FRIONA – Drought might have hurt the dairy industry in the Panhandle over the past few years, but a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist said signs are indicating the industry is growing once more.
Dr. Ellen Jordan, AgriLife Extension dairy specialist in Dallas, said the growth of the dairy industry in the Panhandle was spotlighted when more than 500 people turned out for the Southwest Dairy Day at the Del Rio Dairy south of Friona on Oct. 8.
“We had a number of very rough years with the drought in 2011 and 2012, and producers kind of held their own,” Jordan said. “Now we are beginning to see a little growth again in our industry. We aren’t seeing so many new farms go in, but some of the dairies that are here have expanded a little bit.”
She said the region has received some rain since May, and as a result, milk production has increased. That added milk production has prompted recent talk about putting a processing plant in Canyon.
“In addition to seeing an increase in the number of dairy cows in this region, we are processing the milk in this region, so we are keeping additional jobs in this area for economic development,” Jordan said. “And those are pretty high-paying jobs.”
She said the industry has grown from about 20,000 cows in 2001 to the current number of about 285,000 cows in the Panhandle.
“So roughly two-thirds of the entire state’s milk production is here in the Panhandle,” Jordan said.
In 2013, according to the Dallas Milk Marketer Administration, Castro County was the top milk producer, with 128.4 million gallons of milk from approximately 43,200 dairy cows. Other Panhandle counties in the top 12 were Parmer, Deaf Smith, Lamb, Hartley, Moore, Bailey, Hale and Dallam.
One of the newer dairies was the host for the Southwest Dairy Day, the Del Rio Dairy, owned by the Rocky and Liz Gingg family. The Ginggs moved to the Panhandle in 2006 and now have 3,800 milking cows, raise 3,380 acres of crops and have 45 employees.
Tours throughout the dairy included the milking parlor, Saudi-style barns, a special needs facility, heifer pens and commodity barns.
Attendees also were able to view the dairy’s composting operation and a manure application calibration demonstration, Jordan said.
“Composting is an area some of our producers are getting into so they can haul less water when they are hauling the manure out to their fields,” she said.
Water is an important commodity on a dairy and about half the water that is pumped from the dairy is captured and reused to irrigate field crops, Jordan said.
Dairy producers also were provided an update on the latest technology in the industry, with vendors displaying everything from tractors to teat dippers, she said.
“This event allows producers to look at a wide variety of equipment in one setting and determine what technology to adopt and put on their farm,” Jordan said.