He started with chickens as a kid, then got into hogs, then raised cattle in high school. You could say Nic Anderson has worked his way up the livestock food chain, today leading the Illinois Livestock Development Group.
But he won’t say that.
“All livestock have fundamental importance to me,” he says and laughs, refusing to pick a favorite.
Anderson, who grew up in Henry County, has carved a path through livestock production in Illinois, paving the way for a lot of farmers to expand or improve their operations. As head of the ILDG, Anderson is the go-to guy for farmers who want help meeting regulations and building facilities to improve both animal comfort and environmental stewardship. He’s also attended more open houses and town halls than you can shake a stick at.
The ILDG is made up of the Illinois beef, pork, corn, soybean and milk producers associations, plus the Illinois Farm Bureau. So if you’re a member of one of those organizations, you’re a member of the ILDG.
And while he has a lot of bosses, Anderson says he’s guided by a single question: “Go back to the farm. Is it good for these folks?”
In this interview with Prairie Farmer, here’s a look at what Anderson’s learned and how he leads.
What did you take away from the farm in Henry County that you still use today? There was a dairy guy up the road that I used to go help. He was pretty particular, and he could throw a bale a mile and put it in the right spot. I learned that he knew where it was going when he picked it up. There’s a lesson there. Pick something up and put it down once. Try not to duplicate or overthink.
Where did you go from there? After Orion High School, I went to Western Illinois University. Played football and did livestock judging, but I was more of a morale builder. When I got out of college, I bought hogs for FDL Foods, for their Dubuque plant. I did a couple years with Illinois Pork Producers in promotions; then I spent 15 years with Premier Pork Systems in Indiana. After that, ILDG needed some consulting work, and I just kind of walked into that. Been there ever since.
What do good livestock producers know? When I was buying pigs, the head buyer told me to go find the best 30 hogs I could find. He was gonna do the same. I knew all these pig breeders, so that’s where I went. Got back and he cleaned my clock. He beat me on the rail. I looked for the production behind them, but he said, “We’re buying meat.” He’s right. Really beef, pork — they’re buying meat. Good producers think about that.
What was your first public hearing like? It was a township hall meeting over a 2,400-head finisher going in. A neighbor was upset and brought in outsiders. One lady got up and said, “Lagoons are bad and odor’s rampant with them.” So I asked her if there wasn’t a lagoon, would she be OK with it? She had no idea what the difference was or what a pit was. I just held her accountable for her statements.
You can have a challenge with these facilities as long as it’s honest — but when you start sensationalizing it, that’s disingenuous. Activist groups try to come in and manipulate local people.
You often stand in the gap for regulation — between farmers who have to abide by it and activists who want to overturn it. Has it worked? A lot of people don’t like regulations, but they’re there to protect livestock producers, too. The regulation says, if your building meets the criteria, you can put it there. A lot of people say, go buy 20 acres over there and put it there. People don’t have that kind of capital. If it’s OK to put it here, you have to go by what the regulation says.
We’ve had over 2,000 permits since the inception of the LMFA [Livestock Management Facilities Act]. Less than 3% of those have had real challenges, and less than 1% have ongoing challenges. You may have an environmental issue because of Mother Nature or management. That doesn’t mean you shut them down forever.
How much of your job is lobbying? None. I’m an information dude. I don’t lobby whatsoever. Legislators will ask what the rules are. I tell them.
How concerned are you about the General Assembly and the future of the LMFA? We’ve had a challenge with folks recently trying to run that up the flagpole, and it’s gotten nowhere. The industry has put real producers in front of the Legislature, and they told their story. The real story shows it’s not even a problem — real farmers that have gone through it. When the Legislature gets the real story, they see through it.
What happens if they don’t see through it? The challenge is when the Legislature becomes unreasonable — looking for something sensational that gets votes, then they create this fear of the unknown. That’s going to be our problem. Urbanization happens in every county in the state.
What do you want to say to the grain farmer? Most of them get this: Until we quit exporting corn, we need all the livestock we can locally.
You’ve worked with a lot of people in Illinois ag leadership. What makes a good leader? Show up. Listen. When things are tough, that’s when you need to be at the farm gate and visit with people.
What’s one thing you do that’s directly tied to your success? Availability. I can drop everything to go to a guy’s farm and help them answer their question: “Can I do this?”
What do you admire in your friends? I really admire a sense of humor. Most of my friends have some smart aleck, unique twist. They’re funny.
Back in the day, what did you get out of livestock judging? The ability to be comfortable speaking under pressure. And repetition. It gives you the confidence to make a decision. And even if you’re not good at it, it’s unbelievable what livestock judging does to connect you to people.
What’s 2020 going to hold for livestock farmers in Illinois? If the tariff gets settled, the sky’s the limit. If it doesn’t, we’ll be in a maintenance mode.
On Illinois livestock:
“We’ve got well over $800 million in infrastructure since the LMFA inception — and $60 million just last year in hog buildings.”
On livestock judging:
“It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about polishing your skills. That’s this job, too.”
On the LMFA:
“That’s the foresight of the people who wrote the LMFA. Here’s the set of rules. If you abide by them, you have a license to operate. The LMFA works for farmers and for communities and consumers.”
On raising livestock in Illinois:
“When I look at other states, we’ve got a lot of opportunity here in Illinois. Most of it is because we have such strong commodity organizations.”
ANDERSON IN BRIEF
Truck? Dodge — I plow snow with a ’97 Dodge Ram dually
Tractor? John Deere, because my dad worked there
Best decision? Married my wife, Ann
Hobby? Livestock, livestock, livestock
Best advice? Show up.