Given a $151 million agriculture economy in Churchill County, 14 local dairies play a major role in economic output and employment. County Commission Chairman and owner of Hillside Dairy, Pete Olsen said there are roughly 14,000 dairy cows in Churchill County, the care and feeding of which provide nearly 210 jobs.
All of the local milk produced in Churchill County supplies either the Dairy Farmers of America powdered milk plant located on Wildes Road, or Model Dairy in Reno which was recently purchased by Producers Dairy from Fresno, California. Olsen said since the DFA milk plant came online in 2012, the plant is now nearly at capacity, processing 2 million pounds of raw milk daily and producing 250,000 pounds of dried dairy ingredients daily for domestic and global customers.
Originally built to supply dry powder milk to China, the plant now serves customers in Mexico, Columbia, the Middle East, and North Africa, including Nestle, Unilever, and some domestic candy producers.
In addition to the on-farm dairy employees, Olsen said there are 45 employees at the milk plant, along with the employees who handle the logistics of hauling the dry powder to the port at Oakland. “In addition to that there’s all the money that flows through the community to Big R, Louie’s, Kent’s, buying local hay, and all the rest of what we buy,” he said.
Although milk prices are high right now, at $24.38 per hundred-weight (100 pounds of milk which is 11.63 gallons) in April of 2022, Olsen said all the costs of farming and running a dairy are up accordingly. “You may have heard of this little thing in Ukraine,” he said. Ukraine is a huge producer of grain, along with corn and wheat and with the unrest, exports to European countries have been interrupted. Additionally, fertilizer exports from Russia have also been impacted, driving up costs but also severely impacting availability. Olsen says costs have tripled since last year, and that’s if you can even find products, many of which are not even available.
And like a broken record, local dairies are also experiencing a shortage of labor. “We are always looking for people,” said Olsen.
Despite the challenges, dairy farming in Churchill County continues to be a strong segment of the economy, with expansion coming from third-generation families who have decided to preserve their legacy and way of life. Several of the Olsen boys are running their dairies now as are the Whitaker, Sorensen, Perazzo, Mills, and Gomes families.
Not only do local dairies serve the DFA, but there has also been creative value-added agriculture with Isidro Alves expanding Sand Hill Dairy into producing cheese, heavy cream, and world-famous chocolate milk.