There won’t be any free ice cream, milk or yogurt because there won’t be a DairyFest in Clovis next summer.
Sponsors of the annual event, United Dairy Women, confirmed Wednesday they are shutting down DairyFest for a year, citing a tough economy.
“Our industry is hurting,” said Michelle Heavyside, who chairs the UDW board. “We just need to sit it out for a year and hopefully economic times will get better and we’ll have it again the following year.”
Heavyside is one of the original architects of the event that celebrated its eighth year in June with a day of family fun, free dairy products and top name entertainment at the Curry County Events Center.
Last year, more than 7,000 people attended DairyFest, she said.
Heavyside said the festival has always been a time for acquainting the public with the dairy industry.
“It’s about community and being out there and being able to meet everybody and shake their hand,” said Heavyside.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Molly Smith, president of the dairy women. “It’s a good thing for the community and our industry.”
Dairy is the most important agricultural industry in New Mexico, according to one recent study by New Mexico State University. The same study notes dairies produce more cash receipts than any other agricultural industry in the state. About 40 percent of $2.6 billion in agricultural cash receipts comes from the dairy industry.
Milk has been the number one cash commodity in New Mexico for the last four years, with receipts in excess of $1 billion in each year.
Eastern New Mexico is the major milk production area for the state, annually accounting for more than 75 percent of the milk volume, according to Victor Cabrera, a dairy specialist for NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service at the Agricultural Science Center in Clovis. Chaves, Roosevelt and Curry counties produce 65 percent of the state’s total milk.
Still, the industry is struggling with a one-two punch in recent years, said former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley of Clovis, now a spokesman for the Dairy Farmers of America.
Record low wholesale milk prices for most of 2010 forced many dairy operations out of business, Bradley said. And while this year milk prices have recovered, drought and other factors have driven up the price of feed.
“A dairy that survived the historic low milk prices of 2010 is now being faced…with a doubling of feed costs,” said Bradley. “The (profit) margin some months, it just isn’t there. Other months it’s narrow. So basically, dairies are just getting through this year and that’s it.”
Bradley said alfalfa hay that cost from $145 to $150 a ton last year now costs $300 to $310.
“In New Mexico it (alfalfa) is all gone,” Bradley said, citing the drought. “They’re having to go as far as Canada to get alfalfa.”
Bradley said corn — another key feed ingredient for dairy cattle — that cost about $6.50 a bushel last year is now at $7.50.
“Overall,” Bradley said, “I would say the economy is a huge issue with the dairy industry as it is with all industry in this country right now.”