• 70°

June declared Dairy Month at Ext. Service legislative breakfast

Lincoln County ranks second in the state in the dairy industry,which showed some signs of improvement in 2006, Extension Serviceagents said this morning during a legislative breakfast in theiroffice.

County supervisors received an update on the efforts of theservice to promote agribusiness and the welfare of the dairyindustry while proclaiming June as Dairy Month in LincolnCounty.

Rebecca Bates, director of the Mississippi State UniversityCooperative Extension Service, said the extension service will holda pair of events this week celebrating the dairy industry.

Dairymen have reason to celebrate the industry this year becauseof a small increase in farm-to-market prices, she said.

Bates quoted Bill Herndon, a dairy economics specialist, whenshe said farm-level milk prices have reached a “magical$20-per-hundredweight level.”

In 2006, Mississippi dairy farmers received about $14.60 perhundredweight, or nearly $1.23 for each gallon of milkproduced.

Herndon credited a strong export market for the priceimprovement in a news release.

“The export market is triggering an evolution in the U.S. dairyindustry as nonfat dry milk and dried whey are driving milk pricesinstead of the traditional cheddar cheese and butter products,” hesaid. “Nonfat dry milk and dried whey prices are at record levelswhile cheese and butter and modestly priced in comparison.”

Unfortunately, Bates said, those increases have been largelyoffset by increases in the cost of feed, fuel, energy andfertilizer.

“The price of milk has gone up, but on the other hand so haseverything else so it doesn’t seem that much has changed,” shesaid.

Lincoln County’s dairy industry has seen little change in thelast year, Bates said.

The number of dairy farms has been on a steady decline forseveral decades across the state and nation, however. In 2006, only190 Grade A commercial dairy farms remained in the state, shesaid.

Walthall County leads the state in the number of dairies with 40followed by Lincoln County with 25. The next largest numbers arefound in Pike County with 19, Marion County with 17, Amite Countywith 12 and Newton County with nine.

Agents questioned, however, how long the county could maintainits second place ranking in the state and how long the dairyindustry would remain viable in Mississippi.

The average age of a Mississippi dairy farmer is 65, Bates said,and children and grandchildren have been reluctant to take over thefarms because of their declining profits. Young people are enteringcareer fields with stronger economic possibilities, she said.