Pick the indicator, and it points to troubling times for the Midwest’s dairy industry. Wisconsin, which has led the nation in farm bankruptcies three straight years, lost 450 dairy farms in the first half of 2019 alone — on top of the 590 that closed in 2018. In all of this region’s major dairy-producing states, too, the number of licensed dairy herds is falling, by as much as 13 percent in Michigan (see map).
A worldwide surplus of milk, combined with the impact of tariffs, has led to multiple years of unfavorable market conditions for dairy farmers: Farmgate prices dropped precipitously in 2014, to below $17 cwt, and have remained down and below the cost of production, $20 cwt. (Cwt is a unit measurement equal to 100 pounds of milk).
Can states help turn around, or at least stabilize, the situation for dairy farmers?
This year, legislators in two of the nation’s top dairy-producing states have sought ways to help, including putting new dollars into price supports (Minnesota) and research (Wisconsin).