The major issue facing the Southeast (SE) agricultural industry in the US is the sustainability of the region’s dairy farm operations. Indeed, if this dire situation is not ameliorated, milk production is forecasted to decline by 35% in the SE in the next 15 yr, whereas overall US production will increase by 23%, lowering the competitiveness of the SE states (Herndon, 2011).
From 1995-2010 the southeast region….…
- experienced a 64% decline in the number of dairy farms from 9,297 to 3,380. AL, AR, LA, MS, KY & TN lost the most farms (66-81%).
- lost 47% of its dairy cow population with AL, AR, LA, MS, KY & TN losing the most cows (52-80%).
- realized a 37% decline in milk production, while nationally, the US experienced a 24% increase in production (Herndon, 2011).
- realized only a 51% increase in output per farm, whereas output for the US increased 3-fold or by 161%!
Although the SE realized a 13% increase in milk production/cow from 14,000 lb in 1995 to 15,840lb in 2010, the production increase in the US was 29%, increasing from 16,400 lb in 1995 to 21,150lb in 2010.
Changes in the number of dairy farms and dairy cows in the SE
from 1995-2010 (Data from USDA Statistics)
Further examination of the facts brings the true productivity of SE dairy farms into focus. The table below illustrates the test day milk production and somatic cell counts (SCC) values in SE herds enrolled in the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) Program from 2001-2010 (USDA/ARS Animal Improvement Program Laboratory reports on somatic cell counts of milk from DHI herds from 2001 – 2010).
The 10-yr SE average production was 13% less than the national average (61.3 vs. 70.8 lb). Other data show that while average US production increased by 3.7 lb/day, the SE average increase was only 1.5 lb/day; 50% as much; 3 states actually realized a decrease in daily yield.
Test day milk production and SCC in SE
DHI program herds from 2001-2010
Adapted from USDA/ARS Animal Improvement Program Laboratory reports on somatic cell counts of milk from DHI herds (2001-2010). Information from all states can be found at: http://aipl.arsusda.gov/publish/dhi/scc.html
Lower milk production and reduced milk quality that are affecting the sustainability of the SE dairy industry are attributed to an increase in the prevalence of mastitis on farms in this region. In fact, mastitis remains a major livestock disease for all US dairy producers, with losses of approximately $2B/year (Hogan et al., 2012). To comply with global quality standards, consumer demand, and exportation requirements, the US dairy industry is striving to reduce the level of mastitis, improve product quality, and increase returns to producers. To make this a reality, the US legal limit for SCC in raw milk may soon be reduced from the current regulatory limit of 750,000/ml (FDA Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, revised in 2009) to 400,000/ml.
The vast majority of herds with a SCC above 400,000/ml are located in the SE. Reasoning has been that the heat and humidity experienced during summer months make it impossible to lower SCC in this region. Heat and humidity do not cause mastitis, yet these factors increase the ability of mastitis-causing bacteria to grow and thrive in the cows’ environment. However, it is the management deficiencies on many SE farms that allow these potential pathogens to actually cause infections.
Implementation of cost effective mastitis prevention and control strategies for the SE region will result in higher milk quality, increased production, and improved profitability, all of which will enhance the sustainability of the dairy industry in this region.