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Sour winter for dairy farmers

February 16, 2009 - Jim Anderson

Investigators in San Joaquin County, Calif., are trying to determine who dumped 30 dead bull calves on country roads. It’s a sign of desperate times in the dairy industry. According to an Associated Press report, many of the 60,000 dairy farms nationwide are selling off cows, or closing. Milk prices have dropped 35 percent in just the past two months. In a factory, when things get bad, there is always the option of a temporary shutdown. In the dairy industry, there’s no such choice. Since September, federal livestock reports show that dairy cow slaughter is up 30 percent. The animals found dead in California would have fetched only about $5 each at auction, according to the AP report. Industry observers say more farms in the West are likely to go under than in the Midwest and East. That’s because Western producers have to buy most of their feed. Demand for milk is down for a number of reasons. About 40 percent of U.S. milk production is made into cheese and roughly 60 percent of that is used in the restaurant and food service sectors. With the recession, restaurant demand is down. Exports are also down sharply. The cost of milk at the supermarket is apparently down only slightly as retailers have been slow to adjust their prices, the AP said.


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