Iowa’s Dairy Industry is Shifting

Information in the December Marketing Service Bulletin paints the picture of a changing Iowa dairy industry. The shift from Northeast Iowa to Northwest Iowa is significant and ongoing.

Dairy areas across the nation are shrinking to a hand-full of counties. Fifty-four counties currently account for 50 percent of the May 2023 Federal Order total. These 54 counties represent only 4.0 percent of the 1,364 counties with FO milk marketings, and this number is down from 57 counties that comprised 50 percent of the total in May 2018. FO marketings represent approximately 89 percent of the total pounds of milk produced in the U.S. in May 2023.

This map depicts 506 counties with increased FO milk marketings, comparing May 2023 with 2018. Marketings from these counties totaled 12.261 billion pounds, with 70 counties increasing marketings by more than 10 million pounds. Noting the Iowa counties, we see Lyon, O’Brien and Plymouth counties increasing by greater than 10 million pounds; Sioux and Iowa counties increasing by five to ten million pounds; and in Northwest Iowa Osceola and Woodbury counties increasing by one to five million pounds. In Northeast Iowa, Howard County increased by one to five million pounds and Chickasaw County increased by less than one million pounds. All other Northeast Iowa counties stayed the same or decreased milk production.

Nationwide, thirteen counties marketed 25 percent of the milk totaling to 4.510 billion pounds, an increase of 297 million pounds (+7.1 percent) compared to May 2018. Iowa’s Sioux County is among the 54 counties that marketed 50 percent of FO milk during May 2023. Only 161 counties marketed 75 percent of all FO milk and six Iowa counties are included in that group including, Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Dubuque.

The map below depicts 1,116 counties with decreased marketings, and these counties marketed 5.377 billion pounds in May 2023. Specifically in the four most Northeast Iowa counties, Fayette and Clayton counties declined by five to ten million pounds and Winneshiek and Allamakee by one to five million pounds.

We have covered the changes in production in Iowa, so we will now look at the production totals. Using May 2023 totals we have four counties in Iowa producing 32 to 100 million pounds including Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien, and Dubuque. There are nine counties producing 12 to 32 million pounds including: Plymouth, Woodbury, Shelby, Marshall, Winneshiek, Allamakee, Fayette, Clayton and Delaware.

Not every county in Iowa had a dairy producing for the Federal Milk Marketing Order. The map below shows those counties with FO milk marketing in May 2023. Iowa has over 20 counties with no producers selling into the system.

In less than a decade the total number of Iowa dairy cow producers has dropped from over 1,500 to 736 in 2023.  However, cow numbers have held steady near the 240,000 mark. Iowa’s top producer Sioux County saw its 29 producers ship over 41,327,000 pounds of milk in November. O’Brien County shipped 37,520,000 pounds and Shelby County was third high shipping 19,263,000 pounds. Fourth high was Lyon County, shipping just over 15,607,000 pounds.

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