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Fewer Dairy Farmers To Celebrate June Dairy Month
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Sixty years after the first June Dairy Month, Mississippians are still enjoying the product, but substantially fewer farmers continue in the business.
"Just in the last five years, Mississippi has lost about 40 dairy herds annually," said Dr. Reuben Moore, extension dairy specialist at Mississippi State University. "It's a matter of profitability. These dairies would not be closing if the financial incentive was there. Someone would take over the operation."
Moore said feed costs have been a big factor in the lower profit margin. Higher prices for consumers at the grocery are also a result of increased feed costs. Farmers have seen only some of the benefit from increased grocery prices.
"Very few dairies are sold for another person to operate. The cows usually are dispersed throughout the Southeast," Moore said.
While the number of dairies is decreasing, the milk per cow is increasing and total production for the state is remaining fairly constant.
In December 1996, Mississippi was home to 468 Grade A commercial dairy farms. Total milk production for the state was 77 million gallons. The industry generated about $356 million in economic activity that year.
Each dairy cow in Mississippi produced an average of 12,961 pounds, or 6,028 quarts of milk last year. In 1992, each cow averaged 12,600 pounds, or 5,860 quarts of milk.
"More milk per cow is an indication of better management practices," Moore said. "Producers are doing better at managing quality feed, reproduction efforts, record keeping, cow comfort and effective culling."
The state's average herd size is 120 cows. The dairy specialist said larger herds usually are more efficient with facility space, labor and equipment.
David McGee, a third-generation dairy producer in Oktibbeha County, said taking advantage of technology and the latest management recommendations is important in a successful farm.
"We've worked hard to improve our forage and make us less dependent on other sources," McGee said. "Labor has been the biggest challenge."
Operating a dairy is labor-intensive, seven days a week.
"It's frustrating to bring someone in, train them for a couple weeks, then they quit even though they don't have another job," McGee said.