Could dairy farms return to El Paso County?

The challenge of local farmers

Dairy farms in El Paso County

EL PASO, Texas - A Texas legislator is looking to bring a once multimillion dollar business back to El Paso County.

Dairy farms in El Paso county were banned in the early 2000s. Recurring bovine tuberculosis cases in West Texas spurred the ban, and by 2003 not a single dairy farm remained.

This year, Rep. Mary Gonzalez is looking to return dairy farms to El Paso County. She's filed legislation to repeal a ban on dairy permits. The legislation also calls for further research of bovine TB.

"There are dairy farms a few miles away from the El Paso, New Mexico border and a few miles away in Hudspeth County," said Gonzalez. "TB doesn't know boundaries. If they're TB-free there is a strong possibility El Paso County would be TB-free too."

Gonzalez points to Mexico, telling ABC-7 that the country doesn't have an issue with TB in their cattle. Further, she states that they've upped their standards for cattle farms in Mexico to match the same standards held in the United States.

While dairy farms aren't allowed in El Paso County, not everyone has given up.

In the late 90s, dairy farming in El Paso County was worth nearly $40 million annually. Among the dairy farms, the historic Licon Dairy in San Elizario. In order to make asadero cheese the family relies on fresh milk.  To keep their doors open, they used buyout money from the USDA to purchase a new farm in Hudspeth County.

"Not everyone did," said Angel Licon. "Some dairies didn't continue business just because of the feed. It was a big change."

Perhaps the biggest change for the Licon family was the daily trips to, and from, Fort Hancock. Each day at least one family member makes a 50 mile trek to their farm to bring home more than 100 gallons of milk to make the next day's cheese.

"It's not the same as it was," said Licon.

While farming cattle more than 50 miles from your factory can bring unique challenges, Licon tells ABC-7 that even if the rules change they may not be able to move back. According to Licon, the cost of moving from San Elizario to Fort Hancock was great. He said it would cost even more today to move back. If they moved, it may not happen for more than a decade.

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