MegaMilk: Charting the Consolidation of the Dairy Industry
Today’s dairy industry looks very different to how it did just 30 years ago.
Milk production in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 50% over that time frame—yet, the total number of dairy farms has dropped by three-quarters.
Fewer and larger farms now have the lion’s share of all U.S milk cow inventory. While they have the ability to produce more competitively priced dairy products and provide more value to consumers, it is causing financial devastation for small farmers.
The graphic above uses data from the USDA to chart the rapid consolidation of the American dairy industry between 1992 and 2017.
The End of the Small Dairy Farmer?
In the U.S., the dairy industry is one of the fastest consolidating industries in comparison to almost all other agricultural sectors.
Between 1992 and 2017, small commercial farms with 10-99 cows saw an average decline of 70%. These farms accounted for 48.5% share of all U.S. milk cows in 1992. In 2017, that number stood at just 12.2%.
Over time, small farm production has been replaced by that of bigger and more consolidated “megafarms”—a move that can be attributed to the many benefits that scale brings, such as lower costs of production and the potential to compete in the international market.
|Share of U.S. milk cow inventory (by year)|
|1-9 milk cows||0.9%||0.7%||0.6%||0.4%||0.4%||0.4%|
|10-49 milk cows||19.5%||13.8%||9.2%||6.8%||5.9%||3.6%|
|50-99 milk cows||29%||24.5%||19.1%||13.8%||11.1%||8.6%|
|100-199 milk cows||19%||18%||15.4%||12.8%||10.6%||9.4%|
|200-499 milk cows||13.7%||15.3%||14.7%||13.8%||12%||12%|
|500-999 milk cows||8%||10.2%||12.2%||12.5%||11.3%||10.7%|
|>999 milk cows||9.9%||17.5%||28.8%||39.9%||48.7%||55.2%|
The Need For a Survival Strategy
While small dairy farmers simply cannot keep up with larger farms encroaching on their turf, they also have fluctuations in dairy prices to contend with. Milk prices fell in 2018, narrowing the gap between milk prices and feed costs so much that another wave of farm closures ensued.
To make matters worse, many small dairy farmers are close to retirement age, and according to the USDA, exits are more likely if the farm operator is 60 or older.
Despite the hardship facing small dairy farmers, analysts suggest that consumer backlash against large-scale production could present opportunities for small dairy farmers to create premium artisanal products. However, such initiatives would be entirely dependent on the state of the economy and where consumer’s values lie.
The Wider Implications
With milk production shifting to larger farms, a range of both direct and indirect impacts are being felt across the country.
For example, milk production is now predominantly focused in fewer states such as California and Wisconsin, which together accounted for almost 33% of all U.S. milk production in 2018.
In larger farms, the herds are typically confined to tight spaces— rather than grazing in pastures—making animal welfare an issue for many of these farms. Concern over waste contamination and air pollution also brings the environmental sustainability of larger farms into question as they come under more pressure to reduce their impact on the planet.
Looking beyond the production of milk, changing consumer preferences could result in the most transformative effects on both large and small scale dairy farmers.
While rising populations are increasing the demand for dairy, per capita milk consumption declined by 24% between 2000 and 2017 in the United States. Consequently, the largest dairy producer in the country, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy in 2019, followed by another major milk producer, Borden Dairy, just two months later.
Experts claim that changing consumer preferences, along with competition from other beverage categories, are responsible for 90% of the total dairy decline.
No Country for Old Farms
The confluence of changing economics and an aging population of farmers has brought the U.S. dairy farming industry to a tipping point, and the near future is likely to bring a fresh wave of dairy farm closures.
I don’t see anything that would give them hope at this point. The best advice I can give to these folks, dairy farmers, is to sell out as fast as you can.
– Joe Schroeder, Farm Aid
As smaller farms continue to disappear from America’s rural landscape, the impacts of consolidation will not only affect dairy farmers, but entire rural communities too.
Ranked: World’s Biggest Wine Producers by Country
We break down the major wine producers of the world by country and how much they contribute to world wine supply.
Ranked: World’s Biggest Wine Producers By Country
“Wine gives a man fresh strength when he is wearied”—Homer, The Iliad
Wine has been in our cups, in our thoughts, and in our poems for many a millennia, from the antics of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, to its symbolism in the Last Supper. But breaking down the biggest wine producers by country in the modern era leads to some interesting surprises.
This infographic by Alberto Rojo Moro uses data from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) to visualize where wine production is concentrated in the world.
We take a quick look below.
The Top Wine Producers By Country in 2022
At the top of the list, Italy produced nearly 50 million hectoliters—or about 1,994 Olympic-sized swimming pools—of wine in 2022, accounting for nearly one-fifth of total production in the year. Less than half of that wine was sent to overseas markets, also making Italy the biggest exporter of the beverage by volume.
The country’s long coastline results in a moderate climate, allowing winemaking to occur in 20 different regions in Italy, with Veneto, Apulia, Emilia-Romagna, and Sicily leading in production.
Other known wine connoisseur countries—France (45.6 hectoliters) and Spain (35.8 million hectoliters)—rank second and third in wine production respectively. Together these three countries make up half of the world’s wine supply.
Here’s a full list of the world’s biggest wine producers by country.
|% of Total
|8||🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||10,155||3.93%|
|13||🇳🇿 New Zealand||Oceania||3,830||1.48%|
|22||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Europe||936||0.36%|
|30||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||Europe||586||0.23%|
Note: Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.
The U.S., ranked 4th, is the top wine producer from the Americas, beating out other wine-producing countries like Chile (6th) and Argentina (7th).
South Africa, ranked 8th, is one of only four African countries in the dataset as winemaking isn’t as widespread on the continent as other regions in the world.
Meanwhile, China (ranked 12th) is the top wine producer from Asia. The region’s preference for other distilled spirits helps explain why the next two biggest Asian wine producers, Japan (23rd) and Türkiye (29th) occupy the middle ranks.
Unsurprisingly, European countries account for two-thirds of the world’s wine supply, followed by the Americas (20%) and then Oceania (6%).
Climate Concerns for Future Wine Production
Wine production has stayed relatively stable for the last decade but climate change is coming for this industry as well.
According to the New York Times, warmer temperatures are both a blessing and curse for winemakers. Some areas once deemed too inhospitable for grapevines (like England) are starting to show potential for certain varietals and wines. At the same time, in some traditional regions, prolonged warmer weather is leading to overripening, forcing winemakers to limit the grapes’ exposure to sunlight.
And the general weather anomalies caused by climate change—floods, droughts, wildfires—all make wine production just a little more difficult than it already is.
Which prompts a question worth pouring a glass of wine over to ponder: which wine producing countries will survive, adapt, languish or thrive in the coming decades?
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