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Minnesota has lost more than 800 licensed dairy farms since 2017

Low milk prices have taken a toll on dairy farmers nationwide.

The number of licensed dairy farms in Minnesota continues to decline at a steady pace. 

New data from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) says 315 dairy farms stopped operations between Jan. 1, 2019 and New Year's Day 2020. It's the second consecutive year with more than 300 lost dairies. 

On Jan. 1, 2017, Minnesota had 3,258 licensed dairy farms. That number stands at 2,448 as of Jan. 1, 2020, so a three-year loss of 810 dairy operations. 

Margaret Hart, communications director for the MDA, says "the number of farms going out of business over the past five years has been higher than normal due to low prices." 

Licenses dairy farms since 2017: 

  • Jan. 1, 2017: 3,258
  • Jan. 1, 2018: 3,076
  • Jan. 1, 2019: 2,763
  • Jan. 1, 2020: 2,448

The data from the MDA is for licensed dairies only – the Grade A and B farms that the MDA inspects to ensure milk is ready for commercial sales – so it doesn't include the dairy farms that operate only to produce milk for their own consumption. 

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The MDA doesn't know how many non-licensed dairies there are in Minnesota because they don't require inspection. 

"It's not a huge number, but we just don't know exactly," said Hart. 

It should be noted that some dairies have ceased operations temporarily. Those that intentionally stopped milking temporarily fall into a "dried off" category, meaning they could resume operations within 60 days. 

For example, 47 dairies stopped operations between the 1st of December and New Year's Day. Twenty-five of the 47 dried off, meaning they intend to resume milking within approximately 60 days. 

Low milk prices aren't just a Minnesota problem. According to the USDA, nearly 20,000 licensed dairy farms have disappeared nationally over the past decade, a decline of around 30 percent. 

Milk prices have plummeted around 23 percent over the past five years, according to the USDA. That decline exists even with milk prices in 2019 trending higher after the average national price in 2014 peaked at $25.70 before free-falling to less than $15 at one point in 2016. 

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