The Average Dairy Farm Has Only Turned a Profit Twice in the Past 20 Years

By Christina Lorey
February 17, 2023

Our license plates say “America’s Dairyland.” Our state has more dairy farms than any other. And our farmers have set a new annual record for milk production every year since 2009. But the future is looking grim for Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

According to a new report from the US Department of Agriculture, the average American dairy farm has turned a profit just twice in the past 20 years. Between 1997 and 2017, 64% of Wisconsin family farms have shut down. And since 1970, one-third of dairy processors have gone out of business.


Monopolies. The dairy industry is dominated by three companies that control 83% of milk sales– the Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’ Lakes, and California Dairies, Inc. Simply put: Big corporations are pushing small family farms out of business.

The Proposal

Dairy industry experts are asking the federal government to step in and overhaul its farm policy to help family farmers– like the nearly 7,000 in Wisconsin.

2020 was the first year in state history the number of dairy farms dropped below 7,000.

“Family-scale dairies are collapsing at an alarming rate, and those that manage to hang on face rising costs, negative returns, and mounting debt, while consumers are sold an illusion of pastoral, sustainable milk products,” said Rebecca Wolf, a food policy analyst for Food & Water Watch.

“The next Farm Bill is a critical opportunity to reverse course by restoring supply management and reforming the farm safety net. Passage of the Farm System Reform Act and Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act will help ensure we stop digging a deeper hole by halting consolidation and factory farm proliferation.”

Wisconsin dairy farmer Sarah Lloyd is also asking the government to help now.

“We need prices that are fair, covering our cost of production and giving us a return to maintain our businesses and make a living. Overproduction and consolidation in the industry are making this increasingly difficult, if not impossible,” Lloyd explained. “We can’t export our way out of this problem.”

Farm Bill FAQ

The country’s first farm bill was passed as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Every five years, the bill expires and is updated. The current bill expires at the end of 2023.

Click here to learn more about the current bill & possible updates.

Dairy Data

  • Less than 3% of Wisconsin farms produce roughly 40% of the state’s milk.
  • In the last decade, Wisconsin has increased its milk production by 25%, but the average farmer hasn’t seen their profits go up.
  • Milk prices reached a record high in 2014 but have been decreasing ever since.
  • The average profit margin for milk in Wisconsin is 10%.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


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