People seeking information on starting a dairy farm got a crash course Wednesday on what it takes to acquire and finance one.

    Joe Harner from Kansas State University gave tips on how to site dairy acres and plan for a dairy's water needs during Wednesday's installment of Dairy University, a two-day presentation at Hoover Pavilion. The event was sponsored by the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance.

    When selecting a location for a dairy farm, Harner said operators must consider habitable structures and facilities, separation distances, traffic and roads, land slope, soil types and electrical and water service.

    Harner suggested choosing acres with the maximum separation distance possible from neighbors without being isolated from streets and city services.


People seeking information on starting a dairy farm got a crash course Wednesday on what it takes to acquire and finance one.
    Joe Harner from Kansas State University gave tips on how to site dairy acres and plan for a dairy's water needs during Wednesday's installment of Dairy University, a two-day presentation at Hoover Pavilion. The event was sponsored by the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance.
    When selecting a location for a dairy farm, Harner said operators must consider habitable structures and facilities, separation distances, traffic and roads, land slope, soil types and electrical and water service.
    Harner suggested choosing acres with the maximum separation distance possible from neighbors without being isolated from streets and city services. 
 "You can avoid a lot of problems in siting a new facility if you have adequate separation," he said.
    Harner suggested having up to several miles of separation from neighbors because of the lights, noise and traffic associated with a 24-hour operation.
    Traffic is a big concern because of the volume of waste, milk and water being transported. On average, 20 to 30 semitrucks per day will travel to and from a farm.    
    If local roads are unpaved, it might be a good idea to talk to the city about getting them paved and cared for because of possible damage to the streets from the thousands of pounds of daily traffic, he said.
    Also, if you have a good separation distance, you do not have to compete for electricity and water, Harner said.
    "If you want it to go relatively smoothly, look at separation distances," he said.
    Harner said it is smart to work with the local electrical company from the very beginning of the process to make sure the operation's power needs can be met.
    Harner then told the crowd how much water is needed on a daily basis to run a dairy properly. Both clean and recycled water are used for parlor sanitation, water troughs, heat abatement, milk cooling and cropland.
    Typical water usage for Kansas can add up to more than 120 gallons a day per cow, said Harner. Depending on the type of cow, 20 to 35 gallons of water are consumed a day by each cow. Additionally, as much as 100 gallons are used each day per cow for other uses.
     Harner told prospective dairy farm entrepreneurs and recruiters to acquire approximately 60 to 80 acres to start. More land is needed for a drylot, but on average this amount is a good starting point.
    "We can get 90,000 cows in 640 acres pretty easily," Harner said.

Planning and
financing
    In each presentation, industry experts and professors explained how much work goes into running a dairy. To get started and be successful, proper financing is needed.
    David Mangeau and Scott Miller from Farm Credit of Southwest Kansas answered the question, "What does it take to finance a dairy?"
    Mangeau said Farm Credit of Southwest Kansas is very involved with the process of evaluating and bringing dairies to communities. Because it is a detailed process, he suggested getting in touch with a lender early.
    "The planning stage is really important to the success of the operation," Mangeau said.
    First, Farm Credit considers the "five c's of credit": character, capital, capacity, collateral and conditions.
    Mangeau said many variables determine the specific details of each loan. Farm Credit evaluates the past business history of the person asking for a loan and any investors in the dairy.
    Miller said one main factor evaluated with facility loans is the percentage of equity put down. This amount is important because a strong initial investment makes starting an operation easier.
 "The dairies started on a shoestring struggled and were difficult to finance," Miller said.
    Representatives of Farm Credit also evaluate the land for the dairy, the industry's historical trends and the strength of investors. They also do many future projection scenarios to determine possible output and revenue of the dairy.
    Miller said it is important to be prepared for such a large undertaking. He advised operators to get connected with the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance to help work with the city and county on meeting your needs. He also said to check regulations and permits required for facility operations and business management.
    Steve Irsik, board chairman for Royal Farms Dairy, spoke about attracting dairies to the area.
    "In the dairy business, there are lots of opportunities and there are also downsides," Irsik said.
    For this reason, selecting a good location is key to the success of a dairy business. Irsik said community acceptance of dairies is important for growth.    
    Irsik advised Ford County officials to prepare for growth in dairies and be ready to offer incentives to prospective dairy farmers. He said southwest Kansas needs to take advantage of dairy manufacturing because it affects other venues.
    Joann Knight of the Dodge City/Ford County Development Corp. said Ford County currently offers property tax abatements, special loans and financing options for dairies. She said the organization would work with dairy owners to help with city infrastructure issues such as paved roads and water resources.
    Carol Meyer, a member of the Garden City chapter of wKREDA, said the organization is dedicated to supporting the expansion of dairies throughout western Kansas.
    "Our challenge is to know this industry well enough to grow this entire industry," she said. "It's going to take every one of us working together."

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