Milk is produced in every single EU Member State without exception. Furthermore, milk is the EU number one single product sector in terms of value at approximately 15 % of agricultural output. The EU is a major player in the world dairy market as the leading exporter of many dairy products, most notably cheeses.
The dairy sector is of great importance to the European Union (EU) in a variety of ways.
Milk production takes place in all EU Member States and represents a significant proportion of the value of EU agricultural output. For some Member States it forms a very important part of the agricultural economy.
Total EU28 total milk production is estimated around 165 million tons per year (2014 data).
The EU's main producers are Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Netherlands and Italy which together account for almost 70% of the EU production.
Dairy farming is structured differently in all of the Member States.
The EU dairy herd has been decreasing steadily during the last years, as the milk yield per cow has improved. As a reference, in 2014 there were around 23 million cows in the EU28, averaging 6700 kg of milk produced per cow.
Farm and dairy herd sizes vary enormously, as do yields. However, as the dairy sector develops throughout the EU, variations in yield and other technical factors are being reduced – less developed dairy producers are rapidly catching up with those who had restructured and modernized first.
There is no 'typical' European dairy cow breed, though the Friesian-Holstein is the most prevalent.
A variety of systems is in operation for marketing the milk produced on dairy farms. Most dairy farmers sell their milk to dairy processors and it then enters the food chain. Other dairy farmers market their milk directly to consumers and on some dairy farms the milk is consumed on the farm.
Selling and processing of milk often takes place via farmer-owned cooperatives while, in some Member States, the majority of processing is in the hands of private companies.
Distinct 'national' markets were once the norm – now there is more cross-border ownership of farms and processing facilities.