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COW COUNTRY : Southland Herds Make Tulare 2nd-Biggest Dairy County in U.S.

July 23, 1988|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

TIPTON, Calif. — Bill VanderPoel aided the cow in delivery of her newborn calf by gently pulling and wiggling the baby by her front legs from her mother's body.

It was a special moment for the 6-foot-8, 21-year-old farmer. Two weeks ago, he moved his 800 cows from Southern California to his new 160-acre farm.

"It's a female. That's always a plus for a milking operation," said VanderPoel, his face stretched in a wide grin.

The calf was the latest edition to the ever-growing herds of dairy cattle in Tulare County. The dairy herd in the Central California county 185 miles north of Los Angeles has nearly doubled to 153,000 from 85,000 head in the past 15 years.

Tulare County the past year and a half has been the hottest county in the nation for new dairies, most moving there from the Chino area in San Bernardino County. Tulare County is now the second-biggest dairy county in the country, second only to San Bernardino County.

Since January, 1987, a record 56 permits for new dairies were granted by the Tulare County Planning Department, 40 last year and 16 so far this year.

240 Dairies in County

As a comparison only seven permits were issued in 1986, eight in 1985, six in 1984, eight in 1983 and three in 1982. There are 240 dairies in the county, not counting the 56 dairies coming on line.

"We've never see anything like this. The dairy industry is growing faster here than anywhere in America. The value of milk produced here has almost doubled in the past 10 years from $145 million in 1977 to $283.6 million in 1987," reports Clyde Churchill, 58, Tulare County agriculture commissioner.

Like many of the newcomers to the county, young VanderPoel is the son of a Chino dairy man. His father, Pete VanderPoel, 52, is a member of the National Dairy Board.

"I'm still running my dairy in Chino with my brother Hank. But I bought 320 acres in Tipton for my sons to operate and eventually own because the future of the dairy industry in California is in Tulare County," said the senior VanderPoel.

He explained that soaring land costs and urban encroachment is driving dairies from Southern California more so now than ever before.

"There has been a steady movement of dairies to Tulare County the past 15 years, but it has really accelerated the last year and a half," the Chino farmer noted.

VanderPoel said he paid $2,000 an acre, or $640,000, for the 320 acres in Tipton in southwestern Tulare County.

"If my brother and I sold our dairy today in Chino to another dairyman, it would sell for $40,000 an acre. If we sold it to a developer, it would sell for as much as $100,000 an acre."

At Tipton, he spent $1 million for a modern milking parlor, corrals, barns and equipment as well as for a four bedroom-home for his son, Bill, and Bill's family. The home is not yet complete.

Another son, Pete Jr., 26, has 800 cows and 160 acres in an adjoining dairy. This dairy was already in existence and purchased by Pete VanderPoel from a dairy farmer who retired. Pete Jr., his wife, Vivian, and three children moved into a home on that dairy.

"This is where everybody is coming. This is where it's at," said Bill VanderPoel. "For a young person to get into dairying in the Los Angeles area just isn't in the cards anymore."

His brother added: "New housing developments are pushing the dairies out of Chino. The land is cheaper up here; feed is cheaper. This county is geared for dairying more than any other county in the United States."

Tulare County, population 294,900, the seventh-largest county in area in the state, is second in the nation only to Fresno County in agricultural revenues--$1.609 billion last year. The agriculture industry employs 28% of the workers in the county.

"Sales of dairy cattle and other dairy-related products and byproducts, combined with the $284 million in milk production last year, show the dairy industry representing the No. 1 income generated for this county," noted Tom Shultz, the county's dairy farm adviser.

Dairyman's Cooperative Creamery Assn. in the town of Tulare is the largest of its kind in the Western states. The county is a major producer of ice cream, Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, powdered milk, canned milk and sour cream, in addition to the milk that it supplies to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other markets in the state.

Tulare County accounted for 15% of California's total milk production last year. Individual cow milk production in the county is 8% higher than the national average while the herd size averaging 635 cows is seven times larger.

Shultz attributes the success of dairying in the county to the industry's long history in the area, advantageous climate, an abundance of reasonably priced land, ample feed and water supplies, available labor, nearby processing and service enterprises, and a rural area reception to dairying.

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