Fewer farms, more milk
Challenges make area dairy farms more productive
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca County ranks among the top 5% of dairy-producing counties in the United States.
According to census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 23,100 cows on 148 dairy farms produced 540 million pounds of milk in Waupaca County in 2017.
Greg Blonde, the University of Wisconsin agriculture agent in Waupaca County, spoke to the county board on Dec. 17.
He noted dairy farms have responded to economic challenges by becoming more productive.
In 1982, there were 815 dairy farms in Waupaca County with 35,600 cows producing 473 million pounds of milk.
In 35 years, milk production has grown from 13,300 pounds per cow to 23,400 pounds per cow.
Blonde said 63% of all farm revenue in Waupaca County is from milk.
Waupaca County farms, both dairy and crop, have seen their revenues more than double since 1982, from $75 million to $152 million in 2017.
He attributed the growth in revenues to global trade and biofuels.
According to the ag census, Waupaca County had a total of 1,031 operating farms in 2017.
Blonde said a farm is defined as any operation that sells at least $1,000 in agricultural commodities.
“Two-thirds of our farms are classified as small operations,” Blonde said.
In Waupaca County, 323 farms sold less than $2,500 in commodities, while 217 had more than $100,000 in sales.
The average sales per farm in Waupaca County is $148,000.
While revenues have grown, so have expenses.
In 2007, expenses were 75% of total revenues for all farms in Waupaca County, while expenses were 91% of total farm revenues in 2017.
Blonde said the economic challenges of cash flow shortages are responsible for the structural changes in farming.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do farms expand?’” Blonde said. “Any business in which the economic growth opportunity is limited, economies of scale become part of the equation.”
Agriculture’s economic impact
At $1.02 billion annually, Blonde said agriculture is responsible for 22% of all sales revenues in Waupaca County.
In Waupaca County, farmers sold $96 million of milk, $30 million of grain crops, $18 million in livestock, $4 million in horticulture and $4 million in commercial vegetables.
Of the nearly 130,000 acres of county farmland used for growing crops, 55,000 acres produce corn, 40,000 produce hay, 29,000 produce soybeans, 4,000 produce small grain and 1,800 raise vegetables.
About 260 farms in Waupaca County hire employees and are responsible for $16 million in annual payrolls.
Agriculture is not just farming, it is also the farm equipment suppliers, seed and fertilizer companies, food processors and distributors.
According to Dr. Steve Deller, an economist with the University of Wisconsin, agriculture in Waupaca County employs 3,757 people and represents 14% of the county’s total workforce.
It generates $241 million in total annual incomes.