Pa. Dairy Survey illustrates trends, opportunities
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The 2020 Pennsylvania Dairy Survey studied current demographics, farm management practices and effects of the past year’s pandemic.
The Center for Dairy Excellence mailed more than 5,000 surveys and received completed surveys from more than 711 farms.
Eighty-five percent of those were in business during the end of July deadline, while 17 percent had exited the business before completing the survey.
Of the 67 Pennsylvania counties, dairy farms from 55 counties participated in the questions. Lancaster County led with 142 dairy farms in the survey.
The average herd size was 136 cows, with 107 heifers. The average milk production per cow per day was 65.8 pounds for an annual herd average of 20,068 pounds. A 305-day lactation period was assumed. In comparison, the 2019 state average was 20,629 pounds.
When categorized by herd size, the larger herds generally showed greater annual milk production. Those farms with less than 50 cows reported 16,754 pounds. Those with 50 to 99 cows reported 18,218 pounds. Those with 100 to 199 cows listed somewhat less annual milk production of 17,824 pounds., while those farms with 200 and over cows received annual milk production of 21,760 pounds.
The survey respondents noted that their components have been rising. Moreover, 95 percent of the dairy farms reported less than 250,000 somatic cell counts, and notably, 50 percent have counts less than 100,000.
Male operators accounted for 95 percent of the farms. Their average age was 54 years, and female operators reported their age as 58 years.
Sole proprietors made up 70 percent of the farms. Partnerships numbered 15 percent, LLC farms 8 percent, with corporations only 3 percent.
The survey respondents said that milk sales produced 85 percent of their income. Beef sales and crop sales produced 5 percent each; 4 percent was listed as other, and income from genetics produced 1 percent.
Almost 70 percent of the dairies did not calculate their production costs. Also, risk management plans were underutilized. But larger dairies were more likely to use those tools. However, 62 percent of respondents indicated using a financial consultant, and 88 percent used a nutritional consultant within the past five years.
Along with many other industries, COVID-19 was huge disruption to dairy markets in 2020. While the food service industry decimated, dairy cows still produced.
Milk management was highly problematic. Factors such as contracts which could not materialize, standard size differences plus retail shopper limitations, and transportation curtailments compounded the situation.
Sixty dairies in the survey reported they dumped milk in March, April and/or May. Nearly two million pounds of milk was dumped by those respondents.
Seven dairies from the 200 cow and over category dumped over one million pounds from that volume. April was the top month for dumping. Only 22 of the 60 dairies received dumping compensation.
About 35 percent of the survey respondents reported being asked to reduce milk production during the high point of the pandemic. Five co-ops accounted for 90 percent of this request. The most common amount requested was 15 percent of production.
The survey revealed dairy managers’ interest in improvements to their operations.
From 2015 to 2020, the survey respondents invested in or made over 1,200 improvements. Cow comfort was mentioned the most. In addition, the farms plan 960 improvements in the next five years.
While only 29 percent of the dairy respondents calculated their cost of production for the survey, 91 percent of respondents ranked decreasing production costs as somewhat or very important.
The survey questioned which factors are key to improving performance in the next three to five years. The participants identified components at 95 percent, improved udder health at 90 percent, and increasing milk per cow at 87 percent as somewhat or very important.
Also, the respondents ranked stabilizing milk price at 85 percent, decreasing purchased or maximizing homegrown feed at percent, and decreasing cost of production at 91 percent as somewhat or very important.
The only factor not ranked important was increasing herd size. In addition, 71 percent of the participants reported that increasing cow numbers was not important to the performance of their operation.
But large dairies, however, tended to rank expansion as more important, as 40 percent of them in the 200 and more cows category ranked increasing herd size as somewhat or vary important.
Herd size influenced the ranking of the importance of specific resources to their success as well.
Large dairies were more likely to rank each factor as important except milk hauling services.
Also, the use of outside advisors, land availability, use of computerized systems, labor and loan availability and facility upgrades were ranked more important by large rather than small dairies.
A series of questions regarding the farmer’s relationship with their milk cooperative or marketer were asked. The responses in general indicated a positive opinion although the results indicated that an opportunity may exist for improved supplier relationships.
In addition, while 80 percent of the survey respondents indicated they participated in the national Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program, the 15 percent who indicated they did not participate had associated with a cooperative or milk marketer that requires participation in FARM.
There may be an opportunity to increase understanding of the program’s expectations.