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Dairy Woes in Wisconsin: What about the Amish?

Authors: John Cross*, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Ethnic Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: dairying, Amish, Wisconsin, agriculture
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Wisconsin has steadily lost dairy farms for decades, yet the number of Amish dairy herds grew both numerically and proportionately into early 2018. Facing low milk prices, since then the overall rate of loss of dairy farms in Wisconsin accelerated. During 2019 the state lost over one percent of its dairy herds monthly, losing two to three herds daily. The expansion of Amish dairying also ended. Since April 2018, when Wisconsin had 1,160 Amish dairy herds, 12.9 percent of the state’s total, over 140 had been lost by the beginning of September 2019. Losses are continuing.

This paper focuses upon the impact of the departure of many Amish farms from dairying, relying upon examination of dairy producer licenses and a survey of bishops and ministers in the Amish church districts in the state. The departure of the Amish from milking dairy cows is greater than their overall departure from dairying, inasmuch as the Amish have nearly doubled their involvement with goat dairy herds over the past four years. Those settlements producing milk transported in cans have been more likely to leave dairying unless their community operates its own cheese factory. Yet dairying is declining in most Amish communities, other than several recently established settlements.

In none of the Amish settlements did bishops or ministers anticipate a growing proportion of the residents to engage in dairying, even though certain advantages that Amish producers had over non-Amish farms were cited. In contrast, expanding involvement in growing produce and woodworking were seen.

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