Maybe the grass just grows a little greener in Southern Idaho, or it could be all that breathtaking scenery.
Whatever the reason, more than 500,000 dairy cows seem to like it, and as a result, Southern Idaho’s cream has risen to the top when it comes to milk production and processing.
Direct employment from the region’s dairy industry accounts for almost 9,300 jobs, while the state’s 2010 on-farm cash receipts from milk produced on Idaho farms amounted to almost $1.9 billion.
Two Reasons Make Idaho Tops
Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, credits two reasons for the state’s number three national ranking as a top dairy-producing state.
“High-quality feed is available in this area,” he says. “The two main crops raised for dairy cows are alfalfa and corn silage, and we have those in abundance here. The other is that dairy farmers outside the state began looking for other locations when land in California went to housing. The weather here is ideal for cows.”
Success of the one has caused an explosion of another cash cow: milk processors. The processing side of the industry has grown right along with the raising and milking of dairy cows, Naerebout says. “These are value-added jobs with a lot of employment. We continue to milk the cows, which keeps full employment in the processing plants. About 35,000 jobs in Idaho depend on a healthy dairy industry, and the vast majority of those are in Southern Idaho.”
Quality, Supply and Work Ethic
Jan Rogers, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Corporation, credits the quality and quantity of the milk and the region’s farmer-based work ethic as reasons for companies like Brewster Cheese, Commercial Creamery, Glanbia Foods and Jerome Cheese Company to locate production facilities in the region.
“The quality of our milk is extraordinary,” Rogers says. “The supply is strong, as we are milking a little more than 25 million pounds of milk a day in Southern Idaho. Our pricing is different in that we are not federally regulated, and our processors negotiate directly with the producers, which gives us an advantage. On top of that, there’s no harder working person than the farmer, and that work ethic runs through our community. Our new businesses are rightfully impressed by the strong work ethic demonstrated in Southern Idaho.”
Excellent transportation arteries, a strong supply of milk and the wide array of processors also mean that distribution companies like WEL Companies Inc. are becoming part of Southern Idaho’s economic landscape. A national warehousing, transportation and storage company with 14 U.S. facilities, WEL purchased a 120,000-square-foot warehouse in Gooding to retrofit for refrigerated storage in 2011.
Southern Idaho farmers are taking a pro-active approach when it comes to environmental concerns, Naerebout says, as farmers are constructing aerobic digesters and implementing other scientific technologies to reduce the environmental footprint of the region’s dairy farms.
“The dairy industry is extremely important to this area,” Naerebout says. “It is a strong economic engine for Southern Idaho and it will continue to be so.”
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