COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Dairy Association has sent letters to the state's congressional delegation asking for emergency assistance.

In the letter, the association and two other groups asked for an increase of a federal subsidy called the Milk Income Loss Contract.

Dairy farmers say they're struggling because the liquid milk price has dropped by about half.

Farm Aid and the National Family Farm Coalition are projecting as many as one-third of the nation's 60,000 dairy farmers are in imminent danger of closing.

Dairy farmer Roland Kerksiek says he finally gave up this year. He was losing about $1,000 a month milking a small herd of 20 cows. The family farm near Cole Camp had once supported his family and allowed his wife to work at home.

"It got to where it was costing you to milk. You had to pay to do it," said Kerksiek, 66. "And I didn't need the practice anymore."

He took advantage of an insurance program and agreed to a buyout from Cooperatives Working Together, an organization that pays dairy farmers to send cows to slaughter.

The goal is to stabilize milk prices by thinning the overall herd and put downward pressure on supply.

The organization's recent buyout removed 100,000 cows that produced 2 billion pounds of milk.

"That's the tough part," said Kerksiek, a third-generation dairy farmer. "You work for 34 years to get a good-quality herd, and when they go to the herd buyout, they have to go to slaughter. So that was the end of that."

At the beginning of this year, Missouri had 1,762 permitted dairy operations, about half of the total that existed in 1995.

"The guys, they're not even covering cost. They're not even coming close to covering cost," said Larry Purdom, chairman of the Missouri Dairy Association. "And we're going to lose so many more dairymen in the places we don't need to lose them."

Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a lifelong farmer, said he received the association's letter and supports a rate increase.

"Many dairy farmers are losing money on every cow, every day," said Luetkemeyer's spokesman, Paul Sloca.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press