People across the country are choosing plant-based milk options over cow milk, and farmers are feeling the impact. America's Dairyland isn't an exception.
The number of dairy cows across Wisconsin has been steadily decreasing since the 1900s. Fifty years ago, there were over 1.8 million dairy cows in the state, and in 2018, there were less than 1.3 million according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2018, more than 700 Wisconsin dairy farms went out of business.
However, milk production has increased over time and is continuing that trend. In 2018, Wisconsin produced 30.6 billion pounds of milk, roughly 3.5 billion gallons, enough to fill over 5,000 Olympic size swimming pools. In 1998, the state produced 22.8 billion pounds or 2.7 billion gallons of milk.
While production is up, consumption across the country has been down for decades. In 1975, the average person consumed almost 250 pounds of milk per year, or roughly 29 gallons. In 2018, under 150 pounds were consumed, or roughly 17 gallons, according to the USDA.
Meanwhile, the plant-based dairy market's sales are steadily increasing. The plant-based milk market is worth $1.86 billion, according to The Good Food Institute. The market increased sales by 6% in 2019, while the dairy industry decreased sales by 3%. Almond milk leads the plant-based milk market, followed by soy milk and coconut milk.
Last fall, America's largest milk producer Dean Foods filed for bankruptcy. At the start of this year, dairy giant Borden Dairy Co. also filed for bankruptcy.
Three University of Wisconsin schools started an innovation to benefit the dairy industry in Wisconsin, as TMJ4'S Charles Benson reported in June. Since then, UW-Madison, UW-Plateville and UW-River Falls received $8.8 million in research funds from the state to start the first ever Dairy Innovation Hub, a center dedicated to finding new dairy products and unconventional ways to use milk.
Until programs like the Dairy Innovation Hub find solutions to the decline of the dairy industry, milk's unpopularity will likely continue to have a hard time competing with alternative beverages.