High Plains Dairy Council History
Good ideas are born by observant
people, those who keep an eye on the big picture. Those who not only look after
their needs, but also the needs of others.
Good ideas come to fruition by hard work. Not just the adrenaline-fueled activity that comes with the initial idea, but by the effort and perseverance needed to overcome all obstacles that eventually get in the way.
That, in a nutshell, is the story behind the High Plains Dairy Council. Thanks to the efforts of many in the community, the agricultural and economic landscape of the Panhandle is changing for the better.
And it all started with a good idea.
California Dairy Blues
“Much of California’s agriculture operates in the direct shadow of urbanization,” states Alvin D. Sokolow, a Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California. Sokolow wrote a paper in 2004 to serve “as an exploratory examination of the edge problem in California.”
The ‘edge’ he refers to is where urban development meets up with agricultural development.
“The agriculture-urban edge problem has economic, land use, life style and health dimensions,” Sokolow wrote. “With so many people living so close to so much commercial farming, the negative impacts flow in both directions.”
What negative impacts?
“For farmers, operating in the midst of urban neighbors often means reduced productivity and income, regulatory constraints, vandalism, and legal liability. For urban neighbors, the issues concern the dust, noise, odor, and even health affects,” Sokolow wrote.
While noting that there are urban communities in California that have no problem co-existing with agriculture, Sokolow listed several newspaper reports where urban development and agriculture had clashed.
David Moore, who now serves as Executive Director on the High Plains Dairy Council, witnessed one such clash first hand.
The Birth of a Good Idea
Several years ago, Moore was working for a waste management company doing consulting work with dairies in Southern California. He was working out of a dairy industry office in Chino.
A family had come to visit the company’s executive director about a lawsuit that had been filed against them for a minor environmental violation.
“This family had two young daughters,” Moore said, “and after the meeting they all left crying. I asked what was going on and the assistant director told me that this family had been sued for $99 million and faced losing everything.”
“I was astonished,” Moore said. “He said almost all California dairies were facing this type of pressure and needed to find a new home.”
Moore knew that he could help families like this one relocate to the Panhandle. He needed information particularly geared for this purpose, but where was he going to find it?
Meanwhile, David Lowe, who owns and operates Benchmark Grain, noticed that dairies were already relocating to Texas and New Mexico. In an effort to attract a dairy to Dalhart, Lowe had filed for a permit to allow a dairy to build on his land.
Tom White, who was in the electrical business at the time, had done work on large facilities, including Premium Standard Farms. White also noted the incoming dairies and decided he would try his hand at dairy building under the name of West Texas Dairy Construction.
Upon returning from California, Moore hooked up with Lowe and White. They decided to make their own information packet that would promote the Dalhart area as ideal for dairy relocation.
Moore approached Dyke Rogers, owner of Frontier Fuels, for help with the project.
“I agreed to participate because my agricultural customers were struggling,” Rogers said. “I could see that if a group worked together with a single focus to diversify our economy and add value to the products we produce, we would all be better off.”
Everything Looks Better on DVD
The newly formed High Plains Dairy Council discussed ways to market the Dalhart area. They decided on producing a DVD and brochures to hand out and mail to those interested.
The cost of producing the DVD was over the council’s budget, so they approached the Dalhart Economic Development Corporation for some seed money.
The Dallam-Hartley County Hospital District and the Dalhart Independent School District stepped up in support of the DVD development, helping the Dairy Council get the $40,000 they needed to produce the materials.
Since then, the hospital district and school district has used the DVD extensively in their own projects.
Rogers and Moore wrote the script and Rogers’ son, Richard, did the filming for the DVD.
“The next step was to go after the opportunity,” Moore said. “So I called my friends in Chino and asked for a list of dairymen that were needing to make a decision to move.”
After securing the list, the Dairy Council packed their bags and traveled to Chino in the fall of 2003. They used their Texas charms, offering to feed everyone a steak dinner in return for them to hear about Dalhart.
“We had over 15 families come to that first meeting,” Moore said.
That first meeting led Curt Miersma, Jim Albers and Roger Sybesma to relocate their dairies to Dalhart.
Go West Young Man
The Dairy Council made another major move by setting up a display booth at the 2004 World Ag Expo held in Tulare, Calif. The booth was deluged with interested people.
