California dairy farmers tired of getting milked

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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California may breed happy cows, but its farmers are turning sour on the state’s policies.

The disenchantment of Golden State dairy farmers has reached the point that other states are trying to win their business. Last week at the annual World Ag Expo, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard made a pitch that caught the attention of frustrated California dairy farmers.

Leave behind the business-adverse climate in California and bring your cows to the much more affordable state of South Dakota, was the essence of his message to Golden State farmers.

Although California’s vast farmlands and pleasant weather have persuaded many leading dairy companies to call it home, the costs of operating a business there have forced some farmers to consider relocating.

And South Dakota’s governor is making the decision even easier for Californians in the industry.

“Our aim is to make California dairymen aware of the opportunity that exists in South Dakota for dairies,” Daugaard told a Visalia, Ca. newspaper.

He has promised cheaper land, cheaper feed, a larger demand for milk, and fewer burdensome regulations to companies in the dairy industry.

Babybel, a French cheese company with a growing presence in the United States, has already taken up Daugaard’s on his word, recently investing $150 million in the state to build a new cheese plant in Brookings.

This may seem like an odd move because Babybel does not raise and milk its own cows, it buys milk from other companies — and South Dakota, unlike California, at the moment does not produce nearly enough milk to meet Babybel’s demands.

However, the tax-heavy policies in California when compared to the business-friendly environment in S.D. were enough to lure the company to Brookings.

There is also a feeling that many of California’s cows will soon join Babybel in the sparsely populated Midwestern state.

“We’re looking to double the number of milk cows in our state,” Daugaard told the S.D. newspaper. “Our hash tag for the year is #getsomemilk2014.”

The plight of Californian farmers may help make that goal possible.

Hundreds of farms have been forced to shut down, Michael Marsh, the CEO of Western United Dairymen, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. California has lost 25 percent of its dairy farms since 2007.

One of the leading reasons behind the waning industry is the consequence of a rule mandated by California’s Secretary of Agriculture in 2007, which disconnected the farmer’s milk price from milk that’s used in cheese making in the state from the market place. Now, California’s secretary of agriculture determines the milk price.

“This has had a devastating effect on the milk farmers in the state of California,” says Marsh.

California’s tough environmental regulations have also turned dairy farming into an unsustainable enterprise for many Golden State farmers.

“The environmental regulations that exist in California for dairy operations are stricter than anywhere on the planet,” he explained.

And other states, including South Dakota, are capitalizing on California’s debilitating policies.

Marsh says that representatives from other states are asking California dairy farmers, “Why would you want to face what you do in California when you could bring your jobs and investment into Texas, New Mexico, or Indiana?”

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