDERSON: In 2004, there was research to identify how to grow the livestock industry when it was seen as shrinking and there was a loss of producers. They sought to identify factors to help producers get resources about getting permits, using new technology and financing, which led to the ILDG.
IFT: What is your role when a farmer starts the process to build a new hog barn, for example?
ANDERSON: First, a farmer has to be able to tell who they are as a business. Farmers are good at farming, but they might not always be good at telling their story. My job is to help tell the farm story.
I meet with the farmer and help them figure out how they can meet the requirements of the Livestock Facilities Management Act.
My other role is to dispel misinformation, and I’m a resources to tell the positive impact of livestock operations.
IFT: What’s the oddest thing you ever heard at a public hearing for a new facility?
ANDERSON: Probably the oddest was at a meeting at a Clay County church. The woman was afraid that they lived in tornado alley and that a tornado would come and the pigs would be scattered all over the countryside. I assume she had images of the Wizard of Oz in her mind.
She opposed it; there was no changing her mind. When there is opposition, we try to use logic and common sense. A lot of times that doesn’t exist at those meetings.
But the contentious ones are only about 1%. A lot of permit requests go uncontested. On average, 75-100 permits to build are granted every year. There were 75 last year. Eight to 10 are already started this year.
IFT: What is the biggest challenge at public hearings?
ANDERSON: It can be challenging to know what the agenda of the opposition is. It can be hidden. We can address the concerns of local people, but sometimes neighbors are exploited and manipulated by outside activists.
A lot of times the fear of the unknown is worse than the truth. Their biggest worries about order, waste runoff never come true. It’s never what they thought — it’s always better.
IFT: Why are open houses often held before livestock goes in?
ANDERSON: They are like a grand opening to celebrate a new business in town. The farmers can invite their friends and neighbors. People can see how they make their living.
It becomes rewarding when people who had no idea what it is like, get to see it inside. … They get a new perspective to learn that 5 million slices of bacon come out of a 2,500 head finishing barn a year.
IFT: What is the best part of your job?
ANDERSON: To visit a farmer, find out their goals for the future and help them get there.