Will their words ever sink in?


In this line of work, you sit through a lot of speakers. And you sit through a lot of the same presentations, just given by different people.

If you ask my co-workers, they’ll tell you there is only a handful of “academic” or “agency” types that I would willingly go hear whenever they’re in town.

Virginia Tech’s David Kohl is one. An ag economist and farm management specialist, Kohl is an engaging speaker worth hearing anytime.

So is Ohio State’s Bernie Erven, who deals with the human resources end of farming – the people end.

Like the best of teachers, these guys do their job so well, you don’t even realize you’re learning. They don’t necessarily sugar coat their “lesson,” but their delivery is so good, you don’t mind hearing the message.

For entertainment value, with an educational punch, Ohio State’s dairy specialist Dr. Normand St-Pierre is also a good one to hear. I didn’t realize how much he makes me think until I dug into my files to write this and unearthed my notes from his presentation at the 1998 Ohio Dairy Conference.

(Believe me, I don’t keep too many notes after an article hits the press, so when I do, it’s because I really want to relive that presentation, to re-digest that information.)

St-Pierre spoke to a dairy industry gathering prior to last week’s Northeast Ohio Dairy Management Conference, and once again his words are worth a second look.

The dairy industry is actually a growth industry, St-Pierre said, even though the overall number of milk cow operations continues to decline in the United States.

How? Overall, U.S. milk production grew 46 percent between 1975 and 2000, or an average of 1.6 percent per year.

Ohio, however, is becoming less and less competitive and is losing market share because of stagnant milk production. We haven’t kept pace with national average production per cow and if you use USDA numbers, we’re actually 2,000 pounds below the national average of annual milk production.

“If we really want to maintain the industry in the state, we really need to grow our average production,” the dairy specialist said.

That doesn’t mean that dairy production is dead in the Buckeye State. St-Pierre said the total economic impact of dairy farms and dairy processing to this state is between $4.5 billion and $5 billion. He just wishes more people recognized the industry’s value.

“If somebody had no clue about dairy farming, just tell them to look at the $750 million generated in tax income from those dairy individuals,” he said. “That’s the one reason why my neighbor should support the cows.”

In 2001, Ohio State’s Tom Sporleder updated his “economic multiplier” studies on Ohio’s dairy industry. He found that for every $1 increase in Ohio’s dairy output, the state realizes an increase of $1.87 in overall output and $2.12 in income.

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

The St-Pierre statement that keeps running through my head speaks both to past and the present: “We have missed growing a generation of dairy farmers.”

It’s true. We have not encouraged our sons and daughters to return to the farm to milk cows.

And don’t tell me there’s no future in it. Just read the story that starts on page 1 about Cormac Irwin, a nonfarm boy who just loves cows and found a place of his own within the dairy industry.

Ohio can’t afford to lose more of its dairy industry.


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