DENMARK – Bamberg County dairy farmers, already dwindling in number, had a bleak year.
“This is the worst it’s ever been since I’ve been in business," five-year Denmark dairy farmer Anthony Heatwole said. "We are getting paid what they were paid in the '80s for milk. It is definitely worse than (even) last year."
“We lost a little bit," said Heatwole, describing the year financially.
New Dawn Dairy has 120 cows with the ability to milk about 28 cows at a time.
Heatwole said he had to borrow $20,000 for feed this year, which has averaged about $45 per ton and has been increasing.
This equals out to $4.50 per head of cattle for the summer, but according to Heatwole, he gets down to $1.25 per head for the winter using rye grass and rye.
“Feed costs have been going steadily up for two years,” he said.
He gets about $16 per hundred pounds of butterfat, which is down from the $18 per hundred pounds that enables him to better meet expenses.
“If we can stay at $18, we can pay costs on feed and our help,” Heatwole said.
He said he ships 8,000 pounds of raw product to be processed and pasteurized every other day.
“The more butterfat you get, the more your milk is worth,” he said.
Things have gotten so bad in the dairy business in some places that the mental health of dairy men has taken priority.
Heatwole said a dairy cooperative in Virginia recently sent suicide helpline information out to dairy farmers, along with other information, because of the bad year.
Multiple Internet news sources from New England, the Midwest and the South have reported that dairy cooperatives all over the country had sent suicide helpline information to their farmers as well.
The difficult times have put a dent in the number of farmers staying in the dairy business.
Heatwole cited recent statistics that show there were 200 dairy farmers in South Carolina in the '80s and today there are less than 70.
It's estimated that only a handful of dairies remain in Bamberg County. The 2012 census showed the county had about 12 dairy farms and a total of 1,900 dairy cows.
The new five-year census numbers are expected to be made public in February 2019.