Got milk industry? S.D. recruiting dairy farmers

  • Article by: RICK BARRETT , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Updated: November 21, 2012 - 7:57 PM

Minnesota's neighbor is making its pitch in other states, around the world.

Thirsty for milk, and the money that comes with it, South Dakota has ramped up efforts to recruit dairy farmers from other states and countries, including England, Ireland and the Netherlands.

South Dakota isn't alone in the recruitment game, as North Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Texas and other states attempt to prove they are the dairy industry's next frontier.

Simply put, "they want what we have," said Shelly Mayer, a dairy farmer near Slinger, Wis., and executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

Mayer said she and her husband, Dwight, were recruited by Kansas with the offer of wide-open spaces, attractive to farmers who felt crowded by urban sprawl.

"As a farm kid who grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, I miss some of that," Mayer said. "You could say they have the open spaces and great big places, which is wonderful."

Some states have recruited dairy farmers for years.

"I think the Dakotas are just getting more aggressive about it," Mayer said.

It was noticeable this fall at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., where representatives from the Mount Rushmore state made pitches to dairy farmers about why they should relocate.

Two South Dakota dairy processors put up billboards in Tulare County, Calif., which has about 340,000 dairy cows, saying "All our cows in South Dakota are happy."

The billboards followed an ad campaign that touted South Dakota as a better place for dairy business because, unlike California, it doesn't have quotas that limit milk production.

"We think South Dakota is a good place to milk cows," said state Agriculture Secretary Walter Bones. "Our state is one of those areas with tremendous untapped potential."

Earlier this year, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard went to California recruiting, telling reporters "we're on a cattle roundup. So if you're out there in the world of dairying and you're looking for a place to plant your dairy, South Dakota is open for business."

Some California farmers have shown interest in relocating to South Dakota and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest as the cost of cattle feed has soared in the West and it has become more expensive to do business because of taxes, regulations and rising land prices.

"We think once they start coming, more will follow," said Jon Davis, CEO of Le Sueur, Minn.-based Davisco Foods International Inc., which makes cheese in South Dakota.

South Dakota sells dairy products worldwide. Earlier this year, Bel Brands USA said it was building a $100 million cheese plant near Brookings, in the eastern part of the state, that will employ 400 people.

"People have invested a lot of money in the processing industry here. The only piece of the puzzle that's missing is the farms," Davis said.

The state's industry has persuaded European dairy farmers to move here, and it helped a Costa Rican dairy operation relocate, although that farm folded after a short time.

South Dakota has successfully recruited about 23 dairy farms in the last couple of years, most of them capable of handling 1,000 cows or more.

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