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REDFIELD, S.D. — Steve Masat has operated a confinement animal feeding operation in Spink County, S.D., for 10 years. Now he wants his family and community to have updated county zoning rules that could allow future opportunities.

Masat, 54, and his sons, Tim and Garrett, farm separately, but together operate Masat Cattle Co. in Redfield, S.D. At the heart of their operation is a feedlot that currently holds up to 2,400 animals.

Steve Masat has been on the South Dakota Corn Growers Association board of directors since 2014.

About a year ago, the Association's board heard a presentation from Steve Dick, executive director of Ag United for South Dakota. After hearing Dick talk about the opportunity for more CAFOs in the state, based on the amount of feed grains grown, Steve asked the Spink County Commission to invite Dick to present at a meeting in early March, as part of a review for updating CAFO zoning in the county.

Steve Masat sees CAFOs as progress, in a world where farmers deal with corporations and struggle with change.

Trial by the ’80s

Steve Masat started his farming career early, renting 880 acres in his senior year of high school.

In 1983, he married Carline Clayes and they bought a farm the same year. “A lot of land was moving; interest was extremely high,” he says.

His father let him use his machinery and he raised hogs and custom fed up to 1,200 head of sheep. “You did what you did to survive,” he says. After working through the drought of 1988, things improved with the advent of better corn hybrids and soybeans.

Through 2005, the Masats fed only 300 head of cattle. Dirt work for the feedlot expansion came in 2005 and the animals were in place by 2006.

In 2014, the Masat family expanded its permit to 4,999 head, which their production numbers have yet to meet. Their farming operation has grown to support all of this, and with no complaints from neighbors.

The family sells mostly finished cattle, but also markets some cow-calf pairs, and Garrett has helped them develop higher-quality heifers in the feedlot through artificial-insemination and dry lot breeding until they go to fall grazing.

The family buys some hay, but otherwise produces the feedstuffs for their cattle-feeding operation. They purchase distillers grain from regional ethanol operations, as well as protein supplements.

The Masat family buys “country cattle” — varying in weight from 550- to 800-pound calves, including some yearlings. They bring cattle from producers in Montana, Wyoming and the western Dakotas.

Shifting the operation to a CAFO has made record-keeping about manure content and soil conditions an important part of the business. The extra paperwork can seem like an imposition, but it has helped better monitor and manage fertility. Steve says that’s better than having people report perceived infractions.

To Steve Masat more CAFOs could bring opportunity.

“It’s called jobs, it’s called trucking, feed business, veterinary business,” he says. “We’re taking a product and adding value rather than shipping it on a rail for someone else to do it.” Adding more livestock to his county could add 15 cents per bushel of corn.

20-year update

Tim Reinbold, zoning administrator for Spink County, which is in northeast South Dakota, said the county’s zoning ordinances have been in place since 1997.

The zoning commission recently heard from an agricultural and biosystems engineering associate professor at South Dakota State University, offering research on how new technologies are improving odor issues.

The laws require setbacks from residences, municipalities and bodies of water, based on the numbers of different categories of animals. There are about 20 confinement animal feeding operations in the county, most associated with Hutterite colonies or cattle feeding operations like the Masats have.

Some of the county’s ordinances are redundant to what the state already has in place. “In some cases, some of these large-scale CAFOs would come up with a setback of 20 to 30 miles to build something of a certain size,” Reinbold said. Some people have advocated making the laws less restrictive, but the commission could decide to make them more restrictive, he said. “It appears our ordinance is going to be much shorter, simpler and user-friendly,” Reinbold said. 

For the CAFO zoning, the council gets input from farmers and cooperates with the Northeast Council of Governments in Aberdeen, S.D., and the Grow Spink local economic group, as well as BASEC, with its theme, “Opening Doors to Dreams and Healthy Community.”

Dave Albrecht of Redfield is the chairman of the Spink County commission, and says it’s too soon to predict how the zoning review will turn out. “Farmers are not entirely in favor of it,” he said, of adding large confinement animal feeding operations. Some counties have looked at it and have become more restrictive. He isn’t convinced any change is needed.

Masat is intrigued with opportunities relating to dairy expansions coming to South Dakota on the I-29 Corridor. He sees opportunity as the poultry industry is interested in cage-free production of eggs for states such as California. “It’s probably cheaper to ship eggs to California than corn,” he says.

Embracing change

Tim, 27, holds a two-year degree in diesel technology from Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D., and returned to the farm in the spring of 2009. He and his wife, Vianne, have two young daughters, and hope to build a future for them on the farm.

Garrett, 21, also graduated from Lake Area, with degrees in ag production and business. He started a heifer project in the past couple of years and is interested in the financials of the farm.

The brothers have become skilled at “reading” the cattle and the feed bunks, and making adjustments for weather, feed moisture and other conditions.

Tim says there are unlimited opportunities. He says his family has the beef enterprise, but “that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a poultry enterprise, or a pork enterprise with CAFOs. There’s so many different directions it could go.” He isn’t worried about corporations coming in with a CAFO. “They need employees; they need feed, they need trucking,” he says.

Garrett thinks it will become harder to make zoning friendlier to CAFOs in the future. “It’s up to us,” he says. “It’s for my generation, and for my kids’ generation to make it easier for them to feed livestock and be back into production agriculture.”

Steve says he knows of no corporations or others seeking to establish new CAFOs today, but it could be important for the county to be prepared. He is certain developing a CAFO was the key to keeping his family in farming.

“If we were strictly a cash grain operation, I’d be the only one here,” he says.