Iowa legislature creates Dairy Innovation Fund

DES MOINES — The legislature has voted to create a state fund to provide $750,000 in grants or loans for upgrades at Iowa dairy farms. The Iowa Department of Agriculture will manage the new Dairy Innovation Fund.

“It will provide funds for development, expansion and refurbishing of dairy facilities,” Representative Norlin Mommsen of DeWitt said. “It also provides funds for labor reduction equipment such as robotic milkers and manure handling systems.”

Representative Monica Kurth of Davenport said the money could help on-the-farm start-ups, like dairies that make cheese or yogurt. “I think that the idea of helping to modernize our dairies is important for the state of Iowa,” Kurth said.

Senator Dan Zumbach of Ryan said the legislature has set some guidelines for the grants, loans or forgivable loans. “If it creates new jobs,” Zumbach said, “if it creates or expands opportunity for local, small scale milk producers; if it provides greater flexibility or convenience for local small scale farmers or it reduces labor associated with on-farm production and storage of milk.”

Iowa ranks 12th in dairy production, with about 220,000 dairy cows in the state today, but Senator Eric Giddens of Cedar Falls said the number of dairy farms in Iowa has fallen to about 850. “It’s more difficult for our small producers to stay in business and to stay competitive,” Giddens said. “This is a good program that will help them.”

The money for the Dairy Innovation Fund is included in a budget bill that won final legislative approval in the House on Tuesday. The program guidelines are in a separate bill that the Senate approved Tuesday and sent to the governor.