KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A six-state study will attempt to pinpoint the causes of the decline in the Southeastern U.S. dairy industry.
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is the lead institution for the study, funded by a $3 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Steve Oliver, assistant dean of UT AgResearch, said the Southeastern dairy industry is in serious trouble.
"Although the nation is experiencing a surge in milk and dairy demand, the Southeast has experienced a greater than 37 percent decline in total milk production," Oliver said "Milk quality is also consistently the poorest of all the regions of the U.S."
Statistics show more than two-thirds of the region's dairies have closed since 1995.
The decline is hastened by mastitis, an inflammation of the cows' udders, which is present throughout the region.
Among aims of the program is identifying economic, social and psychological factors affecting regional farmers' limited adoption of practices known to control mastitis. The researchers plan to develop strategies to counter the rationale for failure to adopt them.
Leaders of the study also plan to develop both continuing education programs for current dairy farmers and providing undergraduate and graduate student education for long-term solutions in the region.
Regional participants in the study include the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, the University of Kentucky, Mississippi State University and Virginia Tech.
The project is expected to be funded for five years.
According to the Southeast Dairy Association, the Georgia dairy industry generated an estimated $790 million in economic activity in 2011 and the state ranked 24th in milk production, 25th in number of milk cows, 32nd in milk output per cow and 25th in number of licensed dairy operations during 2011 in the country.