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Dairy farm numbers see largest decline since 2004

Shutterstock dairy cows eating-shutterstock_88709932.jpg
Number of dairy farms declines by more than 3,000 as farms unable to weather ongoing challenges.

More than 3,000 licensed U.S. dairy herds were lost in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest “Milk Production” report.

From 2018 to 2019, 3,281 dairy farms disappeared, a decline of 8.76% and the largest annual decline in the number of licensed dairy operations since 2004. The decline is the result of an ongoing lower price environment stemming from oversupply.  

Since USDA began publishing the report in 2003, the number of licensed dairies has declined from 70,375 to 34,187.

IHS Markitlicensed dairy farm dairy herd size 2019.png

Wisconsin registered by far the largest decline last year, with 780 operations going out of business. Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Minnesota lost 470, 310, 260 and 250, respectively. Overall, most of the declines were in the Midwest and Corn Belt regions.

The data showed that even states that have been seeing growth in the dairy sector, such as Texas, New Mexico and Utah, registered losses.

Despite the decline in the number of farms, the U.S. dairy industry has become more efficient. USDA reported that the average annual rate of milk production per cow has increased 10.6% from 2010. Production per cow in the U.S. averaged 23,391 lb. in 2019 -- 241 lb. above 2018. The average number of milk cows on farms in the U.S. during 2019 was 9.34 million head, down 0.7% from 2018.

USDA reported that 2019 milk production for the U.S. was 218 billion lb., 0.4% above 2018. Annual total milk production has increased 13% from 2010.

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