Family Farms Drive Dairy

Dan Cattle, Dairy, Marketing


In an article from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), they note the supposed “decline of the family farm,” which was replaced by the “rise of the corporate farm,” has been one of the most inaccurate comments about U.S. agriculture.

While the number of dairy farms has declined, that consolidation hasn’t diminished the dominance of family-run dairies. It’s meant that smaller family farms have generally become a bit larger, often to support additional family members coming into an existing operation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of an estimated 39,442 farms of all sizes with dairy cows in 2020, 38,286 of them were family-operated. That’s 97.1 percent of dairies, an extremely high percentage that isn’t budging with consolidation.


According to NMPF, what’s going is the same thing that’s been happening for generations. Dairy farmers sell their cows to fund their retirements. Farmers whose children don’t want to take over the farm sell to the farmer whose children will. A small number of “corporate farms” do exist, and because they tend to be larger, they produce a smaller percentage of milk. But when dairy farms consolidate, as a rule, they consolidate into other family farms. And the fewer, larger farms that remain are still family operations.

So, the family dairy farm isn’t dead, but like everything else, it has changed. A family dairy farm may be a bigger employer than before, and it may be a more sophisticated business.

The average size of a U.S. dairy farm has grown from about 50 cows in 1990 to about 300 cows today. Despite the realities of an ever-changing industry, the family farm remains the bedrock of U.S. dairy farming.