Dairy Woes in Wisconsin: What about the Amish?


  • John A. Cross University of Wisconsin




Wisconsin, Amish, dairy farming, milk prices, occupational change


Wisconsin has steadily lost dairy farms for decades, yet the number of Amish dairy herds grew both numerically and proportionately into early 2018. Facing low milk prices, the overall rate of loss of dairy farms in Wisconsin accelerated since then. During 2019, the state lost over 1% of its dairy herds monthly, losing two to three herds daily. The expansion of Amish dairying also ended. Between April 1, 2018, when Wisconsin had 1,160 Amish dairy herds or 12.9% of the state's total, and November 1, 2019, the state lost 165 Amish herds. Losses are continuing.

This paper focuses on the impact of the departure of many Amish farms from dairying, relying on examination of dairy producer licenses and a survey of bishops and ministers in Wisconsin's Amish church districts. The loss of Amish herds of dairy cows is greater than the overall departure of the Amish from dairying, inasmuch as the Amish have nearly doubled their milk goat herds over the past five years. Those settlements producing milk transported in cans have been more likely to leave dairying unless their community operates its own cheese factory. Yet dairying is declining in most Amish communities, other than in several recently established settlements. Expanding involvement in growing produce and in woodworking were seen.


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