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New dairy promises Iowa industry growth but who will milk all those cows?

A dairy herd grazes close to Peosta , Iowa on Aug. 16, 2011. (Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.

Iowa Writers ‘Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.

I’m delighted Daisy Brand, LLC will be constructing a 750,000 sq. foot manufacturing plant in Boone, Iowa. A complete of 255 new jobs will be created, and in return, Daisy will obtain $67 million in state and native incentives. It’s a feather within the cap of newly elected Mayor Elijah Stines.

Daisy, a family-owned firm primarily based in Dallas, Texas, is best-known for its cottage cheese, bitter cream, and dip merchandise. It’s probably the most important new enterprise in-built Boone in recent times; Daisy will make investments $627 million right here. The common worker wage will be $28.85 per hour, together with well being advantages. No doubt it will inject an financial booster into the arm of the town, Boone County, and central Iowa.

As a long-time Boone County resident and farmer, I have fun this excellent news. However, as an agricultural author and editor for 4 a long time, I used to be compelled to dig deeper after studying a narrative within the Des Moines Register stating, “It would mean more cows. A lot more cows.”

How many extra?

An estimated 43,000 dairy cows to fulfill the plant’s manufacturing wants. In the identical story, Dan Culhane, Ames Chamber president weighed in, saying, “It can reinvigorate the dairy industry here.”

Reinvigorate is outlined as giving new vitality or energy. What does it imply within the context of at the moment’s dairy industry? An improve of the present Iowa dairy mannequin, or one thing extra like Wisconsin? Does it imply Iowa following the lead of California, Texas, or Idaho?

New mannequin overtakes Midwest

I referred to as Wisconsin dwelling for nearly 4 years within the late Seventies. In those days, bucolic 100-cow dairy farms dotted the hills and dales. I spent a whole lot of time driving two-lane nation roads, visiting and interviewing farmers. Often I returned dwelling after darkish, and as I handed farms within the shadow of towering silos, I’d see lights blazing within the dairy barns, as farmers labored to wrap up the night milking so they might come up at 4 a.m. the subsequent day and do it all over once more.

Fast ahead. At about the identical time in California, a fledgling dairy industry was increasing, with know-how, economies of scale, ample land, and plentiful labor escalating the growth of dairy herds. By 1993, Wisconsin had misplaced its lead as the best milk-producing state to California, dropping to #2.

After leaving Wisconsin, my treks again there through the years from my Iowa dwelling base at Successful Farming revealed a starkly modified panorama: Peeling paint on shuttered barns, sagging fences, abandoned pastures, with silos left standing sentinel over the graveyards of as soon as thriving 100-cow dairy farms. Wisconsin nonetheless has underneath 7,000 herds, in comparison with 1,600 much-larger herds in California.

Eastern Iowa’s dairy farms even have declined. In latest years, northwestern Iowa dairy farms have grown, with bigger herd sizes turning into the norm, as farmers from the Netherlands settled there, together with a number of transplanted California dairies fleeing improvement pressures. Most market their milk to Wells (Blue Bunny) and Kemps (previously Dean’s Foods) in Le Mars.

Today Texas is #3 in dairy manufacturing. You could recall studying about South Fork Dairy Farm in west central Texas in April 2023, when an explosion and hearth killed almost 18,000 head of its herd. Located in Castro County, it has the second-highest milk manufacturing within the states, with greater than 59,361 cows. South Fork house owners plan to rebuild.

It’s no coincidence that the primary transmission of hen flu (H5N1) to dairy cows occurred in Texas, in addition to the primary human an infection in a dairy employee. H5N1 now has been detected in eight states and 30 herds (4 states traced their infections again to Texas herds). Scientists say viral fragments present in milk aren’t the identical as lively virus. But FDA will proceed to watch the scenario.

Adding worth – not quantity

Iowa ranked #11 in whole milk manufacturing in 2023. We have about 238,000 milk cows on 1,016 farms, in response to the 2022 USDA Ag Census. Adding 43,000 cows can be an 18% improve. How a lot manure would 43,000 cows produce? (Manure-generated electrical energy, produced by biodigesters, could be bought to the grid. Some USDA grant funding is accessible.)

As far as I do know, Boone County has one dairy farm. It’s a household operation. To enhance dairy mission entries on the Boone County Fair, Jeremiah Haub volunteered over the previous 9 years to lease calves to native 4-H membership members so they might increase and present calves.

