A fleet of semi-trucks with cattle trailers rolled into Great Bend Wednesday, their destination was the Hiss Dairy.
After nearly a century, the dairy has milked its last cow, a victim of time and a rapidly changing production ag economy. The long-time family dairy operation on the west edge of town is selling its herd of over 500 cows to a start-up dairy in southwest Kansas, and the trucks came to haul the animals away.
“The opportunity to provide a new dairy with the Hiss dairy herd made sense for both businesses at this time,” a statement from the family reads. Now, the family members will focus on farming, where they grow wheat, soybeans, sorghum, corn and alfalfa.
Hiss Dairy was founded in 1920 by Elward Hiss Sr. as supplement to his farming operation, a statement from the family reads. Eventually, his sons John and Elward Jr. ran the business.
For the last 30 years, Elward Jr.’s sons Rick and Jim have operated the farm and dairy, milking those cows three times per day. “The milk production helped support the family and community for three generations,” the statement reads.
A time to reflect
“I’ve enjoyed working with my friends in the dairy industry for over 40 years. I will miss them the most,” Jim said. “I will always be a believer in the health benefits of milk too.”
But, the dairy industry has been changing rapidly in recent years. Commercial, large-scale operations are supplanting smaller family herds.
“We’re a family business and selling the dairy herd was a decision Rick and I needed to make,” Jim said. “There’s a massive oversupply of milk which has caused milk prices to be extremely low for three years now and we don’t expect to see an improvement.”
Now, they are shifting the focus of their operation to crop production and other ventures. “I looking forward to farming for many more years,” Jim said.
Rick echoed his brother’s sentiments.
“Even though my kids and grandkids would love for me to retire I love farming and have no plans to retire any time soon,” he said. “I’m looking forward to farming with Jim for many more years.”
“At one time there were over 20 dairy’s in Barton County,” Jim and Rick’s dad Elward said. “We were the last dairy left. I’m very proud of my boys. It’s because of their innovation they’ve been able to milk so long.”
“The Hiss family would like to express their appreciation to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas State University Dairy Department and Dairy Farmers of America,” the statement reads. “A special ‘thank you’ also goes out to the city of Great Bend and the surrounding area for the support their citizens and merchants have given the dairy.”
According to Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the state ag department, there are 300 dairy farms in Kansas with 153,000 dairy cows. In 2017, the total value of milk produced in Kansas was $590 million, which was up 5.1 percent from the previous year.
Although at not as quick of a pace, she said the number of dairy farms is also increasing. But, one of the biggest areas of dairy growth in the state is in processing and Kansas now processes 75 percent of the milk produced here.
Ironically, June marks National Dairy Month.