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By Justine Greve
For dairy farmer T. J. Curtis, Kansas is the land of milk and honey — with an emphasis on the milk.
Curtis oversees the day-to-day operations at Forget-Me-Not Farms outside Cimarron, Kan., a family -owned dairy that was based in New Mexico for many years — until competition for land, feed and water resources intensified.
In 2008, the family packed up 7,000 cows and brought them to Kansas.
“We like Kansas because it’s sparse and there’s a lot of feed,” Curtis said. “And the climate was favorable to our style of dairy.”
That’s the idea, according to state officials who are making it known that Kansas needs more cowbell. For the past couple years, the state departments of Commerce and Agriculture have been touting the state at dairy conventions, press conferences, and on their websites. Employees speak with consultants across the country promoting Kansas as a dairy state. The Department of Agriculture even created dairyinkansas.com, a site specifically designed to recruit farmers looking for a place to do business.
Pat George, the state’s Secretary of Commerce, said that building up the state’s dairy industry is a logical solution to concerns about suffering in rural communities. Seventy-seven of the 105 Kansas counties have fewer people than they did 10 years ago. In the western half of the state, only seven counties grew. With an aging population and jobs moving elsewhere, projections for the future aren’t hopeful.
But where there’s room, there’s opportunity.
“The cattle are right there, we have wide open spaces, we’re used to working with animals,” George said.
The statehouse is also on board. The Legislature recently lowered taxes for small businesses. And the Rural Opportunity Zone program offers incentives for individuals moving to western Kansas. On top of that, George said, the state also has sensible dairy regulations.
“I don’t want to say they don’t have common sense in California, but it’s a different kind of common sense in Kansas,” he said. “We don’t need regulations. We’re good at doing what we’ve done for a couple hundred years.”
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REXFORD, Kan. – To some, Tom McCarty’s decision in 2000 to move his family’s century-old dairy from Pennsylvania to the plains of Kansas may have seemed like quite a leap of faith.
For McCarty…well, not so much.
“To make a long story short, there was absolutely no future [in Pennsylvania] long term to be in the dairy business,” said McCarty, whose dairy was milking about 200 cows daily prior to re-locating near Colby.
Tom and his four sons – Clay, Mike, David and Ken – together own McCarty Family Farms, LLC, with dairies in Rexford, Bird City and Scott City. The three dairies milk about 7,200 cows – 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and produce about 59,000 gallons of milk a day.
In 2012, the McCartys announced the completion of a multi-million-dollar milk processor and evaporator at the Rexford facility. In June, they signed an exclusive rights agreement to provide all of the condensed skim milk for Dannon Yogurt’s plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We are a family dairy, I think that’s a key reason they chose to work with us,” Tom McCarty said. “We’re quality conscious; we believe in consistency and I guess they look at us as a family.”
Tom McCarty’s great grandfather started the family business in northeast Pennsylvania 105 years ago, milking seven cows. Tom’s grandfather had 20 milking cows, and Tom’s father doubled the business to 40 milking cows.
“In 1970, my wife and I built a new facility, and got up to 80 cows, [and soon after] we doubled it to about 150,” Tom said.
All four sons were active in the dairy growing up. As young adults, they showed an interest in being partners, but the Pennsylvania dairy was not going to grow enough to support five families.
“Our options were few and far between to stay in the ag side of things, to continue to grow and stay in the dairy industry,” said David McCarty, who graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in animal science in 2002. “You move to western Kansas, there’s feed, and there’s nothing holding you back as far as growing…so that was the biggest draw.”
The Dairy Grows
In 2000, McCarty Family Farms’ new Kansas operation was milking 800 cows, and was primed for new opportunities.
“Economics changed, the dairy industry changed, the lending industry changed, and we were forced into milking more cows in a less expensive way,” said Ken McCarty, also a K-State animal sciences graduate. “So we added some open lots, pushed up to about 1,200 head of milking cows, and a little bit later added more open lots and pushed upwards of about 1,600 head of milking cows.”
By 2009, McCarty Family Farms added a heifer yard with 3,500 animal units, and had nearly 6,000 head of livestock at the Rexford location alone.
Soon, the company also built dairies in Bird City and Scott City.
“We went and asked them to consider expanding to Bird City,” said Cathy Domsch, the executive director of Bird City Century II Development Foundation. “The opportunity I saw was getting kids in our schools; that was my number-one goal in getting a dairy.”
Notes Ken McCarty: “We didn’t realize that was an impact that we’d have when we moved out here. Where we grew up, the economy was very diverse and ag was just a small piece of the pie back there (in Pennsylvania). Here, it’s more of an ag-based economy, and ag-based communities. We didn’t understand the impact that 20, 30, 40 kids would have on a local school district.
