Production leads to processing which leads to progress. That is the desired path of value-added economic development. It was true for the Kansas beef industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and it is now coming true in the Kansas dairy industry. Milk production in western Kansas has grown to the point that new milk processing capacity has developed there as well.
Last week we learned about the western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance, or wKREDA, which works on various regional issues including growing the dairy industry in western Kansas. Many of the leaders of wKREDA had seen the boom in jobs which resulted from the growth of meatpacking in the region during the 1980s and `90s. It was a long progression. The production of irrigated feed grain led to the creation of concentrated cattle feeding. Then the packing plants wanted to be close to the source of production, and large beef packing facilities were built in southwest Kansas.
“Go East, young man, and grow up with the country.” Actually, that is the opposite of the original saying made famous by editor Horace Greeley, who told his readers to go west in 1865. But in 1994, one entrepreneur found that his path to growth was to go east, and that led him to rural Kansas.
Dan Senestraro is the owner of Eastside Dairy in Stanton County, Kansas. Dan is the westernmost Kansan on the Board of Directors of the Dairy Farmers of America.
Dan grew up on a dairy farm in California. He went to veterinary school at the University of California at Davis. “I was determined not to be in the dairy business,” he said with a smile. He graduated in 1986. By 1989, he found himself in the dairy business again.
“I was in a partnership on 800 dairy cows in rented space in southern California,” Dan said. As California became more crowded and urbanized, he looked to relocate and grow.
“Young cooperator.” That is a nice combination of positive terms. In this case, it literally refers to a young adult who is active in his or her dairy cooperative. Those young cooperators tend to continue to be involved in their cooperative’s leadership. Today we’ll meet a dairy farm family which began as young cooperators and are continuing that legacy into another generation.
Last week we learned about dairyman Steve Strickler, a member of the board of directors of the dairy cooperative known as Dairy Farmers of America. Byron Lehman from Newton also serves on that board.
Byron’s family came from a dairy farm in upstate New York and moved to Kansas in 1953. His family farmed and Byron’s dad started dairying with Byron and his brother. “I think he dairied to keep his boys out of trouble,” Byron said with a smile.
Byron went to Hesston College and then finished a degree in dairy science from K-State. He joined the family farming partnership that continues to this day. Byron’s wife DeDee is from Denver. They have a daughter named MeLissa who is married to Steven. Steven is a police officer and also helps them farm.
“Be a good neighbor.” That advice and other words of wisdom from his father have helped this Kansas dairyman be a positive force in his community and the dairy industry. It’s today’s Kansas Profile.
Steve Strickler is owner of Strickler Holstein Farm near Iola. He follows in the footsteps of his father, a longtime leader in the dairy industry.
Steve grew up on the farm which milked 120 cows at the time. Steve studied dairy science and technical journalism at K-State. After graduation, he worked for a dairy cooperative in Wisconsin and then for a national magazine, Hoard’s Dairyman, which took him coast to coast in the U.S. and beyond. He enjoyed the work but the thought of the family dairy farm drew him back home.
“The calling of the farm was too much,” Steve said. In 1979, he returned to the farm and eventually took over the operation from his father. Now Steve has three kids and four grandchildren of his own.
Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University writes Kansas Profile. The weekly posts highlight individuals or companies in rural Kansas who are making a difference to their community and state.
The Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is a public / private partnership between Kansas State University and the Huck Boyd Foundation. The mission of the institute is to help rural people help themselves. Learn more at www.huckboydinstitute.org.