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Published June 16, 2014, 10:06 AM

Rebuilding the dairy herd

North Dakota ag leaders are working on a plan to revitalize the state’s long-declining milk industry.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

North Dakota ag leaders are working on a plan to revitalize the state’s long-declining milk industry.

“We’re excited. We have all the building blocks, and now we need to put them together,” says Amber Boeshans, North Dakota Department of Agriculture livestock development specialist, who’s involved with the project.

Members of the North Dakota Dairy Coalition, which represents dairy producers, leaders of crop groups and the dairy industry met recently in Mandan, N.D., to discuss how to attract more farmers to dairy production.

The effort is still in the planning stage, Boeshans says.

She isn’t certain when the plan will be completed.

North Dakota now has fewer than 100 dairy farms. The number has declined for years, reflecting, in part, the difficulties that some producers face in contracting with a processing plant. State ag leaders have tried to strengthen North Dakota’s dairy industry, but have enjoyed little success so far.

Even so, the state’s wide-open spaces and plentiful feed supplies, among other factors, are seen as reasons for optimism about dairy’s future in North Dakota.

“We’re producing so much high-quality feed in N.D., and we’re exporting it to other states. We need to keep it here, so we can feed it to our own cows,” Boeshans says.

She says North Dakota has learned, and continues to learn, from South Dakota’s successful efforts to rebuild its dairy industry.

“We have South Dakota as a role model of how to go about doing this,” she says, adding that the North Dakota ag department has a good relationship with its South Dakota counterpart.

Some milk produced in both states is processed at several dairy plants in South Dakota, giving the two states something else in common, she says.

North Dakota’s effort to rebuild its dairy industry will include working with crop producers who are interested in adding dairy cows to their operations, Boeshans says.

Commodity groups, including corn, soybeans and ethanol, support efforts to strengthen North Dakota’s dairy industry, she says.

The North Dakota ag department and the North Dakota Dairy Coalition are working more closely. Boeshans now serves as the Dairy Coalition’s contact person.

Boeshans is optimistic that good things soon will be happening in North Dakota’s dairy industry.

“Stay tuned. It’s going to be a pretty fun deal,” she says.