The Republican candidate for State Ag Secretary says the Iowa Department of Agriculture should decide where livestock confinements may be built.

Those decisions are made today by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, but Bill Northey of Spirit Lake says if he’s elected, he’d like the agency that he’d oversee to make those rulings. “If nothing changes, the Secretary of Agriculture should work now in the current system, behind the scenes, to make sure that agriculture interests are understood by those making the regulations and certainly sometimes that does not happen…making sure that people understand the impacts to real live farmers out there,” Northey says.

Denise O’Brien of Atlantic, the Democrats’ Ag Secretary candidate, supports having the Department of Natural Resources retain the authority over construction permits for livestock operations. “Agriculture is an industry that needs to be regulated like any industry should be regulated,” O’Brien says. “I believe that the DNR provides this regulation.”

But O’Brien also supports letting county boards of supervisors have the authority to say where livestock confinements may or may not be built. Northey, the Republican in the race, says stepping away from statewide standards for the livestock industry would create chaos. “There are folks out there (who) are anti-agriculture, anti-any-size of livestock operation,” Northey says. “I think local control is absolutely the wrong way to try to address any kind of livestock issues.”

O’Brien, the Democratic candidate, says the objections to livestock operations started when more large-scale, concentrated confinements started springing up. “Iowans are problem solvers and there’s some issues that we need to deal with in livestock, and I believe that a Secretary of Agriculture can bring people together,” O’Brien says. Northey says livestock operators have made great gains in odor control and manure management — gains that aren’t acknowledged by critics of the industry. “I certainly do think that there is a negative attitude towards livestock from some sectors and that we need to counter that and the (ag) secretary needs to be part of countering that and getting the rest of the message out,” Northey says.

The candidates made their comments this (Friday) morning during a candidate debate before the Iowa Farm Bureau’s house of delegates.