Sign of cross road.
February 23, 2017

Licensed Dairy Farms Decline 4% in 2016

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Licensed dairy farms in the United States dropped to 41,809 farms in 2016, a decline of 4% from 2015, reports the United States Department of Agriculture in its January milk production report.

With the average number of cows in the United States at 9.33 million, that puts the average herd size at about 225 cows/herd. That’s up about 10 cows from 2015.

While some will attribute the decline in herd numbers to poor milk prices and lower margins, the rate of decline is fairly constant year-to-year. That’s likely indicative of the average age of dairy farmers climbing and simply retiring as they reach 65. Dairy farm numbers declined 3.5% in 2014 (a record milk price year) while farm numbers declined about 4% in both 2015 and 2016.

No states showed an increase in the number of licensed dairy farms, and the states with higher dairy farm such as Wisconsin and New York showed the largest losses in farm numbers. For example, Wisconsin dipped below 10,000 licensed herds in 2015 to 9,900, and another 380 Badger State farms gave up their licenses to sell milk in 2016, a drop of 3.8%. In New York, 180 dairy farms left the business in 2016, with licensed farm numbers there now totaling 4,650.

In Pennsylvania, which is home to the second most dairy farms in the nation, 120 dairy farms left the business in 2016. That’s a decline of just 1.7%, and there are still 6,650 dairy farms milking cows and selling milk in the Keystone State. A large number of Amish farms likely add stability to Pennsylvania’s farm count.  Pennsylvania’s average herd size is about 80 cows per farm.

California saw 45 dairy farms leave the business in 2016, which leaves just 1,420 farms operating. Cow numbers in the Golden State are also down 14,000 head from a year ago. This suggests some of the smaller California herds exited in 2016.  The average herd size in California is now about 1,250 cows.

You can view state by state dairy farm numbers here. Scroll to page 18.