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Mississippi Dairies Continue Decline
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's dairy herd is bucking the national trend by reducing farm and cattle numbers while a national production increase is helping to hold prices down.
"We have a lot of milk available, so prices are not likely to improve much anytime soon," said Bill Herndon, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Numbers of dairy cattle are up nationally, especially in western states such as Idaho, California and New Mexico. However, like most Southeastern states, Mississippi has significantly fewer farms and cattle.
"Mississippi has 36,000 dairy cows now, compared to 55,000 in 1995. In that same period, the number of farms has dropped from 600 to 325," Herndon said. "Most of the farms closing their doors have been older facilities with smaller herds of 50 to 60 cows."
The nation has 60,000 to 70,000 more cows in production, and the average amount produced by each cow is also up for a total production increase of 3 to 4 percent.
Economists monitor the pulse of the industry by watching the base price of Class III milk, which is used in cheese production. A little more than half of the milk produced in the United States goes into cheese production.
"The price of Class III milk is the lowest it has been since 1978," Herndon said. "Fortunately, the cost of production has held steady for a couple of years. Feed costs also are relatively low, especially compared to 1996."
Angelica Chapa, Extension dairy specialist, said this summer's hot, dry conditions have been a challenge for Mississippi producers.
These conditions have had their biggest impact on feed supplies, especially in South Mississippi where most of the state's dairies are located.
"The drought this year has resulted in a shortage of pasture, corn silage and forage for hay production. Producers have had to purchase feed to supplement their cows," Chapa said. "Another concern for producers is that plants stressed by the hot weather and drought are more susceptible to mycotoxin (aflatoxin) infections. Producers who suspect their crops were stressed may want to have their grain tested."
Hot conditions are also a challenge for the cows.
"Heat stress lowers milk production and reduces reproductive performance. Milk production can drop 20 percent or more during the summer months," she said.
"By adjusting feeding schedules so that cows eat during the coolest part of the day and providing cows with more shades, fans, and misters or sprinklers, dairy producers can help avoid such a drastic decrease in production," Chapa said. "If cows are hot, they won't eat, and milk production drops."