Given Kansas’s place as the fastest-growing dairy state in the country, it would be a comfort to know that when one or another legislator is asked to speak either in favor or in opposition to the dairy industry in this state, he at least knows what he’s talking about.
It’s for this reason that the Kansas Dairy Association has organized a tour for lawmakers at Strickler Holstein Farm, in Iola, on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
While the huge majority of the industry’s rapid growth is located in the western half of the state, it would be difficult to name a dairy operation in Kansas with a reputation sturdier than Strickler’s.
Third-generation dairyman Steve Strickler will welcome the group of Kansas politicians and will, with the aid of longtime farm manager Harry Clubine, convey the elected officials by hayrack from one farm station to another in an effort to show the men and women the vast harmony of parts that goes into taking their milk from teat to table. “We’re just trying to educate the people who will determine our livelihood,” said Clubine.
According to the KDA’s website, “probably the most important activity” the group can pursue is “having a presence in the State Legislature.”
And they’re not leaving it to chance. On hand this Friday, too, will be a contingent of “influencers,” as Strickler calls them — former dairymen, extension associates, calving experts; an industry braintrust, in a word — poised to answer any question a visiting senator or house rep is able to think up.
The Allen County Farm Bureau is sponsoring a dinner for lawmakers, influencers, and other designees after the midday tour.
FRIDAY’S farm tour will be similar to the “Day at the Farm” outings that Strickler Dairy hosts as part of the annual Farm-City Days celebration. These events are open to the general public. This year’s activities — which, in addition to the farm tour, includes a hay-bale maze, a bouncy house, ice cream, and a photo-op with a calf — kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m.
Every day-at-the-farm event centers on a theme. Last year’s theme was sustainability. This year’s is technology.
Legislators on Friday — and the general public on Sunday — will see farm demonstrations that involve the use of drones, which many farmers use for mapping land; robots, which some large dairies now engage to milk their cows, to deliver food to their cows, and, very often, to clear the cows’ subsequent manure; specialized transponders, which dairymen, including Strickler, use to track their cows’ movements (“It’s like a Fitbit for a cow,” said Strickler). There will be a demonstration of a driverless, auto-steer tractor. Plus, Iola-based Kwikom will be on hand to address the growing concerns surrounding rural internet access.
ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, Strickler Dairy was a hive of activity: workers were hustling hay bales from one part of the farm to another, hustling calves from here to there. A mass clean-up was underway. New signs were being polished. A large candy-striped tent stood empty in the parking lot. “My dad had a lot of sayings,” said Strickler, “and one of them was: ‘Be a good neighbor.’ … Being this close to town, we found out, in 2013, after our milk barn burned down, that we had more friends here than what we thought we had. I bet I had 40 people call me and say, ‘You’re going to rebuild, aren’t you?’” And, with help from the community, he did rebuild. These annual tours, then, are a way for Strickler to revisit his commitment to the community and reaffirm his dad’s vision of what it means to be a good neighbor.
Strickler Holstein Farm is located at 1650 N Dakota Rd. Sunday’s events begin at 1 p.m., tours start at 4. The public is invited to attend the legislators’ event on Friday, but the dinner is reserved for invited guests.