Steakonomics - Nebraska Losing Dairy, Pork Farms


Nebraska's losing livestock farms, and it's costing the state jobs and dollars. On the heels of a Ravenna cheese plant closing, some worry pork plants could be next to shut their doors.

"That’s definitely a concern of most dairies in Nebraska, the number of dairies are definitely down in Nebraska," Steve Wolfe said.

The feed wagon passes by, because it's meal time at Wolfden Dairy. And if Steve Wolfe does his job, he’ll improve your meal.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner aren’t complete without things like milk, cheese, and yogurt. And cheese is what this cow’s milk was turned into.

"That’s changed in the last six months," Wolfe explained. "Before that, most of our milk went to Leprino in Ravenna. Unfortunately, we lost that plant, and have to go a step further."

That cheese plant closed, in part management said, because they lacked milk supply in central Nebraska. So the milk from Wolfden Dairy goes elsewhere.

Wolfe said, "Our milk right presently is going to Norfolk, it's a powder plant."

The closure in Ravenna cost 170 workers their jobs. But it also costs Steve, more time on the road, to northeast Nebraska.

"That's right at 190 miles (that's getting up there, more than you'd like). That's more than we'd like. The 35 miles is definitely better," he said.

Agricultural economists at the University of Nebraska are concerned as well. They issued a report, showing the state’s dairy cow numbers have dropped 20 percent in a decade.

Dr. Larry Van Tassell said, "Dairy numbers have been decreasing in the state, where in other states they have really grown. I think one of the issues in Nebraska is we’ve got to get the processing in. And processing won’t come unless there’s commitment to dairy. So which comes first?"

Experts see a similar pattern in pork production. Millions of Nebraska-born hogs are exported to be fed in other states, then shipped back to be processed into ham, bacon, and other pork products.

Van Tassell said, "We’d like to break that cycle and have at least half of those hogs fed here in Nebraska and support the processing industry in Nebraska, because those jobs are a boon to rural areas, good wage jobs, important to the rural economy."

Back at Wofden Dairy, the loss of a local processing plant also means it’s harder to get supplies and services. Steve Wolfe only has a few competitors, and he’d like to see more.

And he believes in Nebraska.

"We have huge advantages, huge advantages."

Advantages like water, feed, and land that attracted him all the way from Virginia 17 years ago.

The Wolfes raise cows that add to a balanced diet.

Steve said, "Not only is very tasteful but a product that’s very nutritious."

Wednesday night, we'll talk about what attracted Steve Wolfe to Nebraska, and why he says it still makes sense for livestock operations to expand, and what obstacles need to be addressed to bring economic development to rural areas.