Krahn looks back on 22 years of leading dairy industry
By LACEY JARRELL
During the 22 years Jim Krahn served as the Oregon Dairy Farmers' Association executive director, he has seen many changes in the state's dairy landscape.
One is the size of the industry itself.
"When I first came (to Oregon) there were about 650 dairies, and today there are about 270," he said, attributing the loss to the cost of production and fewer people willing to take on the challenges of operating a dairy farm.
In 1991, Krahn, now 64, left his family's farm in Seymour, Wis., where he had been a fourth-generation dairy farmer, to take the executive director position with the ODFA.
For more than two decades Krahn tackled dairy issues including air and water quality. From 2009 to 2012, Krahn was part of a 16-person committee appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture to evaluate immigration and milk pricing programs. In 2011, he also began a two-year term serving on a governor-appointed task force to study drivers' cards for undocumented workers.
Krahn retired from the ODFA in April after suffering a stroke.
ODFA Program Director Kathryn Walker is filling in for Krahn until a new executive director is hired, although Krahn plans to complete the association's Confined Animal Feeding Operations permit process with the Oregon Department of Agriculture in November before fully signing off.
Capital Press visited with Krahn at his six-acre farm in Vernonia, Ore., to discuss his thoughts about his time at the ODFA.
Q What is one major thing you look back on as an accomplishment?
A The evolution of communication and respect of the various agencies gained by working with everyone -- environmental groups, the Department of Agriculture, other agencies within the state Department of Agriculture, working with surrounding states and involving producers and leadership that came through on the producers' side of the industry.
Q How did you facilitate that?
A From an environmentalist perspective, for example, they really want the same things a dairy producer wants: clean water, taking care of the soil and those types of things. The difference is how we get there. A dairy producer wants to get there by essentially recycling everything they have back onto the land, where an environmental group may desire to get that clean water placed by lawsuits. Through communication between the environmental group and the industry, people were able to understand the end result was something that they all want. For the most part, the reasonable dairy producers, along with the reasonable environmental groups, were able to come to those types of realizations.
Q What is one thing you would have done differently?
A Even though I felt I put a lot of time into this, communications with the industry and other groups. It is always a challenge to get our message out, but it's extremely important. It can be from the milk quality perspective, from animal welfare, from environmental perspective. It could be from the perspective that dairy producers were the very first environmentalists. Dairy farmers -- anybody in the livestock industry -- have to treat their animals well or else they get no production. The end result is that they fail financially.
Q What do you hope the ODFA can accomplish in the next five years?
A I hope the organization can gather the industry and get a direction from Oregon producers about where they should go. This is extremely important from a business perspective when there are changes at the top. Of course, things like immigration, air and water quality, milk pricing compared to cost are important, which makes the legislative piece important in Salem and in Washington, D.C.
Q Is it about strengthening relationships?
A Absolutely. Continue building those relationships with other states and with national organizations. When I was a dairy farmer, what happened within my little community of Seymour, Wis., is what determined my success, to a large extent. Today, what happens within the world is what determines an Oregon dairy farmer's success. Obviously, the things they do individually have a big impact, but this is a world situation, not a local community situation. You have to be involved from a state and national perspective. Those communications are really important.