meta After 33 years, an Oregon dairy is closing its doors. :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

After 33 years, an Oregon dairy is closing its doors.

Rickreall Dairy, a community cornerstone and historic Highway 22 landmark, has taken the sad choice to shut its doors after 33 years of doing business in Polk County.

“We have been blessed by an incredible community,” said Louie Kazemier, the owner. “Without the support of our neighbours and friends, this day would have come a long time ago.”

According to Kazemier, the dairy is shutting for a variety of reasons.

“Most people will say it’s because none of my kids wanted to continue the business,” he said, noting that dairy farming is normally a family endeavour with a succession mechanism in place to ensure the industry’s continued existence for decades. “But, the truth is, they would have wanted to take it over if the industry wasn’t so volatile.”

For decades, the dairy business has faced challenges such as low milk prices, high feed costs, and increased government regulation.

“It just keeps getting worse and worse,” Kazemier added. “I wouldn’t put my children through the stress of the industry today.” And even if you do everything correctly and make sound business judgements, you still have little influence over your milk pricing.”

Sally Davies, a long-time Dallas resident, had the chance to experience Rickreall Dairy up close and personal as their office manager for many years.

“Louie treated his employees as if they were family.” He handled the cows as though they were family pets. He was always searching for ways to better the dairy and the community in which he lived, according to her. “I’m sorry to see the dairy close, but I wish them all the best in their future endeavours.”

Gus Wybenga, Kazemier’s father-in-law, bought a small dairy farm near Rickreall in 1989 and relocated his cows from Chino, California. Kazemier worked as the dairy manager for his father-in-law until becoming a partner in 2011.

“At the time, Oregon was ideal for dairy farming,” noted Kazemier. “The cows love the mild weather, and we could grow and harvest a good portion of our own feed right on our own property.”

Rickreall Dairy normally looks after 3,500 cows at any one time. As a traditional farm, they may keep their livestock in barns all year.

“It was a successful model for us.” “Because of the amount of rain we get, we could harvest grass and maize silage on land that wasn’t suitable for grazing and feed it to our cows all year,” Kazemier said.

Kazemier faced issues that other dairy farmers did not face because of his location so near to Salem and along a major highway.

“You could usually smell us before you could see us,” he jokingly said.

Most dairy farms have a “closed loop” mindset, which means that nothing goes to waste. They collect all of the dung on their farms and use it to organically fertilise the fields that create the grass that the cows consume, and then the cycle begins again. However, collecting manure and storing it until the summer months is a stinky business, and Rickreall Dairy’s manure storage hole, known as a lagoon, is situated just off Highway 22.

“We should have probably found a better location for the lagoon,” Kazemier said. “But that’s where our CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) inspector told us to put it.”

To guarantee that animal excrement does not harm ground and surface water, the state imposed a programme for all livestock owners. The lagoon was constructed to rigorous standards to guarantee it would not leak or overflow, and moving it would be prohibitively costly. It immediately became a beacon for commuters and visitors to and from the seaside.

“Every day, thousands of people drive through the middle of our property.” “I quickly realised that the lagoon, and really just the smell, was giving a negative impression of our dairy,” Kazemier said. “People on the highway were only seeing a 20-second snapshot of what we did on the farm, and without an explanation, it doesn’t look good.”

When Kazemier began getting phone calls from customers stating that they would no longer buy dairy products due to the lagoon, he decided to begin conducting dairy farm tours.

“Most of the time, they just needed to see that we were caring for our animals and that we had a better understanding of dairy farming before they changed their minds,” he said, adding that conducting dairy tours was rare, and even the dairy community felt it was a horrible idea. “There were some liability hoops to jump through, but overall, it was a win for us, and it even helped the industry as a whole.”

Rickreall Dairy had almost 2,000 visitors each spring at its heyday.

“Kids these days are often generations removed from the farm, but there are literally thousands of students who know more about agriculture and where their food comes from thanks to the great tours offered for many years at Rickreall Dairy,” Josh Thomas, former Senior Director of Communications for the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, said. “Aside from the national awards they received for sustainability and community involvement, there were many more meaningful contributions that flew under the radar – and they never sought recognition.”

Kazemier’s participation in community activities and tours continues for nearly 30 years.

“There were still some who didn’t like the dairy and its location, but it was amazing to see our community come up and support us when the critics came out… We’re still blamed for every foul odour within a 20-mile radius, and they can’t all be our fault!” Kazemier cracked a joke. However, most people now consider the dairy to be a part of the community. “There aren’t many places in Dallas where I don’t hear something about the dairy, and it’s usually positive.”

So, what is the future of Rickreall Dairy?

“It won’t be a dairy anymore,” Kazemier said, adding that the property would be leased to local farmers and that the lagoon water will continue to be used as fertiliser for a while.

“We will empty the lagoon slowly, so people will still want to close their car vents when they drive by for the next few months,” Kazemier said. “However, once the lagoon is empty, it will be interesting to see who people blame for the foul odours.”

What will be their next adventure?

“We will still be involved in the community with our children and grandchildren,” Kazemier, who serves on many boards for charity and farming, added. “We will continue to encourage people to consume three servings of dairy per day.”

Stacy Foster is Louie and Lori Kazemier’s eldest daughter. For almost a decade, she managed a dairy tour company at Rickreall Dairy, worked in communications for the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council until 2022, and is currently the Executive Director of Camp Attitude, a camp for children with disabilities.After 33 years, an Oregon dairy is calling it quits.

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