Another California exodus: Dairy cows leave for greener pastures in Texas, Arizona as farms squeezed by drought, droughts get new owners
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It’s a story so familiar that it should be in most everyone’s playbook: The milk cow — once a symbol of hard work, selflessness and faith — is on its way out.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports about 1,300 dairy cows could be on the road within the next week as part of a massive exodus nationwide, the first of many to occur as California tries to recover from decades of drought.
This is a departure that experts say is driven primarily by economic pressures — and a lack of available room on dairy farms in the increasingly competitive U.S. milk market, which has been hurt by a price war among European leaders.
The cows are gone, but their numbers have been replaced by two- and three-cow milking parlors, or modern production facilities with high milking frequency.
The California government estimates a “very large number” will move out of state to Texas, the heartland of the nation’s largest milk industry, with others leaving Arizona and elsewhere in the Midwest and Northeast.
“It’s not a story of just one industry,” said John Farrar, senior adviser on dairy policy for the California Dairy Association. “It’s really a combination of economics, a combination of a number of factors.”
Milk producers can’t compete with milk from California’s cows, which fetch up to $6.50 a gallon at the nation’s milk-bottling plants, in Texas, the most milk-producing state in the nation, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Milk production in Arizona and Wisconsin — which is experiencing its own drought — has also dropped sharply.
At a meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Texas in November at the state Capitol, state Senator Robert Nichols told the crowd that the future of the Texas cow was in the hands of Texas’ 1,200 dairy farmers. And they had little time to grieve, he said, because the cows were being moved out of the state.
“It’s not just cow farmers getting hit, it