Report shows dramatic drop for Kings County milk industry

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The 2015 Kings County crop report reveals that milk was valued at $970 million in 2014, and dropped to $651 million in 2015. (KFSN)

One South Valley county's top crop has decreased in value by almost a third.

The 2015 Kings County crop report reveals that milk was valued at $970,330,000 in 2014, and dropped to $651,701,000 in 2015.

Kings County dairyman Joe Machado says dairy operations are in survival mode.

The price of milk has gone down, and in California, the cost of production is high.

Machado says he's currently losing $3 for every 100 pounds of milk he produces.

For Machado and many others, that kind of loss adds up over time.

"They're thinking what's the alternative, you know?" Machado said. "Because they're tired of bleeding red ink, that's simply the equation. It's not like there's a lot of foreclosures or anything, it's just people are tired of losing money in the dairy industry and it's just not lucrative like it was."

The Kings County crop report released this week shows the gross value of all agricultural crops and products has dropped by 18%.

Their top crop, milk, is down by more than 32%, due to lower prices and slightly lower production.

"Usually, when that happens, it kind of affects other things that reduces the value of a lot of the feed sources that go towards dairies as well," Kings County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Niswander said.

Niswander says you don't see too many small dairy operations in Kings County anymore, meaning most have at least 1,000 cows-and they're finding a way to survive.

"We're seeing a growth of the size of dairies and some people are partnering with people, there's ownership with multiple people," he said.

While the dairy industry thrives in other parts of the country, Machado says many dairy farmers in California just can't afford to do it anymore.

"You know (in) California we don't see much expansion going here," Machado said. "We're really under regulatory pressure. We got a water board we gotta answer to, air board, all kinds of regulations. You can't even build something it takes you five to ten years just to get through the permitting process to build a dairy."

These may be dark days for the dairies in Kings County.

But Machado hopes for brighter ones, where there's more water, and California can have similar pricing to other states.

Niswander also says there is a trend in the county towards permanent planted trees, like almonds.

Almonds are a top five crop in the county, but right now, milk is still on top.
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