Wisconsin’s agriculture industry had a rough go of it in 2018 after losing 638 dairy farms in just one year. According to the latest data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, that’s a more than 7 percent decline and the biggest drop since 2004.
Steven Deller, a professor in the department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said 2019’s outlook is expected to remain weak due to the uncertainty over international trade policies.
“Farms will continue the trend toward bifurcation, which means that there will be growth in smaller and large farms, with middle-sized farms getting squeezed,” Deller said. “Most of it has to do with cost of production. The issue with the larger farms is that they tend to carry a lot more debt load and if commodity prices stay low, servicing that debt becomes harder. Smaller farms tend to have less debt to service.”
According to Deller, the best way to grow the industry is through exports, since the growth of domestic demand is limited. Most of the growth in smaller scale farming and specialty crops and products came from increasing demand for local foods. While many of the surviving dairy operations are larger, even they are struggling to survive, he said.
“Wisconsin agriculture is surprisingly diverse,” Deller said. “It is still dominated by dairy and cheese production, as most Wisconsin-produced milk goes into cheese, but compared to places like Illinois or Indiana, Wisconsin has lots of fruit and vegetable production.”