Serving on a committee to study animal waste management may seem like unsavory duty to many folks, but Joe Neill, of the Neill Cattle Co., near Welch, sees it as an opportunity to serve his industry and the environment at the same time.
Neill has accepted an appointment to Policy Advisory Committee of the National Center for Manure and Animal Waste Management, where he will help create policy decisions to protect the environment, yet allowing businesses such as his to remain economically viable.
Some may wonder if this is not a "fox in the hen house" approach to policy making, but Scott Dewald, executive director of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, said Neill is the man for the job.
"We need a cross section of people on a committee such as this, and Joe Neill offers a lifetime of practical experience and hard work. He will bring a solid understanding of the problems and potential solutions to the table. We are pleased. The bottom line is we need a real cattle producer in there helping to make decisions that will be affecting his industry," Dewald said.
D. C. Coston, associate director of the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, nominated Neill for the appointment.
"Joe has great experience in many facets of the beef industry. He has been a leader in implementing environmentally conscientious practices into his own ranching and feedlot operations, which are reasons we wanted to nominate him. He will work effectively with other members of the Policy Board in providing insight to the National Center," Coston said.
Neill has been in the feedlot and ranching business 31 years, as was his father before him. He said he believes strongly that the best way to protect the environment is through research and application of methods to control animal waste problems. He also said education of the public is necessary so people know what is going on.
"Education is important. We spend more dollars on waste management in this business than anything else," Neill said. "If we do not educate, we are going to drive production agriculture to countries with no regulations at, and that will not do any good."
The National Center for Manure and Waste Management is made up of 16 universities in 14 states to focus research and education efforts on problems surrounding waste management. Neill said too much has had to be done on a trial and error basis in the past, and hopes these efforts will bear fruit.
"You have to re-invent the wheel every time a business begins, or whenever regulations or other factors change. I think we could make a lot of strides and private business could do a lot more with the same dollars if we compared notes better than has been done in the past.
Neill's feedyard is unique in that it is located in the higher rainfall area of Oklahoma and the only one on the eastern side of the state.
"Obviously, there is not a lot of priority for state research for cattle feedlots here. However, eastern Nebraska has a lot of cattle feedyards similar in size to ours and they get a lot of rain. Feedyards in Iowa have similar problems. We could and should be cooperating back and forth comparing notes," he said.
Neill would like to see sites on the Internet to disseminate information, and people making use of the Cooperative Extension Service in each state. Education of policy makers is also a priority he deems important.
"Mother Nature is not perfect, and too often they are trying to set up rules and regulations for every scenario. But there is going to be times in a 10-year period when you have so much rainfall that you can't help a few things.
"Lagoons can spill over in those times, but usually there is so much water running in from all the tributaries and everywhere else that it becomes greatly diluted down. You do not get a lot of damage from that, but other things do happen. We can all live together if we do it on a scientific and economic base."