Wisconsin loses 14 percent of Grade B dairy herds in last year

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Milk truck driver Troy Dobbratz pushes steel milk cans on rollers to load into his truck after they were emptied at  K&K Cheese in Cashton. This cheese factory  is one of a few dairy plants in the state that still accepts Amish milk in the 80-pound steel milk cans.

Times were especially tough on Grade B dairy farms in 2018.

According to the Dairy Producer License list produced by the Division of Food Safety of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, as of Dec. 1, 2018, 14 percent of Grade B dairy producers either left the dairy business in the last year or upgraded their farms to Grade A operations.

At the end of 2017, there were 1,012 Grade B operations. That number has dropped to 887. Those numbers include both bulk and can routes.

Counties that no longer have Grade B operations as of Dec. 1, 2018, are Adams, Ashland, Bayfield, Buffalo, Calumet, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette and Washington. Those counties join over a dozen other counties that do not have Grade B herds within their boundaries (Crawford, Douglas, Florence, Forest, Iron, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Oneida, Racine, Rock, Sawyer and Waukesha. Forest and Oneida counties do not have any licensed dairy farms.

Vernon County is home to the most Grade B operations with 158 herds (7 bulk and 151 can), followed by Clark County with 140 (18 bulk and 122 can), and Monroe County with 107 (1 bulk and 106 can). 

Many herds in southwest Wisconsin were impacted in the summer of 2017, when a group of Grade B dairy farmers were told by their dairy cooperative that they would either have to convert their farms to Grade A status or lose that market for their milk. It’s a trend that’s been going on in the industry for at least a decade, said one co-op official.

Scenic Central Milk Producers Cooperative, which procures milk in south-central and southwestern areas of the state as well as the Packerland region in northeastern Wisconsin, was notified in 2017 by one of the its long-term customers that the plant would no longer accept Grade B milk.

The cooperative said that the majority of herds were had opted to upgrade.

Most impacted

The county where Grade B herds numbers changed the most was Clark County, a decrease in 22 herds, 8 bulk and 14 canned. Green County saw a decline of 11 Grade B bulk dairy farms while Monroe reported a reduction of 13 herds that exclusively used cans.

Some of those herds—foregoing the use of bulk tanks and opting to use the 80-lb. steel milk cans—belong to Amish farmers in southern Wisconsin that have been dropped by their milk buyer, Wisconsin Cheese Group, of Monroe.

Grade A milking herds fared a little better, losing just 7 percent of it's total herd numbers over the past year. According to the report, there were 7827 Grade A milking herds in the state at the end of 2018. That number has dropped to 7276.