Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Blizzard kills 1,850 cows, farmers left reeling

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:35 AM

SUNNYSIDE, Washington (AP):

The unexpected blizzard that swept through the Yakima Valley on February 9 was just one more clobbering for the region’s dairy farms.

The number of dairy farms in the state has plummeted from 2,500 in 1993 to 377 in 2018, according to the Washington Farm Bureau, which represents the mostly family-owned businesses. Four years of low milk prices have led numerous farmers to call it quits.

Dairy farms also face new state regulations for handling and storing cow manure that one dairy consultant estimates have initial costs of US$300,000 to US$2 million. Requirements include special liners for the lagoons holding the manure, and a mandatory leak-detection system.

But Yakima Valley dairy farmers were unprepared for what befell them on February 9. A storm with wind gusts of 50-60mph and temperatures in the low to mid-teens sent wind chills plummeting near zero degrees, leaving 1,850 dairy cattle dead in the span of a few hours. With each cow valued by the dairies at US$2,000, the loss was US$3.7 million.

Though dairy farmers can apply for reimbursement of 75 per cent of the livestock’s market value for weather-related deaths through the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, the loss hit Yakima Valley farmers hard.

“What next? Biblical plagues? A violent tornado?” says Stu Turner, a West Richland-based agronomist and consultant to the dairy industry. “They’ve faced almost everything that you can think of that’s negative.”

Dairy cows have died by the hundreds – even the thousands – before in blizzards.