Despite low milk prices and the rising cost of feed, milk production continues to grow — that’s daunting news for struggling milk prices.

Milk production in the top-20 dairy states totaled 11.8 billion pounds during September — a 3.3-percent hike above year-ago levels.

August revised milk production — announced at 12.2 billion pounds — is up 4.1 percent compared to August 2001. USDA added 27 million pounds to its September preliminary production estimate to arrive at the 4.1-percent increase.

The report also contained third-quarter milk production. Milk production during July, August and September totaled 42 billion pounds — up 3.4 percent versus the same time period a year ago. Milk-cow numbers climbed 61,000 head during the third quarter — to 9.16 million head — compared to the same time a year ago.

Milk output per cow averaged 1,510 pounds during September, or about 50 pounds per cow per day. The monthly average also represents an increase of 38 pounds per month compared to September 2001.

Among the top-20 states, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas led the nation in milk production gains during September — climbing 15.7 percent, 13.1 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, only four states saw declines in milk output during September. And among those, Minnesota and Kentucky faired the worst — down 5.1 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

The only bit of good news in the report is that cow numbers have seen their first small drop on a month-to-month basis. The cow herd declined by 4,000 head from August to September. However, the 20-state cow herd totaled 7.79 million head during September — that’s still 56,000 head more than a year ago.

Although only a modest decline in cow numbers it’s the first indication that producers may be heeding current market signals. However it will take a further decline in cow numbers combined with a dip in milk per cow to raise milk prices.