Associations Assist Dairy Farmers in Storm’s Aftermath

Goliath, the deadliest U.S. storm of 2015, killed dozens of people, but it also killed tens of thousands of cows throughout New Mexico and Texas. Two regional dairy industry groups are working with state officials to assess the damage and acquire help for their members.

A winter storm named Goliath has milk producers throughout Texas and New Mexico picking up the pieces, and the associations that represent them are looking to help out.

Last month, the severe storm caused a barrage of flooding, tornadoes, and snowfall, leaving behind a trail of destruction. The Weather Channel said that the storm, which hit at the very end of 2015, was the deadliest of the entire year—killing 52 people in 14 states, including 11 in Texas.

The storm dropped heavy snow on West Texas and eastern New Mexico and is blamed for killing more than 35,000 dairy cows in those two states alone. While representing less than 1 percent of the overall U.S. dairy supply, it was nonetheless devastating for the region.

The Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD) says the storm killed about 5 percent of the state’s mature dairy cows and affected half of the most prominent milk-producing counties in the state.

“Like all agriculture, dairy producers always operate at the mercy of Mother Nature,” the group’s executive director, Darren Turley, said in a news release. “With Goliath, she dealt a particularly harsh and costly blow to the area’s dairy producers, from the death of thousands of livestock they spend so much time caring for to a loss of milk production both over the weekend and in the future.”

The storm even affected those cows that survived the storm. Turley said the inability of dairy producers to milk those cows during the storm could hinder their ability to produce milk in the future.

“When a dairy cow goes that long without being milked, her milk supply starts to dry up,” Turley said. “That means the dairy cows in this region will give less milk for months to come. Less milk going to market will be felt by consumers, as well as by dairy farmers.”

Beverly Idsinga, the director of Dairy Producers of New Mexico (DPNM), said the loss of milk production is also threatening her state.

“New Mexico is number one when it comes to pounds of milk produced per animal per year, which is around 25,000, so a loss of production they are experiencing because of the storm and loss of animals is significant,” she told KOB-TV.

The loss of a single cow is extremely costly for any farmer, with The New York Times reporting that a farmer estimated $2,200 per cow. And the toll for farmers could be both financial and emotional.

As a result, the associations are working closely with officials in their respective states to assist members in crisis. TAD, for example, is working with the Texas governor’s office, along with the Texas Department of Agriculture and other agencies, to assess whether financial assistance can be made available to their members.

“The immediate challenge is how to handle these sudden, massive losses of animals,” Turley said. “The ordinary methods for disposal cannot handle the volume of deaths we are seeing from this storm.”

DPNM, meanwhile, has scheduled meetings this week with New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte and other officials to discuss disaster programs.

Cattle at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, located near the Texas border, were out in the cold after last month's Goliath storm. (Larry Smith/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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