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Small Dairy Farms Close as Milk Prices Drop

There is a shift occurring in the pastures and the small farms across this country, as operational cost rise and prices drop many small dairies are closing their gates.

Of the states with dairy farms, Vermont and Wisconsin have been especially hard hit given that they have smaller dairy farms on average.

Steve MacLaren, 54 of Plainfield, Vt., was the last dairy farmer in a town that was once known for their milk-producing capacity.

But with the rise in cost of fuel and animal feed small farms like his are finding it harder to make a living.

"The day of the small farms, I think, is gone," said MacLaren. "A lot of people are going to hold on as long as they can, but we decided not to. Why struggle on it any longer?"

Many of the farmers are second and third generation dairy farmers but can't afford to keep going because the price of milk continues to fall. This might not greatly affect large dairies, but for those farms in small towns, they are just not able to compete with the rise in costs.

According to the last agricultural census published in 2007, while the number of dairy cows has remained constant, but the number of dairy farms has dropped. In 2002 there were around 92,000, but by 2007 there were less than 70,000.

The agricultural census also provided data reflecting the decline in small dairies. Farms containing up to 200 cows dropped from 11,000 to 9,000, while farms that had more than 1,000 cows increased from 1,300 to 1,600 during the same time period.

The study also revealed that states such as California and Texas are experiencing a dairy boom while traditional dairy farm states such as Vermont and Wisconsin are losing out.

Now MacLaren and his brother Michael will convert their 500-acre farm from dairy to produce crops whose selling price keeps increasing, such as corn as well as hay and silage for animal feed.

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