Overview of the United States Dairy Operation

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) | September 22, 2010

Large Operations Increase Share of Inventory and Milk Production

The dairy industry in the United States has undergone significant structural change over the past eight years. Total milk cow operations have declined significantly, while the number of large operations has increased. This report compares 2009 production year data to the 2001 data released in the U.S. Dairy Herd Structure report, published in September 2002. Changes in milk cow operation size groups will be discussed, along with trends in the all milk price and the milk-feed ratio.

The number of milk cow operations continues to decline in the United States. There were 65,000 milk cow operations in 2009 compared to 97,460 in 2001, a decline of 33 percent. Despite the large decrease in milk cow operations during this time period, both milk production and milk cow numbers have been on the rise. Milk production increased 15 percent, from 165,332 million pounds in 2001 to 189,320 million pounds in 2009. Milk cow inventory showed a smaller increase of 1 percent, from 9.10 million head in 2001 to 9.20 million head in 2009.

The milk cow operation estimates as illustrated in Graphs 1 through 3 show a break in the series from 2006 to 2007. In preparation for the 2007 Census of Agriculture, NASS exerted extensive efforts to build a comprehensive list of producers, which allowed NASS to capture more limited-resource and small farms. The break in the series reflects the fact that newer information for years prior to 2007 was not available to make revisions.

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