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ND livestock development director sees opportunities

Shaun Quissell has both personal and professional connections to livestock.

He’s part of a family beef operation near Scranton.

He’s also the new director of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s livestock development division. Quissell succeeds Wayne Carlson, who retired after 21 years in the post.

“I’m excited about the opportunities,” Quissell said.

High on his to-do list is expanding the state’s declining dairy industry and encouraging more young people to enter production livestock.

“Let’s see if we can get our dairy herd going again,” he said.

North Dakota ag officials have worked for years to build the state’s dairy herd. The state’s wide-open spaces, relatively affordable land and plentiful feed supplies all favor dairy production, officials say.

Even so, dairy numbers in the state have gone down, at least partly a reflection of high feed prices in recent years.

North Dakota produced 81 million pounds of milk in the last three months of 2013, down from 87 million pounds in the same period a year earlier, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state had an average of 17,000 milk cows in the last three months of 2013, down from an average of 18,000 in the same period a year earlier.

But South Dakota has made major gains in dairy production, Quissell said.

“They’ve developed a model that seems to be working. Where we’re at now, they seem to have been at in the early 2000s,” he said.

South Dakota’s focus on attracting milk processors has been crucial, he said.

The state had 95,000 cows and produced 511 million pounds of milk in the final quarter of 2013, up from 92,000 cows and 497 million pounds a year earlier.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said developing the state’s dairy industry is “a chicken-and-egg thing.”

Milk processors don’t want to commit to building plants until they see more dairy cattle, while dairy producers don’t want to expand or set up new operations until processing plants are built, Goehring said.

Still, he’s optimistic that North Dakota can enhance its dairy industry, in part by following South Dakota’s model.

Seeking young ranchers Bringing more young adults into production livestock is another priority for Quissell. While high crop prices have attracted a wave of young farmers, the influx of young ranchers has been smaller, Quissell and others say.

Raising livestock takes a great deal of work, but ranching will attract more young adults when the economic returns justify the effort, he said.

Educating young people about production livestock also helps, he said.

Quissell joined the state ag department in 2007 as an inspector in its meat and poultry inspection program and later was promoted to senior inspector.

The 28-year-old South Dakota native lives near New Salem.

In his new position, he oversees the ag department’s dairy and poultry inspection, auction and dealer licensing and bonding, livestock development, state meat inspection, livestock pollution prevention and feed registration.

“I really enjoyed being an inspector,” he said. “But now there are so many different aspects to my position. Every day is different, and I like the variety.”

Goehring said there were a number of good applicants for the post.

But Quissell showed a strong understanding of the job’s different aspects, Goehring said.

“He has a passion for animal agriculture. I like that,” Goehring said.

Quissell, for his part, said his personal connection with cattle helps him professionally.

“As a cattle producer myself, I think there’s room for a lot of growth” in North Dakota’s livestock industry, he said.