Kansas Dairy Conf-Jenni

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that Kansas averaged 161,000 head of milk cows as of December 2018, with an average of 1,970 pounds of milk produced per cow. The Kansas Department of Agriculture hosted the Dairy Industry Conference in Garden City, Kansas, March 6, to discuss topics of interest to the growing industry in the state. (Journal stock photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Kansas dairy industry partners and dairymen gathered in Garden City, Kansas, March 6, for the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Industry Conference. The conference shares topics of interest for the growing dairy sector across the state, but particularly those dairies in western Kansas.

The dairy sector of Kansas agriculture continues to grow, with new large dairies and more processing capacity coming online every year. For example, Kansas Dairy Ingredients, Hugoton, Kansas, is planning to build a locally sourced artisanal cheese and butter business at its headquarters in the coming year. Judy Parsons, KDI plant administrator, explained that the ultrafiltration process creates an excellent ingredient for artisanal cheeses and butters, and the new arm of the company can help tell the dairy story to customers in a familiar way.

Grant County Economic Development Director Bob Dale, Ulysses, Kansas, mentioned that there is interest among several southwest Kansas counties in facilitating a Holstein processing plant in the region to reduce shipping costs for dairy cow carcasses. “Right now we are asking around to see if there is any support for it,” Dale explained. “We have the land, water and the workforce that this seems like it would be feasible in our part of the state. Right now we’re just in spawning stages of this, we’re really looking for feedback from operators in the area.” Locating a Holstein cow plant would make sense in this part of the state and could draw from as far as Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico dairies, he added.

KDA Emergency Management Coordinator David Hogg updated dairy producers on the disease preparedness and response activities and planning at the department. Secure Milk Supply Plans are one method that the KDA hopes can help keep permitted movement of milk from unaffected dairies in the midst of a disease outbreak.

“Through a policy decision, we are allowed to allow permitted milk from Secure Milk Supply Plan dairies to move to processors within 12 hours,” Hogg said. “It’s still not perfect, but it’s better than what had been in place.” The Secure Milk Supply Plan is a voluntary plan where dairies sign up and undergo training and have a biosecurity plan on the books. This biosecurity plan is created with help from KDA professionals and allows a dairy to prove that its milk can enter the supply chain safely if an outbreak occurs.

“Just remember, the goal is to move milk, not cattle,” Hogg emphasized. “That’s a different level of risk and a different level of biosecurity.” Cattle movement in an emergency is covered by the Secure Beef standards, he added.

Jackie Mundt, with Kanza Cooperative Association, spoke about using social media to help shape dairy’s image among consumers.

“These tips aren’t isolated to social media,” she reminded them. “You have to be intentional about the message and think about their perspective. Too often we focus on our needs and we forget about the audience. It’s not about you, not about your feelings. It’s about what is going to impact the audience and help them to be successful or gain something from your presentation.” Her advice is to ask consumers—whether face-to-face at farm tours or online—what are the questions they have about dairy production and how can we help answer those?

Brandon Miewes, with Dairy Farmers of America, updated producers about the lobbying efforts at the federal level for immigration reform that can help dairy employees.

“The challenge for dairy is that the visa program currently used, the H2A, is not designed for full-time year-round employment,” he said. “So we are trying to develop visas that can help dairies specifically.” He said a Texas A&M University survey showed that 60 percent of dairy laborers are foreign born.

“This is a federal issue, and the Congress must address this,” he continued. There are states that are starting to pass state legislation that address labor, but that’s a patchwork of fixes and not a real lasting solution, he said.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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