Dairy debate: Let’s meet in the middle


I’d start walking your way, you’d start walking mine.

We’d meet in the middle, ‘neath that old Georgia pine.

We’d gain a lot of ground, cause we’d both give a little.

Ain’t no road too long … when we meet in the middle.

– Diamond Rio

This older country hit by Diamond Rio came on the radio this weekend. I hadn’t heard it in a while, but the refrain continued to twang in my head as I started the workweek.

Now I know why.

This week’s Farm and Dairy carries a special report on new dairies springing up in Ohio, built by immigrants from The Netherlands. Unfortunately, it seems wherever they locate, strong feelings follow.

It’s a combination of the strange, the new, the big, the foreign, the different, the change – that stirs the emotions.

Three years ago, Ohio State ag economist Carl Zulauf posed this question to me: “Does the state of Ohio want agriculture as part of its portfolio in the future?”

Good question.

Too bad I don’t remember hearing anyone give an answer.

At the time, Zulauf was comparing Ohio’s share of U.S. agriculture production. He found Ohio’s share of both livestock and crop production nationally had declined since 1910.

That means Ohio is becoming less and less competitive.

Identity crisis. What makes our agricultural identity crisis more ironic is that other states are actively luring these same farmers.

A four-county region in northern New York took its promotional show on the road, hitting agriculture trade shows in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as abroad in Europe.

Likewise, steering groups in northeast Iowa hosted a tour of dairymen from The Netherlands earlier this month, part of a project to encourage Dutch farmers to resettle in Iowa.

Fact: For every job created directly on a dairy farm, another 2.25 jobs are contributed to in other sectors of the industry.

Fact: For every $1 increase in Ohio’s dairy output, there is an increase of $1.87 in overall output, $2.61 in value added and $2.12 in income realized in the state.

You can also start subtracting those figures as our dairy industry fades away, as it has been doing.

Ohio is a good place to farm – we have abundant natural resources, a good agribusiness network and processors, and we’re close to lots of consumers. But we’ve missed a generation of “growing” our own dairy farmers – and now we want to begrudge that opportunity to someone else?

Ohio is a milk-deficit state, meaning we import milk from other states to meet demand. As Columbiana County Extension Agent Ernie Oelker observed several years ago, “We need to milk more cows in Ohio … somebody does.”

Room at the table. Madison County residents gathered June 4 to air concerns, get answers and find out more about large dairy farms that are cropping up in that county. Minds might not have been changed, but at least there was an opportunity for dialogue.

Madison County Commissioner Chris Snyder, who was quoted in the Madison Press, summed up the situation: “We are sort of in a reactionary mode right now. We are going to have to live together and work together in the community.”

And living together requires compromise.

Listen to the words of Dutch dairyman Pieter Assen, who built a farm in Madison County. “I think this meeting has been very good for everybody to address some of the problems,” Assen told the Madison Press. “We are going to sit down with the people to see what we can do better.”

We’d gain a lot of ground, cause we’d both give a little.

Ain’t no road too long … when we meet in the middle.


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