Dairy producers are making a valiant attempt to lower bulk tank somatic cell counts, but more effort is needed before annual bulk tank SCC levels — which have climbed steadily during the past five years — begin to trend downward.

According to an analysis by Stephen Ott with the USDA’s Center for Animal Health Monitoring in Fort Collins, Colo., the average U.S. bulk tank SCC level was 288,000 cells per milliliter during the first three months of 2002.

This is the lowest first-quarter average bulk tank SCC level achieved during the last five years. Despite this feat, annual bulk tank SCC levels are not expected to improve this year because many problem herds still exist. For instance, the percentage of herds that had first-quarter SCCs of more than 400,000 was on an upward trend.

The bulk tank SCC data used in the analysis were collected from 15,382 herds located in 13 states.