MERCED -- Got milk?
Not as much.
Merced County lost 29 dairies in 2009, the most in the state and an economic downturn that devastated the milk industry.
And the worst may be yet to come.
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According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 109 dairies in the state closed their milking parlors last year.
"This is just devastating for Merced County," Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of Western United Dairymen in Modesto, said. "As dairies go, so go the jobs and the investments."
Fifty-six dairies in the Central Valley closed in 2009 because of higher than normal production costs and low returns. The region lost 36 dairies in 2008.
Milk production was down 4.6 percent, and there were 76,000 fewer cows milked.
There are about 300 dairies in the county.
In a separate report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said feed costs in the third quarter of 2008, when the bottom started dropping out of the milk industry, made up more than 60 percent of farmers' operating costs.
"The good news is feed costs have come down some," Marsh said. "Corn is going for about $173 a ton right now, and in late 2008 it wasn't uncommon to see it at $325 a ton."
At one point in 2009, Western United Dairymen figured that a 1,000-cow dairy was losing about $100,000 a month because the price of milk was so low and feed costs so high.
"Producers just lost their shirts last year," Marsh said. "Hopefully, that will turn around in the second half of this year. Unfortunately, I'm afraid we'll see more dairies go under in the first half of the year."
There's been a rise in the price paid to producers in the past couple of weeks, Marsh said.
"Milk prices will hopefully be better this year," Marsh said. "We're in a seasonal slump right now between the Super Bowl and Easter, but demand will pick up again."
When milk starts to be used for ice cream production in the late spring, Marsh said, the price should go even higher.
New Zealand dairies, which are strong competitors in the world dairy industry, dry up all their cows in their winter. That means no milk will be coming from New Zealand during summer in California.
In 2008, milk was worth about $1 billion in the county, one-third of the total ag commodities' value. Although Merced County has seen some ag worth records set in the past few years, that won't happen this year.