Hellwinkel wants to educate people about agriculture
If Dennis Hellwinkel has anything to do with it, the future of Nevada agriculture will be determined by its farmers, not some bureaucrat.
Hellwinkel, who grew up in the Carson Valley as part of a large family of dairymen in a community of 12 dairies, now runs a dairy of his own in Fallon and is the president of the Nevada Farm Bureau.
The bureau is a lobbying and education organization that is based in small-town boards.
The farm bureau’s mission is to protect and improve the lifestyle of Nevada farmers and ranchers. Hellwinkel’s job, which he does without pay, is to be the lead spokesperson for Nevada’s farmers.
When he is away from home, his wife Judy, who also teaches high school, runs the dairy, Blue Eagle Holsteins.
He said their family is an example of a lot of farms which have transferred responsibility to the wives. Judy Hellwinkel is the only one who raises all the calves, he said.
“A lot of farms are husband-and-wife operations now – including in my own – the wife is a very important part of the operation,” Hellwinkel said. “A lot of women do it themselves because of economics. If someone has to work outside the farm, the man sometimes can get a higher paying job and the woman runs the farm.”
n Education. Hellwinkel does a lot of work trying to educate urban residents about where their food comes from.
“Most Americans are three or four generations removed from the farm, so they don’t understand the true importance of agriculture,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize milk is not produced in the back of the store. It’s just too easy to go to the grocery store. The food is always on the shelves.”
Those who don’t think about life on the farm probably don’t realize why the industry is important.
“It used to be everyone ate beef or pork or lamb. Now vegetarians who don’t eat it have to be taught why the industry is still important to them,” Hellwinkel said. “They don’t think about the leather in their shoes or the fact that insulin is only produced using cows and pigs. There are a lot of by-products of the industry even if you don’t eat beef.”
He said the growing demand to promote the industry has brought the different factions together.
“The industry is becoming smaller so there has to be collaboration between the different commodity groups. We have to band together and speak out,” Hellwinkel said.
The bureau has organized “Ag in the Classroom,” run by volunteers who go into the schools teaching students about farming using such props as cows and milking machines.
In Las Vegas last year, Hellwinkel said 7,000 kids saw 27 displays by farmers from all over the state.
Livestock producers brought their chickens, cows, llamas and piglets and farmers gave demonstrations on produce they grow in the state, including pistachio, mint, and the largest Nevada crop, alfalfa.
“Some of those kids have never even seen a live farm animal. They got so excited hearing a rooster crow,” he said.
n State Legislature. Hellwinkel, who was elected president in November, said the organization is interesting because it works up from the grass-roots level.
“Farmers and ranchers decide what’s important to them. Then that goes up to the state level and the national level. We don’t have leaders at the American Farm Bureau in Chicago making decisions only they deem important,” he said. “When I make a statement at the state level, I know what I’m saying is supporting what the local farmers want. Most organizations work in the opposite way.”
A full-time lobbyists spends everyday at the Legislature to keep track of any issues that can affect farming.
Hellwinkel said sometime legislators aren’t even aware when they are voting on legislation that would affect farmers.
“Because Nevada is becoming urbanized, certain bills that appear to only affect urban areas can have effects on farmers,” he said.
An example of a bill this year that could have inadvertently had an affect on farmers is a bill from Las Vegas that would allow islands of land owned by the county that had been surrounded by city-owned land to be annexed by the city.
“There is a parcel of land in Las Vegas that is the largest hog farm in Nevada,” Hellwinkel said. “On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it would affect the farm if the city annexed it, but what if the city had a law that said there were no hog farms in city limits. It would put them out of business.”
n Wild horses. This year at the state Legislature, Hellwinkel is supporting issues such as the sale of wild horses and the water plan.
The farm bureau is upset the state is taking so much control of water use.
The plan calls for statewide water conservation, water supply measurement and groundwater protection.
Hellwinkel said farmers in eastern Nevada want it to be legal for the BLM to sale wild horses on the open market.
“They are allowed to roam the open ranges and they are over-grazing and there is not enough water for them, so they are in poor condition,” Hellwinkel said. “In Elko, the BLM tried to adopt out 300, but they couldn’t.”
He said the law says someone has to promise to keep the animal forever once the adopt them, and people don’t want to promise that and end up with an animal that is untamable.
n Coming home. Hellwinkel said the number of farmers is shrinking.
“Statistics say that we are becoming older because young people can’t afford to get into it,” Hellwinkel said. “Food products are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years and costs are up. Farmers and ranchers can’t afford to feed their animals.”
He said the Carson Valley is a prime example – of the 12 dairies here when he was growing up, there are only two left, one of which was his grandfather’s and is now run by his cousin.
Although he said it was hard seeing all the changes when he comes back to the Carson Valley, a smile comes to his face when he talks about the ranchers who are still here.
“One of the greatest things about coming back is driving over the hill on (Highway) 395 and seeing the baby calves in Arnold Settelmeyer’s field.”