This farm additionally sells its milk to Picket Fence Creamery, a Dallas County household dairy that reinvented itself to bottle its milk and make its personal ice cream again in 2003. The house owners had no real interest in following industry tendencies to get larger. I wrote about Picket Fence years in the past; at the moment it additionally sells on to Hy-Vee, Casey’s General Stores, and Fareway.

I’ve additionally written about Hansen’s Dairy, close to Hudson. In 2004, it launched an on-farm creamery, the place they pasteurize and bottle milk, and make butter, cheese curds, and ice cream. Their merchandise are also bought at retailers within the Cedar Falls-Waterloo space. Several Hansen siblings make a dwelling from their valued-added merchandise.

Some smaller dairies are surviving by utilizing robotic milkers, an costly funding. Others are turning to photo voltaic and wind vitality to scale back prices, in addition to rotational grazing. I’ve additionally reported on farms producing natural milk and artisanal cheeses.

Of course, none of those farms will be sending milk to Daisy Brand. Other typical farms will must broaden.

No Ubers or bus stops for employees

Who will milk these cows? Circling again to Wisconsin, I traveled there in 2014 to interview farmers and others for a sequence of tales about immigration reform, in addition to dairy employee security and well being. With the industry pattern to bigger herds, the shrinking pool of members of the family and native residents not might deal with the workload.

In Wisconsin, following the lead of California, most dairy employees are immigrants. Dairy farming is year-round, 24/7. Yet the H-2A federal visa shouldn’t be. It’s seasonal, and doesn’t meet the wants of farmers and employees.

Clark County, Wisconsin, has the biggest variety of dairy farms within the state. Undocumented employees can personal and register automobiles and vehicles. But legislators didn’t need to seem gentle on immigration, so that they handed a legislation in 2006 stopping undocumented people from acquiring driver’s licenses. If employees can’t drive legally, farmers usually present on-farm housing. (Undocumented people aren’t eligible for insurance coverage, both.)

If housing isn’t accessible, they usually’re stopped, they’re fined $200.50 for driving with out a license. Only 6% of Clark County residents are Hispanic; but they make up 75% of the instances of working a motorcar with out a license, in response to knowledge compiled for ProPublica by Court Data in Madison.

Recently I examine John Rosenow, one of many farmers I interviewed in 2014, who nonetheless is advocating for dairy employees. One of his workers had been stopped on his technique to work extra usually than the legislation of averages, so Rosenow wrote the decide that he suspected harassment. It didn’t assist. The employee’s fines price him 5 days of pay.

A complete of 19 states enable undocumented people to acquire driver’s licenses. Guess what? Iowa isn’t one in every of them. How many northwestern Iowa dairy farm employees are in similar boat?

Passing laws only for present

Recently, following the lead of Texas, Iowa legislators handed a legislation to apprehend and maintain noncitizens, and transport them to Mexico, no matter the place they’re from. The legislation will take impact July 1 until, like Texas, it’s blocked by the courts.

Once once more, the place will the employees come from to milk 43,000 extra cows for the Daisy plant?  And how will they get to work? Of course, you’ll discover some dairies in surrounding counties. One to the east in Marshall County sells its milk to Anderson Erickson Dairy.

And possibly, simply possibly, it’s untimely to fret. Construction of the Boone Daisy plant received’t be full till 2027; the gear received’t be in place till 2029. Iowa has a number of years to wrestle with these questions.

I’m joyful for the growth potential posed by the brand new Daisy plant in Boone. I would like Daisy Brand to thrive right here in Boone County. I hope there’s a plentiful milk provide for its merchandise. But, wouldn’t or not it’s nice if 43,000 dairy cows might be raised on 80 totally different farms — farms with households with youngsters enrolled in native colleges, attending native church buildings, and paying property taxes? Children who would develop as much as grow to be the subsequent technology of rural leaders. That can be a win-win growth mannequin for Iowa!

Unfortunately, the pattern towards bigger farms has created a seismic structural transformation within the labor panorama of agriculture. And the focus of livestock is a recipe ripe for future disasters: from zoonotic illnesses to antibiotic resistance to air pollution of water provides.

Congress has a task to play, too. It didn’t act on a bipartisan immigration invoice earlier this 12 months, after Trump bullied Republicans into giving him the present of immigration to make use of as a money cow marketing campaign difficulty this November.

This column first appeared on Cheryl Tevis’ weblog Unfinished Business, and it’s republished right here by way of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

Editor’s notice: Please take into account subscribing to the collaborative and its member writers to help their work.

The put up New dairy promises Iowa industry growth but who will milk all those cows? appeared first on Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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