Only 1,805 fewer dairy farms last year

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Only 1,805 fewer dairy farms last year

Date: 
Tue, 02/22/2011

Dairy producers proved they are a resilient lot. Despite tough economic
conditions during the past two years, most producers kept milking cows as
only 1,805 licensed dairy farms called it quits last year. Not only did this
represent the smallest drop in permitted dairy farms since tracking began in
1992, last year also marked the smallest percentage drop at 3.3 percent. The
next smallest reductions occurred in 2005 and 2008 when 3.4 percent of
dairies hung up milkers for the last time.

It appears dairy farm losses may be moderating. When looking at nearly two
decades of data, the previous three years posted the smallest actual
reductions in farm numbers, noting the 2009 (2,185) and 2008 (2,003) small
losses. Since 1992, the drop in licensed or so-called commercial dairy farms
has been 78,382, from 131,509 to 53,127. That’s a 60 percent drop during
that time.

The farms counted in this survey are those that have a permit to sell milk.
This number differs from another USDA estimate . . . operations with milk
cows. That total is now 62,500 and has declined 106,000 or 62.9 percent
since 1992.

Over the last 19 years, average herd size has gone up 133 percent, from 74
to 172 cows. Regionally, the West (+236) and the Midwest (+111) have seen
the largest percentage gains in herd size. Western herds added 38 cows last
year, bringing their average to 884 cows per operation. Meanwhile, the rest
of the country had small gains in herd size: Southeast (+4); Midwest (+3);
and Northeast (+1). The West’s growth in herd size is due to farm losses
rather than growth in cows. The western herd peaked in 2008 with 3.958
million cows. Numbers have dropped for two consecutive years.

On a percentage basis, the Southeast edged out the West for the largest
share of farms calling it quits. This year marks the 14th time that the
Southeast has outpaced other regions. Last year was the only time the West
led the nation in farm losses, while the Midwest lost more farms in 1994,
1997, and 2002. Since 1992, the Southeast lost more operations than any
other region as farms fell from 12,057 to 3,630 . . . a drop of 8,427 or 70
percent.

See the March 10, 2011, issue, page 159, for a complete analysis and data review.