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Sunday, June 21, 2009

South Dakota's Small Dairies Collapsing

Remember now-Senator Russell Olson's (R-8/Madison) big color campaign ad last fall about how great our state's dairy industry is doing and how he'll keep the milk flowing?

Olson certainly enjoys the milk flowing from the corporate dairies, which he voted to exempt from the Family Farm Act* in 2008. But what will he do to keep the milk flowing from the small family dairies? RC Journal's Jeremy Fugleberg reports this morning that small dairies, especially in the Black Hills, are collapsing:

There used to be hundreds of small dairies in the Black Hills, but by 2007, that number had plummeted to a dozen or so. And when the Rapid City milk processing plant closed that year, it put even more pressure on the remaining, struggling dairies — hammered by the rising cost of doing business, declining revenues, and now the cruel logistics of transportation. With milk prices at almost 30-year lows and feed prices still high, the nearly 550-mile round trip to a cheese plant in north-central South Dakota is killing local dairies.

Today, only seven or eight Hills dairies remain (it’s hard to nail down an exact figure because some of the local dairy operators are deciding to close as you read this).

“Really here, I don’t know if there’s a lot of hope,” said Dan Dunn, who runs a dairy east of Vale, in Butte County [Jeremy Fugleberg, "Small Dairies Struggle to Survive," Rapid City Journal, 2009.06.21].

Small operators have tried to establish their own milk processing plant to serve small West River operations, but they find the state and local bankers unwilling to help. Meanwhile, the state pours big bucks into programs to promote big corporate dairies along the I-29 corridor, including support for the green-card-for-sale program that pours millions of dollars from irresponsible foreign investors into the pockets of mega-dairy stink-mongers like Veblen's Rick Millner. (Notice the state gives that immigration assistance to only 12 East River counties.)

The response from the state and Ag United? Don't let the door hit you on the way out:

[Belle Fourche dairy man John] Habeck expressed bitterness at how the dairies in the Black Hills area were stranded by their only nearby buyer.

“It’s one thing if the whole dairy industry is struggling, it’s another thing to isolate the dairies who have no option and have to go to another plant,” he said. “They don’t want to see us around anymore. That’s the bottom of it.”

[Jon] Farris, the state’s ag development director, sympathizes with those considering leaving the dairy business. But in the end, he said, producers such as Dunn will follow the lead of people like Lewis and do what they must.

“He’s making a business decision, at the end of the day, that many other people have made for generations,” he said.

It’s a tough call, but those decisions come with the times and the territory, said [ag-industrial complex mouthpiece Steve] Dick, of Ag United.

“If you want to be a dairy farmer, you have limited opportunities in Butte County,” he said. “It is a very hard thing when your livelihood changes. When you’re a dairy man, you’re a dairy man. It’s hard to walk away from” [Fugleberg, 2009.06.21].

Basically, the state says, if you're a big corporate dairy and want to move into the I-29 corridor, we'll give you a leg up in the market. But if you're a small operator out in West River, well, golly, there's just no fighting markte forces, so quit whining (and thanks for paying those taxes we've been using to promote East River dairies).

Make no mistake: the state of South Dakota and its Republican crony-legislators are no friends of the little man. If you've got big bucks, you're welcome to come stink up the joint. But if you're an independent farmer who has a small enough herd to actually get to know your animals, well, you're not worth our manipulation of the free market.

*South Dakota's Family Farm Act: see SDCL 49-7A-1 and 47-9A-3.


  1. I once went on this tour of Moody County dairies as a representative for one of our elected officials, and I was struck by how many of the dairies were run by people from Europe who had been recruited by people from South Dakota to move here and start dairies. Apparently, the state was sending people to Europe to bring these people back.

  2. And yet the state has plenty of locals like Habeck and his Black Hills neighbors who want to stay in the business and probably could with just a little of the support the state is pouring into the hands of foreign investors and big operators. I hope no one thinks this is xenophobic, but it seems like everyone puts South Dakotans last... even South Dakota's own government.


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