Well-being is critical for cows, they need to be supplied with competitively-priced feed and water and be comfortable and well-cared for.

Water has been identified as one of the critical items for the future of sustainable agriculture, particularly in the western/southwestern region of the U.S. Sustainable dairies of the future need to be located in areas with ample supply of both water and feeds.

South Dakota as a state offers all these advantages and its part of the reason why between 2012 and 2013 dairy cow numbers in the state increased from 92 to 94 thousand. Total milk produced in the state also grew by 2.8% from 1.97 to 2.02 billion pounds, the seventh largest growth in the country.

Of the top 23 dairy reporting states according to USDA, only Colorado at 3.4% grew more. As of 2013 South Dakota is number 21 in the US in overall milk produced and number 22 in total dairy cows.

However, that’s not enough in today’s fuel-strapped world. First and foremost what is needed is a vibrant local processing industry that minimizes transportation costs and adds value to milk. Several milk processing plants upgrades as well as new start-ups are taking place in the state.

The SDSU Dairy Science Department was deeply involved at various stages of these developments. DAVISCO Foods, an international company that supplies a major portion of Kraft Foods cheese products, started in 2001 their $40 million, 85,000 square foot facility expansion project in its Lake Norden plant.

The Lake Norden Cheese Company as it was named began full production in 2004 encouraging dairy producer’s expansion and relocation. Starting in 2009 Valley Queen Cheese of Milbank, S.D. underwent a two-year expansion project with an 80,000-square-foot warehouse addition and a 12,000-square-foot dryer addition to their current plant.

Bel Brands USA will be a new milk-processing plant addition to the state in 2014.

The company manufactures and markets “The Laughing Cow” cheese wedges and Mini Babybel – America’s #1 branded snacking cheese, as well as Boursin, Merkts, Kaukauna and other natural and gourmet cheese spreads.

The Company will invest approximately $100 million in its new plant on a 48-acre land parcel in Brookings SD. Phase 1 of the project will have a production capacity of approximately 22 million pounds or 10,000 metric tons. The second phase, contingent on anticipated increased market demands, is envisioned to be built in 2016-2017, bringing 200 additional jobs to the area. Dairy Science department Faculty met with Bel Brands officials during the site selection process, aiding in the decision of locating the plant in Brookings, SD.

All this is excellent from a strictly dairy business perspective. However, other parts of the country offer similar economic environmental conditions and even milder weather! What is it about South Dakota that has made the difference? Quality of life is oftentimes mentioned as a decision to move or relocate. Could this be making a difference for South Dakota?

In the most recent 2013 Gallup-Healthways poll, 176,000 people from all 50 states in the U.S. were surveyed for six indices that were later were combined: access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and optimism, and emotional health. Well-being effectively reflects health, employment, education and the local environment. According to Dan Witters research director of this index, a strong economy and a healthy, educated workforce can improve well-being.

Strong well-being may in turn act as catalyst for further development. The top states with high well-being scores not necessarily had higher income however they offered other advantages, such as high educational attainment and low unemployment. The per state composited well-being index went from 0 to 100, (100 represented the ideal) with the top two states in the nation being North Dakota and South Dakota with 70.4 and 70.0, respectively.

South Dakota respondents were among the most likely in the U.S. to report good emotional health. Ninety percent reported enjoying a large portion of their day, and more than 93% felt happy during the previous 24 hours, more than any other state. The state’s unemployment rate in December at 3.6% tied for the second lowest in the U.S. Not only did much of the workforce in South Dakota have a job, but also were more likely to enjoy their work environment.

The success of South Dakota as a dairy state is not just that its climate and economic conditions are conducive to profitable and sustainable agricultural practices. It is foremost a combination of those with a living environment where well-being and quality of life is currently rated among the highest in the nation.