KANSAS State University recently hosted a dairy symposium in Manhattan, Kan., that posed the question: "Is Kansas positioned to grow its dairy industry?"
The meeting also allowed dairy industry experts and Kansas dairy producers to gather and talk about the issues surrounding potential growth.
According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA), Kansas currently has about 300 dairy farms across the state, most in eastern Kansas but the larger ones in western Kansas, where the areas are less populated and more land is available. Statewide, Kansas has about 132,000 dairy cows and produces roughly 2.7 billion lb. of milk worth about $519 million of farm-gate receipts annually.
Much of the milk produced in Kansas ends up as bottled milk, while some of the milk and cream is further processed into brand-name products.
KDA has a program in place called the Kansas Dairy Initiative to help maintain current dairies in Kansas and look at dairy expansion opportunities.
Billy Brown, KDA agribusiness development coordinator, told symposium attendees that potential areas of growth in Kansas include the number of cows and farms, processing capacity and the creation of more artisan dairy products such as specialty cheeses.
Brown pointed out that Kansas is a good location to increase dairy production not only because of the availability of land and wide-open spaces but also because the state has an adequate feed supply to support more dairy production. Additionally, the dry climate, with minimal instances of prolonged hot and cold spells, is favorable to raising dairy cattle.
Kansas is an animal agriculture-friendly state and has relatively lenient environmental regulations to allow for industry expansion compared to several other states, according to Brown. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is also an advocate of increased animal agriculture production in Kansas.
Dairies are businesses, and like all businesses, location is very important, said Normand St-Pierre, an Ohio State University professor who also spoke at the Kansas dairy symposium. Businesses must be located where there is a demand for the product or service provided and availability of adequate resources to function.
St-Pierre and some of his colleagues recently completed a study that looked at the most important factors for determining the best location for dairies to relocate or consider for expansion. The researchers surveyed dairy producers and agribusiness professionals in the top 35 dairy-producing states.
The survey showed that cash flow ranked first among respondents, followed by capital expenditures, tax structure and incentives, waste management, utilities, natural resources such as land and water, the regulatory environment and transportation.
These were followed by other factors that were somewhat important to dairy producers and agribusiness leaders for determining location. These factors included: labor, markets and community attributes such as public perception, access to schools, health care, cost of living, housing, population and access to domestic goods in, for example, grocery and hardware stores.
"Some factors were universal, while some were specific to things such as region and herd size," St-Pierre said. "There is no such thing as a perfect location. There are trade-offs between many possible areas of production."
According to St-Pierre, Kansas, in addition to other centrally located U.S. states, has several of the important attributes to be a good location for dairy industry expansion.
"There are a few exceptions to this, but the major areas of dairy expansion will be occurring in the central part of the United States," he explained. "Those places that will accommodate issues beyond the obvious natural resources needed will be the successful ones."
The availability of water, specifically relatively good-quality water, is also important to dairies everywhere. Posing the opportunity to grow the dairy industry, particularly in western Kansas, has led to discussions about water and if there is enough water to support more dairy operations.
The Ogallala Aquifer is an important water resource for agricultural production, for both crops and livestock, in western Kansas.
A recent study from Kansas State, led by professor of civil engineering David Steward, examined the future of the Ogallala Aquifer and found that if current usage of the aquifer continues, as much as 69% of the aquifer will be depleted by 2060. Usage is exceeding the recharge of the aquifer, which has led to its depletion.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recently released a report that looked at the impact of the dairy industry in the southern Ogallala region. It found that dairies in this region — from western Kansas down through New Mexico and the panhandle of Texas — use nearly 1.6 million acre-feet of water and generate $93,437 per acre-foot of direct water or $1,632 per acre-foot of overall water use.
Direct water use includes water for drinking and facility maintenance, while indirect water is accounted for in feed production for the cows. Indirect water is important because without feed, dairies would not be able to operate.
The study found that most of the indirect water use comes not from the Ogallala Aquifer, however, but from outside of the region in the form of imported grain. The data suggest that the dairy industry in the southern Ogallala region has little impact on the water resources while increasing economic activity and employment opportunities.
St-Pierre explained that when it comes to conserving water, it may be necessary to use dairy cattle as a midpoint between groundwater extraction and application to irrigated crops. This, he said, puts the water to more than one use.
"When we look at water in dairy, the use of water for consumption is not like a gallon of diesel or a gallon of gasoline where, if I burn it, it's gone," St-Pierre said. "If I run a gallon of water through a cow, most of it actually comes back out of the cow. The cow can be put between the groundwater that you pump and the irrigation field. If you're running the water through animals first, you get some nutrients out — basically natural fertilizer."
He said only about 25% of direct water use in dairies is lost in the form of milk and evaporation.
"If you're trying to figure out how much ag output you can get out of a gallon of water, dairy production ranks very high in dollars produced per gallon," St-Pierre added.
While there are many factors to consider, the growth of the dairy industry could lead to economic growth for local Kansas communities and the state as a whole. Additionally, it may also lead to more export opportunities, where the impact could be noticed nationally and globally.
Not only would more dairies mean more jobs, but they would also have an impact on the economy. According to St-Pierre, the regional economic impact of each dollar received by a dairy operation would be, on average, between two- and three-to-one.
"If a cow accounts for $5,000 in gross revenue per year, it means the local economy is going to see a net annual flux of about $15,000 per additional cow coming in," St-Pierre explained. "Then, if you add the processing of (the milk), you at least double this number again, up to seven times — a far greater economic impact than crop production, especially if the crops are sold out of the state."
St-Pierre said there is a deficit of milk in many states east of Kansas, which puts Kansas in a good spot for domestic trade.
Cornell dairy barn
An $8 million, 105,000 sq. ft. barn in Harford, N.Y., was recently completed and is now home to Cornell University's 550 dairy cows.
The cattle used to be housed in a cramped, 40-year-old cinderblock facility, but now, they can enjoy roomy stalls featuring sand, lots of light and fresh air.
Researchers are also enjoying the new structure as the new college-funded Cornell University Ruminant Center — which opened in September after a year of construction — features basic and state-of-the art upgrades that will make it easier for faculty, staff and students to conduct research on nutrient use that has implications for environmental efficiency, reproduction and dairy cattle health and well-being.
"We now better reflect what our progressive dairies are doing from a facilities standpoint," Cornell animal science professor Tom Overton said. "This gives us an opportunity to focus attention on the needs at both the farm level and within the industry across New York."
It may also provide new research opportunities. Group (freestall) housing, for instance, is common in many New York dairies, but not in research facilities. In addition to individual tie stalls, the new Harford facility has sections where cows can be housed in groups of 16 or 32, which will allow researchers to study aspects of dairy cattle management in group-housed cows for the first time.
It also has a milking parlor with an underground sampling area and separate weigh stations, holding pens and "metabolism stalls," where additional space around each stall allows for more intensive study of nutrient digestion and cow physiology.
"Our focus was creating a facility that is modern in design, with high levels of cow comfort, efficient from an operational standpoint (and) with a lot of functionality to do the types of research that we think are important to help our dairy farmers continue to innovate," Overton said.