Va. Dairy Cow Population Reaches 50-year Low

By: Todd Corillo
By: Todd Corillo

February 14, 2011

Statistics from the U.S Department of Agriculture show the number of dairy cows in Virginia has reached a 50-year low.

The majority of dairy cows are in the Valley, with 22,000 located in Rockingham County, making it the largest concentration of dairy cows in the Commonwealth.

Being a dairy farmer is in Dennis Trissel's blood. He took over the farm he grew up on in Rockingham County and has been farming on it ever since. In all those years he's seen a lot of changes happen to the dairy industry.

"A lot of dairies here are not upgrading, not updating and when the young generation comes along they tend to leave. There's not the profits available; you can't pay for a dairy unless you've had some extremely good help," Trissel says.

Even those who do take up dairy farming face tough challenges farming in the state.

"Virginia is a deficit area, we don't have as much milk as what we consume. It's more expensive to produce milk in this area and the further south you go, the hotter it is. It's hotter on cattle, so they don't multiply or they don't have a calf as easily," Trissel explained.

To address the challenges, Trissel has joined forces with dairy farmers from across the country as a director on the National Dairy Producers Organization.

"It's the first time in my life I think that I've ever had a group of people be proactive with what needs to be done to get the milk prices stable," Trissel explained.

Producers say getting the prices stable will improve their ability to turn a profit and thus make the industry more affordable for young farmers. The group recently met in California where it produced a "Contract with Producers," listing 20 points it says must be addressed in order to stabilize dairy prices.

Among the points included in the document are: establishing a National Supply Management Program; improving legislation for Country of Origin Labeling; and stricter enforcement of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.

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