The State of South Dakota and its favored mega-dairy industry are advertising to lure dairy operators to our fair state:

Two South Dakota dairy processors put up billboards in Tulare County, Calif., which has about 340,000 dairy cows, saying "All our cows in South Dakota are happy."

The billboards followed an earlier ad campaign that touted South Dakota as a better place for dairy business because, unlike California, it doesn't have quotas that limit milk production.

"We think South Dakota is a good place to milk cows," said state Agriculture Secretary Walter Bones. "Our state is one of those areas with tremendous untapped potential."

Earlier this year, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Dauggard went to California on a recruiting mission, telling reporters "we're on a cattle roundup. So if you're out there in the world of dairying and you're looking for a place to plant your dairy, South Dakota is open for business" [Rick Barrett, "South Dakota Looks to Lure Away Dairy Farmers," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2012.11.17].

We've recruited a number of foreign dairy operators:

The state's industry has persuaded European dairy farmers to move here, and it helped a Costa Rican dairy operation relocate to the prairie, although that farm folded after a short time.

Altogether, South Dakota has successfully recruited about 23 dairy farms in the last couple of years, most of them capable of handling 1,000 cows or more [Barrett, 2012.11.17].

Jon Davis, the Le Seuer, Minnesota-based owner of the big cheese factory in Lake Norden, says South Dakota has everything it needs for a dairy boom but cows:

“As I’ve said all along, the processing infrastructure is already invested in South Dakota, and now we just need the on-farm stuff to be invested in,” Davis said.

In other words, more cows are needed.

If the state had the cows, Davis said he would double the size of the Lake Norden facility that produces provolone, mozzarella, parmesan and romano cheeses [Barry Amundson, "S.D. Aims to Boost Dairy Cow Numbers," Tri-State Neighbor, ].

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture agrees and says everyone can benefit, even if more dairies would reduce the premium current dairy operators get for their milk:

To South Dakota farmers who are afraid of losing higher milk prices by having new producers moving in and would rather keep the status quo, [at publication time, SD Department of Agriculture propagandist Lucas] Lentsch and [SDSU professor Lloyd] Metzger said there’s a danger in those stances.

Lentsch said with a healthy dairy farm and manufacturing industry, “all boats rise with the tide.”

He said the economic impact of added livestock is “incredible.” For each dairy cow, it’s estimated to be $13,594.

“Whether it’s a 100- or a 1,000- or even a 10,000-cow dairy, there’s room at the table of opportunity for everyone in South Dakota,” Lentsch said [Amundson, 2012.06.01].

Room at the table for everyone... but not for the 800 small dairy operations that have gone out of business in South Dakota since the year 2000. In the 1980s, those small dairies had over 150,000 head of dairy cattle, compared to the 90,000 the South Dakota Department of Agriculture brags about now. The state Department of Agriculture is partly to blame: the big dairies it favors push those small dairies out of business. Somewhere there are 800 independent South Dakota dairy operators who could be producing milk for Davis and the other processors but who have left the industry. Having kicked out own people out of business, South Dakota now goes begging for Californians and Europeans to come boost our dairy numbers.

Room at the table for everyone... but not for raw milk producers. Producing raw milk is one way small dairies can claim a niche in the market and boost their profit margins. But the state outlaws the sale of raw milk at grocery stores; raw milk producers have to set up their own shops or deliver to sell directly to customers. (Imagine if the state put that same condition on Davis's cheese factory.) Small dairy operators who do brave the raw milk market face constant challenge from the state Department of Agriculture, which put Belle Fourche-based Black Hills Milk out of business for a week last month after finding harmful bacteria in one milk sample that was stored for an unusually long time before being tested by officials.

South Dakota officials will go to the mat for big food processors, but they seem less enthused about little guys like raw milk producers John and Dawn Habeck:

[Dawn] Habeck said she feels the Department of Agriculture is waging a war on raw milk around the country.

...Habeck mentioned [SD Dept. Ag Dairy chief Darwin] Kurtenbach specifically as “the one who's really got it in for raw milk (in South Dakota).” She alleged that Kurtenbach has spoken out publically against raw milk multiple times in the recent past — while serving as the Department of Agriculture's dairy program administrator.

Kurtenbach neither confirmed nor denied Habeck's allegation in a telephone interview with the Black Hills Pioneer.

“I'm not going to go into the benefits of raw milk versus pasteurized milk. South Dakota law says a producer can sell raw milk; it's legal to do that,” he said when questioned about Habeck's allegation ["Adam Hurlburt, "Raw Deal for Raw Milk?" Black Hills Pioneer, 2012.10.19].

But in the same interview, Kurtenbach goes out of his way to discourage consumers from buying the Habeck's product.

“If you go to Center for Disease Control's website you'll see that there's really no benefits to raw milk,” Kurtenbach said. “There's always inherent danger of consuming raw milk. The consumers that are consuming milk and milk products that are pasteurized are still safe and wholesome. The raw milk that's being sold in South Dakota has the potential to have pathogenic bacteria present and that can lead to sicknesses” [Hurlburt, 2012.10.19].

You will never hear a Department of Agriculture official mention any dangers about the mega-dairy industry that it favors. Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones, a big dairy operator himself, feigns ignorance in a public hearing when asked about the adverse economic and environmental effects demonstrated by giant diaries in Veblen, South Dakota. Evading taxes, violating permits, polluting the water, hiring illegal immigrants, cheating suppliers... not a peep of complaint from the Department of Agriculture. Hear complaints that a processed meat product contains yucky bits, and Pierre sends the lieutenant governor to stuff some of the product in question in his face. But find some bacteria in one aging sample of milk, and South Dakota will shut down small local producers and brand their product worthless and dangerous.

Room at the table for everyone... everyone, that is, who plays ball with the state's desire to curry favor with a few big developers and squeeze small operators completely out of the dairy industry.