Nebraska works to recruit dairy farmers from other states

Farm Forum

SEWARD, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska is trying to attract dairy farmers from other states with the promise of abundant land, plentiful water and feed, and agriculture-friendly rules.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that’s a sales pitch that could be particularly effective in California, where dairy producers face drought, urban sprawl and high costs.

“Our message is water, land and opportunity in Nebraska,” said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska Dairy Association, and one of the state’s top dairy promoters.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture estimates the state’s 55,000 dairy cows generate roughly $275 million a year in local economic activity. But the state is currently better known for its beef cattle and feedlots, not for dairies.

Marty De Hoog is one of two California dairy farmers to move operations to Nebraska in the past four years, according to the state Agriculture Department. He brought his family and about 500 cows with in him 2013.

De Hoog said he likes the people in Nebraska and the readily available water, but he’s still not wild about the cold.

De Hoog told the newspaper that his family farm that his grandfather started east of Los Angeles was getting squeezed by housing and commercial development. Out there, De Hoog’s dairy had to ship in feed and ship out manure because the nearby fields had been filed with homes.

“Our corn came from the Midwest, our soybeans came from the Midwest, so we’re cutting out the freight by moving where the corn is,” De Hoog said.

De Hoog decided on Nebraska after looking at options in Texas, Iowa and Minnesota.

Nebraska’s diary production grew roughly 10 percent last year because a couple new farms opened and some existing dairies expanded, Johnson said.

Until 2014, the number of dairy cows in the state had declined since peaking at 820,000 cows in 1934, at which point the state’s dairies were producing 2.9 billion pounds of milk.

Last year, the state’s dairy herd grew to 55,000 and produced just over a billion pounds of milk.

Most of Nebraska’s 195 licensed dairy farms are in the eastern end of the state, closer to milk processors and consumers. Johnson said there’s great potential for a dairy in western Nebraska, but so far expansion there has been limited because of the lack of processors.