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Dynamics of Expansion on Wisconsin Dairy Farms in the 1990s
Fact Sheets No. 13, June 2001
by Douglas Jackson-Smith and Bradford Barham

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In the face of the economic difficulties experienced by dairy farmers, and consistent with observations of the predominant trends witnessed in California and other Western states, some analysts have suggested that the Wisconsin dairy sector has entered a period of radical structural change in which very large operations utilizing hired labor are becoming increasingly predominant. These analyses also suggest that traditional dairy farms milking medium-sized herds primarily with family labor will need to expand considerably in order to survive. The Program on Agricultural Technology Studies (PATS) has been tracking structural changes through analysis of national data and ongoing survey research of Wisconsin farmers since the early 1990s. The results of these analyses suggests that, while a trend towards larger units of production is indisputable, the structural transformation appears to be one of modest, incremental growth in herd size, rather than a rapid shift toward a single industrial form of dairying.

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