A new USDA report shows the number of small operations continues to decline while larger operations increase cow numbers and milk production.

The size of U.S. dairy operations and their location have undergone significant changes during the past five years, according to a new government report, released Sept. 26.

The “U.S. Dairy Herd Structure” report, released by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), summarizes trends in herd size and location. Here is a summary of what you’ll find in the report:

Size of dairy operations
According to the report, the total number of dairy operations in the U.S. continues to decline. In 1997, there were 123,700 dairy farms in the U.S. As of 2001, that number fell to 97,560 — a 21-percent decline.

During that same time, the number of milk cows fell from 9.25 million head to 9.12 million head. Despite the decrease in the number of dairy farms and cow numbers, milk production grew 6 percent — from 156,091 million pounds in 1997 to 165,336 million pounds in 2001. According to the report, this increase is the result of large dairy operations boosting their share of production.

Milk production by herd size
The report also shows milk production, number of operations and milk per cow by herd size. Here are some of the trends noted in the report:

  • Operations with more than 500 cows accounted for 39 percent of all milk produced in 2001 — up 10 percent from 1997.
  • Conversely, operations with less than 500 head produced 61 percent of the U.S. milk supply — down 10 percent from 1997.
  • The number of operations with more than 500 head has grown from 2,336 in 1997 to 2,795 in 2001 — a 20-percent increase.
  • Meanwhile, the number of operations with less than 500 cows decreased from 121,364 to 94,765 — a decrease of 22 percent.
  • Milk output per cow on operations with more than 500 cows increased slightly from 20,328 pounds in 1997 to 20,446 pounds in 2001.
  • Milk per cow on operations with less than 500 cows increased 7 percent — from 15,755 pounds in 1997 to 16,919 pounds in 2001.

Location of U.S. dairy operations
Production continues to move west, notes the report.

California, Idaho and New Mexico showed the largest increases in milk production and cow numbers since 1997.

“The shift in production is mainly attributed to a shift in milk cow inventory,” says the report. For example, milk production in California totaled 33,251 million pounds in 2001 — up 21 percent since 1997. Cow numbers increased 14 percent, but average milk per cow increased only 5 percent during that time.

Meanwhile, the largest declines in milk production took place in Texas, Missouri and Minnesota. And, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas and Missouri lost the most cows between 1997 and 2001.

This special release is only available at the NASS Web site. To read the full report, click here: http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/specda02.pdf