WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 - Even as the number of farms in the U.S. held relatively steady for the past decade, the number of dairy farms has been in a steady decline that even accelerated last year, according to an annual tabulation released by USDA. The 2012 Census of Agriculture counted 2.11 million farms, compared to 2.13 million 10 years earlier. By contrast, the dairy farm roster fell by 29.7 percent from 66,825 in 2003 to 46,960 last year, according to February Milk Production reports.

Last year’s decline of 4.94 percent from the previous year shows that the rate of consolidation of milk production has accelerated, exceeding the mostly 3-plus percent annual decline in the past decade. It was the sharpest since the 5 percent decline of a decade earlier. In all, the number of commercial dairy farms licensed to sell milk was 19,865 below that of 2004.

The number of licensed dairy herds is smaller than the total number of farms with at least one milk cow, which USDA estimated in 2012 at about 58,000. Even as the number of operations declined, milk production continues to increase as fewer farms milk more productive cows.

Consolidation last year varied among major milk-producing states. Wisconsin, with the greatest number of dairy operations of any state, saw its dairy farms shrink 5.4 percent to 10,860. California, the leading state in milk production, had commercial farms decline 5.6 percent to 1,515. New York’s decline of 2.3 percent leaves it with 5,030 farms. Among major dairy states, only Pennsylvania saw a gain of 60 dairy farms to 7,240. The sharpest contraction was in Indiana, with 1,315 farms, down 16.2 percent on the year.


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