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Dairy Fest takes consumers from farm to fork

Consumers toured Golden Dakota Farms near Elkton, South Dakota. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)1 / 2
More than 2,000 people attended Dairy Fest in Brookings to learn more about the importance of the state’s dairy industry. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)2 / 2

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Dairy is a $2.4 billion industry in South Dakota and consumers got to see that first hand at the 2017 Dairy Fest in Brookings.

The fourth annual event highlighted the importance of the dairy industry for the public and took consumers through the dairy industry from farm to fork.

"Our focus is on the consumer and getting them exposed to agriculture and the dairy industry as a whole," says Tracey Erickson, South Dakota State University Extension dairy field specialist.

They did that through a whole host of fun and family-friendly activities at the carnival. "There were many stations for them to partake in ... live animals, a milk dunk tank, a corn box, inflatables of a big combine and skid-steer."

Consumers also toured the SDSU Davis Dairy Plant to learn how dairy products are safely processed and regulated.

"There they're able to see how cheese is made, how butter is made, how ice cream is made," Erickson says. "We talk about the safety of the food products we're eating and how no milk has antibiotics in it."

At a local dairy farm, the public got to see the care farmers take to produce the milk and dairy products they love.

"Farmers produce a very nutritious food that's safe and wholesome each and every day and sometimes we may take that for granted," says Dairy Fest Committee Chairman Darrel Rennich.

More than 500 consumers took part in the farm tour at Golden Dakota Farms near Elkton, S.D., an operation managed by Donovan Coetzee.

"It's a total herd of 3,650, so we have a double 50 parallel parlor, which obviously means we milk 100 cows at a time," says Coetzee. "All of our milk cows we milk three times, so with 3,000 cows, we're pushing 9,000 cows through our parlor per day."

Golden Dakota Farms has South African roots. When Coatzee and his father left their dairy in South Africa in 1994, he never dreamed he'd one day manage his own farm.

"I'm an immigrant," he says. "I came here with nothing. Then you snap your fingers and here I am, 30 years old running my own dairy."

His dad currently dairies in Kansas, but South Dakota offered a favorable business climate and high quality forages for Golden Dakota.

"Being from South Africa, we used to plant our corn six feet apart just to get a crop, and sometimes you go five years without having any crops at all."

So, Coatzee says having the abundance of feed is a huge advantage.

"Just due to the wonderful climate we have here in South Dakota, the high amount of rains and the high quality of forages. That's what led us to where we are here today in Moody County."

Coetzee welcomed consumers to tour his operation to see what they do on the farm.

"I like to keep my doors open, I've got nothing to hide," he says. "We're very tightly regulated so I want people to know that."

Plus, he likes to show them the care taken to produce a safe and healthy product, including sand beds for the cows.

"Cow comfort and cow health, those are my main two goals each and every day — to make sure our cows are happy and comfortable so we get some high-quality milk out of them," Coatzee says.

Dairy Fest also featured award winning cheesemaker Marieka Penterman, who spoke at the Got Milk Gala. She started Holland's Family Cheese in Thorpe, Wisc., in November 2006. Penterman is the creator and name behind Marieka Gouda, which is a raw milk cheese that is popular in her native country of Holland. They have nearly 25 different flavors of gouda and many are award-winning.

"I know it's over 150 awards and we have won some big ones," says Penterman. "For the last six years, three times we have made the top three in the United States championship," she says.

Penterman's gouda has also received many awards in world cheese competitions. Marieka Gouda is one of the few farmstead cheeses produced in the country, as Penterman utilizes the milk from their 450-cow dairy. They also host educational farm tours and last year had approximately 150,000 visitors.

Dairy Fest committee members were excited about the success of this year's event with more than 2,000 people attending the activities in Brookings.