The arid environment of Arizona is healthier then Floridia because bacteria tend to thrive in warm, humid climates like Flordia.

Mar 19, 12:21 PM EST

Arizona's cows rank as nation's most productive

MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Although their numbers are dwindling, dairy farmers who stay in the business are moving their operations to more spacious areas so they can add more cattle and invest in more technology to boost productivity.

U.S. agricultural economists say production is up nationwide, but Arizona's 163,000 cows are unique: They can out-produce any cow in the country.

A single Arizona cow produces on average 1,940 pounds of milk a year - enough to fill an 8-ounce drinking glass 3,880 times.

Agricultural experts and farmers say cows love the desert. Of course, modern cooling systems in the barns help. Farmers turn on misters and fans when it's hot, providing a cool wet breeze for their herds.

"It might be 100 degrees outside, but in these barns it might be in the 80s," says Robert Collier, head of animal science at the University of Arizona. "If I were a cow, I would pick Arizona over Florida any day."

He said the arid environment is healthier for cows because it means they are less likely to encounter disease. Bacteria tend to thrive in warm, humid climates.

It isn't just the Arizona environment that makes cows so productive.

Dairy technology is constantly improving, and farmers are learning a lot about the biology of bovines. These advancements mean farmers can raise healthier and stronger herds that are more productive.

With Arizona's population exploding, local farmers are seeing a slight upswing in sales that helps them stay on their feet. For now, at least.

Keith Murfield, chief executive officer of the United Dairymen of Arizona, a farmer-owned cooperative in Tempe that accounts for most of Arizona's milk, says the improved sales will not save farmers from going out of business or leaving the state.

He predicts that eventually land will be too difficult to keep because the operations are too close to urban homes, and new land will be too expensive to acquire because it's more valuable for development.

"Most producers want to stay in Arizona," Murfield says. "They don't want to get so far out that they can't get workers, and they want to be close enough to buy feed."

Very few become developers themselves. Most farmers with children ready to take over the operation want to continue running their dairies, so they deal with urban encroachment by moving. But the farther away they are from the Tempe cooperative, the higher their transportation costs, Murfield says.

Starting anew is expensive. Barn equipment, as well as updating facilities, or building new pens and shades for cows, adds up to millions of dollars.

Dairy producers occasionally receive federal aid when prices bottom out. Midwestern operations may get subsidies because they grow commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans. But Arizona dairy farmers do not have diverse operations. Nearly all focus solely on making milk, which is not subsidized.

Murfield says 76 producers belong to the cooperative, down from 108 six years ago. More will leave and sell out this year. Four are going out of business, and two are relocating to Texas.

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