It has to be frustrating; to be so close, yet still so far. That is the situation with Grow Nebraska Dairy at this point.

Grow Nebraska Dairy has been working to bring a dairy processing plant to Nebraska. So far, their efforts haven’t been rewarded.

“We are positioned to take on growth and expansion in every phase of dairy,” said Kris Bousquet, executive director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association. “We have staunch government support.”

Bousquet attended the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, in early October with the intent of making contacts in the processing field.

“There has been a lot of follow up from World Dairy Expo,” he said. “We got some decent leads, but we have to see what the interest is.”

Thus, they stand on the cusp of getting Nebraska dairy producers from their present conditions to a new world of thriving dairy industry.

According to Joan Behr, spokeswoman for Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, South Dakota, building a “greenfield” dairy processing plant, requires a few things: a long-term milk supply, customer commitments for finished product, skilled labor. adequate water supply. affordable energy sources, waste water treatment capabilities, infrastructure support and good roads to get milk from farm to plant and finished product to the marketplace).

As of 2019, there were less than 58,000 dairy cows in Nebraska. A new processor would require about another 35,000 cows dedicated to that plant.

That is probably the main stumbling block for getting a commitment from a processing company, Bousquet said. Everything else is lined up and ready to go.

“We are blessed with a very pro-ag government in Nebraska,” Bousquet said. “We also have an appealing incentive program and a good cow-calf situation here.”

Nebraska has one large dairy processing company: Hiland Dairy Foods. It operates two processing facilities - one in Norfolk and one in Omaha, working with 90 dairy cooperative producers.

In 2014, there were 10 milk processing plants with 195 licensed farms. In 2018, the number of dairy farms had dropped to 128 with three processors.

“We’ve lost 16 dairy farms since January of this year,” Bousquet said. “We lost three in first two weeks of October.”

He explains that as nice as it is to have the processors in Nebraska, without diversity in the marketplace, the state’s dairy industry will continue to shrink.

“Dairy Farmers of America (based in Kansas City, Kansas) and Associated Milk Producers Inc., (based in Minnesota) get the vast majority of milk produced in Nebraska,” Bousquet said. “Our producers are having to ship their milk over excessive distances to get it to a plant.”

Dairy operations are a vital part of the state’s economy, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

“Dairy processors will find great opportunities in Nebraska,” Bousquet said. “We are absolutely engaged and highly motivated to grow the dairy industry.”

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.

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