ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Agriculture released its annual list Monday of top Minnesota dairy herds with low somatic cell counts (SCC).

The list of 122 top Minnesota dairy farms includes two area farms — Beckmann Farms Inc. in Nobles County and the Dean and Elizabeth Johnson farm in Cottonwood County.

Somatic cell count is a key indicator of milk quality — a lower SCC count is better for cheese production and a longer shelf life for bottled milk. In honor of June Dairy Month, these farms are being recognized for superior herd management by achieving an average SCC of under 100,000.

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.