BROOKINGS, S.D. - More than 2,000 consumers learned more about the dairy industry and how milk and dairy products are produced at Dairyfest 2019 in Brookings, June 1. Dairyfest Committee Chair Darrel Rennich says they started the event six years ago to highlight South Dakota's growing dairy industry and link consumers with the dairy producers and families that produce the dairy products they eat daily.

Dairyfest kicked off with the Got Milk Gala, which is an elegant evening featuring a five-course dairy-infused meal, paired with various wines. The keynote speaker was John Vosters, co-founder and partner of Milk Source. The dairy is based in Wisconsin and is one of the largest in the United States at 40,000 cows. They have various sites in three states and supply milk for Fairlife, Saputo Cheese and Foremost Butter. He says their business model is focused on sustainability and their 650-plus employees, but he emphasized that to be sustainable, the dairy must be profitable.

South Dakota State University Extension Dairy Field Specialist Tracey Erickson says Dairyfest continues to grow and so does the interest in learning more about one of the state's leading agricultural industries, where their food comes from and how it's produced.

"We have so many people that are generations removed from the farm and so we want them to feel comfortable asking questions that they may or may not have about the dairy industry," she says.

They want consumers to also understand that dairy products are safe and packed with nutrition.

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Consumers got to see that for themselves at a family carnival at the Swiftel Center, with activities for all ages tied to dairy production through processing.

"We hope the many hands-on experiences will help consumers better appreciate the dairy industry and the benefits of dairy products," Dairyfest Coordinator Larissa Neugebauer says. Erickson says they designed the stations to be educational, but still fun.

"In the barn, they'll get to see cows, calves and learn about the feeds that they eat, how we produce the milk and how then that it's harvested from cows," Erickson says.

The next station simulated the field to show kids how the different feeds are grown and how manure from the dairy is applied to help the crops grow. Another stop took consumers to a processing plant where they could make cheese in a test tube within a minute, slice it and put it in the cooler.

The economic impact of the dairy industry is significant in South Dakota, with each cow generating $26,000 annually. Erickson says if you multiply that by the 124,000 cows in the state, it's huge and provides thousands of jobs.

The dairy processing industry has also had a big year in South Dakota with the expansion of Agropur in Lake Norden and Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank. "When those plants are up to full capacity, another 40,000 to 50,000 more cows will be needed in the state," Erickson says.

Consumers were also able to tour a local dairy farm and this year Crosswinds Dairy near Elkton was featured. The 1,450-cow dairy is owned by Steve Temperli and his family who started the operation in Switzerland, moved to Canada and then to South Dakota in 2003.

He says there were many factors that made the state a good fit for them. "I think the main thing was the availability of land and feed was cheap and so you could kind of pick a location, buy some land and start from scratch the way you wanted," he says.

With the expansion at Valley Queen Cheese they are also expanding their operation to 1,700 cows by the end of the year.

Temperli says they opened their doors to the public because they want consumers to see how well they care for their herd. He says their cows are happy and comfortable and that translates into higher milk production. They are also heavily regulated and follow a strict regimen to provide a safe product for consumers.

More than 600 people took the tour at Crosswinds which included the milking parlor, loafing barn and calf area.