Iowa Public Television


A New Twist on Rural Development

posted on November 24, 2006

U.S. dairy farms, like most other sectors of American agriculture, are becoming more concentrated.

According to the USDA, the number of U.S. dairy operations has fallen from 140,000 to 80,000 over the past decade. Yet, production has risen.

Nevertheless, farmers in other parts of the world still see opportunities in the United States. The Dutch National Extension Service estimates that over the next decade as many as 7,000 Dutch dairy farmers will relocate in the United States and elsewhere.

As Sara Frasher first reported last summer, there's one economic development program that's luring Dutch dairy farmers to the Midwest.

A New Twist on Rural Development This is Snow Rock Dairies in Butler County, Iowa. It was built brand new from the ground up by a family from the Netherlands.

Eduard Reuling, Snow Rock Dairies: "We had a lot of pressure, what we felt, from the government on rules what we have over there. And the quota system, the whole cost involved with the quota, to buy quota, milking more cows. We didn't like that anymore. And then we read about Iowa, that Iowa wanted more dairy. ... We liked that somebody wants us to be a dairy farmer and we didn't have that feeling in the Netherlands anymore, that we were wanted anymore."

As of November, 2005, Butler County had a new operating dairy and a new family, Eduard and Resy Reuling, six-year-old Jenny, and four-year-old Ryanne. Their brother Nick was born in Butler County during one of the Reulings 8 visits over 2 years preparing for their new life. At their afternoon coffee break, the Reuling "household" also includes a young Dutch couple planning their own Iowa farm, and an employee.

The Reulings milk 350 cows near Shell Rock, Iowa. They are here because Butler County, a very rural county with no stoplights, courted them.

Between 1980 and 2000 the county's population declined almost 14%. As in many rural places, the farm crisis of the 1980s took a toll. It drove young people off the farm, and communities looked for development and stability outside of agriculture – often with little success.

Now, retirement is looming for a generation of Iowa dairy farmers, while the state's processors are already importing some milk to run plants at capacity.

Paul Brown, Iowa State University Extension: "Looking at the last 20 -25 years in Iowa, we have skipped at least a generation of Iowa farmers. And it you look at current demographics in the state we have three times as many farmers over 65 as under 35 and historically in this state it was just reversed."

That situation helped prompt the formation of the Iowa New Farm Family Project, spearheaded by Iowa State University Extension.

Working with local groups, like the Butler County New Farm Family Project Committee, it is helping communities look to their agricultural roots for economic growth and attract new farmers from western Europe. But there is competition.

At emigrant fairs like this one in the Netherlands, other states and countries are looking for dairy transplants too. The Iowans had no financial incentives to offer. And extension wouldn't do anymore for the Dutch farmers than they would do for anyone else.

Still, Butler County did have something to offer, something to attract families as well as cows.

Butler County is one of 77 rural and small urban Iowa counties needing development that were designated with a special status for a unique visa – an EB-5.

Because of that, the Reulings won't have to renew their visa every five years. When their children turn 21, they won't have to leave the U.S. And because they held the EB-5 visas, the Reulings could buy Iowa farm land without waiting two years. It's a win-win situation for the immigrants and the communities.

Paul Brown, Iowa State University Extension: "The value of having this sense of permanence is not only important to the farm families who are coming here but obviously to our communities because our communities are interested in having people become fully integrated into, into community life. "

In addition to liking the legal status, the Reulings were impressed by what they saw when they first came on a tour and met local folks in 2003.

Resy Reuling, Snow Rock Dairies: "The communities, they welcomed us and we liked the area, we liked the people, we like the schools so that's what decided us to come over to Iowa. ... And they welcome us very much and we feel wanted over here. So, that is the main reason that we came over."

The Reulings had capital from selling their land and milk quota in The Netherlands. But they also took out a loan from a local bank. Given the special conditions of their visa, they had to invest at least $500,000 in their farm.

With just 38 acres, instead of growing his own crops as he did in The Netherlands, Eduard contracts with a neighbor for his bulk feed.

Jim Miller has been farming in Butler County since 1963.

The Millers house the Reuling's heifer calves in their former hog facilities. And manure from Reuling's dairy is pumped a mile and a half to the Miller's fields.

The corn/soybean rotation on the farm the Millers operates with their son has been altered for 100 acres of haylage and 200 of silage, which earns roughly $200 – 250 more per acre.

Jim Miller, Shell Rock, IA: "He's brought in money to create more money and more jobs and I just think, we export everything out of Iowa and I don't like to see that. We export our grain, we export our meat, and everything and I think it's just nice that we can use it here and produce it and more or less process our feed."

But it's not all business, the Millers count their Dutch neighbors as friends.

And the Reulings are good neighbors in the broadest sense, loyal to their new home.

They sell their milk to Swiss Valley because it's a Davenport, Iowa based co-op.

When an open house was planned, the Reulings insisted it be held on a Saturday. About 1100 people showed up.

Resy Reuling, Snow Rock Dairies: "The people who are not a farmer are working during the week so they don't have the time to come over to visit the farm. ... But we wanted to have everybody to have the time to come over. So we said do it on a Saturday then everybody has the time or the opportunity to come and to visit our farm so they can see what a farm nowadays looks like. "

There have been some adjustments, of course. And there is the classic immigrant experience of missing family they left behind.

Jenny Reuling: "I miss my grandma and grandpa."

Ryanne Reuling: "I miss grandma and grandpa too."

Still, the Reulings are off to a good start in their new life as Iowa farmers.

And soon, the Dutch couple staying with them will be milking at their own farm in the county, and a third family was granted their EB-5 visa in June.

When all three farms are operating, the Butler County Committee estimates there will be about four to six million dollars turning over in the economy just from the sale of the milk. In one sense, all those dollars will be the result of a local response to globalization.

Tom Lawler, Butler County New Farm Family Project Committee: "We have to look after ourselves. The companies that produce seed, that produce fertilizer, that merchandise the grain, they can do that in Brazil, they can do it in Africa, they can do it anywhere and they will do it where it makes the most economic sense to them. But we are living here and we want a good place here so we need to tell people about the benefits of being here ... People we've had visit us say we can milk cows anywhere in the world, but we want to live where we are welcome."

For Market to Market, I'm Sara Frasher

Tags: agriculture dairy Iowa milk news rural