Missouri Dairy Kings
New Zealander Kevin Van der Poel, 46, remembers the skepticism and suspicion when he moved to Missouri more than four years ago to raise dairy cattle. When Van der Poel started construction on rock walkways for moving cattle between pastures, rumour spread that he was building housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some locals thought his cows seemed too thin and speculated that they had to go too far to forage or weren’t adequately protected from the elements. He was a foreigner who had purchased a prized farm and had a different way of doing things. Some folks told him he would fail — though you would be hard-pressed to get many of them to say so now. Instead, Van der Poel is among those credited with boosting the state’s reeling dairy industry. Now, on just over 2000ha, Van der Poel has 3800 dairy cows and an additional 2000 still too young to milk. The operation pumps about US$6 million a year into the local community and employs 28 people, about a third the number required to run a confinement dairy with a similar-sized herd.In the last few years, he and a handful of New Zealanders have invested US$100 million in Missouri’s dairy industry, which annually generates more than US$900 million in economic impact. The New Zealanders operate four dairies and own almost 10 per cent of the state’s herd. And with milk prices so low, their less expensive methods — which mostly involve a different way of feeding cows — are luring converts. “Their impact has been so significant in our state that it’s hard to get your arms around it,” said executive director of the Missouri Dairy Association David Drennan.