By Alisa Boswell
Curry County dairyman Albin Smith said there were many days over the last four years when he wasn’t sure his business was going to make it.
Smith, the owner of Curry County dairies SAS and Arrowhead, said trying to bounce back from four years of decline has not and will not be easy for the dairy industry.
“Some of my neighbors are not here now, because they didn’t make it through this downturn,” he said. “God and myself have become really close and that’s what it was (that got me through), not my brilliance or my deep pockets. That and a good banker.”
Walter Bradley of the southwest area for Dairy Farmers of America, a four-state region, said one dairy closed in Roosevelt County in 2013, making a loss of 10 dairies since 2009.
Curry County has maintained 26 dairies since 2009, with two closing, but only temporarily.
But the good news, according to Bradley, is that he does not foresee any more local dairies closing because industry prices have improved recently.
“In fact, the dairy that went down (in 2013), may reopen,” Bradley said. “But I also don’t see any big expansions happening because of the hard times the industry has come through from 2010 to 2013.”
Bradley said 2010 through 2012 was a rough period for area dairies with the region’s severe drought causing high feed prices and over production causing low milk prices.
He said after three years of a bad market, dairy producers have debt to repay from having to borrow during the down times.
Bradley said milk prices are rising because demand has increased here as well as in the exportation of dairy products.
“In 2012, our feed cost was really high, because we could not produce it (ourselves),” Bradley said. “So the big difference (now) is that our feed cost has gone down quite a bit.”
Bradley said due to a drop in ethanol demand, corn prices dropped, making it more readily available as livestock feed.
He said regional dairies were just beginning to export their products in 2010 and since then, product exports have increase from 9 percent to 15 percent, further improving the industry’s situation.
Smith said exporting has increased because powdered milk is in much higher demand in other countries than in the U.S.
“It’s been the pits (for the dairy industry) for four years,” Smith said. “We’ve now had two months of better prices with milk and also the prices of cows have improved somewhat.”
He said prices should remain improved for local industry as long as the global and national economy remains improved.
Bradley said when local dairymen are back to being able to grow their own feed, that will further improve industry conditions, but the drought is still preventing that for the time being.
He said after improving at the end of last year, the industry is staying steady. Now, all producers can do is hope for it to continue, he said.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Bradley said of the industry’s rough patch. “But it may not be over. It (the industry) may turn on us again and if it does, we may be in trouble again.”
Smith said it will take well more than a year with extremely improved prices for local dairies to get back to where they were before 2010.
Bradley said New Mexico is the number one state in production per cow with Curry, Roosevelt and Chaves counties tops in the state.
He said dairy producers have begun culling cows (taking them out of production) earlier in their lives in order to keep top production from each.
The dairy industry brings $23 million per month in income to Curry and Roosevelt counties, with 80 percent of that income remaining within the two counties, according to Bradley.