Missouri's dairy industry

CHRISTIAN COUNTY HAS A POPULATION OF ABOUT 1,200 DAIRY COWS, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

June is National Dairy Month, making this an appropriate time to discuss Missouri’s dairy industry. Historically, dairy production has been an important segment of southwest Missouri agriculture.  

The southwest corner of the state has long held the state’s highest concentration of dairy production, and this holds true in 2020. The accompanying map details milk cow numbers by Missouri county.  

In Missouri, the number of dairy farms has declined over the years, but those remaining are larger on average than has been the case at any time in the past.  This trend is not unique to Missouri. Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee have also experienced reduced milk cow inventories. Iowa has generally maintained cow numbers, while Kansas is the only neighboring state to experience growth in recent years. Currently, Missouri ranks 24th in dairy cow numbers and 26th in milk production among states. In December 2019, 744 permitted dairies operated in Missouri.

Although Missouri’s dairy farm and cow numbers have declined, the industry is still an important contributor to our state’s economy. During 2018, the industry generated $198 million in milk cash receipts, representing about 4 percent of livestock cash receipts in the state. Additionally, these receipts stimulate other economic activity that supports the dairy industry, further contributing to the state’s economy.

It is interesting to note that Missouri ranks only 45th among states in milk production per cow with an average annual per cow production of 14,103 pounds in 2019.  The average U.S dairy cow produced 23,391 pounds last year. A casual observer might conclude that Missouri is not keeping pace in per cow productivity. The truth is that a substantial percentage of Missouri dairy producers rely heavily upon low-input pasture-based dairy systems rather than traditional confinement. These operations require less infrastructure and fewer off-farm inputs than confinement dairies. As a result, a favorable profit margin can be maintained with lower per cow production. 

Missouri is recognized widely within the industry as a leader in pasture-based dairy production.

Missouri’s dairy industry has undergone significant change over time but continues to supply our state with what has been heralded as “nature’s most perfect food.”  During Dairy Month, it is fitting that we recognize and thank those responsible for supplying us with this healthy, nutritious product.

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