A collective groan echoed across the dairy industry following the release of the February “Milk Production” report, as it once again showed milk output above year-ago levels. The good news, however, is that the milk production increase appears to be growing incrementally smaller on a month-to-month basis. If you recall, January milk production was up 1.8 percent versus January 2002.

Milk production in the 20-major dairy states totaled 11.6 billion pounds during the month — a 1.7-percent gain compared to a year ago. The news came as no surprise to industry analysts, many of whom were projecting at least a 1.5-percent hike in milk output.

Once again, cow numbers continue to increase. The report showed cow numbers in the top-20 states at 7.81 million head for February. That is 66,000 head more than last year and 3,000 head more than January. The table at right shows cow numbers by state for the top-20 dairy states.

Meanwhile, milk per cow in the top-20 states averaged 1,485 pounds for the month — 13 pounds more than February 2002. Milk per cow per day stood at roughly 50 pounds during the month.

Three western states — New Mexico, Idaho and California — saw the greatest increases in milk production during the month — up 8.1 percent, 5.8 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Kentucky, Virginia and Missouri saw the greatest declines in milk output — down 7.4 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

Milk production is forecast to grow only 1 percent this year compared to last year’s 2.6-percent increase, according to the USDA’s “Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook,” released March 17. Still, a significant price rebound is not likely this year due to an ample supply of dairy products and “unusually strong milk cow numbers,” the report notes.