Dick Groves
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Geography Of US Milk Production: The More Things Change...

Analyzing the statistics we used for last week’s front-page story on US milk production shares by region and by state, we were surprised by how much some things have changed over the years, and also by how much some things haven’t changed all that much.

It turns out that this is yet another area where statistics can be cherry-picked to tell almost any story, including some stories that might be somewhat surprising.

For example, we were surprised to see that California’s share of US milk production last year, 19.6 percent, wasn’t all that different than it was in 2000, when it was 19.26 percent. After all, California’s milk production grew by about 9 billion pounds during that period.

In fact, California’s share of US milk output did grow after 2000, topping 20 percent in 2001 and eventually reaching 21.91 percent in 2007, when the state’s production first topped 40 billion pounds.

But two things have happened since then. First, California’s milk production didn’t really grow; it totaled 40.683 billion pounds in 2007 and was just 215 million pounds higher than that last year. And second, US milk production grew by about 23 billion pounds, from 185.7 billion pounds in 2007 to 208.6 billion pounds in 2015.

We were also surprised to see that Wisconsin’s share of US milk production last year, 13.91 percent, was also almost exactly the same as it was back in 2000, when it was 13.88 percent.

Interestingly, Wisconsin’s milk production has followed a very different pattern since the turn of the century. While California’s output grew by more than 5 billion pounds from 2000 to 2005, Wisconsin’s production actually declined by almost 400 million pounds.

Since then, California’s milk production has had its ups and downs — including declines in 2009, 2013 and 2015 — while Wisconsin’s output has moved in just one direction: up. The state’s milk production grew by about 6.2 billion pounds from 2005 to 2015, which brought its share of US milk production back up to what it was in 2000 (it actually fell below 13 percent for several years).

That’s what’s happened with the nation’s two biggest milk-producing states since the turn of the century, but what happens when you look back a bit further? Half a century ago (in 1965, to be exact), when US milk production totaled about 124.2 billion pounds, Wisconsin’s share of US milk output was 15.2 percent, while California’s share was 8.9 percent.

Thus, over the past half-century, Wisconsin’s share of US milk production hasn’t really changed all that much — declining from 15.2 percent to 13.9 percent — while California’s share has more than doubled, from 8.9 percent to 19.6 percent.

Speaking of half a century ago, it’s amazing to see how much has changed as far as regional milk production shares are concerned, and also how much more concentrated milk production has become in recent years.

Back in 1965, three regions each accounted for more than 10 percent of US milk production: the Lakes States region accounted for 28.3 percent, while the Northeast region accounted for 20.7 percent and the Corn Belt accounted for 17.1 percent.

Last year, four regions each accounted for more than 10 percent of US milk production: the Pacific region, at 24.01 percent; the Lakes States region, at 23.37 percent; the Mountain States region, at 16.2 percent; and the Northeast region, at 14.52 percent.

From those figures, we can reach at least two conclusions: the Northeast, Lake States and Corn Belt regions have all seen their share of US milk production decline over the past half-century; and the Pacific and Mountain States regions have both seen their shares increase during the same period.

More broadly, over the past 50 years, seven of the 10 milk-production regions broken out by USDA’s Economic Research Service have seen their share of US milk production decline, while just three have seen their share increase.

A closer look at the top 10 milk-producing states in 1965 and in 2015 helps illustrate this trend. Back in 1965, of those top 10 states, three were located in the Lake States region (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan), two were located in the Northeast (New York and Pennsylvania), four were located in the Corn Belt (Iowa, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri), and one was located in the Pacific (California).

In 2015, of the top 10 milk-producing states, three are still located in the Lakes States region, two are still located in the Northeast, two are located in the Pacific (California and Washington), two are located in the Mountain region (Idaho and New Mexico), and one is located in the Southern Plains region (Texas). None of the four Corn Belt states that ranked in the top 10 in milk production back in 1965 is still in the top 10 today.

As far as the concentration of US milk production is concerned, it’s notable that, in 1965, each of the 10 regions accounted for at least 2 percent of US milk production, and just one region accounted for less than 3 percent.

Last year, one region accounted for just 0.21 percent of US milk production. That was the Delta States region. Two other regions, the Southeast and Appalachian each accounted for under 2.5 percent of milk production last year.

Finally, the top five dairy states 50 years ago accounted for 45.3 percent of US milk production. Last year, the top five dairy states accounted for 52.2 percent of US milk production.

And the bottom 10 states 50 years ago accounted for 1.85 percent of US milk output, but last year accounted for just 0.4 percent of total output, an indication that US production is becoming more concentrated in fewer states.

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to dgroves @cheesereporter.com.

 

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