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Vilsack Touts Ely Dairy as Farm Bill Success

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CEDAR RAPIDS – Dan and Debbie Takes have been kicking around a dream of processing all the milk they produce on their rural Ely farm for several years.

This week, that dream got a kick start in the form of a matching grant from the USDA to help them complete a feasibility study of their plans to turn an empty building in Ely into a retail store and milk processing facility.

A city boy who started milking cows about 15 years ago, Dan Takes said he’s been thinking about processing the milk from the family’s 140 cows for about as long.

“I thought it would be neat to be able to sell it direct to the public,” he said.

The $5,780 Value-Added Producer Grant announced earlier this week will be used as used as planning capital to help create marketing and business plans for the Takeses’ locally produced and processed milk products.

However, the grant -- one of six grants made to Iowans this week -- is about more than a business plan, according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who visited the Takeses Friday.

“It’s an opportunity to create jobs, but also give the next generation of their family an opportunity to stay in the business,” he said.

The value added grants are part of the five-year Farm Bill that many people are unaware of, but have a big impact in places like Iowa, Vilsack said.

The 40 value-added grants awarded in Iowa over the past five years are just the tip of the iceberg, he added. In that time, the USDA has provided resources for 16,000 rural ownership opportunities, and more than 10,000 conservation contracts, 1,800 renewable energy projects, 20 small business grants and loans, 90 water projects, 25 electric transmission projects and 50 broadband projects.

“All totaled,” he said, “$2.8 billion of rural development resources.”

With farm payments and crop insurance, the total climbs to close to $10 billion over five years, he added.

“It’s about jobs, it’s about small-town economic opportunity, it’s about innovation, ISU is receiving over $100 million research as a result of FB,” Vilsack said. “So it has ramifications and implications across the state.

“I think it’s important for folks in this state to understand and appreciate the breadth and scope of what a Farm Bill does,” he said.

For the Takes family, Vilsack said, the value-added grants give them an “opportunity to dream a big dream for themselves and their family.”

“This facility, in a year or two from now, is going to be alive with activity, it’s going to be processing milk, creating product, hopefully for the local school pursuant with our farm-to-school program, so without the Farm Bill, none of this happens, he said.

The Takeses, who milk 140 cows, have given themselves two years – until next July -- to open the retail and processing facility.

“But if it could be sooner – during the ice cream season -- that would be better,” Dan said.

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