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In most cases, announcements of new or expanding livestock operations spark strong emotions on both sides of the fence.

Livestock owners discuss the need for volumes of scale to create more efficient, financially viable operations. Nearby residents worry about potential odor, water use and waste handling issues.

It appears Claremont, Minn., population 500-something, isn't just any town. The rural community about 20 miles north of the Iowa border wants to have a modern dairy farm built within its city limits.

City Council members last month decided to study the possibility of annexing land for Ripley Dairy, a state-of-the-art operation which would house 2,140 cows. They are intrigued by at least two aspects: addition of 32 jobs with an annual payroll of about $960,000, and the possibility of the dairy turning livestock waste into methane gas which could be used to generate electrical power.

Other positives viewed by the City Council include providing a natural fertilizer and bolstering city tax revenue. Some area residents even believe the dairy will help attract other businesses to Claremont.

Still others view the dairy as a positive omen for rural development. Minnesota lost about 1,000 dairy farms in the last three years. Small town residents point to the number as the possible demise of some small towns.

The dairy actually became more than a thought three years ago when prospective owners Bill Rowekamp and Ben Zaitz forged a partnership. They saw Minnesota as a perfect location given its history as a dairy state, and the state's milk processing industry needs more fluid milk to remain a viable industry.

The partners obtained all necessary county and state permits. All permitting boards unanimously approved the dairy. In addition, a dairy review board appointed by township supervisors developed a list of building design conditions that Rowekamp and Zaitz accepted. Then Ripley Township supervisors approved the project.

Rowekamp is no stranger to the dairy industry. He's produced milk in a nearby township for more than 20 years. Zaitz hails from New Jersey where his family has operated a dairy for more than a century.

The duo adheres to a vision of Thomas Edison, who believed new machines coupled with new management techniques and new crops would change agriculture.

Rowekamp decided three years ago a new facility would keep him competitive. He hired a Minnesota environmental services firm to find a suitable site. The company found two.

After settling on the Claremont site, Rowekamp sought a dairyman/investor as a partner. Zaitz proved the perfect match since his family owned land in the area.

Their goals include producing high quality milk while taking good care of their cows. They've also committed to environmental stewardship by planning to put manure in a methane digester before using it as fertilizer applied to surrounding crop fields. Gas produced by the digester will be used to power the farm and possibly some Claremont homes.

Illinois milk production

In October and November, Illinois dairy owners produced 157 million pounds and 154 million pounds of milk, respectively. That compares with the same amount produced during the same period of 2004.

An annual trend of increasing milk productivity per cow continued with Illinois cows producing 30 more pounds of milk than in 2004. Illinois dairy producers had 104,000 cows compared to 106,000 in 2004.

Milk prices in November averaged $15.70 per 100 pounds versus $16.20 per 100 pounds the previous year. The figures are the latest available from the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service.

Pantagraph Farm Editor Chris Anderson writes about agriculture every Wednesday. Contact her at canderson@pantagraph.com .

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