Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Spilt Milk: COVID-19 and the Dangers of Dairy Industry Consolidation

Spilt Milk: COVID-19 and the Dangers of Dairy Industry Consolidation


Eileen Appelbaum (Center for Economic and Policy Research); Jared Gaby-Biegle (Center for Economic and Policy Research)


Consolidation came later in the dairy industry than in other agricultural sectors. A long history of dairy farmer cooperatives owned by their farmer members and vertically integrated to produce and distribute fluid milk and cheese products staved off industrialized farming and horizontal consolidation. But by 1990, advances in technology and a change in antitrust regulation enabled investor-owned firms like Borden Dairy and Dean Food as well as large farmer cooperatives like DFA, Prairie Farm and Land O’Lakes to dominate the industry. Consolidation and the pursuit of economies of scale led to two inflexible and separate supply chains in dairy – one serving retail markets for consumers, the other serving commercial markets for institutional customers. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic lockdown revealed the lack of resilience and risks in a system dominated by a few large actors. Viable reforms in the dairy industry that limit the domination by powerful actors can achieve resilience and improve the ability of the dairy industry to respond to disruptions.


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