The rising costs of feed, fertilizer and fuel have eroded Arkansas’ once-thriving dairy industry, but there’s help as the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture launches an educational team to support the industry.

“As input costs continue to rise, many Arkansas dairy farmers will find it more and more difficult to remain in business,” said Tom Troxel, associate head of animal science for the Division. “The exceptional hot dry 2011 weather added further challenges to Arkansas dairy producers, reducing milk production and ultimately profitability, while input costs increased.”

The dairy industry in Arkansas has dwindled in the past three decades. By 2009, Arkansas had just 140 dairy farms, compared with 852 a decade earlier, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

“The Arkansas dairy industry is an important component of the Arkansas agriculture livestock segment. Arkansas dairy farms are family-owned, and oftentimes the ownership of these farms spans many generations. We don’t want to lose them.”

Michael Looper, Animal Science department head for the Division, knows the need firsthand. “I was raised on a fourth-generation dairy farm. We want to see others continue to pass their dairy heritage to future generations.”   

To help dairy producers, the Division of Agriculture has developed a seven-member team of experts to provide technical support. The members are:

  • Shane Gadberry, associate professor and ruminant nutritionist; will assist with ration formation and feedstuff selection.
  • John Jennings, professor; will aid dairy producers in forage production, grazing management and hay quality issues.
  • Karl VanDevender, professor and extension agricultural engineer; has expertise in the area of manure and environment management.
  • Dirk Philipp, assistant professor and agronomist; will provide expertise in water quality management and protection of riparian zones.
  • Rick Rorie, professor and reproductive physiologist; will assist with dairy cow and heifer reproductive management.
  • Jeremy Powell, associate professor and veterinarian; will provide overall herd health recommendations.
  • Steve Jones, associate professor and youth specialist; will work with dairy youth to help develop future dairy industry leaders. 

“The team approach is an effective way to assist the state’s dairy industry,” said Looper. “We’re fortunate to have expertise in nutrition and forage production reproduction, herd health, as well as the environmental issues that face diary producers each day.”

The effort also includes outreach programs when requested by counties.

For future dairy farmers, the Department of Animal Science offers a dairy science management tour instructed by Dr. Charles Rosenkrans Jr., professor of animal science. Recently, 36 college students toured dairy operations and processing plants in Arkansas and surrounding states. The course consists of classroom lectures and a four-day tour. To complete the course, students are required to develop innovative enterprise reports and classroom presentations.  The goal of this course is to allow students a ‘real world’ experience of the dairy industry.

“There are numerous opportunities for well-educated agriculture majors in the food animal industry, as well as its support groups,” Looper said. “The goal of this course is to allow students a real-world experience of the dairy industry.”

A library of fact sheets on dairy production is available at county extension offices or online at www.uaex.edu. For additional information about the dairy team, contact your county Extension office.