USA: Latest Ag Census highlights the extent of consolidation in US dairy

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Justin Paget
Getty/Justin Paget

Related tags Dairy

The largest dairies continue to provide most of the nation’s milk, but smaller operations are the most numerous, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

Almost four in 10 dairy farms have been lost since 2017, according to data from the 2022 Census of Agriculture, released by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The number of milk cows, however, has largely stayed the same as previous years, with around 9.4 million milking cows recorded in 2022.


The number of US dairy farms has shrunk from 39,303 in 2017 to 24,082 in 2022, a loss of almost 12,000 in five years. There are more small farms than large ones, but the 834 largest dairies – with 2,500+ head – had the largest market share of milk sales in value terms. Along with the 1,179 farms with 1,000 or more head, these 2,013 farms sold around 66% of US milk in value terms.

While in 2017 most dairy operations were made up of farms with 50-99 head (12,131), that number has almost halved in 2022, at 6,048 such dairy firms counted in the census. Dairies with 100 to 199 milk cows (4,147) were the second most wide-spread according to the census, followed by 20 to 49 head (4,081). Combined, these 14,276 farms generated milk sales of 9% of the whole market in value terms.

According to Lucas Fuess, senior dairy analyst at Rabobank, small dairies will continue to represent a majority of US operations, even as larger farms show lower production costs.

Rabobank estimated that farms of more than 1,000 head produced 67% of US milk in 2022, up from 60% in 2017. While larger operations of 500 head or more have either produced the same or larger amount of milk as five years ago, smaller dairies of less than 500 head produced less – the smallest farms (1-99 head) had a 5% share of the total (versus 8% in 2017) while operations of 100-499 head saw a 3% decrease, from 20% to 17% in 2022.

Despite the shrinking number of US dairy farms, producer delivered a 5% increase in milk sales over the five-year period. The increased productivity is likely due to improvements in farm and feed management and genetics.

The 2022 ag census is available in full via the USDA website​.

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