Results from a 2020 survey of Wisconsin’s dairy producers are expected to provide insights that will help direct future research and outreach. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's survey was developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

The survey was distributed in mid-March just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of about 7,100 licensed dairy-herd owners in the state, 2,871 surveys were returned for a response rate of 41 percent.

Survey questions covered markets, labor needs, off-farm employment, conservation practices, diversification, succession and retirement planning, and more. While some producers referenced COVID-19 in their responses, the pandemic didn’t seem to have a significant influence on the overall results of the survey.

Even during COVID-19 the survey response offers an opportunity to assess current demographics and learn more about how the agriculture department and other partners can serve as a resource to dairy producers, said Krista Knigge, administrator of the department's division of agricultural development. Some highlights of the survey are listed.

  • Almost 90 percent of respondents were from conventional farms; 11 percent use managed intensive grazing; and 9 percent classified themselves as organic.
  • Two-thirds of respondents' farms are classified sole proprietorships.
  • About one-quarter of respondents said they’ll need additional labor within the next two years.
  • About one-fifth of respondents reported providing housing for employees.
  • About 60 percent of respondents use cover crops to manage soil health and erosion. Seventy percent use grassed waterways.
  • About 10 percent of respondents said they felt the need to access mental-health services in the past year due to farming challenges.
  • About half of the respondents said at least some portion of their family income comes from off-farm employment.
  • About half of those responding said the farm’s “primary decision maker” was in the 50-64 age range.
  • Eighty-three percent of respondents said they believe their farm will still operating in five years.

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