At the end of the 20th century there were more than 200 commercial dairy farms operating in the Garden State. Not anymore.

“We’re down to 50 dairies. We have 5,500 cows in the state,” said state Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher.

"We’ve lost some dairy operations in the last several years due to the price being paid for milk. This is the 4th year in a row that farmers are receiving less money for their milk than it costs to produce it.”

Fisher points out dairy farms are an important part of Jersey’s agricultural industry.

“It’s still big business. It’s $22 million of revenue just for the milk alone to our farmers in New Jersey; 119 million pounds of milk production in our state.”

Fisher said the dairy farms that are left are doing many things to help bolster the bottom line, including offering consumers the opportunity to buy Jersey fresh dairy products locally at their own facilities.

“We have for instance the Red Barn milk company in Hunterdon County. Last year they started selling the first Jersey Fresh ice cream, strictly Jersey milk.”

Fisher noted Fulper Farm in Lambertville offers a variety of products “like fresh mozzarella, yogurt, ricotta cheese, farmhouse cheddar and kefir. They even have folks come onto the farm as an agri-tourism adventure.”

U.S. Agriculture data shows farmers spend $1.92 for each gallon of milk they produce, but only collect about $1.32 when it’s sold to processing companies

Fisher pointed out “it’s not just in New Jersey though, it national.”

He explained the current milk pricing formula created by the federal government is “a hodgepodge of rules and regulations that are put together. In many ways the formulas are old fashioned, when milk couldn’t travel as far, and these rules definitely need to be restructured.”

Nationally the U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are 40,219 dairy farms across the country, down from 650,000 in 1970.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com