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Nebraska Luring Other Dairy Farmers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska, long known for its beef and corn industries, is becoming a mecca for dairy farmers being pushed out of traditional dairy states like California and Pennsylvania.

Encroaching cities, inflated land prices and increasing environmental concerns are cited as reasons by many dairy farmers looking to relocate their operations.

``It's cropping up all over the country, especially in places like California,'' said Christopher Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation. ``Nebraska is one of a handful of Midwestern states ... that have made a concerted effort to entice producers from other parts of the country to relocate.''

Dairy is the top-producing farming activity in California, Idaho, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

In Nebraska, dairy accounted for less than 2 percent of the state's total farm receipts in 1998.

But that is changing.

In the past three years, 14 dairy operations with an average of 1,500 cows have moved to Nebraska from other states.

Randy Newsome, who moved his dairy operation from California's San Joaquin Valley to near Seward in 1995, said he got the idea to relocate when he visited a Nebraska booth at a dairy trade show in California.

``Nebraska offers a lot of wide open spaces and good source of feed and a good milk market,'' he said.

The movement is not without growing pains.

State officials met Oct. 18 with farmers and dairy industry officials to solve the quandary that has cropped up in the recruitment process.

``The dairy people say we need more processors for their products and the processors say we need more dairy producers,'' said Merlyn Carlson, the director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, ``We're not sure which is the egg or the chicken, so we're working on both of them.''

Nebraska now produces about 1.2 billion pounds of milk a year — or about 150 million gallons.

While a large dairy operation is good for economic development, some communities are concerned about environmental and quality-of-life issues when a large livestock operation wants to move into a community.

The 700 dairy operations in the state today average more than 100 cows each, and many have several thousand.

Jeff Keown, a dairy specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said Nebraska is not simply opening up its arms to large dairy operations without concern about the environment.

``I don't want anyone to get the impression that our environmental regulations are any more lenient than California's or any place else,'' he said. ``In fact, they are much more stringent.''

Keown said the state has the potential to eventually have as many as 200,000 dairy cows.

And the economic impact would be substantial.

He said each dairy cow is fed $1,000 worth of feed per year, meaning a 1,000-head operation would buy $1 million worth of feed each year.

Dairy cows also are fed corn gluten — a byproduct of Nebraska's ethanol industry, he said.

Each dairy operation will invest about $3,000 per cow in buildings and equipment, he said, meaning a new, 1,000-cow dairy will invest $3 million to get up and running.

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On the Net:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: http://www.unl.edu

Nebraska Department of Agriculture: http://www.agr.state.ne.us
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