NEW SALEM (AP) - Gregg and Kristie Klusmann have been milking cows nearly all their lives, but Kristie cannot remember a year when the milk price peaked and plummeted as fast as it has this year.
''I was talking to a guy in South Dakota and he told me that producers down there are losing about $4 a hundred (pounds of milk),'' Kristie Klusmann said. ''I thought that price was a lot until I did the numbers myself and I came up with similar numbers.
''For us, that is about $5,000 a month for 70 cows, which is huge,'' she said.
The current base price of about $10 per hundredweight is not even half of what producers were getting last July, Klusmann said.
Industry officials point to a variety of reasons for the dramatic price decrease, from the economic downturn to a big drop in exports.
Officials say New Zealand and Australia, major players in the global milk market, have rebounded from a drought three years ago, and that an increase in European subsidies has decreased the demand for American milk products.
The Klusmanns milk about 70 cows, nearly a third of them Jerseys, to add a little more butterfat and protein.
''We get paid on how much protein and butterfat is in there and so we usually get $2 to $3 more a hundred, but Jerseys also milk less, so you have to kind of compensate for that,'' Kristie Klusmann said.
The New Salem couple feed mostly their own forage in the ration to help cut costs, but a smaller milk check is bound to cause feed ration changes.
''We were feeding some soybean meal, but it just got too expensive to feed with the milk prices being what they are now,'' Gregg Klusmann said. ''You may be asking, 'Why keep fighting a market you have no control over?'''
Kristie Klusmann said she always wanted to live on a farm.
''I want to raise my kids on a farm,'' she said. ''It is a great atmosphere ... you just don't sell the cows and start over doing something else.''
Some experts predict milk prices will remain depressed through at least the first half of the year and that prices later this year might be high enough only to cover production costs.