Local dairy producer has commitment to industry -- and Ayrshires

Thursday, November 1, 2012
Jim Tentinger's determination for a strong dairy industry is evident not only with industry issues but with his 200-cow registered Ayrshire dairy herd. Assisted in the operation by his son, Travis, his commitment to the breed is a long-standing one. "I understand the breeding and know what I'm working with," he said of his initial inheritance of the cattle from his father, the late Roman Tentinger.(Sentinel photo by Jolene Stevens)

Meetings rather than milking have been the focus in recent days for Jim Tentinger, a longtime Plymouth dairy producer.

Tentinger, of rural Le Mars, a member of the corporate board of the Midwest Dairy Association, has been in Orlando, Fla., joining other Midwest representatives as they focus on the association's use of dairy check-off dollars to promote and market dairy products.

The check-off dollars are from a payment of 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk sold by participating dairy producers.

Tentinger's yearling heifers will eventually find their way into his milking herd. All offspring from the herd, including bull calves to become part of the family's beef cattle operation, are retained within Tentinger's farm operation. He explained the Ayrshire breed originated in "the county of Ayr in Scotland prior to 1800" and was at that time viewed as a "show cow" breed. Owned "early in the century" by wealthy residents of the eastern United States including the Scott family responsible for Scott Towels, the breed has continued to gain prominence for its milk production in the last 10-15 years.(Sentinel photo by Jolene Stevens)

Sherry Newell, Midwest corporate communications, said fellow dairy producers and the industry are appreciative of Tentinger's contributions as a member of Midwest's corporate board.

Since 2005, he has also served as a member of the Iowa division on the Midwest board.

"We feel Jim has been instrumental in helping our producers to understand how our check-off has and is being spent for the good of the dairy industry," she said.

The contribution of Jim's time as well as his own check-off participation has been extremely important to the dairy industry, Newell said.

She added the Orlando conference has provided a value showcase for industry promotional efforts on a national level including those with Quaker Oats, Domino's Pizza and McDonald's.

Industry research projects were also featured, she said.

The Florida meeting was in conjunction with the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) joint annual meeting with the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB) and the United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA).

Tentinger is seen as an upfront supporter for the dairy industry, its products and its ability to remain strong despite admitted concerns over farm subsidy issues (pending passage of a new Farm Bill) and possible rising retail milk prices for consumers at least through early 2013.

As to possible milk increases moving into the retail market the Le Mars dairy producer admits concern on the possible hike.

"It's a matter of prices can only go so high before consumers can't afford the product, be it meat or dairy," Tentinger said. "It's not unlike when in our own dairy operations a certain product gets over overpriced, and we have to look for something else."

Dairy producers receive a portion of the consumer's dollars, he explained.

"The actual dairy farmer is probably only taking 13 to 14 percent of the whole dollar with the middle people taking the biggest share. A lot of people don't realize this," Tentinger said. "It all goes back to every time someone wants to put a raise on the manufacturing end. That, too, gets into their profits."

He said he's hopeful that when faced with product challenges consumers understand retain the knowledge that "milk is one of the few complete foods out there and a safe healthful" product.

Congress has not passed new legislation for U. S. Department of Agriculture programs commonly known as the Farm Bill.

One proposal would replace subsidies with a voluntary insurance plan to pay dairy producers enough money to make a profit when milk prices drop drastically.

On the dairy subsidy issue Tentinger agrees that the dairy industry, as he said do all commodities, needs "a floor or insurance" for their operation.

"I don't feel, however, we need a 100 percent floor but that we take some of the risk. I think if you get too much of a floor, too much of a guarantee, you can flood the market. You have to have a free market system," he cautioned. "Otherwise, people would produce to no end. It's human nature."

Tentinger also said he sees the dairy export market as a plus for the industry.

"It's one of the few things that's really growing and helping the industry," he said.

The current continued demand for whey, a by-product of the cheese industry used in a number of food products, is likewise bolstering the industry.

So, too, he said of the advent of new developments within the cheese industry.

Tentinger has a 200-cow herd of registered Ayrshires.

He said his "commitment" to the breed is a long-standing one.

"I guess it's what I grew up with and what I've been around all my life," he observed as he stood among a portion of the herd on his rural Le Mars farm.

Known in its origin as "more show animal than milk cow," the Ayrshire breed has since its arrival in the United States gained in prominence as a dairy breed, he said.

Tentinger said that current milk production data within his own herd indicates a 19,000-pound average milk production with 4.1 percent butterfat and 3.4 percent protein.

The dairy has a double nine herring-bone milking facility.

The milk is marketed to Dean Foods, Le Mars, where it is directed into the retail milk chain for distribution.