From D.C. to dairy

1/24/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram

Those who attended Friday's second day of the 2014 Garden City Farm and Ranch Show at the Finney County Fairgrounds got a mix of politics and agricultural information.

Kansas City radiologist and self-described constitutional conservative candidate for U.S. Senate Milton Wolf talked about his battle to unseat longtime incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts in the Republican primary this August.

Born and raised in Lyons, Wolf graduated from the University of Kansas and its medical school. In choosing to run a primary challenge against Roberts, Wolf said it's nothing personal.

"I think he's a good guy," Wolf said. "But I think he's been in Washington too long."

Roberts has spent 47 years in Washington, and in Wolf's opinion, that much time in Washington can change a person. So while he respects Roberts, he wants to give the senator a retirement party.

"Sen. Roberts has been changed by Washington. There's no way around that. Forty-seven years has a way of doing that," Wolf said.

Wolf said Roberts has voted to raise the debt ceiling 11 times, and also voted to approve Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services director in charge of Obamacare.

"Now, I can't abide that," he said. "Kathleen Sebelius has been a disaster in Washington."

Wolf says he is a Republican, but not a politician. He vows, if elected, to limit himself to two terms in the U.S. Senate and then return to practicing full time again.

"I've never run for office, never held office before. The truth is, I don't want a career in politics," Wolf said. "Something is terribly wrong in our country, so I'm running for office."

Wolf's father was a doctor and also a dairy farmer, so he spent summers working as a kid and was even the 1988 Rice County cow milking champion.

"People ask what I know about farming. I'll tell you this — I have plowed that land, planted that seed, and I've cut it, raked it, baled it, stacked it, forked it and I've fed it, which means, later, I've shoveled it. I've broken it, I've fixed it, I've pushed it, I've pulled it, I've been thrown off it and climbed back on it. I know enough to know there's nobody who works harder than the farmer," he said.

The problem with current farm policy, Wolf said, is too many regulations and too many obstacles that don't allow family farms to thrive. Giant corporate farms and recreational farmers have grown at the expense of the family farm.

Wolf, who writes a column for the Washington Times and has been a frequent guest on Fox News, thinks America needs to re-embrace the constitution, the "divinely inspired" idea of individual liberty, limited government and free market values.

"I've been a Republican all my life and loyal to the party. But the problem is the party hasn't been loyal to its principles. We need more constitutional conservative Republicans, the kind of senators like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul," he said.

Wolf appears to have an uphill climb to unseat the incumbent. According to the Roberts' campaign's latest polling conducted about 10 days ago, the Senator is 54 percentage points ahead of Wolf among likely Republican voters statewide.

The survey also shows 78 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Roberts, while just 15 percent were unfavorable. Roberts' favorability among self-identified conservatives and Tea Party Republicans was even higher at 86 percent.

Wolf identifies himself as pro-life, believes marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that, if a person can work, they should.

Like many Republicans, Wolf believes President Obama and Obamacare are bad for the country, and that Congress needs people there who will oppose the president's policies. He promised to go to the Senate and be a "one-man restraining order" on the president.

Wolf is Obama's second cousin, once removed, a fact he pointed out to Friday's small crowd.

"You can't choose your family, but what you can do is choose to rise up and stop your family from destroying America, and I think Barack Obama is destroying America," Wolf said.

Dairy's diversity

Keeping with the agriculture-related focus of the show, Jody Wacker, dairy coordinator for the Kansas Livestock Association, gave a presentation about the strength of the Kansas dairy sector.

Wacker, whose family owns a 3,500-head dairy operation in Moscow, said the Kansas dairy industry includes about 350 licensed dairies and is the fourth-largest agricultural business in the state. Nationally, Kansas ranks 16th in milk production with an average herd size of 300 cows per operation.

"If you drive around western Kansas and see large herds, that might surprise you," Wacker said. "But we actually have a large diversity of dairy sizes in the state. On the eastern side of the state, there are small farms, while out here an average-sized farm would be about 2,000 cows."

Wacker said the dairy industry is growing in western Kansas, noting the opening of a processing plant last year in Hugoton called Kansas Dairy Ingredients.

The Hugoton plant takes in about 1 million pounds of milk per day, roughly 20 tanker loads, and its officials already are planning an expansion that would double its size to take in 2 million pounds per day.

"Many people think they are making cheese down there, but it's actually a milk concentrate. They're pulling water out of it, pulling lactose out of the milk, and they end up with a thicker product. It's concentrated protein and the fat, and they send that product to cheese makers, most of them from out of state," Wacker said.

Wacker said the plant generates 116,000 gallons of water per day in a process that pulls 75 percent of the water from the milk. That water is then re-used for cleaning equipment or watering crops.

Dairy farms are providing an important economic driver for communities, she said. Collectively, dairies in Kansas produce about 2.6 billion pounds of milk each year, generating roughly $475 million worth of milk.

Wacker said Kansas is poised for dairy growth due to its climate, access to feed, and already existing feedyard and transportation infrastructures.

"Kansas is growing in dairy, expanding 25 percent in the past five years," she said. "That is actually second in the nation of states that are expanding."

Wacker touted the sustainability of dairy due to its emphasis on being environmentally friendly in recycling water, taking proper care of animals and creating a wholesome product for consumers.

"Milk is a wholesome product. Everybody loves ice cream. Dairy is really nature's most perfect food, providing 75 percent of our calcium," she said.

Animal care is essential for dairies. Wacker said veterinarians visit dairies every two weeks to check animal health, and dairies work with nutritionists to ensure animals get the proper nutrients.

"You have to treat your animals right. These cows are the bread and butter. They're our girls, and they make us a living. If we don't take care of them, they're not going to take care of us. Besides, it's the right thing to do," Wacker said.

The Farm and Ranch show concludes today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Exhibition Building at the fairgrounds, with some of the presentations covering Kansas soybeans, wheat and agri-tourism. Organizers also will be giving away a $10,000 hot tub from Stone Creek Spas and a $1,000 Goodwin Industries smoker.

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