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South Dakota Lawmakers Tour Cheese Plants

September 26, 2012, 5:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

South Dakota Lawmakers Tour Cheese Plants

South Dakota's dairy industry is growing fast. It's already a billion-dollar business and has the potential to nearly double production in the next few years.

But there's one major hurdle, South Dakota needs a lot more dairy cows.

On Wednesday, industry leaders invited South Dakota lawmakers on the 2012 Dairy Drive so they could see first hand what could cause the industry to sour and what's needed to keep the industry growing.

Twenty-five state's lawmakers got an up close tour at Davisco Foods International in Lake Norden.

The state's largest cheese companies opened their doors so legislators and the public better understand the growing industry.

"The perspective, I think for us doesn't change, but it shows me how much more valuable this industry is for South Dakota," District 10 Senator Shantel Krebs said.

Davisco relies on the milk of 50,000 cows to operate each day, that's more than half the dairy cows in the entire state.  The lack of cows is one of the biggest challenges facing large cheese plants. 

"We currently have 92,000 dairy cows in South Dakota, we need at least another 92,000 to meet up with demand," District 12 Senator Mark Johnston said.

But Mark Leddy, CEO of Valley Queen Cheese Factory in Milbank says milk producers aren't coming to the state because of inadequate gravel roads in rural counties.

"We are looking to attract new dairies in the state that would make significant investments," Leddy said. "But they will be citing $12 million to $15 million facilities on roads built in the early 1900's."

The state's leading dairy competitors put their businesses aside and helped organize the Dairy Drive event. They say it is important to come together for the future of the industry.

"What we really hope comes out ultimately to find a way to fund road improvements at the local level. That's really a big road block for us," Leddy said.

And by educating lawmakers about those challenges, organizers hope they'll take that knowledge back to Pierre and help make the industry even stronger in the future.

Lawmakers also toured SDSU's Dairy Plant, Valley Queen Cheese Factory in Milbank and Marshall Dairy in Veblen.

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