Number of Missouri Dairy Farms Declines

MORRISON, Mo. (AP) -- At age 77, Arlen Schwinke might be getting too old for the twice-a-day milkings that come with working a dairy farm, but he's still deeply committed to Missouri's dairy industry.

Rather than sell off his cows when he decided to stop milking, Schwinke rented them out to other farmers.

"We kept seeing cows leaving the state of Missouri," he said. "I wanted them to stay here."

Missouri is one of several states where the numbers of dairy farms, many of them family-owned, are declining, despite efforts to bolster the industry. The state is also seeing a decrease in its dairy cow population and its milk production.

Missouri had as many as 1 million dairy cows by the end of World War II. The numbers declined in subsequent years, but cows were more productive, so the reduction didn't always translate into less milk being produced.

However, the state has seen rapid declines in its dairy herd in recent years. By 2000, Missouri was home to 154,000 dairy cows. The number dropped more than 25 percent by last year, to about 112,000 cows.

As the herd dwindled, Missouri's milk production fell. The state produced about 2.3 billion pounds in 2000. Production dropped to 1.7 billion pounds last year. Missouri now imports about 1.7 billion pounds of milk a year.

The loss of cows and dairy farms has economic ramifications, particularly in rural areas. There are fewer jobs related to feed and supplies, hauling, milk processing and veterinary care.

Dave Drennan, executive director of the Missouri Dairy Association and the Missouri Dairy Growth Council, said a University of Wisconsin study found "one dairy cow is worth almost $14,000 in economic activity."

Missouri is fighting to reverse the downslide of its dairy industry. The growth council assists existing farmers, encourages expansion and tries to attract new farmers.

A state-hosted summit this month focused on grass-based dairy production practices. Missouri is well-positioned to capitalize on grazing pastures as an alternative to feed costs, officials say.

Gov. Matt Blunt is calling for $200,000 this fiscal year to provide grants for dairy parlor renovations. The money would be used to upgrade facilities where cows are milked. Farmers who pay for 50 percent of the improvements would be eligible for grants up to $10,000.

Another proposal would offer grants to dairy farmers to cover the costs of consulting with professionals about business planning and possible expansion. In another effort, the state is considering a proposal to create a program to link new farmers, including dairy farmers, to those who are about to retire.

Schwinke said more needs to be done to help Missouri's dairy farmers. He and his wife, Kay, have converted two guesthouses into a bed-and-breakfast business on their farm, which is about 95 miles west of St. Louis. They still raise heifers that aren't producing milk, have a beef herd and grow hay.

The Schwinkes describe dairy farming as a lifestyle commitment, demanding long days and constant work. Their four children chose not to pursue the business, they said. Many other Missourians also have declined to make the commitment.

"I have known in my lifetime people who did not miss a milking in 30 years," Arlen Schwinke said. "No one would do that anymore."

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On the Net:

Missouri Dairy Growth Council: http://www.milkmissouriinstyle.org

American Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.fb.org

The Schwinke Farm: http://www.epplebedandbreakfast.com

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa farmland values have jumped about 18 percent in the last year, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by the Realtors Land Institute and released Wednesday, found that high quality farmland was selling for an average of $5,223 per acre across the state in March. That's up from $4,313 a year ago.

Troy Louwagie, a trends and values chairman with the institute, said a host of factors pushed prices higher, including increased demands by the ethanol industry, high yields and limited land on the market. He said some of the price increase is here to stay.

"We're definitely at a new plateau," Louwagie said. "The real question is what will commodity prices do? If they stay level or increase, we've got even more room for some growth. If they drop a bit maybe we have seen our top."

During the last five years, the average price per acre of farmland in Iowa has increased 67 percent. The survey showed the largest increase in northwest Iowa, where prices climbed 21.2 percent over the past year.

"This is really about crop prices," Louwagie said. "Corn prices and soybean prices have stayed high so the land is more valuable."

(This version CORRECTS that the number of cows dropped by 25 percent from 2000 to 2007, instead of by 25 percent in 2007.)

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