Domsch said that an added 30 students to her town’s schools translates to more than $200,000 in state funding. Likewise, in Colby and the surrounding school district, enrollment has increased by at least 32 students.
“By bringing the McCarty Dairy to northwest Kansas and creating the jobs and…increasing the enrollment in schools, that has made a huge impact for us,” said Christy Rocca, director of the Thomas County Economic Development Alliance. “This is what it’s going to take to bring people back to northwest Kansas. This is what it’s going to take to stop that decrease in population.”
Care for Natural Resources
In the main facility at Rexford, McCarty Family Farms has positioned itself as a “net-neutral, or a net-negative water user,” according to Ken McCarty.
“We’ve added 500 head of lactating cows,” he said. “Cows drink a lot of water, [but] we actually draw less water out of our well today than we did a year ago.”
Water to the facility is filtered, purified and eventually used as drinking water. It is then drawn from the milk in the newly-built evaporator, and used in lagoons and cropland.
“The lifecycle of a gallon of water on this farm is pretty dynamic,” Ken McCarty said. “Water can be recycled anywhere from two to six times on this dairy before it eventually ends up out on the fields.
“We use zero commercial fertilizer on our ground and we also have enough effluent waste to spread on other farmers’ grounds, where they have to use zero commercial fertilizers. We recycle all of our sand bedding. Everything is done on these farms for economic reasons but also for sustainability reasons. We try to recycle and re-use and be as efficient as we can be.”
Taking care of the land “is what we do,” Tom said. “We take pride in taking good care of cattle; employees get a lot of training in doing everything properly. Environmentally, we’ve had a very good relationship with the [Kansas Department of Health and Environment].”
Relationship with K-State
David and Ken McCarty say their years at K-State helped them develop relationships that have extended well into their professional life. Tom McCarty notes that several members of the extension and teaching faculty – especially Mike Brouk, John Smith, Joe Harner and John Shirley – helped McCarty Family Farms even before the move to Kansas.
“K-State had and continues to have a great reputation,” Tom said. “In Pennsylvania, we had a good relationship with Penn State extension and it was the same atmosphere here. People you can trust; we worked very well.”
Ken noted that the university’s staff helped with the design of the dairy and financial decisions.
“K-State helped with the dairy’s overall concept and the basic ideas and critical components,” he said. “We don’t have time to pour over research journals and do studies, that’s why we lean on those guys. They’ve been a phenomenal help.”
The farm’s system is so efficient that milk from Kansas goes from “cow to cup” in about 48 hours. That includes shipping the product to Dannon’s Texas facility.
“This agreement…allows us to reduce or eliminate volatility [in milk markets],” Ken said. “Hopefully it will mean a more stable business for my son to come back to, my brothers’ kids to come back to. Ultimately we hope a cheaper product for [consumers].”
Noted David McCarty: “It’s a unique partnership. It’s the only one that’s really like this in the country at the moment. It’s great to be part of, obviously. Plus, we get to do what we enjoy, which is pretty cool in itself. I don’t wake up and go to work every day; I get to go to the dairy.”
Looking back over 12 years, Tom said that it’s satisfying to see McCarty Family Farms’ success and the positive impact it has had on Kansas.
“Where we’re going to be in a year, or five years, I don’t know,” he said. “We’re always open to getting better; if it takes getting larger, we have no qualms about that. We’ll do what we have to do to go with the flow and try to match whatever forces are there.
“It’s a total package. We’re not driven by just dollars; it’s driven by wanting to be satisfied in total – environmental stewardship, running a clean operation consistently…it’s all part of the equation.”
Realizing some avenues of industry may not be sustainable long-term, Stevens County commissioners and economic developers are developing another form of revenue in the area — dairy processing.
Gov. Sam Brownback visited Hugoton Thursday to help break ground for Kansas Dairy Ingredients, a dairy ingredient and cheese processing plant that will create 60 jobs in Stevens County upon completion.
The first phase of the $20 million project could be implemented by Jan. 15, 2013, according to KDI officials. Representatives from JE Dunn Construction, which houses an office in Topeka, said they would be hiring local workers to help complete the project.
The project has been in the works for about five years, KDI representatives said.
Dave Bezone, chairman of the Stevens County Commission, has been a commissioner for 12 years. In those years, he said he’s learned Stevens County is very fortunate in development and industry. He said the oil and gas base that the county has helps the valuation and pays for a lot of projects that are necessary in the community.
“But we start to realize that gas and oil isn’t going to be here forever because it is a depletable asset, so we’re going to lose it,” he said.
Bezone said he’s glad commissioners and developers took the initiative to move on the dairy processing plant.
“Hopefully, this is just the beginning,” he said.
