Nov. 14 2012 05:00 AM

Congressman-elect David Valadao is a partner in his family's 1,700-cow dairy operation.

by Lucas Sjostrom, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

Agriculture has some friends in Washington, D.C. But it has been some time since dairy producers had one of their own in town.

That changed November 6, 2012, when California's newly drawn 21st Congressional district went to David Valadao with 60 percent of the vote. Congressman-elect Valadao, a Republican, won a district where registered voters are 47 percent Democrat and only 33 percent Republican. But this isn't his first entry into politics.

His interest started 10 years ago when he served on the policy committee and as a California Region 80 delegate with Land O'Lakes, David said Monday as he talked to us by phone while driving around his family's ranch. David lives right on the farm and continues to be a partner, although he was forced to give up active management when his congressional campaign started.

As David became more involved in the political process through Land O'Lakes, he was eventually approached to run for California State Assembly's 30th district in 2010 when the Republican incumbent retired. At first he thought people were kidding, but after several months of thought and talking with his family, he agreed to run. David won that seat with 78 percent in the Republican primary and 61 percent in the 2010 general election.

When he made the decision to run the first time, David said it came down to, "You want to make a difference. You want to get involved. You want to do what's good for your community." Jumping to the national seat, David feels he'll be able to make a bigger impact for the state since Republicans have long been a minority in California state politics.

With the federal redistricting, there was a newly drawn district available. Incumbent Jim Costa (a Democrat) chose to stick with the city of Fresno, leaving a very agricultural district open for a new face.

Congressman-elect Valadao is moving from representing 465,000 in the State Assembly to about 700,000 in Congress. But his district was growing and reached near 500,000 towards the end of his term. With that many people to represent, being an incumbent in many parts of the same district helped give David the upper hand.

Hands still in the dairy
"My dad started in the dairy business in 1975," David explained. One dairy currently includes David, his father and his brother, while another facility is a partnership of David, his uncle and another brother.

Valadao Dairy is made up of 1,700 cows with 90 percent Holsteins and the rest Jerseys and crossbreds. It's a standard "H" style dairy with a double-30 parallel BouMatic parlor. They milk two times per day and grow much of their own feed. They raise corn, wheat, alfalfa, ryegrass and sometimes milo on the land.

The big issue David told us he'll look to resolve is the water war on the west side of the Central Valley. Before redistricting, it was split between two districts, but now most of the dispute lies in Valadao's area. "Water affects everybody, and that's what I focused most of my attention on during the campaign," he explained. Energy costs and government regulations (many of which are California's own regulations, Valadao admitted) are also major concerns. All add to the high feed costs California dairy producers are facing. While the numbers aren't official, the new district is expected to be the largest Congressional district in terms of both dairy cows and milk production in the country. He said he'll welcome input from dairy farmers on their issues and is looking forward to helping the industry as much as he can.

Congressman-elect Valadao said it would be an honor to serve on the Agriculture, Natural Resources or Transportation Committees. The latter, he said, would be of high interest since high-speed rail and moving agricultural goods are important to the viability of District 21.