The total number of dairies fell 7% in Minnesota last year, according to state data, underscoring a tough season for farmers.
The nation’s sixth-largest dairy producing state reported 1,825 permits on the books for cow, goat and sheep dairies, as of Dec. 1, 2023. That is a decline of 146 dairies compared to January 1, 2023, according to the latest data from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Inspection Program.
Some of the reporting could be inflated due to seasonality or a single location carrying multiple permits, according to the agency. Regardless, Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, told the Star Tribune that “I have not seen [a monthly decline in permits] over 50 for a long time."
As producers wrangle with high costs to run their operations, many farmers across the country have been forced to sell their dairies.
In August, Jack Hamm, a dairy farmer in San Joaquin, California told the American Farm Bureau Federation that there’s dairies for sale every week, with conditions as bad as the recession in 2009.
“It’s tough right now to make ends meet,” Hamm said. “But it’s not the first time we’ve been through it.”
Milk values have plunged due to a slowing economy. Meanwhile, higher food prices have softened demand for milk and dairy products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In recent months, however, prices of corn, alfalfa hay and other feedstocks have weakened, showing some input cost relief for farmers.
The end of the year is typically a time when more farmers opt out of milking cows, either permanently or temporarily, the Star Tribune reported, as producers put up silage or feed for the coming year.
The largest losses for Minnesota this year were in the state’s central dairy heartland. Stearns and Morrison counties saw 27 and 21 fewer permits in December than in January of last year, respectively, the Star Tribune reported.
At one point there were more than 5.2 million dairy farms across the U.S., but industrial consolidation pressured operations to grow, and many locations could not keep up. Today, less than 28,000 licensed dairy herds remain, according to the USDA.