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As number of Va. dairy farmers drops, families try to keep business for next generation

AMELIA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) -- Virginia Farm Bureau Federation officials are seeing a decrease in dairy farming across the Commonwealth.

This year, there were 550 Grade-A Dairy Permits issued, which are for the milk you drink from a container in the grocery store.. That’s a hundred less than this time last year. According to the Virginia Farm Bureau, 30 years ago there were more than 12,000 Grade A permits in the state.

“We milk 260 cows a day, twice a day, everyday. No days off,” Jeremy Moyer said. He’s the 5th generation in his family to work at the Oakmulgee Farm. “[The milk is] sent to a local processing plant. Then it’s on shelves, local shelves within 48 hours of leaving our farm.”

Being around them his whole life, Moyer says cows have personalities of their own.

“Some like you and will come up and want you to pet them all day long. Some just want to be by themselves,” he added.

But times are changing in the industry. Farm Bureau officials say the number of farms has been going down for decades.

Greg Hicks from the Virginia Farm Bureau says "when smaller producers go out, larger dairies increase their their herd size.” So production hasn’t decreased, just the number of farms. Larger processing plants are also opening in the Midwest and West, working with a smaller number of larger farms as well. Some companies that are doing this include Walmart. Similar changes in agriculture have happened with poultry and pork producers.

“Dairy herd sizes haven’t declined as fast nor has production, as technology and nutrition has improved greatly in recent years. This helps produce more milk per cow,” Hicks added.

Moyer has seen how technology has changed the game for production too.

“The more research and technology that we integrate on our farms, the more comfortable the cows are,” he explained.

While more milk is being produced, Hicks says the “demand for milk is dropping.” According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Virginia office, $336.8 million was generated by the dairy industry in the Commonwealth last year. That’s about 30 percent less than in 2014, when $478 million was generated.

Moyer is also seeing smaller farms expand, making room for the next generation. When he graduated from college, both Moyer and his brother started working on the farm with his dad and uncle. They got about 100 more cows then and hope to grow as their family does too.

Five days ago, Moyer and his wife, Sara, welcomed their second son, Paxton, to the farm. Their other little boy, Sutton, 2, is already playing with the tractors he sees his daddy working on.

“I’m not trying to get rich,” he said. “I’m just trying to make enough money to take care of my cows and  to have a good business that I can pass along to my kids if they’re interested in it.


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