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Ag Census shows nearly 40% drop in dairy farm numbers

A dairy analyst says the latest Census of Agriculture highlights how high milk production costs are causing more consolidation in the dairy industry.

Lucas Fuess with RaboResearch tells Brownfield the U.S. has lost nearly 40 percent of its dairy farms since 2017.

“Even though we’ve lost close to 15,000 dairy farms in five years, the amount of milk that we’re producing in this country has actually gone up from a similar number of cows,”

Analysis by the University of Illinois finds there were fewer dairy farms of all sizes in 2022, except for those milking 2,500 cows or more.

Fuess says there was a 17 percent increase in farms in that category.

“Sixty-eight percent of the milk is produced on dairy farms with 1000 or more cows, which are only 8% of the total farms,” he says.

He says farms milking more than 2,000 cows can operate about $10 less per hundredweight than farms with 100-199 cows, with a total cost in 2022 of $23.06 cwt.

Fuess says dairy farms remain primarily family-operated.

“Even if they are very large, it doesn’t mean that the family is necessarily removed,” he explains. “Instead, it just means that they have a significant employee base or are providing jobs and making a pretty significant impact on their local, and sometimes very rural, communities.”

Fuess says small farms, with between 50-99 cows, made up the largest portion of dairy farms and will likely continue to see support in future ag policy.

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