Governor: Dairy farms key to state’s economic development

Farm Forum

As a boy, one of my chores was to get up at 5:30 a.m. each morning to milk our Holstein cows. It wasn’t always fun, and often looked like a scene from one of Bob Artley’s “Memories of a Former Kid” cartoons, especially if one of our cows kicked off the Surge milker.

We weren’t wealthy, but our small herd of dairy cows ensured our family always had plenty of milk on the table.

Many things have changed in the years since I milked cows before school, but dairy farms remain an important aspect of rural economic development in South Dakota.

In July alone, our dairy farmers produced over 179 million pounds of milk. We have 260 dairy producers in South Dakota with 97,000 cows. But we could use more.

With the construction of Bel Brands’ new cheese plant in Brookings and other dairy processing companies who are looking to expand in our state, South Dakota farmers will need to increase their dairy cattle herds by several thousand head over the next few years in order to keep up with the escalating demand for milk.

That is why I have attended the World Ag Expo in California for the last three years. The relationships we’ve made at those events have proven valuable to South Dakota and have led to new economic opportunities.

Though we’ve done some work to recruit outside of South Dakota, more than anything, we want our local producers to have opportunities to expand their operations. To that end, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture offers business development opportunities. Through their finance programs, the Department assists our producers in expanding the infrastructure of their current operations.

The Department also has programs to help beginning farmers. For example, the Department manages the Beginning Farmer Bond Program to help beginning farmers with land purchases. Other programs are also available for beginning farmers to expand their family operation to swine, dairy or the raising of dairy heifer calves and other livestock.

With an economic impact of over $14,000 per cow, an expanding dairy industry will create more jobs in and around our rural communities; and with that, more opportunities for South Dakotans to farm.

Growing up, I probably didn’t always appreciate being on the farm as much as I should have. But now, I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.