Nearly a dozen U.S. states are making a play for California’s beleaguered dairy industry, aggressively courting our state’s milk-cow farmers at the World Ag Expo in Central California’s Tulare County last month. “We’re looking for dairymen who are looking to move out of California,” South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard tells The L.A. Times today. As our state’s dairy industry suffers through dire times as a result of the high costs of cattle feed, recent drought, and plummeting prices for its product, competing states are wagging the promise of lower taxes, less regulation, cheaper land, and higher milk prices in farmers’ faces.
Unlike most dairy production states, the prices set in California’s $8 million industry (by far the biggest in the country) is not government regulated, allowing greater volatility in the state market that lead to several dairy farmers watching their livelihoods come to a crashing halt during difficult recent years of rising food costs and minimal rain fall. Since 2003, California has already lost more than 500 of its dairies due to a torrent of different reasons, sparking a trend that may be hard to reverse as farmers age and the cost of doing business here continues to spike.
And while California dairy farmers are arguing with the state to make pricing systems adhere much more closely to their out-of-state competitors, the bid to rustle some of our farmers is already working.
The Vander Dussen family, once the owners of a 2,000-acre dairy farm in Corona, moved their operations to Colorado last year and are quickly becoming the envy of their peers who stayed in California. “You’re probably the smartest dairyman in California,” 70-year-old Sybrand Vander Dussen recalls his friends saying when they heard he was leaving The Golden State behind to raise his cattle in greener pastures.