Read complete Garden City Telegram Story
Governor Sam Brownback spoke at the commissioning of an on-farm milk processing facility at McCarty Family Farms in Rexford, Kansas. The 500,000 pound per day processing facility is the only one of its kind in North America. In 2011, the McCarty family entered an exclusive multi-year agreement with the Dannon Company to become Dannon’s sole supplier for fresh milk for its yogurt plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The processing facility enables the McCarty’s to supply Dannon with condensed skim milk and pasteurized cream.
“I applaud McCarty Family Farms and Dannon for entering into a successful partnership that benefits farmers, the small businesses that support farmers, consumers and the community as a whole,” Gov. Brownback said. “This partnership is a fabulous example of how agriculture can create good-paying rural jobs with the potential to spur significant additional job creation in the future.”
As Dannon’s fresh milk supplier, McCarty Dairy provides its milk directly to Dannon. This is the first time Dannon has entered into this type of partnership with a family-owned dairy. Since the partnership was initiated in 2011, more than 50 direct jobs have been created in rural Kansas, effectively doubling the size of McCarty Family Farms to more than 100 employees. Additionally, the construction of the milk condensing operation required more than 55,000 man hours.
Through the partnership, both McCarty Dairy and Dannon will reduce the impact of milk pricing volatility on their respective businesses and will simultaneously create a closer, more direct relationship between farmer and consumer. McCarty Family Farms and Dannon also share ambitious goals for environmental stewardship, which can now be implemented through direct collaboration. For example, the new condensing facility will reduce the number of trucks needed to ship milk by 75 percent and allows the farm to reuse the water that is removed during condensing of the milk. Approximately 39,000 gallons of water is reclaimed daily from condensing milk.
Dannon is the top selling yogurt maker in the United States and part of Danone, a world leader in dairy products, bottled water, baby food, medical nutrition, biscuits and cereals.
McCarty Family Farms is a fourth-generation family dairy farm located in western Kansas. In 2000, in search of more land, the McCarty family moved its dairy from Pennsylvania to Rexford, Kansas.
Since moving to Kansas, the dairy has grown from 800 cows to 7,200 cows and three separate facilities. The dairies are located in Rexford, Bird City and Scott City. Daily, the cows produce approximately 59,400 gallons of milk. Also included in their multiple expansions is a 3,500 heifer replacement facility. McCarty Dairy is managed by parents, Tom and Judy, and sons Clay, Ken, and Mike. Their forth son, David, manages a separate 6,000 cow dairy in southwest Kansas.
“The success story of the McCarty’s is one we want to celebrate and hold up while encouraging growth for all of Kansas agriculture,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said. “They are proof that Kansas is a great place for the dairy business and that agriculture breathes life into our rural communities.”
From The Kansas City Star
An agreement between a Kansas dairy company and yogurt-maker Dannon Co. could be a first step toward making Kansas a major player in the nation’s dairy industry, Gov. Sam Brownback said.
Under the agreement announced Thursday in Rexford, McCarty Dairy will be the sole supplier of milk to Dannon’s yogurt factory in Fort Worth, Texas.
The McCarty family milks nearly 7,200 cows daily at farms in Rexford, Bird City and Scott City. A processing plant in Rexford gets milk from the three dairies, pasteurizes it and strips out water. The dried milk will be used by Dannon for its yogurt.
When they settled near Rexford 12 years ago from Pennsylvania, the McCartys were milking 750 cows, family patriarch Tom McCarty told about 150 people, including Brownback and Dannon officials.
“It’s the only one of its kind in North America,” he said of the deal with Dannon, “which I didn’t even know until the other day.”
Read the complete story at The Kansas City Star
Packed with protein, vitamins and calcium, a basis for cheese, baked goods and a must-have for breakfast cereal, milk ranks high on the American diet and the Kansas economy.
More of it than ever is being squeezed from cows in dry and dusty western Kansas.
“It’s viewed as a very favorable place to relocate or to start up,” said Mike Bodenhausen, of Muscotah, executive director of the Kansas Dairy Association.
The region has its share of issues — water being a big one — but the expansion of large dairy operations is helping out some areas.
On Wednesday, the McCarty Family Farms Dairy near Rexford in northwest Kansas, will celebrate a direct marketing deal with yogurt maker Dannon.
The McCarty operation, which daily milks 7,200 cows in three dairies — Rexford, Bird City and Scott City — is among the latest to help the Kansas dairy herd grow from 85,132 cows in 1992, to 123,000 today and produce roughly 1,000 jobs, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
A general rule of thumb, according to Chelsea Good of the agriculture department, is that every 80 to 150 cows requires one dairy employee.
From western Kansas
Nearly 70 percent of the milk produced in Kansas comes from the 24 dairies in the state’s western third, Bodenhausen said. There are more than 300 dairies scattered throughout the state, ranging in size from fewer than 250 cows to 12,000.
