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During Dairy Fest in Brookings, S.D., different stations set up with fun educational activities for kids. (Michelle Rook/AgweekTV Anchor)

Economy of SD dairy industry highlighted at Dairy Fest

BROOKINGS, S.D. — The dairy industry has a $2.7 billion economic impact in the state of South Dakota, and consumers saw that first hand at this year's Dairy Fest in Brookings May 31- June 2.

Tracey Erickson, a South Dakota State University Extension dairy field specialist, says the dairy industry is big business.

"Each cow approximately has an impact of about $26,000, and we have 120,000 cows right now in South Dakota," she says. Those cows produce 274 million gallons of milk annually, which results in $436 million in milk sales.

Larissa Neugebauer, Dairy Fest coordinator, says when they started the event five years ago the committee's goal was to show consumers how important the dairy industry was to their everyday lives.

"They wanted to get more people involved and more people aware of the dairy industry. So many people, especially that live in the cities, don't understand where their milk comes from," she says.

Families participated in various activities as part of the event, including tours of the SDSU Davis Dairy Processing Plant.

"They could actually start at the farm, see milk unloading, come here and see how it's made into products. Then see how it's tested, quality control tested and then actually delivered to the store," plant manager John Haberkorn says.

Nearly 2,000 people took in the carnival at the Swiftel Center to see the dollars involved in the dairy business. Erickson says they had 14 different stations set up with fun educational activities for kids.

"We have live animals, they can take a bulk tank sample, see the feed cows eat, and we have some inflatables for them to jump on, corn and soybean boxes to play in," she says.

The jobs, taxes and business the dairies create for local communities was evident on a tour of Old Tree Farms near Volga, S.D. The farm is owned by Sonja and Frido Verpallen, who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 2001 because they wanted to escape the quota system in that country.

"The United States doesn't have a milk quota. So, we could sell our milk quota in the Netherlands, get good money out of that and then just gain a lot of cows in a short time," Frido says.

They were fortunate to purchase 1,200 acres near Volga and quickly grew their operation.

Dairies in South Dakota supply jobs, improve the local tax base and generate millions of dollars in local communities."We started with 500 cows and added over the years," Frido says. "We're milking about 1,400 animals. We've got about 1,600 animals on the farm, plus some calves."

He says they were happy to host the tour because it's important to share what they do on their farm.

Darrel Rennich, committee chair of Dairy Fest, says the dairies in the state supply jobs, improve the local tax base and generate millions of dollars in local communities: "It really is a local business. I mean they're all family owned ... 98 percent of them in the United States are family owned businesses and they spend most of their money locally."

This includes feed, animal health products, equipment, semen and the inputs to produce their own crops and forages.

The other goal of Dairy Fest was to show the public how dairy products are produced. The event helps people "just to make the connection that this is how your dairy products get to you," Neugebauer says.

She says on June 1 they also held a Fork-to-Farm educational event at the Boys & Girls Club.

The three-day dairy celebration kicked off the evening of May 31 with the fifth annual Got Milk Gala, which featured keynote speaker Sue McCloskey who is co-founder of Fairlife, a dairy-based health and wellness company.

"We use a really gentle filter system that we're able to take milk basically kind of apart and put it back together emphasizing the components that are better for us, things like protein and calcium," says McCloskey.

The product is co-owned and distributed by The Coca Cola Company and has helped refocus the public's perception of milk to one that brings value and nutrition to American families.

She and her husband Mike also started Fair Oaks Farms, the largest agritourism attraction in the country. Their Indiana farm provides a dairy, swine and crop experience.

"You're able to go through a self-standing building that has a lot of interactive, fun exhibits where we talk about how safe, affordable, delicious and nutritious milk is; how dairy farmers take care of their cows and the environment," McCloskey says. "You can then get on a bus and drive down the middle of one of our working dairy farms, where we milk 3,000 cows."

She says they host more than 500,000 visitors annually.