Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Where have all the dairies gone?...

Posted 9/10/19 (Tue)

If you live outside of the Bismarck-Mandan area you may not have heard that Bessy’s Best milk is no longer available in Bis-Man grocery stores.

Because of “semi retirement,” Blaine and Kathy Goetz decided to no longer offer the dairy’s milk to Bismarck and Mandan retail.

When the announcement was made in July, the Goetz family declined media interviews because they aren’t sure what their next step is going to be.

The dairy is located at Sterling, 24 miles east of Bismarck, and continues to exist. It is now the only place you can get Bessy’s Best milk, among other things like cheese curds and pizza.

In this day and age, most people no longer drink whole milk, but Bessy’s Best whole, chocolate milk has been as much a treat as a chocolate ice cream cone.

I’ve never been to the dairy, but whenever I traveled to Bismarck, it wasn’t complete without a stop at Dan’s Super Valu to pick up a gallon or two of Bessy’s Best whole chocolate milk.

It’s still available, you just have to go to Sterling to get it.

And when you get there and the family is busy milking cows, just take what you need and put the appropriate money in the slot.

I don’t really know if that is reality, but a number of people have said it, making it a true honor system that is also a rarity in today’s world of fat-free and lactose-free milk.

If the Goetz’s fully retire, it will continue a negative trend in North Dakota that has been going on for more than 60 years.

Dairy farms are disappearing from our state faster than falling stars in the night sky.

The state now has 81 dairy farms, led by Morton County with 19, when in 2000, there were 350 and 1940, it is estimated there were 5,000 dairies.

We aren’t the lowest on the totem pole but we have now dropped to 35th among all states, which seems ironic given the power of agriculture in this state.

What can be done about it? In a recent conversation with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, he said the Ag Department is constantly working on out-of-state dairies, mainly those in South Dakota, to relocate to North Dakota.

So far, it hasn’t been successful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change.

After a large dairy closed near Parshall, a family from Ontario moved to the farm to get the modern dairy back up and running.

Unfortunately, that lasted about six months and the family moved back to the Sudbury area where they were originally from.

Numerous others have tried and failed. Of course, in 21st Century agriculture, dairies must be at least 400 milk cows or they aren’t going to pay off. Some dairies are pushing 1,000 cows or even more.

The only exception is the VanBedaf Dairy at Carrington. This is a family that moved to North Dakota from the Netherlands via Alberta and have been successful in every endeavor.

Which brings me to a point that I think North Dakota missed a golden opportunity to bolster the dairy industry about 20 years ago when dairy farmers in Quebec were being taxed unfairly.

Many of them quit, some moved to other provinces and still others rented out their property but were no longer directly involved in the dairy industry.

North Dakota should have dangled a carrot out in front of those Quebec dairy farmers and I would be willing to bet that a number of them would have moved to North Dakota just like the VanBedaf family did.

Today, because of tariffs placed on Canada that include dairy, Quebec’s dairy farmers are disgruntled again. It might be a good opportunity to reach out to them and let them know that they could succeed here with fewer regulations, better prices and a stronger dollar.

Not only that, there are already a lot of Canadians living in North Dakota, some who speak French, so it wouldn’t be much of a change for them. They could even listen to French radio if they would live along the northern tier of the state.

Back in the day, dairies were much smaller than they are today, but were still able to sell milk, cream, butter and cheese. My parents raised a family of six on 10 dairy cows and 160 acres of farmland in Emmons County.

Why did it have to change? Why did the milk truck stop coming to so many farms? Why did so many creameries cease operations?

It seemed like a simpler time, just 40 years ago, and it didn’t seem like there was any stress of bankruptcy or going broke.