Oftentimes, dairy farmers just take it day by day to get the work done. Still, it is crucial that someone in the business has an eye on the future and a plan of what is to come.

A survey conducted by Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’s Division of Food Safety captured data and current trends on dairy farms in the Badger State. Several of the questions asked dairy producers to look ahead to five years from now.

Responses were received from 2,871 Wisconsin dairy farmers, which was a 41% response rate. Surveys were returned from across the state and represented farms of various sizes. A majority of the responses (81%) came from farms with 200 cows or fewer.

When asked if their farm would still be in operation in five years, 83% of farms said yes. Farms with more than 700 cows answered yes most often (99%), while 77% of farms with one to 49 cows still planned to be milking.

Significant herd growth was not on the agenda for most farms. Just 12% said they planned to add cows. Meanwhile, 67% aim to milk the same number of cows, 4% will milk fewer cows, and 17% will sell the herd in the next five years.

A similar trend was found for cropland, with nearly three-fourths of the farms (73%) reporting that they will maintain about the same number of crop acres in the next five years. Nineteen percent will add more, 4% will run fewer, and 4% will sell all their cropland.

Identifying future challenges
Each farm could choose up to three challenges that would most affect their ability to continue farming in the future. Their responses included:

Extreme weather conditions — 46%
Regulations — 39%
Day-to-day expenses — 39%
Aging facilities — 38%
Long-term debt — 25%
Inability to find labor — 21%
Access to land — 18%
Manure management — 15%
Access to capital — 6%
Lack of services in their area — 1%

Looking at the industry as a whole, the farms indicated that balancing milk supply and demand (70%), regulations (51%), and trade policies (44%) were the three biggest disrupters facing dairy farmers.

Key decision makers
The average age of the primary decision maker on the surveyed farms fell into the 50 to 64 years of age category, and 48% of farms had a leader in this age bracket. A quarter of farm decision makers were 35 to 49 years old; 15% were 65 years or older; and 12% were under 35.

Looking ahead, 42% of the farms had identified a successor to take over farm management; farms in the smaller size categories were less likely to have a succession plan in place. For 88% of farms, the successor is a child or children. For 11%, it is a spouse or another family member, and for 4% the successor is a nonfamily member.

The complete survey results can be found on the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection website.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
August 27, 2020
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