Steve Strickler is rolling out the red carpet at Strickler Dairy on Sunday in celebration of Farm-City Days.
Strickler volunteered to cap off the four-day affair with tours and a passel of attractions at the family’s dairy north of town.
“It is Farm-City Days and we need to emphasize the farm part, he said.” In its 44th year, the festival’s farm emphasis fell by the wayside for a time.
Perhaps more than most, Strickler said he feels a keen relationship to Iola.
A fire on Jan. 31, 2013 devastated a large portion of the dairy and many wondered if it would close. “I don’t know how many people asked me if we were going to rebuild,” Strickler said. “They encouraged me. When I told the employees we were, they cheered.”
North Dakota Road, which dissects the dairy operation, will be closed from noon until the last visitor departs on Sunday. The dairy may be reached by Kentucky Street. Parking will be provided.
Guests won’t be at a loss for things to do and see.
Foremost will be several stations where all that goes into making milk will be explained. Steve and brother Doug, who looks after crops, came up with a fun way to transport visitors. Small trailers, pulled by all-terrain vehicles with hay bales for seats, will make the experience like an old-fashioned hay-rack ride.
An opening ceremony triggers the day at 12:30, while a chili cook-off will fill the air with tantalizing odors. Farm equipment — from local dealers as well as antiques — will be on display.
To add a festive atmosphere, Steven Spalding, an American Idol winner, will perform. Square dancers from Chanute will do-si-do on North Dakota Road’s vacated pavement.
Starting at 1:30 Allen County Farm Bureau, one of the F-C Days originators, will have several things to occupy youngsters. Winners of a pedal pull will qualify for state fair competition in Hutchinson; calves will appreciate petting and pose for pictures with kids, which will be available to take home.
Farm tours will start at 2 p.m. and will be led by four Allen Countians who have dairying experience — Ron and Aron Coltrane, LaHarpe, Curt Mueller, Humboldt, and Scott Mueller, Iola.
After judging, chili will be available for tasting. Iola High’s Future Farmers of America chapter will have concessions.
STRICKLER likes to settle into the dairy’s office, where for years his father, Ivan, held sway.
A bookcase is crowded with photos and certificates recording the successes of Strickler Dairy. An anteroom displays family photos and, in no small measure, is a shrine to Ivan and wife Madge. In addition to Steve and Doug is brother Tom, a banker whose heart is never far from the farm.
Their grandfather, Elmer Strickler, moved from Colony to the outskirts of Iola in 1939 and filled pastures with Holstein cows. He gained a reputation, on which Ivan, and now Steve, have continued to build.
Ivan was headed to become a veterinarian at his studies at Kansas State University. Then the United States entered World War II and Ivan signed up with the Navy.
“When he returned from the war, he wanted to be back on the farm. He finished up his degree in animal husbandry,” Strickler said. It’s a decision he never regretted, Steve recalled.
Steve, 64, picked up the baton when he returned to the farm in 1979, after earning a degree at K-State and trying his hand at ag journalism. He, too, has no regrets, although the see-saw price of milk presents its challenges.
“Last year milk was $25 a hundredweight; this year it’s $15,” he pointed out.
The dairy business is a demanding one.
Three times a day 320 cows meander into the high-tech milk parlor and produce about 25,000 pounds of milk. Harry Clubine, 54, farm manager for 30 years and “in most respects my boss,” Steve mused, has a crew of nine. He makes sure all runs smoothly every day of the year. No time off for holidays, or anything else.
Steve is often on the road, attending conferences and related events, but mostly to deal with dairy owners who buy Strickler bulls. Once semen was a popular product of the bulls; now it is the bulls themselves. “I have about 200 dairies that buy bulls each year,” including one in west Texas that purchases 500 to service its 6,200 cows.
AFTER 75 years, the dairy’s days are numbered, Strickler admitted.
With no heirs wanting to take the rein, Strickler has started to think about a transition plan that would put the land to another purpose, crop farming or whatever.
The local dairy is also somewhat of an anomaly.
Most dairies are significantly larger — the one with 6,200 cows in Texas isn’t unusual — and are in drier climates.
The humidity in Eastern Kansas is hard on cows.
That is why so many of the mega-dairies have sprung up on the High Plains of western Texas and Kansas and eastern New Mexico and Colorado. “You drive west of Wichita and you immediately can tell the difference in humidity,” Steve said.
Change isn’t imminent. “We’re probably looking at 12 or 13 years,” he predicted.