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Iowa encouraging dairy farms to increase herds
Iowa Correspondent

ANKENY, Iowa — In an effort to keep Iowa’s dairy industry economically vibrant, state cattle officials are encouraging Iowa dairy farmers to make increasing their herds a priority.

“A strong dairy industry is vital to Iowa’s economy,” said Erin Vagts, industry relations manager at the Iowa State Dairy Assoc. (ISDA). ”Keeping herd numbers up in Iowa allows the state to maintain our dairy infrastructure.

“This infrastructure, which creates many jobs across the state, is important to our rural economy.”

Without the herd numbers, Vagts said local businesses are losing out along with their communities.

“Money from dairy herds is going directly into electricity, feed mills, taxes, insurance, local labor, fuel sales, local retail business, other dairy services, vet services, equipment dealers, and farm co-ops, just to name a few,” Vagts added.

“Dairy producers are proud of what they do and having a viable dairy industry benefits the rural communities and the entire state of Iowa,” she said.

According to Iowa State University’s Sept. 30 Iowa Farm Outlook, August 2005 milk production recorded the 4th straight month of 4 percent plus milk production gains, with 23 dairy states reporting a 4.6 percent milk increase with milk per cow.

But while Iowa’s dairy herd is approximately 187,000, there were significant reductions of about 8,000 cows between March and April, which consequently caused the state’s milk production to drop 1.2 percent in April.

That’s one reason Dwight Hasselquist, general manager and part owner of Plymouth Dairy Farms, Inc. in Le Mars, Iowa, who heads the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Dairy Advisory Committee, said he’d also like to see dairy farmers find more ways to keep their herds in the state.

“The dairy industry spends a lot of money to operate,” Hasselquist said. “When a dairy animal leaves the state, the state and the industry lose all these things. Our dairy cattle need to stay here in the Midwest.”

But Iowa’s dairy industry has also changed within the state, Hasselquist said.

“(It’s) the east side in general,” said Hasselquist, noting eastern Iowa’s long history in dairying and smaller dairies, which have used less outside labor. “On the western side, especially here in the northwest corner, we’re a little larger in size and in a number of cases, depend on hired help. Granted, this can create different perspectives.”

Among the major issues being viewed by the committee are the loss of processing outlets when plants close, Hasselquist said, resulting in loss of local markets and competition for milk purchasing, additional costs for producers faced with longer milk hauls, which usually costs money on their bottom line.

“We need to try to hold our share of the market nationwide or increase it,” Hasselquist said. “Dairying is increasing in other parts of the country. Either the dairy industry in Iowa will step up and meet this challenge and hold its position and gain ground, or we just start going backwards.

“We need to be able to compete with the states we see increasing production – California, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas and western Kansas – where we’ve seen the real growth within the last 20 years,” Hasselquist said.

When considering the declining number of Iowa dairy operations and cow loss in some parts of the state, as well as young people opting to leave the farm, Hasselquist said dairying is becoming a tougher business all around.

“Fewer people, especially younger people, want to take the time it takes to run a dairy,” Hasselquist said. “When a 20-year old looks at dairying, he sees himself working seven days a week, 365 days a year, with tight profit margins.

“He then considers going to college, getting a degree, working 40 hours a week with some pretty good money and health insurance. That’s what we see happening.”

As a result, Iowa faces the challenge of retaining its place in the dairy industry, Hasselquist said.

“Dairying is a part of our changing agricultural picture,” Hasselquist said. “We have to make it attractive to the younger producer. We have to, as individuals, and as an industry, work together to make decisions and choices to see that we stay strong in this state.”

In the end, Hasselquist said Iowa dairy farmers and community leaders need to recognize that they’re all in business together and working towards the same goal.

“Everyone needs the milk processors, the feed companies, the veterinarians, and the AI and supply companies,” he said. “There’s really not a lot of debating about size. Whatever can be done to strengthen the industry, helps everyone. If the dairy industry is strong in Iowa, it’s good for everyone.”

Currently, Iowa ranks 12th in cow numbers and total pounds of milk produced. The state also ranks ninth in production per cow and third in ice cream production.

Iowa’s dairy industry also provides more than 26,000 jobs, including jobs on dairy farms, by dairy processors and other services that benefit and aid the dairy industry, which adds an excess of $1.5 billion to the state’s economy annually.

To date, Des Moines, Iowa is the number one city per capita in U.S. milk consumption.

This Iowa farm news was published in the November 2, 2005 issue of Farm World.