Southwest Kansas is a good region for dairy farm expansion and could play a major role in the industry's future, experts said Wednesday.

    As part of Dairy University, experts on state economics and the dairy industry spoke about expanding the dairy industry in western Kansas Wednesday at Hoover Pavilion.

    The conference was the last part of a two-day event sponsored by the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance. Those interested in learning more about daily operations and the future of dairies also had the opportunity to tour the Royal Farm Dairy in Gray County on Tuesday.


Southwest Kansas is a good region for dairy farm expansion and could play a major role in the industry's future, experts said Wednesday.
    As part of Dairy University, experts on state economics and the dairy industry spoke about expanding the dairy industry in western Kansas Wednesday at Hoover Pavilion.
    The conference was the last part of a two-day event sponsored by the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance. Those interested in learning more about daily operations and the future of dairies also had the opportunity to tour the Royal Farm Dairy in Gray County on Tuesday.
    John Smith, an extension dairy specialist from Kansas State University, spoke about the importance of dairy development in this region. He also told the economic developers, farmers and entrepreneurs in the audience what they should look for when relocating a dairy.
 Important considerations when selecting a location are the local market for milk, availability of water resources and high-quality alfalfa, the climate, food prices, the labor supply and economic incentives, Smith said. 
    Smith said the industry trend predicts growth in this area of the country for the future, so southwest Kansas could be a large part of the dairy's new frontier.
    "From my perspective, it's going to keep coming," he said.
    Professor Kevin Dhuyvetter of Kansas State University then addressed the crowd on the economics of dairy trends.
    Dhuyvetter demonstrated how statistics and generalizations about the industry can be deceiving.
    Although dairies have been disappearing at a rate of 6.3 percent during the last 40 years, the number of cows is staying level, he said.
     In 1965, there were more than 1 million dairies in the U.S., and now there are approximately 71,000. This decline is slowing, but smaller dairies are still being replaced by larger dairies.
    "While we've been losing dairy farms, we haven't been losing production," Dhuyvetter said.    
    In fact, research shows that milk production has been increasing by more than 1 percent a year, he said. 
    Dairies, large and small, are producing more milk per cow because of technological advancements and improvements in the industry.
    "Productivity is increasing, and that's why we can survive with fewer farms," Dhuyvetter said.
    So the dairy industry is evolving, not disappearing. The current trend is that larger dairies have been growing while small dairies are struggling.
    Dhuyvetter said that improved management and production are important factors for the future expansion of dairies, perhaps more so than location or even size. 
    The Northern Plains, the region Kansas belongs to, is experiencing the largest increase for milk production per cow compared to other regions in the country. 
    "There are some great opportunities here," Dhuyvetter said.

Keeping up with
industry trends   
    At first glance, it appears the future of the industry is heading west; however, Dhuyvetter said, a closer look provides a different picture.
    California is the top state for milk production, and most of the top 10 states for overall production are in the western region including Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Washington.
    While it would seem that dairies in the western region of the country are at an advantage simply because of their location, Dhuyvetter said there is more to their success.
    Research focusing on production rates of large dairies show that size and management skills are strong indicators of success. 
    When looking at Kansas dairies with herds of 500 or more, milk production is very high. This trend seems to be increasing as well, making the Midwest a good location for dairies, Dhuyvetter said. 
    "It's good news because it means we can compete with the West," he said.
    Not only can the Midwest compete with the West, but it can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of the western region's operation.
    California has the biggest industry in the country, but it has the lowest selling price. It also has high feed costs, but it is very efficient at offsetting these costs with the size and operation management of their dairy farms, Dhuyvetter said. 
    The rest of the western region follows suite with a price typically $1 to $1.50 less than eastern states. 
     This data shows that the price of milk does not dictate the success of a dairy. The ability to achieve maximum production and return on the product is essential.
    Dhuyvetter said running a dairy in Kansas takes a lot of money, but it can be successful, especially if the region changes its view son dairies. Considering the size of a dairy farm and utilizing new technology is important. 
    Dhuyvetter also said that offering better opportunities for young people, supporting social acceptance of changes in the industry and using updated facilities will help expand the dairy industry in southwest Kansas. 

    Editor's Note: A story about dairy locations, water needs and financing will appear in Friday's edition of the Daily Globe.

Reach Cherise Forno at (620) 408-9931 or e-mail her at cherise.forno@dodgeglobe.com.