Men with Jersey dairy cattle, Oktoc, Mississippi.

MAFES Photograph Collection


The rise of the dairy industry in Mississippi is due, in part, to stresses on cotton production caused by Boll Weevil infestation that began in the early 1900’s.  In 1912, Mississippi State (then called Mississippi A&M) was pivotal in jumpstarting the industry when the first creamery, the A&M Cooperative Creamery, was created. Courses offered at the creamery through the College Dairy Department helped struggling cotton farmers learn an alternative trade to make a successful living.  

A relationship between climate and bovine biology is one of the main factors that led to the decline of the dairy industry in Mississippi after its peak in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Cow digestion takes place in chambers called the rumen and reticulum, where microbes ferment plant matter. Dairy cows are most productive at a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but the fermentation process in the rumen and reticulum produces heat.  Cows have no effective biological way to reduce their body heat, so they rely on external conditions such as shade and cooler weather to maintain their temperature. Water misters and fans can be used to keep cows cool in the heat of Mississippi, but the evaporative process that aids cooling is not as effective in the high humidity we experience here. The difficulties of keeping cows cool enough to be productive is one of the factors that made it difficult to compete with large dairy farms in dryer, western states.   

Dairy is still a multi-million dollar industry in Mississippi, but production continues to be in steady decline. Statistics from MSU Extension service and the Mississippi Agricultural Statistics service show that milk production generated 32 million dollars of revenue in 2015, but only 25 million dollars just one year later.  In the late 1980’s there were approximately 1100 dairies in Mississippi, but today there are only approximately 80 dairy farms in operation.  

The MSU Custer Dairy Manufacturing creamery still operates today, and produces 50,000 edam and 40,000 cheddar cheeses annually, in addition to milk and ice cream.  All dairy items produced at the creamery are sold at the MAFES store on campus.  In 2014 the creamery celebrated the 75th anniversary of the making of their famous edam cheese.    

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Original Edam Cheese Mold from MSState Dairy. Wood and Steel.

Forest Products: Cully Cobb Tool Collection

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Wood, bound with steel. Cheese mold used at the Mississippi State University dairy in the 1940s-50s. Replaced by plastic molds currently in use.  

The once booming Dairy Industry in Mississippi has struggled in recent years, in part due to cows struggling to produce sufficient milk in high temperatures. Mississippi State University still has a functioning dairy, however, which produces cheeses, milk, and ice cream for sale at the MAFES store on campus.