Retired DFA officer reflects on changes seen during long dairy industry career
David Jones retired in 2016 after a career supporting dairy farmers that culminated as chief operating officer of DFA Southwest. TAD talked to him about the changes he saw in the dairy industry during his tenure.
David, we know you grew up on a dairy farm in Louisiana, but share your background for Texas dairy farmers who don’t know you.
I grew up on a dairy farm in southwest Louisiana. After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1977, I began a career in the dairy industry with Dairymen Inc. I held various jobs including southern regional and eastern regional manager until the merger with Mid America dairymen.
After the merger, I was transferred to Kansas City where I managed the Kansas City and central states divisions until Dairy Farmers of America was formed in 1998. At that point, I became the chief operations officer of the Southwest area of DFA.
The Texas dairy industry was a very different place when you started compared to today, from numbers of farmers to pounds produced. Can you share the changes you’ve participated in?
In 1998, Texas was the seventh largest state by volume, production was 5.582 billion pounds from 1,300 farmers, and the top 10 counties were in Central and East Texas.
Today, Texas is on its way to being the fifth largest dairy state with 10.737 billion pounds of annual production from just under 400 producers.
That is almost twice the production with an increase of 5.250 billion gallons or 105,000 loads of milk. The utilization of federal order 126 was 51 percent in Class 1 in 1998 and 28 percent in Class 1 in 2016. And now eight of the top 10 dairy counties in 2016 are in the Texas Panhandle.
The challenge associated with these changes may seem obvious, but the industry came together by forming the first comprehensive, total cost-sharing common marketing agency in the United States.
This enabled Southwest dairy farmers to work together in a way that reduced cost and enhanced revenue. Manufacturing plants in the eastern part of the state were either closed or transitioned into lower volume demand plants. New plants were either built or expanded in the west closer to the growing production in Eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.
Some of these required significant capital investments, and today there are four mega plants in production with two more under construction. These plants not only help reduce freight and balancing costs, but ownership in some of these enables producers to share in the profits.
Southwest area producers are now in the process of bringing two more plants on line.
DFA has a new ingredient plant under construction in Garden City, Kan., scheduled to start up in September, while Select Milk Producers Inc. has plans to build a new plant in Littlefield, Texas, that should be completed in late 2018 or early 2019.
These plants, along with a solid customer base, will provide for an excellent mix of sales for many years to come. I believe that the future for Southwest dairy farmers is great.
I am proud of what they have been able to accomplish through cooperation.
You were present in the beginning days of the organization that became the Texas Association of Dairymen. Can you share your thoughts on how TAD has evolved?
The Texas Association of Dairymen has been at the forefront defending producers’ right to farm without the burden of needless regulations.
Texas dairy farmers have always supported strong food safety and regulations as long as they are based on sound science. But others have different ideas, so it is important that an organization such as TAD & DPMN constantly be on watch to protect dairy interests.
TAD has always had broad support from the producer base in Texas and continues to work with others to accomplish its goals. ▪