Six farms in Todd and and Pope counties were honored for having low somatic cell counts - a key indicator of mlk quality.

A low SCC count is better for cheese production and a longer shelf life for bottled milk.

Area dairy farmers who were honored and their plants include:

• Roger and Laura Primus, Todd County, Osakis Creamery. They obtained the second lowest SCC in the state.

• Kenneth Thunk, Pope County, Osakis Creamery.

• Keith Middendorf, Todd County, First District Association

• Tim and Julie Bruder, Todd County, Osakis Creamery.

• Paul and Bonnie Middendorf, Todd County, Nelson Creamery Association.

• Hollermann Family Dairy, Inc., Todd County, First District Association.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson released the annual list of the top Minnesota dairy herds on June 13 in honor of June Dairy Month.

Statewide, a total of 112 dairy farms were recognized for superior herd management skills by achieving an average SCC of under 100,000.

"It's especially important to recognize these dairy farmers at a time when milk prices are low and the dairy industry is struggling," said Frederickson. "Despite this adversity, these producers have worked hard to improve the management of their herds to reach this level of excellence."

Although somatic cells occur naturally and are not a food safety concern, dairy farmers monitor them because they can be used as a measure of the health of their cows.

Processors also pay a premium for milk with low counts. A farmer whose herd has a very low count can receive a significantly higher price per hundredweight compared to a farmer whose herd average is high.

For nearly 15 years the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and University of Minnesota dairy experts worked with the state's dairy farmers to lower somatic cell counts.

When the initiative began in 2003, the 100 herds honored that year included those with SCC averages as high as 144,000, compared to the current goal of obtaining a SCC under 100,000.