U.S. 2020 milk production up 2.2%, but average number of dairies decline 7.5%

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 5, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. produced 2.2% more milk in 2020 compared with 2019 and did so with 51,000 more cows and 2550 fewer farms nationwide. The average number of milk cows for the year increased 0.6% over year ago and the average number of licensed dairies decreased 7.5% compared with 2019. 

While the number of dairy farms lost in 2018 and 2019 were larger, the percentage of decline in dairy farms for 2020 is the largest single year decline because the total number of farms from which to figure the percentage is smaller. 

The number of licensed dairies in the U.S. averaged barely above 30,000 in 2020 at 31,657. The rate of attrition has averaged 5% annually over the past decade with 2018 being 6.5%.

Some data of the data shown in last week’s USDA report raise questions about how milk production is counted and reliance on Federal Order pool information given all the massive depooling of milk we saw in 2020 (and continuing). When additional 2020 data come in, we’ll do some additional analysis.

To be clear, USDA’s annual milk production report, released last week, computes the average number of cows and the average number of licensed dairies for 2020 vs. 2019, so it is more like a rolling average for the year. These are not end-of-year numbers.

In looking over the data, it is interesting to see states in New England, like Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, gain production while losing cows and farms even though the larger dairy producing New England state of Vermont saw production slip by 3.5% in 2020, cow numbers down 3.2% and farm numbers fell by 5.9% to 640. 

It is also intriguing to see production gains in the Mississippi data from USDA, despite cow and farm losses there, and despite being next to USDA-reported production declines throughout the rest of the Southeastern states, except for Georgia, where production was about steady, cow numbers were off by less than 1%, and dairy farm numbers were down 7.1% at 130. Florida’s production, cow numbers and dairy numbers all declined by 2.4, 2.6 and 5.6%, respectively.

Some of the states with the largest gains in milk production also had the highest percentage-loss of dairy farms.

Minnesota, for example, grew production by 2.3% despite the number of cows declining by 1000 head and the number of licensed dairies declining a whopping 14%. But the gain in milk production for Minnesota, at 10.15 billion pounds for 2020 has the state’s producers nipping at Pennsylvania’s heels for the 7th place ranking.

Pennsylvania’s 2020 milk production at 10.27 billion pounds was up 1.7% over year ago, although cow numbers were down 8,000 head (off 1.7%), and there were 300 fewer licensed dairies – a 5.3% decline from 2019. The average number of licensed dairies in the Keystone State during 2020 was 5430.

Just north, New York’s production grew 1.4% with roughly the same number of cows but 6.2% fewer dairy farms as the number of New York dairies fell by 240 (6.2%) to 3450 in 2020. Just south, production reportedly grew by 4.5% in Maryland (despite 2.4% fewer cows?). Production also grew 2.1% in Virginia with no change in cow numbers. The number of licensed dairies in Maryland fell by 2.9% to 340, while the number in Virginia fell by 6% to 475.

The Appalachian / Southeast states of Kentucky and Tennessee saw production ebb by 0.4 to 1.4% despite losing 4% and 6.3% of their cows, respectively. Tennessee had 10% fewer licensed dairies at 180, while Kentucky’s dairy numbers fell 6.2% to 450.

However, just north of those states, the Mideast states of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan added a lot more cows in 2020, especially in the third and fourth quarter ahead of the massive new cheese and ingredient plant getting into production at the end of 2020 in St. Johns, Michigan. Indiana grew production 6.2% with 2.8% more cows and 7% fewer dairy farms. Michigan had already been in growth phase for years, stabilized through 2018-19, and grew production 2.6% in 2020 with 1% more cows. However, Michigan lost almost 10% of its dairies in 2020. Ohio also lost 10% of its licensed dairies last year, but grew production 3.6% with 1.2% more cows.

Across to Iowa and Illinois, production grew 1.6 and 2.2%, respectively, but the number of dairy farms fell 5.0 and 8.7%, respectively.

Throughout the growth area of the Central Plains, South Dakota produced 11% more milk with 7% more cows but nearly 8% fewer dairies. Next door, Wyoming’s 10 dairy farms grew the state’s production by almost 29%. Colorado’s dairy numbers stayed the same, but with 5.6% more cows, they made 7.1% more milk. 

Rounding the bend in Kansas and Nebraska, the number of dairies fell 11.1 and 14.3%, while cow numbers grew 4.2 and 1.2% and production grew 5.5 and 3.6%, respectively.

Sandwiched between the rapid growth in the Plains and the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan triumvirate is Wisconsin – the Dairyland State – where 2020 production was just half of one percent (0.5%) above year ago. Cow numbers in Wisconsin fell by almost 1% and the number of dairy farms declined 8% to 7110, a loss of 610 dairies.

In the Southwest and West, Texas continued its multi-year rapid growth pattern as production increased 7.1% with 5% more cows, although the number of dairies fell 5.3%. In fact, Texas is nipping at New York’s heels for the 4th place ranking in milk output volume. In New Mexico, production was about steady, with 1% more cows, and the number of dairies was unchanged. Idaho grew production 3.9% with 1% more cows and 4.3% fewer dairies while Arizona grew production 2.2% with the same number of dairies and a few more cows.

California grew production 1.7% but lost over 3% of its dairies while the Pacific Northwest was generally steady on production and cow numbers but lost roughly 8% of the dairies.

The annual production report can be found here.

op 23 milk production rankings for 2020 milk production are as follows:

  1. California (41.3 bil lbs),
  2. Wisconsin (30.7 bil lbs),
  3. Idaho (16.2 bil lbs),
  4. New York (15.3 bil lbs),
  5. Texas (14.8 bil lbs),
  6. Michigan (11.7 bil lbs),
  7. Pennsylvania (10.3 bil lbs),
  8. Minnesota (10.1 bil lbs),
  9. New Mexico (8.2 bil lbs),
  10. Washington (6.8 bil lbs),
  11. Ohio (5.6 bil lbs),
  12. Iowa (5.4 bil lbs),
  13. Colorado (5.1 bil lbs),
  14. Arizona (4.9 bil lbs),
  15. Indiana (4.3 bil lbs),
  16. Kansas (4.0 bil lbs),
  17. South Dakota (3.1 bil lbs),
  18. Oregon (2.6 bil lbs),
  19. Vermont (2.6 bil lbs)
  20. Florida (2.3 bil lbs)
  21. Utah (2.2 bil lbs)
  22. Illinois (1.8 bil lbs)
  23. Georgia (1.8 bil lbs)

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