September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Dairy by numbers
Since 1999 that number has dwindled to just over half that amount, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The state currently has 3,817 grade A farmers, 378 grade B farmers and 15 farmers that sell canned milk for a total of 4,213 dairy farmers.
If you break the numbers down even further you'll see that Minnesota's smaller farmers - farmers who milk less than 100 cows - dot most of the countryside. There are 2,300 farmers in the state that milk 50 cows or less. That is over half the state's dairy farmers. The next category up is dairy farmers that milk between 50-99 cows; there are 1,286 farmers in that group. The rest of the dairies are obviously larger. There are 563 farmers that milk between 100 and 250 cows and the rest milk over 250 cows.
One constant from the last decade and a half since we started the Dairy Star and probably long before that is that the top dairy county in the state is Stearns. Right now there are 726 farms in this central Minnesota county. There are 87 counties in the state and Stearns County accounts for 17 percent of the state's dairy farmers. Of the 726 farmers, 654 of them milk 100 cows or less.
Morrison County is the county with the second most dairy farmers, with a total of 295 dairy farmers. The next county on the list is a neighbor to both Stearns and Morrison counties: Todd County. They have 256 dairy farms. Otter Tail County has the fourth highest amount of dairy farmers in the state, narrowly behind Todd County with 238 farmers.
Southeast Minnesota is represented quite well in the last three spots in the top seven producing counties in the state of Minnesota. The next three counties on the list are Winona, Goodhue and Wabasha, with 194, 149 and 143 dairy farms, respectively.
There are several other counties that are extremely well represented with 100 or more dairy farmers, including Benton, Carver, Fillmore and Wright Counties.
There are other counties just holding on to dairy farmers. Both Itasca County and Kittson in northern Minnesota and Anoka County near the Twin Cities are barely holding onto their dairy identities, with just two dairy farmers each. Several other counties have under 10 dairy farmers left including Aitkin, Chippewa, Clay, Hubbard, Isanti, Jackson, Koochiching, Marshall, Martin and Wilkin counties.
The list order changes quite a bit when you tabulate the counties with the highest numbers of cows. Stearns and Morrison counties still hold onto the top spots, but after that, many counties from Southeast Minnesota move up the list.
Stearns County has 50,000 cows and Morrison County has approximately 23,241 cows. Fourth on the list is Winona County with 18,810 cows. Next is Otter Tail County with 16,964 and Goodhue County with 15,445. Seventh on the list is Wabasha County with 12,943 cows then Todd County with 12,893 cows.
One of the more unique dairy counties in the state would have to be Stevens County. This Western Minnesota county doesn't appear in the top 20 among farmers in a county, since it has a mere 10 dairy farms. But those 10 farmers do more than their share milking 18,910 cows - which would propel them to third on the list of counties ranked by number of cows.
Stevens County tops the list of counties with highest herd size with an average of close to 2,000 cows per farm. Several counties in Southwest Minnesota easily exceed 100 cows per dairy as well.
Rock County has 19 dairy farms and 3,592 cows, an average of 189 cows per farm. Nobles County has 24 farms and 4,128 cows, a 172 cows average per farm. Pipestone County has 4,843 cows from 29 farms, a 167-cow average.
It will be interesting to see how these numbers change in the next 14 years.