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In 1985, the Arkansas General Assembly designated milk the state’s official beverage. Introduced by Representative Bobby Glover of the Seventy-second District (covering Prairie County and part of Lonoke County), Act 998 met with no opposition and became effective on June 28 of that year. Reasons offered for the designation included milk’s healthfulness, the desirability of encouraging milk consumption, and the importance of the dairy sector in Arkansas. The legislation did not specify a type or grade of milk, leaving it up to Arkansans to consume the variety of their choice.
Dairy production was long a mainstay of Arkansas farming. In 1940, Arkansas’s milk cows numbered about 439,000, the gross farm income from dairy totaling $23 million. Over the next two decades, the size of dairy herds dwindled while milk production per cow crept upward. The amount of milk used on the farms where it was produced—consumed as beverage, sold direct, or made into butter or cheese by the farmers—dropped, as did retail sales by farmers, while gross farm income from dairy fluctuated. The number reached nearly $61 million in 1948, then fell to $48 million by 1959.
Figures from the Census of Agriculture for the mid-1980s, roughly contemporary with Representative Glover’s 1985 initiative, suggest a continuation of trends from mid-century. In 1987, Arkansas dairy herds numbered about 71,000 head (down from a high of 482,000 milk cows in 1943). The census enumerated 957 dairy farms, including thirty-three in Lonoke County and ten in Prairie County, Glover’s political bases. The market value of dairy products sold that year was about $91 million.
In 2002, dairy herds totaled 32,000 head, down from 39,000 in 2000. The value of sales of Arkansas milk and other dairy products in 2002 was $54.05 million. Dairy’s share of the market value of Arkansas agricultural products sold was just over 1.9 percent.
By 2009, Arkansas had 420 herds with over 40,000 head of dairy cattle.
For additional information:
Blayney, Don P. The Changing Landscape of U.S. Milk Production. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2002. Online at https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056 (accessed March 8, 2018).
Dairy Science and Technology. University of Guelph. http://www.foodsci.uoguelph.ca/dairyedu/home.html (accessed March 8, 2018).
Ware, David. It’s Official! The Real Stories behind Arkansas’s State Symbols. 2nd ed. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2017.
Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
Last Updated 3/8/2018
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