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West Coast dairy farmers find lower costs, space in Iowa

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dykstra Dairy milks about 3,000 cows three times a day. Darin Dykstra came from California to Plymouth County to build a dairy because "everything costs more in California." Economic development officials say Iowa has a strong pull for dairy farmers looking to relocate.
What makes Iowa and Plymouth County a prime spot for California dairy farmers looking to relocate?

Lower feed costs, wide-open space, fewer regulations, family ties and community amenities, according to area economic development officials.

Darin Dykstra, a California dairy farmer who moved to Plymouth County and built Dykstra Dairy, felt the same.

He and his wife Linda and their two sons left California in 2002 and began milking cows at Dykstra Dairy, east of Struble, Feb. 3, 2003.

"It's a good area to have a dairy," Dykstra said. "You're right in the middle of all the feed."

That means less cost because, in addition to the 75 acres the dairy sits on, the family owns and rents about 1,750 acres to grow corn for corn silage, Dykstra said.

On the family dairy in Ontario, Calif., of which he is still a partner, feed costs are higher because they own just 60 acres and the dairy takes up 40, Dykstra said.

"So you have to buy all your hay and grain and everything," he said. "Here we grow our own corn and do it relatively inexpensively because you are putting all the nutrients from your manure water onto the fields as fertilizer."

Dykstra also has other reasons for building a dairy in Plymouth County.

He and his wife graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center and she has a brother who teaches there.

Andrea Westergard, Plymouth County's economic development director, learned recently at the World Ag Expo in California that Dordt and its roots are a big draw for California dairy farmers.

"The dairy industry is a large Dutch industry," Westergard said. "A lot of the people that we spoke with, their main reason for wanting to come to Iowa was because their son or daughter was attending Dordt College."

Dykstra and his wife also found the Plymouth County site attractive because they wanted to send their children to the Christian school in Orange City.

Westergard had heard similar comments from dairy operators at the expo.

"They're looking for the Christian school atmosphere," she said. "And we have a large availability of that as well."

But Dykstra also had a more personal reason for building Dykstra Dairy -- he completed his senior practicum at Wells' Dairy, in Le Mars, in his final year at Dordt.

"Before I left there (Wells'), the people said 'We would really like to see bigger dairies come out here and supply us with milk,'" Dykstra said.

Throughout the years he always kept it in the back of his mind that maybe someday he would return to the Le Mars area and build a dairy, Dykstra said.

Now he's back and all of the milk produced from his 3,050 dairy cows is sold to Wells' Dairy.

California isn't the only state Iowa recruitment groups look at to entice dairy farmers, but the World Ag Expo opens up doors to a huge population of dairy operators.

About 100,000 people come through the gates each of the three days of the show, Westergard said.

"While we were there we were able to talk to five or six people interested in relocating their dairies," she said.

Iowa Area Development Group representatives attend the World Ag Expo annually encouraging dairy farmers to relocate in Iowa, said Mike Meissen, value-added agriculture vice president of the group.

"We have a tremendous amount of folks coming to Iowa," Meissen said. "We truly have people visiting Iowa 12 months of the year."

The Iowa Area Development Group is a consortium of 28 Rural Electric Cooperatives and 128 independent telephone companies across the state, Meissen said.

Bringing dairies to Plymouth County and Iowa means huge positive economic impacts, Westergard said.

"Dykstra Dairy's annual tax base is $62,856," she said. "Every dairy you can get into your community, if you multiply that times as many..."

There are currently 6,900 dairy cows in Plymouth County, Westergard said.

Most of those animals are at Dykstra Dairy and Plymouth Dairy Farms Inc. but there are two or three small dairy farmers in the county, she said.

Iowa supports more than 2,000 dairy farms, more than 217,000 dairy cows, 22 dairy processing companies and 3.86 billion pounds of milk are produced annually in the state, Westergard said.

The economic impact of 500 cows in Iowa in total sales beyond the farm equals 28.2 jobs created and 1,900 acres of Iowa crops and resources used, Westergard said.

"When we put dairy cows into a county, the annual economic impact ranges between $15,000 and $17,000 per cow per year," Meissen said. "We don't call them dairy cows -- we call them economic engines."

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who works on those dairy farms?????

