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Major damage to dairy industry

Mississippi dairy farmers and processors have suffered significant direct economic losses from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Approximately 75 percent of the state's 230 dairy farms are located south of Interstate 20 and more than 50 percent of these farms are concentrated in the hardest hit counties near Tylertown, McComb and Brookhaven.

The loss of electrical power forced many of these farmers to dump the milk produced by their cows for six or seven days. Exacerbating this problem were fallen trees that blocked roads, prohibiting the pick up of milk.

Extensive wind and water damage has also occurred on these farms where downed trees destroyed barns, equipment, fences and other facilities.

Obtaining dairy cattle feed is yet another difficulty endured by dairy producers. These problems have already forced as many as seven or eight farmers to dispose of their milking cows.

A preliminary estimate of wind and water damages totals more than $6 million, about $35,000 per farm.

Yet another milk market disruption has been the temporary closure of milk processing plants. The Dairy Fresh plant located in Hattiesburg was not able to process any milk for three days because of the lack of electrical power and water.

Longer term, secondary impacts of Katrina on the Mississippi dairy sector will be much greater and could threaten the existence of this important industry. An initial estimate of the losses over the next 12 months totals more than $17.5 million ($100,000 per farm), which includes reductions in milk production from dairy cows suffering from the effects of irregular milking and various health issues such as heat stress and diseases.

Bill Herndon is a Mississippi Extension dairy economist.

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