JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
For 40 years, Bill Reiboldt has operated a farm north of Neosho, and until he recently sold 125 Holsteins, Reiboldt said his favorite part of farming was running a dairy operation.
“My farming operation was always in the dairy business,” Reiboldt said. “I loved it. Sometimes you get a little older and you need to make a change. We just sold the milk cows and kept the farm.”
Today, he raises beef cattle, along with some soybeans, alfalfa and wheat.
Another change for Reiboldt has been his ascension to state politics. Reiboldt, a Republican, was elected to the House in 2010, and has since risen to become chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee. He was re-elected to that spot in 2012.
“I have a lot of firsthand experiences with agriculture,” he said.
Reiboldt said that of all the agriculture-related industries in the state, he believes the one facing the biggest challenge is the dairy business.
Missouri — with a lot of help from the Southwest corner of the state — used to be one of the top milk-producing regions in the nation.
In 1975, Missouri had 21,000 dairy farms with 302,000 dairy cows; in 2013, there were about 2,000 farms and 93,000 dairy cows, according to the Missouri Dairy Association. With the loss of farms has come the loss of other jobs, such as the closing last year of a milk processing plant in Monett, which led to the loss of 90 jobs.
Larry Purdom, of Purdy, president of the Missouri Dairy Association, testified last fall before a House Committee and said that since 2009-2010, the entire dairy industry has suffered from low milk prices, high feed costs and weather-related problems such as droughts that are costing the state 100 dairy farms a year.
Reiboldt has co-sponsored legislation that would create the Missouri Dairy Industry Revitalization Fund, which would direct 40 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by the sale of diary products back to help the industry. The bill would create and supplement the diary producer margin premium insurance assistance program.
Joe Horner, a University of Missouri Extension economist, said the insurance program would “piggyback” on the federal farm bill and extend subsidies to buy insurance.
“It will basically allow them (dairy farmers) to put a safety net under dairy if milk prices or feed prices get out of line,” he said. “Dairy is probably our most volatile price out there for producers.
“This is probably the best piece of proposed dairy legislation we’ve seen in the last 10 years in terms of its capacity to stop the decline of local milk production.”
The fund also would create a Missouri Dairy Scholars Program, to provide scholarships to future dairy farmers, and requires the University of Missouri’s Commercial Agricultural Program to conduct an annual study of the dairy industry.
“What we’re concerned about is if we lose the farmers, we lose the manufacturing base,” Reiboldt said. “This is something that we don’t want to happen because we have a lot of jobs. We import about 60 percent of our milk into the state. Missouri used to be an exporter of milk and diary products. This is one of our priorities.”