-- Posted by goodoleboys on Fri, Mar 26, 2010, at 2:31 PM

I thought all the happy cows were moving to California?

-- Posted by cranemaster on Fri, Mar 26, 2010, at 2:57 PM

I want to live in Plymouth county so I can send my kids to a Christian School in Orange City?? and moving here because of less regulation... Hmmm more people wanting to move locally and not support our school system... Does that equate to 'we love your county and soil and resources, but we will take our money elsewhere' ?

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Sat, Mar 27, 2010, at 12:22 PM

Does less regulation equate to being able to continue the trend of despoiling the rivers and streams in Iowa? Most are already heavily polluted. Everything comes at a cost, either for the producer or the environment.

-- Posted by polcat16 on Sat, Mar 27, 2010, at 3:11 PM

Michael, you seem to be somewhat misinformed as to where financial suppport for local school systems comes from. It is largely from property taxes of those living within the school district. If a dairy farm family choses to send their children to a school where everything is taught from a Biblical perspective rather than the local public school, that has no effect on the fact that their tax money is still supporting the local public schools.

-- Posted by cyd75 on Sat, Mar 27, 2010, at 4:06 PM

Actually it does if they select Open Enrollment, then the funds are redirected away from our schools. With that perspective, a large percentage of the funds will not only not be avaialable to the local school, but also to another county.

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Sun, Mar 28, 2010, at 11:01 PM

Are you saying that tax money can now be directed toward paying private school tuition (which the parents pay out of their own pockets in addition to their taxes)? I rather doubt that is true.

-- Posted by cyd75 on Mon, Mar 29, 2010, at 8:54 AM

I would have to ask the question when moving to Plymouth County from CA. is do we have the capacity (acres) to handle anymore than we already have? If Dykstra dairy is in use of 1750 acres, then the other dairy also is using that or similar as well. And when Plymouth Energy is using 50,000 bushels a day that equates to somewhere around 200+ acres per day. There's only so much ground to go around.

-- Posted by economics101 on Mon, Mar 29, 2010, at 9:22 AM

actually the mash output is great feed for the cattle. and yes there is only so much ground.

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Mon, Mar 29, 2010, at 12:37 PM

cyd75, not sure what you mean.

look at Open Enrollment and how it functions.

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Mon, Mar 29, 2010, at 12:42 PM

Michael, you need to check your facts before you spout off about private education.

The FACT is that the parents of the students who attend a private school, PAY TAXES to the state who then supports a school that their child does not attend.

The FACT is that the parent has no say over that tax dollar.

The FACT is that if ALL the private school students attended a public school, the public school would not be able to afford to teach all the students who show up.

It is simple, the public school now receives $$$ for students who do not attend. If they did attend, the public school would not receieve any more $ from the state for them. Yes, the per pupil state subsidy would be shown for them, but the BOTTOM LINE $ would not change. Why? The state has only so much $ coming in, and they already send it to the local public school district.

-- Posted by 15yearresident on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 8:17 AM

15yearresident, you may want to check your facts. Each district receives money for the year based on the certified enrollment of students on October 1st. The certified enrollment is the number of kids currently attending the public school. The number of students in the district is not relevant. So if all the private school kids went to public school, the public school would receive more money. When you open enroll your child in a different public school the funds follow the child. Unless of course it is done after October 1st then they stay with the first district.

-- Posted by cranemaster on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 3:00 PM

In Iowa children who attend private schools in different district do not have to open enroll.

All property tax money stays in the district that the dairy farm is located in. No money is following the students anywhere.

-- Posted by ks86 on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 6:28 PM

In Iowa children who attend private schools in different district do not have to open enroll.

All property tax money stays in the district that the dairy farm is located in. No money is following the students anywhere.

-- Posted by ks86 on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 6:30 PM

It never ceases to amaze me what people find to complain about on the Sentinel website.

First of all, if the Dykstras are Dordt College graduates, they are probably Christian Reformed and likely attended Christian schools themselves. How they choose to educate their children is their decision alone.

Second, there are numerous ways to support the community in lieu of sending kids to the public school. Hopefully the Dykstras patronize our local businesses and restaurants and play in Le Mars youth sports organizations - if we haven't completely alienated them already.

I am somewhat unclear about the Open Enrollment stuff. The info I found on the Iowa DOE site seems to pertain only to public school districts. Are you saying that Le Mars residents sending their kids to Gehlen do not pay property taxes?

