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Published March 04, 2013, 09:40 AM

In-state farmers or out-of-state dairies?

Can you make a state’s dairy industry more profitable if you increase the number of dairies, or will the increase in production lead to lower prices that are unprofitable to all of the dairies in that state?

By: Richard Meyer, Agweek

NORTHVILLE, S.D. — Can you make a state’s dairy industry more profitable if you increase the number of dairies, or will the increase in production lead to lower prices that are unprofitable to all of the dairies in that state?

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard wants to double the size of the dairy herd in South Dakota by attracting out-of-state, corporate dairies.

Has anyone asked the governor how many of South Dakota’s in-state dairies and farmers and ranchers he plans on putting out of business so these California dairies can relocate to South Dakota?

To maintain a dairy cow herd, you need land to produce the feed. That land needs to be located near these mega-dairies, so if one of these dairies moves to your neighborhood, it will be competing with the local farmers for land.

If you are a small farmer and you are located in one of these areas where a mega-dairy moves in, you probably will lose all your rented land and the governor will be OK with this because he thinks bigger is better.

To add insult to injury, the governor probably will give these mega-dairies incentive money to move to South Dakota and put local farmers out of business. To me, it would have made more sense to help all the in-state dairies that have gone out of business in the past 10 years. Most of these dairies were family based and some of these people had been milking cows for generations.

My uncle and cousin near Orient, S.D., milked cows for probably 50 years, and they stopped not because they were too lazy to work, but because they no longer could turn a profit doing it. Family farmers helped build the state, and now the governor wants to replace them with corporate dairies.

South Dakota District 19 Rep. Stace Nelson and local farmers in his area successfully blocked one of these big dairies from locating in Nelson’s district. These dairies not only have a negative impact on the local family farms, but they also pose a risk to the environment. Not all of the governor’s ideas are good ones. I think he supported the Anderson Seed companies building a plant in Redfield, S.D. Not only did some of the local farmers lose millions, but the state is left holding the bag on the cost of building the plant because the state guaranteed the company’s loan. Now, taxpayers lost millions.

The Public Utilities Commission considered seizing the property to settle that debt, but because it is located on the old city dump, the commission is not sure if it wants the plant because something might be buried there that will need to be cleaned up in the future, costing the state more than what the plant is worth.

The governor does not care about the farmers and ranchers in the state, and this push to get corporate dairies to locate in South Dakota is proof.

Because drought is affecting a large area of the U.S., there is an extreme shortage of hay in the area. A lot of farmers and ranchers with livestock are struggling to find enough feed to maintain their herds and the high cost of hay has taken away the hope of having a profit this year. This is not a good time to try to get more cows into the state to compete for the already depleted feed supplies in South Dakota.

Out-of-state dairies not only will put the small family farm dairies out of business, they also will put a lot of cow-calf producers out of business.

A large corporate dairy moved into the Veblen, S.D., area several years ago. The dairy competed with the local farmers for feed and when it went bankrupt, it left a lot of unpaid bills. A lot of them were from farmers who sold hay to the dairy and never got paid. Since the ethanol plants opened up, the competition for land has been huge and less land is available for the production of hay.

The rise in land and feed costs has put a lot of South Dakota’s dairies out of business because they could not make a profit. How is having more cooperate dairies going to make any of them profitable? Will someone ask the governor how many farmers and ranchers he plans on putting out of business to make room for corporate dairies?

Editor’s Note: Meyer is from Northville, S.D.

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