IFCN Conference 2015

Published 15 August 15

Declining farm numbers, increasing herd sizes and milk yields are trends we know about in the UK but what about other country’s dairy sectors. In its 2015 conference IFCN looked at global farm structures their drivers and perspective. The following are key developments happening in some main dairy producing countries.



In recent decades the USA’s main dairying area has moved from being in the north to the  south, in California. At the same time, the national herd has fallen in numbers yet milk yield per cow has grown by nearly 2% per year. Average yields per lactation are around 10,000 litres but the most productive cows are achieving a lifetime yield of 31,000 litres. Along with higher yields, farm sizes are also increasing with production growth only occurring now in the large herds. The number of farms across the USA has subsequently been falling from around 105,000 in 2000 to less than 50,000 dairy units last year.

In the last four years, California has suffered the worst drought seen for 150 years consequently dairy businesses, especially in southern half of the state, have been under huge pressure and with production levels falling. The impact nationally could be that the north western states may return to being the growth region for dairy.

Despite this the US has been increasing its exports with around 15-16% of volume exported last year but labour availability remains a key issue. Immigration supplies a significant amount of the labour on dairy farms. A change in immigration policy being discussed in the USA at the moment could affect this supply of workers.



The country is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 415 people per Km2 and this impacts the dairy industry directly which produces the equivalent of 293 t milk/km2.

In comparison for Britain, the figures are 260 people and 57 t milk per km2 respectively. Herd sizes are typically between 30 and 100 cows and generally Dutch society does not tolerate large scale  dairy operations which are defined as those with more than 400 cows. So average herd sizes are around 80.

In such a densely populated country, pollution control is paramount and this affects dairy businesses. There are already strict controls on Nitrate and Phosphate use. The dairy sector has a policy which restricts the amount of manure that the industry can produce to no more than it did in 2002. This has led to an export market for the manure, mainly to northern Germany. Dutch dairy farmers can receive between 10 and 20 euros per tonne for the organic fertiliser, which mainly go to maize crops grown for biogas plants.

Further Phosphate limits are been discussed which look to limit manure production. Options been discussed for the extra law include limiting the amount of manure produced per farm, milk produced per farm or restricting the number of animals per farm. Whichever option is accepted, it will no doubt affect future farm structures.



The main milk producing regions of Brazil are found in the south and south east. Here the national herd has grown while milk yields have increased. The majority of the 1,000,000 million herds are less than 30 cows in size however two thirds of production comes from herds with more than 70 cows.

The country suffers from poor infra-structure, roads etc which affects the viability of farms. On average 1 dairy farm ceases production every 11 minutes across the country. Most of the loss of farms has been with the small herds with less than 30 cows which now account for 20% of the national herd down from 45% in 2000.

Despite this structural change, national milk production has increased by 4.4% per year since 2008 which is having to meet a growing demand for dairy products with consumption rising by 5.5% per year over the same period. Consequently Brazil is unlikely to be a competitive net exporter any time soon.


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