I'm not clear how a parent that resides in Le Mars/rural Plymouth County and chooses to send their child to a private school costs the local school district. Since Orange City Christian and Unity Christian are not under the auspices of any public school district, I was under the impression the funds do not follow the child to Orange City or Unity Christian (or Gehlen).

I guess it hurts in the sense that more kids means more money, but in this case, less kids does not mean less money. It's not as though the Dykstras are opening enrolling their kids at MOC-FV.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but to say that Plymouth County residents who send their kids to OC/Unity do not support the community is to say the same about Gehlen parents.

-- Posted by jgblog on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 6:31 PM

Ah, I see I was beaten to the punch. That's what I get for doing research.

-- Posted by jgblog on Tue, Mar 30, 2010, at 6:31 PM

Ks86, perhaps I should clarify. I did not say that property tax money followed the student; it is state money that follows. Also I did state "public" school when referring to open enrollment. You are not required to get the home districts permission to open enroll your child if they will be attending a private school, only a public school.

Jesse, I agree with you 100%. It shouldn't matter to anyone else where you choose to send your children. I assure you people that send their children to Gehlen have to pay property taxes. If not that's were my kids are going next year!!!

-- Posted by cranemaster on Wed, Mar 31, 2010, at 8:43 AM

I guess it was really just the attitude that struck me about this story. The less regulation remark made me wonder what they really meant. Yes things are regulated a little tighter in California and other parts of the country, What does that say about our regulations?

Paying more property taxes is going to add more to the county funding. The schools portion that the school would have gotten by the kids attending LeMars community really becomes part of the state funds if the students don't attend pubic schools or open enroll. I understand that we only get funding in the public schools for students actually attending school, not projected availability of students in the area not participating in public schools. It becomes dead money. That is why i support the idea of vouchers, to assist home schooling, private schooling, and open enrollment, or exapand open enrollment to include private school. Of course that opens a new set of problems when the public school has insufficient students to remain effective.

So what I'm really saying is loss of revenue for the county/resources, yet some influx of taxes will be gathered. Whatever was meant by the less regulation. And the school impact.

Jesse mentions the interaction/involvement with the LeMars community. People do tend to spend where they are most out of convenience, and if Orange City is where they'll have their kid's schooling, trace most of the dollars spent that direction as well. Being observant of sabbath in the Holy Land of the north, they will tend to spend in Lemars or Sioux City on Sundays unless venturing in another direction like the lakes.

Just and observance of others in a similar situation and their responses. Not right or wrong, just a pattern.

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Thu, Apr 1, 2010, at 10:06 PM

dear cranemaster, i know the facts.

if parents the parents of 100 students pay taxes while living in lemars and 10 of those attend private school, the dollars are still given to the state and are returned to lemars based on the formula.

So if 90 of those students are funded by the state at $5000 a student, lemars gets $450,000.

Ok so if all 100 students attend next year, there still is only $450,000 for those 100 students, THERE IS NO MORE MONEY THAT IS AVAILABLE TO BE DISTRIBUTED BY THE STATE!!!!!!!!

That means, the local district has to come up with $$$$ to educate 10 extra students that the state does not have any extra dollars to send.

THEREFORE, if all private school parents sent their children to the public school, even for one year, the hue and cry over new taxes would make the current public school financial crisis a laugh!

It is simple economics, the state collects taxes for students that don't get the benefit of those dollars. This is by the parents choice and private school parents are willing to live by that choice and not complain.

So what gives you the right to complain by saying those $$$ go elsewhere, when it is clear they do not?

-- Posted by 15yearresident on Fri, Apr 2, 2010, at 9:44 PM

Actually, you are incorrect. The taxes gathered are place into the general fund except for those specially allocated by ppel or an ISL. From the gerneral fund the money is reallocated to the school district by formula based upon the certified count. So if the district has 90 students out of 100 and each counted student raises $5000, then the district gets $450K. However, if the student count is 100, the district gets $500k. This is why the decrease in student numbers has affected the budget. Undesignated money is used in other programs thoughout the state nopt to the school district. So therefore some of your tax money is leaving the area to benefit somewhere else.

-- Posted by Forest on Sun, Apr 4, 2010, at 12:53 PM

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