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Lucas Dairy survives industry upheaval, for now

POSTED September 26, 2012 12:47 p.m.

As many local dairies struggle to stay afloat amid increasing costs to do business and stricter environmental regulations, one dairy family hopes to hold on to their 60-year legacy.

Norman and Mike Lucas, owners of Lucas Dairy, have been in the business for over 60 years and continue to keep their business running, despite odds.

“Dairies are suffering a massive loss in their earnings,” said Norman Lucas.  “Within the past years, we have seen so many dairies come and go within a 10 mile radius of our Turlock dairy.  We have been fortunate enough to keep running and hope to continue to be in business for many years to come.”

The dairy industry used to be very profitable for local farmers. In 2008, California was home to nearly 1,900 dairy farms, 1.8 million dairy cows, and produced about 5 billion gallons of milk every year. In 2011, the sagging economy and the increasing cost of everything is about to put a major damper on dairy farms.

“The cost of operating a dairy in California has practically doubled in the last years,” added Norman. “The price of milk has barely risen. Feed prices are over double what they were; dairy producers are struggling to turn a profit.”

According to Norman, harvesting and growing his own corn gives them an advantage when supplying feed for their cattle.

“One of the main reasons why so many farms are going out of business is that the price of feed has increased substantially,” said Norman.  “Unless we find a way in reducing the cost of feed I do not see any dairy farms surviving.  Another problem is that many of the farmers are second and third generation dairy farmers but can't afford to keep going because the price of milk continues to fall. This might not greatly affect large dairies, but for those farms in small towns, they are just not able to compete with the rise in costs.”

Because milk is the highest-grossing agricultural product in California, the dairy industry is a very important sector of the state’s total economy. Serious issues in both the state and national dairy industry have negatively impacted businesses throughout the dairy value chain.

“I was fortunate enough to hand over my dairy business to my son Mike.  Although things are stable from our end, truth is, local dairies will eventually be phased out by larger dairy companies.  I was fortunate enough to have my business running for over 60 years,” Norman said.

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