“Most people had no idea where Dalhart was,” Moore said, “but they sure knew where Clovis, Hereford, Muleshoe and Plainview were.”
Thus, by attending the World Ag Expo, the Dairy Council put Dalhart in competition with other areas of Texas and New Mexico, ensuring that the Panhandle would not be overlooked when it came time for a dairy to relocate.
The Dairy Council also made their first physical contact with Hilmar Cheese Company at the expo.
A Community Effort
“I can confidently say that Dalhart is on the map,” Moore said. “Since we have begun, we have hosted over 80 families that have come to our area looking for a new home.”
“Our guests have been treated like family,” Lowe said. “We meet them for breakfast, spend all day- for as long as they want - showing them every aspect of our community, and then take them into our homes for dinner.”
“I’ve also observed that nearly all of our guests want to see our community, especially the schools and churches, before they have any interest in the farm land,” Lowe added. “In nearly every case, they have been very complimentary of both our community and the people they have met.”
Such community support is what sets Dalhart aside as different. The Diary Council membership includes over 50 businesses and individuals. Thus the council has a wide range of experience and resources to tap into to help dairies relocate.
David Moore, who takes the lead in drumming up interest, follows through by selling the Dalhart community to those who visit. Then, Daivd Lowe can talk to them about commodities and feed prices, Dyke Rogers can discuss real estate matters, and Tom White can discuss construction.
Other members of the council are called upon as needed to address concerns about farm management, equipment, insurance, animal health, and financing.
“We have established a national reputation of being an organization with a ‘one-stop-shop’ ability, that can facilitate all your needs from finding a site to buy... to finding a church... to setting up hotel and travel arrangements,” Moore said.
For those visiting, there is no question about it - Dalhart has rolled out the welcome mat.
“Through farm shows, promotional materials, DVD, and now word of mouth, Dalhart is the ‘buzz’ of the dairy industry,” Rogers said. “We have had contacts, not only in the States, but from Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.”
Since the 2004 World Ag Expo, the Dairy Council has put a great deal of effort into convincing Hilmar Cheese that Dalhart is the place to expand their operations. The cheese plant will not only help the local economy, it will serve as an economic hub for other related industries to cluster around. The growth will eventually spread over several Panhandle counties.
“Our community needs a change to survive,” Moore said. “We believe our local farmers have the opportunity to make additional income from simple supply and demand factors. Our ag economy has been one dimensional for over 20 years, and it needs to be diversified.
“We are adding diversity to our rural economy,” Rogers said of the cheese plant.
We are also enriching it. Local farmers will grow food for local cows at local dairies, which in turn will sell milk to a local cheese plant. The money stays in the Texas Panhandle.
For others, the cheese plant means more jobs at competitive wages.
“The cheese plant will give our young people a reason to stay in Dalhart, or to come back after going to college,” Rogers said. “They can find quality jobs with a quality company.”
Even more jobs will become available as more dairies and other related industries move in.
“For the Panhandle, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime,” Rogers said.
“The next generation of agriculture is the dairies, and a cheese plant is what makes it all happen,” Rogers said.
An economic impact study by the Perryman Group out of Waco, published in May of this year, backs up Rogers’ analysis.
“If the area is successful in attracting this plant, it will be a major catalyst in reshaping the economic futures of a substantial segment of the Panhandle Region,” the report reads.
“The presence of a cheese manufacturing facility will help establish the position of Dalhart and the surrounding region as a leader in dairies and related manufacturing industries.”
A Look Ahead
Except for the initial seed money to produce the DVD, the Dairy Council has been self-sustaining, with investment money from board members and dues by other members. The Dairy Council is a tribute to hard work and perseverance, to seeing what needs to be done and doing it.
“Hilmar’s decision to come to Dalhart is a testament to what can be accomplished when people are determined to reach a goal and are willing to devote the time and resources to that end,” Rogers said.
And now that Hilmar has decided to become our newest neighbors, the Dairy Council will be even busier.
“We will continue to facilitate new families looking to come to our area,” Moore said. “We already have other dairy-related companies contacting us about relocating to our region, as well as other associated industries wanting to develop projects in our area.”
by Aaron Graves