When USDA released its data on the number of dairy farms licensed to sell milk in 2023, it came as a surprise to no one that there were fewer farms milking cows than there had been the year before. There were 1,642 dairies that milked cows for the final time, bringing the number of dairy farms with a permit to sell milk in the United States to 26,290.

That was a loss of 5.9% of the nation’s dairy farms in 2023. This was down slightly from 2022, when the number of dairy farms fell by 6.4%. It was also lower than the high rates of departure seen in 2019 and 2020, when farm numbers were reduced by 8.7% and 7.5%, respectively.

The region with the most dairy farms experienced the most departures, with the Midwest losing 7.8% of its dairies in 2023. That compared to a loss of 7.3% in 2022. In that region, Michigan lost the most farms at 15.8%, followed by Missouri (14.3%) and North Dakota (12.5%).

The Southeast has typically lost more farms on a percentage basis than any other region over the past two decades, but that was not the case in 2023. Still, 7.2% of dairies in that region hung up their milkers in 2023. Arkansas and South Carolina led the way with losses of 16.7% for both states.

The West reduced dairy farm numbers by 4.4%, with the states of Montana and Oregon losing more than 10% of their farms.

The Northeast held on to the most farms, losing just 3.4% of its dairies. Many states in that region were unchanged in 2023, and Pennsylvania only saw a 1.2% reduction.

Wisconsin was home to the most dairy farms in the nation with 5,920. Pennsylvania came in second place with 4,940 dairies. Neighboring New York was third, with 3,040 dairy farms. Minnesota had 1,855 licensed dairies in 2023, while Ohio rounded out the top five with 1,465.

When this data collection began in 1992, there were 131,509 dairy farms in the United States. Compared to the 26,290 farms milking cows today, that is an 80% reduction in farm numbers. Over that same period, cow numbers fell just 3%.

The result has been tremendous growth in herd size, which again, would not be a surprise to anyone working in the dairy industry. In 1992, the average herd size across the United States was 74 cows. Today, dairies are milking, on average, 357 cows.

The West has always been on top of the list in terms of herd size, and in 2023, herds in that region had an average of 1,549 cows. In the Southeast, average herd size was 318 head. In the Midwest, farms milked an average of 265 cows, and in the Northeast, average herd size was 143 head. Overall, herd size has grown 382% over the past 32 years.

Tables and deeper analysis can be found in the March 2024 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
March 11, 2024
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