SHELLEY • Although Idaho is known for its potatoes, it also is the third-largest dairy-producing state in the country — trailing only California and Wisconsin.

“Even though Idaho is known as the ‘potato state,’ we are a big dairy state,” said Brian Esplin, a Shelley-area dairy farmer. “Overall, our state’s dairies produce about three times the revenue as potatoes.”

Esplin is a 23-year member of the United Dairymen of Idaho Board of Directors. He also serves on the United Dairy Industry Association, the national dairy-promotion board.

“The number of dairies (in eastern Idaho) aren’t as prominent as in the Magic Valley,” he said. “Major processors built plants there when many dairies relocated there recently from California due to available land at good prices and a better climate, which also drew them to the Magic Valley.”

Esplin milks about 1,250 Holstein cattle in partnership with his wife, Trina Esplin, and son, Jared Esplin. Contributing to the success of his operation is his focus on maintaining a young, healthy and vibrant herd.

Idaho’s milk is processed into a diverse list of dairy products that are shipped and consumed around the world.

Its milk is used to make cheese, butter, milk powders of many kinds, yogurt, whey protein and other common dairy-based products. Markets for dairy products have expanded over the years and today, dairy products — especially powdered milk — are exported worldwide. About 60 to 70 percent of all powdered milk produced in the United States is exported to nations such as China, South Korea and other nearby Asian countries.

The recent price of powdered milk recently dipped to about 90 cents a pound, Espline said. That’s lower than 2009, when the prices of powdered milk and other dairy products were at their low point, Esplin said.

“China is a big importer, but they’ve really slowed down their imports of powder and that’s definitely impacted prices of all dairy products here,” Esplin said. “The U.S. imports were around 15 percent of total milk production last year, this year exports are averaging around 10 to 12 percent. Many say U.S. farmers should sell down their herds to improve prices, which would help, but markets won’t improve very much until world markets improve.”

Esplin was encouraged by the Class III milk price — or cheese price. The Class III milk price is how Idaho milk prices are based. It is around $16.20 a hundredweight. Dairy market forecasters predict futures prices and they indicate the price may tick up to more than $17 later this year. But with higher prices of milk here, more cheese and butter are imported, Esplin said.

“With U.S. milk prices currently far above world prices, more cheese and butter is being imported here, which hurts our prices and slows down future price increases,” Esplin said. “With schools closing for the summer, we’ll sell less milk, and more milk will be made into cheese. This could negatively impact prices. With feed costs the way they are, we’re still making a little money, but it’s not that good.”

Lately, the price of quality alfalfa hay has been a concern with a recent long spell of rainy weather lingering just as southern Idaho’s hay farmers approach harvest. Esplin expects to pay an average of $160 to $170 a ton for the year, but the price could go up if rainy weather persists and ruins crops. Esplin feeds his cattle hay silage raised by family members. He also buys hay from neighbors.

“In the Twin Falls area, some of the hay is probably already ruined due to the rain or it could be getting overly mature, we are probably OK here, but the hay needs to be cut soon,” he said.

Overall, cheese consumption is rising in the U.S., as well as in countries where cheese isn’t regularly consumed. Also helping prices is a drop in milk production in California by 2 to 3 percent due to the drought and its potential future impact in that state, Esplin said.

“Countries that haven’t consumed cheese as part of their regular diets, historically, are beginning to explore new cheeses and other dairy products,” said Karianne Fallow, CEO of United Dairymen of Idaho. “New consumption may be driven by new trends, the perception that dairy is a higher-end luxury item or the introduction of new, innovative products in the market.”

Recent data indicate that domestic use of dairy products is on the increase as well. That’s good news for Idaho’s dairy farmers, who send much of their milk to companies that produce a variety of cheeses, including; mozzarella, cheddar, American-style, Parmesan, Swiss and others.

Dairy farmers have worked with major food-service and restaurant companies to encourage the use of more dairy products, including cheese, on their menus.

“Companies like McDonald’s, Domino’s and Taco Bell are competing for customer loyalty and they’ve found that cheese and other dairy products can be an advantage,” Fallow said. “The United Dairymen of Idaho works with retailers, restaurants and food-service companies to encourage the use of cheese and dairy as a competitive gain in the marketplace.”

Additionally, they are educating those company employees on dairy so that they can speak with greater knowledge about products, dairy in the diet and on-farm practices.

Fallow said Idaho dairy farmers have a reputation of producing a healthy, high-quality product.

“Idaho’s dairy farmers take the health and comfort of their cows very seriously, that’s part of the reason why Idaho is seen as a globally appealing source for dairy products,” Fallow said. “Buyers know that they will get some of the highest quality milk from cows that are well taken care of.”

“Even though Idaho is known as the ‘potato state,’ we are a big dairy state. Overall, our state’s dairies produce about three times the revenue as potatoes.” Brian Esplin, a Shelley-area dairy farmer and 23-year member of the United Dairymen of Idaho Board of Directors.

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