Despite low milk prices and rising costs, the majority of dairy producers continued to milk cows last year. What remains to be seen is how the recent depressed economic conditions, both on the income and expense side of the ledger, will affect long-term dairy farm numbers.

For the moment, last year's 2,185 drop in dairy operations with permits to sell milk represents the second smallest drop in actual numbers. It was last year's drop of 2,003 dairy farms that set the low mark for losses since milk permit tracking began in 1992. On a percentage basis, dairy farm numbers dropped only 3.8 percent from the previous year. That's the fourth-smallest-ever percentage drop since count began.

Since 1992, the drop in licensed or so-called commercial dairy farms has been 76,567, from 131,509 to 2009s 54,942. That's a drop of 58 percent during that time. The farms counted in this survey are those that have a permit to sell milk. This number differs from another USDA estimate . . . operations with milk cows. That total now is 65,000 and has declined 103,500 or 61.9 percent since 1992.

For only the second time since the survey began, the West led all regions for the largest share of farms losses at 5 percent. With the West's higher than usual losses, it was the first time since 2002 that the Southeast didn't lead the nation in dairy farm losses. Since 1992, however, the Southeast's operations fell from 12,057 to 3,845 . . . a drop of 8,212 or 68 percent.

For a full report, check out page 167 of the March 10 issue which will be in the mail shortly.

Click here for the complete report.