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Report: Wisconsin Dairy Generates $45.6 Billion Economic Impact

Wisconsin Dairy Report

The overall economic impact of the Wisconsin dairy industry is bigger than ever, according to new research conducted by the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The report shows dairy continues to lead Wisconsin agriculture—generating nearly half of its annual industrial agricultural revenue—and represents 16.4 percent of the state’s total. Despite recent milk price challenges, the report shows dairy continues to make a significant impact on local Wisconsin communities.

The report, titled “The Contribution of Agriculture to the Wisconsin Economy,” is based on the most recent data available (2017) and updates research conducted every five years by UW–Madison under the direction of Professor Steven Deller at the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and Extension’s Center for Community Economic Development. Total agricultural economic impact grew from $88.3 billion to $104.8 billion with dairy’s impact growing to $45.6 billion.

“It is clear that agriculture—and particularly dairy—plays a critical role in Wisconsin’s economy,” says Deller, adding, “To put this in perspective, dairy’s economic impact is twice that of another key growing industry, Wisconsin tourism. It also shows dairy is Wisconsin’s signature industry and is central to our state’s identity.”

The report shows farmer’s milk creates 154,000 Wisconsin jobs and generates $1.26 billion in state and local taxes. Every dollar generated by its dairy industry creates $1.73 in additional revenue for the state, according to the report.

“This report reflects the importance of cheese and dairy in our state and is why we are America’s Dairyland,” says Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin CEO Chad Vincent. “To me, the deeper importance is the impact dairy farming and processing has on maintaining and growing our rural areas. The economic impact derived from agriculture in our state cannot be underestimated. Statewide dairy helps support a strong future for Wisconsin with job creation and tax revenue that goes toward better roads, new schools and a variety of other public services.”

In addition, the report identifies foreign export markets as a primary source of new growth for Wisconsin agriculture. The state exported more than $2.5 billion in agriculture products last year with dairy products as the second-largest contributor at $451 million.

“Consumers from around the world need and want protein in their diet. With Wisconsin’s abundance of protein-rich dairy products, it’s easy to see why we are an international leader in the dairy industry,” said Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “It’s clear from these findings that growing the demand for our high-quality, nutritious dairy beyond our borders is key to the future of our state’s dairy industry.”

Additional key findings from the report:

  • Dairy generates 43.5 percent of the state’s total agriculture activity.
  • Dairy, combining both on-farm and dairy processing, contributes $45.6 billion to industrial revenues (7.1 percent of the state total), 157,100 jobs (4.2 percent), $9 billion to labor income (4.5 percent) and $15.1 billion to total income (4.7 percent).
  • Dairy processing accounts for roughly two-thirds of dairy’s total contribution.
  • 90 percent of the state’s milk is devoted to cheesemaking, while the remaining is deployed to butter, ice cream and cultured products such as yogurt, cottage cheese and kefir.
  • Wisconsin dairy heritage dates back generations and is rooted in European traditions. The state crafts more varieties, types and styles of cheese than anywhere else on earth and holds a 48% share of the nation’s specialty cheese category.

Funded by Wisconsin dairy farmers, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization that concentrates on marketing and promoting the state’s dairy products.

About the author


Erica Sacra

Outside of her web editing duties, Erica enjoys watching movies and spending time with friends and family. She loves trivia and Kentucky Wildcats basketball.

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