The downturn in California milk production during 2015 is almost unprecedented.
For 30 years in a row (1979 to 2008), total output in the nation's largest dairy state went up. Gains were usually large, averaging 954 million pounds per year, and two were massive - 2.3 billion pounds in 1994 and 2.8 billion pounds in 1999.
That background is what makes this year's decline so amazing. According to USDA, milk production in California has fallen every month so far this year, by a total of 1.2 billion pounds. And as the accompanying table shows, October was the biggest decline yet.
October's acceleration means there is an outside chance that the biggest one-year production decline in California history could happen. That record is currently 1.69 billion pounds, set in 2009.
Weak production per cow is causing this year's retreat. Total California cow numbers in October were virtually unchanged from a year ago, but output per head was 105 pounds lower at just 1,835. Colorado, by comparison, topped the list of USDA's 23 selected states with an average of 2,170 pounds per cow.
California's accumulated production decline of 1.2 billion pounds during the first 10 months of 2015 is more than what total production was in 25 different states for all of last year.
(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2015
November 30, 2015