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Dairy Industry Facts

TAGS: Management


For decades in Minnesota, June has been known as Dairy Month. Following are some interesting facts and figures about the dairy industry.

  • The June Dairy Month promotion of dairy products has been in existence since 1939.
  • There are approximately 55,000 dairy farms and 500 milk-processing plants in the U.S., with dairy farms in all 50 states.
  • Ninety-eight percent of U.S. dairy farms are family owned farm businesses.
  • The average dairy farm in the U.S. has approximately 200 cows.
  • U.S. dairy farms are producing three times more milk today, as compared to 1960, with about half the number of dairy cows, reducing the total resources needed by the dairy industry.
  • The average dairy cow produces approximately 6.5 gal. of milk/day, or about 2,300 gal. of milk/year.
  • It typically takes two days for milk to reach grocery shelves from the time it leaves the farm.
  • Milk and diary products supply 70% of the calcium needs of the U.S. population.
  • A dairy farmer receives about $1.40/gal., or approximately one-third of the amount paid for milk by consumers at the grocery store (approximately $4.40/gal.).
  • The U.S. dairy industry contributes less than 2% of the total greenhouse gasses into the environment, and has reduced its carbon footprint by 60% in past six decades.


In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture did an extensive study of the state’s dairy industry called the Minnesota Dairy Industry Profile.Following are some interesting facts from that study and from the Minnesota Ag Statistics Service.

  • There are about 4,500 dairy farms in Minnesota.
  • In 2009, Minnesota ranked sixth in U.S. dairy production, with 469,000 cows, which is about 5% of U.S. total, producing about 9 billion pounds of milk. The number of dairy cows in Minnesota has remained fairly steady in recent years, with a slight increase in total production.
  • The top five dairy-producing states in 2009 were California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho and Pennsylvania, with California producing nearly 40 billion pounds of milk/year, and Wisconsin producing 25 billion pounds of milk/year.
  • The average production per dairy cow in Minnesota was 19,366 pounds of milk/cow in 2010, which is below many of the other top dairy states in the U.S.
  • Minnesota dairy production generates the second largest amount of annual cash receipts of all livestock species in Minnesota, trailing only the state’s hog production for total receipts.
  • Stearns County is the top dairy-producing county in Minnesota, producing more than twice as much milk per year as Winona County, the second place county. Other top producing counties are Morrison, Wabasha, Otter Tail and Goodhue.
  • The fastest growing Minnesota county in dairy production from the year 2000 to 2008 was Stevens County in west-central Minnesota, with seven times more milk production in 2008, compared to 2000, due to the initiation of some larger dairy operations.
  • Minnesota exported nearly $200 million of dairy products in 2008, with Mexico and Canada being the top export customers, and the top dairy export products being dry and condensed milk, cheese and butter.
  • The Minnesota dairy industry utilizes about 21% of the corn fed to livestock in the state, or approximately 3% of Minnesota’s total annual corn production, and about 15% of the total soybean meal produced in the state, as well as a large amount of the alfalfa produced.
  • The dairy production and processing industry is the second largest agricultural business in Minnesota, generating approximately $5.6 billion/year, with a total economic impact to the State of about $11.5 billion, or about $25,000/dairy cow in Minnesota.
  • The Minnesota dairy industry supports over 38,000 jobs in the state.
  • According to University of Minnesota FINBIN financial management statistics for 2011, 2010 and 2009:
    • The average net return over labor and management was $331/cow in 2001, but only $11/cow in 2010, and a loss of $403/cow in 2009.
    • The average milk price was $19.96/cwt. in 2011, $16.26/cwt. in 2010 and $13.57/cwt. in 2009.
    • The average feed cost per cow rose about $400/cow in 2011, compared to 2010 and 2009, and the feed cost in 2011 was $8.86/cwt. of milk produced.
    • The average dairy herd size was 158 cows, with an average production of 22,071 lbs. of milk/cow/year, and an estimated 40.7 hours of labor/cow/year.

The dairy industry has undergone many changes and economic challenges in the past couple of decades, but remains a very viable industry for many producers and processors. A strong, vibrant and profitable dairy industry is very important to building a healthy economic future for Minnesota and the nation.


Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at

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