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Banquet wraps up dairy month events

Given that dairy prices are steadily falling, those in the dairy industry need a reason to celebrate.

     They got their chance Thursday night when the Lincoln County Extension Service hosted the annual Dairy Banquet at the Lincoln County Civic Center.

     “It’s probably the only time during the year that the dairymen and their families get together,” said Rebecca Bates, director of the extension service. “This event tops off dairy month. It’s the end of our celebrations.”

     Rounding out the group of speakers was Brookhaven’s Cindy Hyde-Smith, state commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. She spoke of how her agency protects the industry and others in the state.

     “We are a regulatory agency. We’re in consumer protection,” she said. “We are out there making sure what you pay for is what you get.”

     Another speaker was Rebecca Turner, a representative from the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association. She spoke about how SUDIA has traveled the state promoting the industry and teaching the community about dairy.

     “This is a very, very busy time of year for us,” she said. “It’s an honor to work with such a fabulous group of people.”

     Despite the good food and company, the atmosphere was a little grim as Lamar Adams, Mississippi State University Extension Service dairy specialist, gave his presentation on milk production and prices.

     “Milk prices have dropped about 20 percent,” he said, “but feed prices remain high.”

     Adams pointed out that production per cow was increasing, which drives milk prices down, while at the same time domestic consumption is steadily decreasing.

     Lincoln County ranks third in the number of dairy farms in Mississippi at 11, and second in production at 1.5 million pounds a year. But the state is slowly losing farms.

     “Last year, there were 120 farms,” Adams said. “As of January this year, there are 105.”

     Adams said one problem he saw was that farmers were increasing their herd size, which would only lead to more production and lower prices. He speculated that the increase might be in response to the proposed farm bill, which passed the Senate on Thursday.

     “They’re trying to prepare for it,” he said.

     What they’re preparing for is a provision that allows for repayment of up to 80 percent of their costs should prices drop below a certain point. That 80 percent is based on production for the past three years.

     “They’re trying to get their baseline up,” Adams said.

     Though Adams said milk prices are almost impossible to predict, he did say he believes prices will continue to drop unless something is done to decrease production – or Americans suddenly started drinking more milk.

     “It’s the worst thing in the world to try to figure out, but we’re expecting even higher rates,” said Adams, referring to feed costs and higher production trends that lead to lower milk prices.