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High Plains Is New Leader In Texas Dairy Industry

10 October 2011

Texas A&M

US - A new leader of Texas’ $1.5 billion dairy industry has emerged. Castro County displaced Erath County as the Number one milk producing county in the state in August, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist said.

During the last 10 years, the dairy industry in the High Plains has been growing rapidly, according to Dr Ellen Jordan, AgriLife Extension dairy specialist. But the move westward has been going on far longer than that.

For many years, Northeast Texas and its grass-based dairy system dominated Texas’ dairy industry with Hopkins County as the Number one dairy county in the state. In the 1980’s, the dairy industry in Central Texas expanded and Erath County took over as the Number one dairy county in June 1990.

As the dairy industry in Central Texas matured, dairy producers again looked westward to identify a land of “dairy opportunity,” Dr Jordan said. The High Plains was identified for its unique climate and agriculture-friendly communities.

The average temperatures and low humidity in the High Plains meant cows spent a vast period of every year in their “thermo-neutral” zone, so they could expend less energy for maintenance and more for production, she said. In addition, the irrigated crops provided a consistent forage supply and the rail system allowed economical shipping of grain from the Midwest.

In 2000, Lamb County was the first High Plains county to break into the top 10 in dairy production, Jordan said. Now, eight of the top 10 milk producing counties in Texas — Castro, Parmer, Deaf Smith, Hartley, Lamb, Bailey, Moore and Hale — are located in the High Plains region.

Only two central Texas counties, Erath County, at second, and Comanche County, at tenth, remain in the top 10, and all the northeast counties have been displaced, she said.

In 2000, milk production in the eight High Plains counties currently in the top 10 represented only four per cent of the state’s production, Dr Jordan said. In 2010, the proportion from those counties has risen dramatically so that it now accounts for 54 per cent of the milk produced in the state.

Although there has been some contraction in milk production in other regions of the state, according to the Dallas Milk Market Administrator’s production information, much of the increased milk production in the High Plains contributed to the 54 per cent increase in Texas milk production from 2000-2010, she said.

During this 10-year period, the Central Texas dairy counties of Erath, Comanche, Hamilton, Johnson and Hill have decreased milk production 25 per cent, from 2.42 billion pounds per year to 1.81 billion pounds per year. And the East Texas counties of Hopkins, Wood, Van Zandt, Franklin, Upshur, Lamar and Rains have decreased production 21.3 per cent, from 1.07 billion pounds per year to 843 million pounds per year of milk, Dr Jordan said.

“For the first eight months of 2011, statewide milk production is actually up again by more than 8 percent as a result of an expanding cow herd,” she said. “If this increased production continues for the remainder of the year, Texas will most likely become the sixth-largest milk producing state in the nation.”

But, as with other sectors of agriculture, this year’s drought is impacting dairies as well, she said. Many are now finishing feeding last year’s silage. This year’s silage production was dramatically reduced in quantity and quality even on the irrigated acres of the High Plains. As a result, dairy producers across the state are searching for forages to feed herds through the next year.

The unrelenting heat as well as reduced forage production took a toll on milk production per cow this summer, particularly in areas that depend upon grazing, Dr Jordan said. For example, in Hopkins County milk production declined more than 17 per cent in June, July and August as compared to last year.

“Across the state, producers worked all summer to provide additional cooling for their herds to mitigate the impact of heat stress,” she said. “Nutritionists have been challenged to stretch limited forage supplies as far as they can while maintaining the health of the dairy herds.”



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