The total annual raw milk production in Japan is about 8.4 million tons, second only to rice as the country's biggest agricultural product.

About 60% of production is used to produce milk for drinking, while the remaining 40% of raw milk is processed into other dairy products such as cheese and butter. This production is supported by approximately 29,800 dairy farms and about 1.72million dairy cows.

The average number of cows per farm was about 57.7as of February 2003, of which the average number of producing cows was 37.6. The remaining cows were either pregnant, nursing calves, or calves. The average annual production per head is about 7,400kg. Relative to rice farming, a single producing dairy cow provides an equivalent income as that generated by 52ares of rice field. When applied to an average dairy farm of 37.6producing cows, this provides an equivalent of about 19.5 hectares of cultivated rice. The number of equivalent rice producers on this scale in Japan can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Apart from the sparsely settled island of Hokkaido, where pasture dairy farming is common, most Japanese dairy farmers operate farms in narrow valleys or on land located on the outskirts of urban areas. Even these small-scale farms have the income potential of all but the very largest rice and dry field farms. Indeed, Japanese dairy farming is a model of agricultural efficiency in Japan.


Source:"Trends in Livestock Raising;" Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Statistics Quick Report (Research , February in each year)

Commercial dairy farming began in Japan in the late Meiji era, about 100 years ago. However, it was not until the early 1950s that it developed on a full scale, about the same time that the school lunch system was introduced in elementary schools.

Compared to rice cultivation and dry field farming, dairy farms earn income throughout the year rather than seasonally, and are not affected by the vagaries of the weather. Consequently, commercial dairy farming was an immediate success, with the total number of dairy farmers reaching a peak of about 410,000 in 1962. However, during this period, most dairy farmers kept only 2-3 dairy cows as a supplement to their rice and/or dry field farming operations, and the annual production of raw milk was only about 2.44 million tons, or about 30% of current production.

Subsequently, as the Japanese economy began to flourish, young people moved from farm villages to urban areas, and many farms that had been in the same family for generations were left without successors. As a result, farms were combined, farming operations became larger, more efficient, and more intensive. In 1975 there were about 160,000 dairy farmers in Japan, and by 1985 this number had declined sharply to about 82,000 farmers. Since then, an average annual decline of 5% has resulted in the current figure of only 29,800 dairy farmers, approximately one-fourteenth of the number in 1962.

On the other hand, the number of dairy cows has steadily increased per farm. Currently, Japanese dairy farming is on par with, or exceeds, dairy farming operations in EC countries, while providing a safe and stable supply of milk and other dairy products.

 

Number of Dairy Farms and Dairy Cows by Year
 
Item
Year
Number of Dairy Farms
(by Household)
Number of Dairy Cows
(by Head)
Number of Dairy Cows per Farm
(by head per Farm)
1965
381,600 1,288,950 3.4
1975
160,100 1,787,000 11.2
1985
82,400 2,111,000 25.6
1990
63,300 2,058,000 32.5
1995
44,300 1,951,000 44.0
1996
41,600 1,927,000 46.3
1997
39,400 1,899,000 48.2
1998
37,400 1,860,000 49.7
1999
35,400 1,816,000 51.3
2000
33,600 1,764,000 52.5
2001
32,200 1,725,000 53.6
2002
31,000 1,726,000 55.7
2003
29,800 1,719,000 57.7
2004
28,800 1,690,000 58.7
Source:"Livestock Industry Statistics"; Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
(C) Japan Dairy Council All rights reserved.