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Troubled Times for Dairies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There won’t be any free ice cream, milk or yogurt because there won’t be a DairyFest in Clovis next summer.

Sponsors of the annual event, United Dairy Women, confirmed Wednesday they are shutting down DairyFest for a year, citing a tough economy.

“Our industry is hurting,” said Michelle Heavyside, who leads the UDW board. “We just need to sit it out for a year and hopefully economic times will get better and we’ll have it again the following year.”

Heavyside is one of the original architects of the event that celebrated its eighth year in June. Last year, more than 7,000 people attended.

Dairy is the state’s most important agricultural industry, according to one recent study by New Mexico State University, producing more cash receipts than any other. About 40 percent of $2.6 billion in agricultural cash receipts comes from the dairy industry.

Milk has been the No. 1 cash commodity in New Mexico for the last four years, with receipts in excess of $1 billion in each year.

Eastern New Mexico is the major milk production area for the state, annually accounting for more than 75 percent of the milk volume. Chaves, Roosevelt and Curry counties produce 65 percent of the state’s total milk.

Still, the industry is struggling with a one-two punch in recent years, said former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley of Clovis, now a spokesman for the Dairy Farmers of America.

Record low wholesale milk prices for most of 2010 forced many dairy operations out of business, Bradley said. And while this year milk prices have recovered, drought and other factors have driven up the price of feed.