The Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix

The Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix

Growth in Nebraska’s livestock and poultry industries is greatly influenced by county zoning and local decision-making.  Variation in policies among counties and in decisions made by county officials creates significant challenges for current and prospective livestock operations and for rural communities looking to remain vibrant and create new revenue to support local resources.  In 2015, the Nebraska Legislature passed legislation (LB106) that directed the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to convene a committee of experts to develop an assessment matrix to support responsible livestock development in the state.  The resulting Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix was posted for comments, approved for use, and recently updated for continued dissemination by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix provides a practical, independent scoring tool for evaluating the environmental aspects of a proposed livestock operation.

What is the Matrix?

The Matrix provides an independent scoring tool for evaluating the environmental planning of a proposed facility.  Utilization of the ‘Livestock Matrix’ is voluntary.  As such, county officials may elect to adopt it as-is or use it as a template for developing local policy regarding animal feeding operations.  Two sections of the Livestock Matrix that focus on satisfying regulatory requirements of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and setback requirements of the county in which the operation is proposed account for 60 of the 75 points needed to receive a ‘passing score’.  Establishing county setback requirements as a key scoring measure was essential in the development of the Livestock Matrix.

A science-based tool

The Livestock Matrix includes an alternative method for establishing minimum separation distances for odor, which is built around science-based principles and use of the Nebraska Odor Footprint Tool.  The intent of including the alternative method is to encourage county officials to consider these principles when establishing local setback requirements.

Six additional sections in the Livestock Matrix address various environmental risks and protection measures, including:

  • Environmental and zoning compliance record
  • Water quality protection measures for livestock facilities
  • Odor and dust control for facilities
  • Manure application practices
  • Manure application separation
  • Additional assurances of environmental protection

A topic of continued interest involves highlighting and reinforcing the importance of nutrient management planning within the Livestock Matrix, as well as in general practice, preferably without suggesting new regulation.

Additional topics that are typically of value to the community and are addressed in the Livestock Matrix include: farm-related vehicle traffic; residence locations of the authorized representative and the site manager relative to the facility; communication with the community; economic impact; and landscaping and aesthetics.

Take-Home Points

  • Development of the Livestock Matrix was a highly formative process. The main factors guiding its development included: need for simplicity; desire for transparency; questions of merit; and will to retain control.  Overall, the Livestock Matrix strikes what the committee believed to be a reasonable balance between being comprehensive and scientifically correct and being transparent and easy to use. 
  • In general, a proposed facility in which conventional industry practices will be implemented and for which NDEQ and county setback requirements are met will merit a passing score. On the contrary, when the county setback is not met, the intent of the Livestock Matrix is that conventional practices will not be sufficient to earn a ‘passing score’.
photos during construction of a livestock facility
Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix helps county government assess environmental planning for proposed livestock facilities.

Impacts and Implications

In developing the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, the committee made available a well-critiqued tool for voluntary consideration by county officials. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture promotes adoption of the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, especially in counties seeking official designation as “Livestock Friendly”.  While the Livestock Matrix does not produce consistency and uniformity in Nebraska’s county zoning policies and practices, county officials are considering the matrix as a template zoning tool or as a gauge for evaluating and adjusting current policy. 

Thorough advance planning is key to scoring well on the Livestock Matrix and minimizing site-related management challenges over time.  Individuals interested in evaluating prospective sites for agricultural production facilities now have access to more-comprehensive planning tools in the Nebraska Ag Site Planner.  This web resource is recommended as the starting point for considering the qualities of potential sites for a livestock or poultry operation.


Other members serving on the Nebraska Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix development committee included: John Csukker (Environmental Service Manager for Maschhoff, LLC); Elizabeth Doerr (Zoning Administrator – Knox County); Leon Kolbet (Planning & Zoning Administrator – Hayes County); Dean Krueger (County Commissioner – Thayer County); Mark McHargue (CEO Big Valley Pork, Vice President Nebraska Farm Bureau); Jennifer Myers (Planning and Zoning Administrator – Merrick County); Sarah Pillen (Partner, Pillen Family Farms); Andrew Scholting (President and General Manager of Nutrient Advisors); and Steve Sill (Cuming County Board Member).

This article was reviewed by Rick Koelsch, Amy Schmidt, and Larry Howard

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