Another California exodus: Dairy cows leave for greener pastures in Texas, Arizona as farms squeezed by the drought
California’s dairy industry, which once relied on milk sold by hundreds of dairy farms and processing plants across the state, is now facing a “doughnut-like” impact.
Milk from smaller dairy farms and dairies and cheese makers are fleeing California to Texas and Arizona — often using a combination of tractor trailers and cars to arrive at the border.
The migration has been prompted by drought conditions that led to the closure of California’s water intakes, which are expected to cut off the state’s water supply in the fall.
The state Department of Water Resources began draining the Los Angeles Basin last month, and by mid-June the state’s water usage dropped by a fraction of a percent, according to the Department of Water Resources.
A view of the fenced section of the San Joaquin River in Salinas, Calif., March 8, 2006. The San Joaquin River is under federal oversight after flooding damaged and polluted its waterway last year. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)
But the exodus of California dairy cows — many of them owned by small farms run by the state’s largest dairy industry players — has been nothing short of catastrophic.
A report earlier this year by the state’s nonpartisan Agricultural Water Research Center found that dairy exports were reduced by nearly 40% in 2014. Even though the number of dairy farms in the state was up slightly in 2015, the number of cows increased by less than 1%.
The dairy industry is also grappling with a glut of milk in the marketplace.
A 2015 report by the dairy group American Farm Bureau found that there were an average of 17 milk pounds per dairy cow each Monday in January in California.
And that same week from September to November, there was an average 18.6 milk pounds per dairy cow. By comparison, the dairy industry can supply milk to California with about 26 milk pounds per cow, according to the Agricultural Water Research Center.
That’s a nearly 60% supply shortage in a week for the dairy industry, which is now trying to figure out what to do next, said Robert Kowalick, chief