Over the last three decades, dairy has become one of the most consolidated agricultural industries, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Since 2013, the total number of licensed dairy herds has decreased by more than 40%. The largest farms have gotten larger. By 2017, half of all herds numbered more than 1,300 cows, a figure expected to increase with the growth of large factory farms.

It has become more expensive to raise dairy cows and sale prices have not risen accordingly. Between 2000 and 2021, the average U.S. dairy managed to turn a profit just twice, according to a Food and Water Watch analysis of USDA data. 

Large industrial operations have been better equipped to survive long periods of tight margins than family-operated farms, according to the USDA report. 

Companies that purchase and process milk have also been consolidating. More than 80% of all milk is now marketed by three dairy cooperatives: Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’Lakes and California Dairies. 

Ava Mandoli is a Dow Jones News Fund intern.

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