Continuing Change in America’s Dairyland

Authors: John A. Cross*, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: dairy farming, mega-dairies, Amish, Wisconsin
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Dairy farming is undergoing rapid change within Wisconsin, even though the number of cows remains remarkably stable and the state’s milk yield is steadily increasing. The number of dairy farms is dropping rapidly. In the last twelve months Wisconsin lost 6.7 percent of its cow dairy herds. This rate has grown over the past several years, with losses of 5.0 percent between 2016 and 2017 and 3.8 percent over the previous year. The proportional changes are neither uniform among types of producers nor regions, and they are contributing to the restructuring of Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
Both the largest dairy farms that constitute Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and the Amish, who operate many of the smaller dairy herds, have grown numerically over the past decade. In contrast, the non-Amish operators of small to mid-sized dairy farms have been rapidly shrinking in number. By spring 2018 there were at least 1,160 Amish dairy farms in Wisconsin, of which 957 had milk cows, with most of the remainder having milk goats. Thus, 12.9 percent of the state’s total dairy herds are Amish, with 11.1 percent of milk cow herds being Amish operated, and 56.5 percent of the state’s dairy goat herds are Amish. Mega-dairy operations are also expanding, particularly within east central Wisconsin, where four counties each had 15 or more dairy CAFOs, and in south central Wisconsin. Anticipated results from the 2017 Census of Agriculture will confirm the growing dominance of the dairy CAFOs in the state’s total milk production.

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