Some are into niche markets, such as artisan cheeses, or bottling in glass jars, Good reported.
Thanks in a large part to the growth in the western region, Kansas has moved up in the national milk production rankings from 25th to 17th. The agriculture department expects the state to be in the top 15 after this year.
So is western Kansas becoming a dairy mecca?
“We’d like to think so,” Good wrote in an email.
Kansas dairies have proven more productive, averaging a record 1,820 pounds of milk per cow in April, which was a 1.8 percent increase from April 2011, Good reported.
On the plains of western Kansas, where more than 70,000 cows are milked daily, attracting a processing plant to this region of the state is a priority for Gov. Sam Brownback.
“A cheese factory would be a powerful tool for long-term economic growth in rural Kansas,” said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. “It is a priority. It would mean good jobs and more revenue for decades.”
It is a change from 20 years ago, when the first large-scale dairy was built in Hamilton County and future development of the fledgling industry was just dreams.
These days, however, a few dozen industrial-strength dairies dot Kansas where crops like wheat and corn once grew — operations that stretch across a mile section.
Now as Brownback and his Cabinet search ways to grow the rural countryside, attracting a viable industry like a milk-processing plant to southwest Kansas has become one of their top focuses.
Already things are happening. Grant County Economic Development Director Leslie Mangels said a foreign investor is interested in building a dry milk-processing plant in the U.S. The dried milk would be used in his cheese factories in Europe.
Ulysses is in the running with Michigan and South Dakota for the 60-employee plant, she said. Consultants visited Ulysses two weeks ago. Mangels said she could learn the final decision any day.
The same investor looked at Kansas in 2004, but at that time, the state didn’t have enough milk production, Mangels said.
“With the milk supply and the progressive nature of Grant County, we are prime for some kind” of facility, Mangels said, noting state officials with the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Department of Commerce have been instrumental in the process. “We’re ready, we’re here, we have the infrastructure.”
The third installment of the 2011 KLA Young Stockmen’s Academy (YSA) was held this week. Twenty young producers spent three days touring various segments of the beef and dairy industries in western Kansas. Vista from Merck Animal Health is the exclusive sponsor of the YSA program.
Stops were made at Sandhill Farms near Haviland and Woolfolk Ranch at Protection. Kevin and Vera Schultz, owners of Sandhill Farms, gave the group an inside look into their breeding program, which consists of Polled Hereford genetics. Kent and Tyler Woolfolk explained how they manage salt cedar trees on their pastures to improve grazing.
Ted Boersma, co-owner of Forget-Me-Not Dairy near Cimarron, told the group during a tour of the milking parlor the facility produces 12 to 13 truckloads of milk per day. The class visited Empire Calf Ranch LLC, near Satanta, which feeds all its calves by hand for up to 90 days using 24,000 bottles per day. The importance of managing risk in the cattle feeding business was highlighted during a stop at Beefland Feedyard near Garden City.
The group also participated in a Beef Quality Assurance injection site demonstration and visited the National Beef Packing Plant in Dodge City.
For more information visit www.kla.org.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas needs to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more in its beef, dairy and pork industries in order to give the state a larger share of U.S. animal agriculture production, Gov. Sam Brownback said.
“I just want to see us put that on steroids and grow it,” Brownback said Wednesday during an economic development summit in Garden City.
Brownback said the recent expansion of dairy farms in western Kansas could be replicated by the redevelopment of poultry production in the state.
“We can grow the animal agriculture industry in this state,” Brownback said. “We can compete against anybody in the world with what we do.”
But he said the state had to take a firm position on preservation of the Ogallala Aquifer, a key underground source for water in western Kansas.
“It’s probably the main issue we have facing animal agriculture.”
Dale Rodman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the state’s livestock producers had to organize around marketing opportunities to supply more meat to countries with a rising standard of living.
“Government can’t do it all,” he said.
Read the complete story HIGH PLAINS JOURNAL
Gov. Sam Brownback held an economic summit in Manhattan, Kan., on June 9 to highlight the importance of the animal health sector to Kansas and the surrounding region. The animal health corridor, which runs from Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan, Kan., is quickly becoming a global center for the animal health industry.
Brownback pointed to the success Kansas has experienced in attracting large dairy farms to southwest Kansas and said this success could be duplicated with the animal health industry.
“I think we have the same potential with animal health,” Brownback said. “We have a global industry that is already located here and the chance for us to go to Australia, South Africa, and European-based companies and say if you re-locate here you can expand your business footprint. The best global assets are based right here in Kansas.”
At the heart of the expansion of the animal health industry in Kansas is the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that is being constructed in Manhattan, Kan.
“I think we still don’t grasp what NBAF will do for this region,” said Ernst Heinen, vice president of research and development for Bayer Animal Health.
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