dairy legislation, environmental law, compliance, milk consumption, global markets, dairy cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives

Document Type



At the beginning of the 20th Century, the U.S. dairy industry was comprised of millions of small-scale operations producing for their own or for very local consumption. By the end of the 20th Century, the industry was dominated by large-scale producers marketing products via large cooperatives. Improvements in transportation, advances in animal breeding and feeding technologies, and scale economies have allowed the industry to be more competitive on global markets, where there is now active international trade in dairy products. Major government programs to support dairy farm income date back to Depression-era problems facing the industry. Federal programs to support dairy income led to recurring problems of overproduction. Programs initially instituted to protect dairy producers from oligopsony power of purchasers now have more questionable effects given industry concentration. Increased market concentration has led to ongoing antitrust scrutiny of the industry, while geographic concentration of production has raised concerns over water and air pollution. At the outset of the 21st Century, increased productivity has made the dairy industry less reliant on government programs and more reliant on global markets. Yet the industry faces many challenges: greater scrutiny over greenhouse gas emissions, secular declines in milk prices and U.S. per capita milk consumption, reduced viability of small-scale operations, and the rise of plant-based milk substitutes. Still, dairies and dairy products remain an important part of U.S. agriculture and U.S. household food consumption.