Questions pertaining to large dairy enterprises in Ohio: general information about the dairy industry
Why is the dairy industry in Ohio undergoing change?
There are presently less than 50 percent of Ohio's dairy herds remaining in the state compared to 20 years ago, and the number of farms continues to decline. The number of dairy cows in the state decreased by 55 percent over the 30-year period from 1965 to 1995. Currently there are approximately 260,000 dairy cows in the state. The average number of cows per farm has been increasing, but in 2001, Ohio was recorded as having the lowest average herd size in the US, averaging 58 cows per farm. Milk yield per cow has increased by about 2 percent per year in Ohio because of genetic selections, advancements in feeding practices, availability of new technology, and changes in management and housing practices that have resulted in better animal health and comfort.
These trends are similar in almost all traditional dairy states. The number of farms is decreasing because of increasing job opportunities for young people, the level of physical labor and long hours associated with farming, increasing cost of operation for smaller dairy farms, and the lower family income often associated with small farms. The limited capacity of smaller farms to provide an acceptable standard of living gives rise to the increasing size of present farms. Costs of farm inputs have been increasing along side inflation without similar increases in prices for farm commodities, thus the profitability per producing unit (e.g., cow) has been declining. Thus, to be profitable and provide for at least a moderate standard of living, dairy farm size (cows per herd) has been increasing. Crop farmers are faced with similar problems; for an enterprise to remain profitable, an increasing number of acres are needed per farm.
In Ohio, the major concentrations of dairy farms have traditionally been in the northeastern and west central areas of the state. However, pressure from increased population growth and rising land values in northeastern Ohio has reduced the favourability of the area for livestock farms. Large farms have been locating in northwestern Ohio because of large land bases, lower population density, availability of natural resources, and the proximity to feed sources.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Ohio State University Extension.