Statistics Explained

Milk and milk product statistics

Data extracted in November 2021.

Planned article update: November 2022.


The EU produced 160.1 million tonnes of raw milk in 2020.
The average apparent milk yield per cow in the EU reached 7 509 kg in 2020.
The output price of milk in the EU was an average -1.4 % less in 2020 than in 2019.
Production and use of milk (million tonnes, EU, 2020)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta) and (apro_mk_farm)

This article presents information and statistics on milk and milk products in the European Union (EU).

Editorial note: Throughout this article, which deals with time periods when the United Kingdom was a Member State of the European Union, the acronym EU, however, refers to EU-27, the post-Brexit composition of the European Union as of 1 February 2020.

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Milk production

Another rise in raw milk production to 160.1 million tonnes in 2020, 96 % of which was cows’ milk

The production of raw milk on the EU’s farms was a provisional 160.1 million tonnes in 2020, which represents a year-on-year increase of 1.9 million tonnes. This higher level of EU production can be put in some context by looking at production levels in the run-up to the abolition of quotas; EU farms produced 149.7 million tonnes of raw milk in 2014 and 145.1 million tonnes in 2013.

In 2020, the vast majority of raw milk was delivered to dairies; only 10.6 million tonnes was used on farms, either being consumed by the farmer and his family, sold directly to consumers, used as feed or processed directly. Of the 149.4 million tonnes of milk delivered to dairies, 145.2 million tonnes was cows’ milk, the rest being ewes’ milk, goats’ milk or buffalos’ milk (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Production and use of milk, EU-27, 2019
(million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta) and (apro_mk_farm)

The average apparent milk yield per cow across the EU still rising

There are a number of factors that can affect individual milk yields but the apparent milk yield results from the structure of the dairy herd. In the EU, the apparent milk yield continued to rise in 2020, reaching 7 509 kg per dairy cow. As a national average, apparent yields were highest in Estonia (10 063 kg per cow) and Denmark (10 028 kg per cow) and lowest in Bulgaria (3 654 kg per cow) and Romania (3 228 kg per cow). Among the main cows’ milk producing Member States, apparent yields were well-above the EU average in the Netherlands and Germany but below average in Poland and Italy.

Figure 2: Dairy cows, milk production and the apparent milk yield
(dairy cows numbers; raw cows' milk tonnes, 2020)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_farm) and (apro_mt_lscatl)

One fifth of the EU’s cows’ milk was collected by dairies in Germany

Traditionally, hygiene rules have required that the collection of milk has been frequent and moved over a short distance between farms and dairies. The development of cooling tanks on farms and of bigger milk tankers have made this sanitary issue less critical. Meanwhile, the removal of national milk quotas has contributed to cross-border milk flows between farms and dairies or between dairies. Nevertheless, this is relatively limited.

In 2020, a little more than one fifth (21.5 %) of the EU’s raw cows’ milk was produced on farms in Germany and a similar proportion (22.4 %) was processed by German dairies. Indeed, just as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy together provided about two thirds (65.0 %) of the EU’s raw cows’ milk in 2020, so they also accounted for two thirds (66.3 %) of cows’ milk collected by dairies (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Collection of cows’ milk by dairies, 2020
(% share of EU total, tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta)

There are a few EU Member States where livestock other than cows make an important contribution to overall milk production; this is the case in many rural or arid regions, particularly in the Mediterranean area. In 2020, Spain produced 1.1 million tonnes of milk from ewes and goats, with Greece and France both producing 0.8 million tonnes. Italy produced 0.7 million tonnes of milk from animals other than cows and this included almost all of the EU’s production of milk from buffaloes.

Cows’ milk accounts for the vast majority of the milk delivered to dairies across most of the EU Member States. Nevertheless, a majority (56.3 %) of the milk delivered to dairies in Greece in 2020 came from ewes and goats, as did over one fifth (20.8 %) in Cyprus and more than one tenth (12.9 %) in Spain (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Milk collection from animals other than cows
(% of total milk delivered to dairies, 2020)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta)

Small decline in price of milk in 2020

The average price of milk has fluctuated sharply in recent years (see Figure 5), with a strong decline in 2016 (-6.1 % in nominal terms) being followed by a particularly strong rebound in 2017 (+20.3 %). The price of milk was an average -1.4 % lower in 2020 than in 2019.

Among the principal milk-producing Member States, there were stronger than average declines in the price of milk in 2020 in the Netherlands (-8.2 %), Germany (-2.0 %) and Italy (-2.4 %), but higher prices in Spain (+2.5 %) and Ireland (+1.1 %).

Figure 5: Development of price indices for milk
(2015 = 100, EU, 2015-2020)
Source: Eurostat (apri_pi15_outq)

Milk products

Two thirds of all whole milk available to dairies in the EU is used to make cheese and butter

The milk delivered to dairies is processed into a number of fresh and manufactured products. Dairy products are recorded in terms of their weight. It is thus difficult to compare the quantities of various products (for example, tonnes of fresh milk and of milk powder). The volume of whole or skimmed milk used in dairy processes provides more comparable figures [1].

In 2020, 147.9 million tonnes of the whole milk available to the EU’s dairy sector was processed.

Across the EU, the production of 2.3 million tonnes of butter and so-called ‘yellow products’ in 2020 required 45.6 million tonnes of whole milk (see Table 1). The production of butter and yellow products also generated 42.4 million tonnes of skimmed milk. Together with the 13.4 million tonnes generated through the fabrication of cream and 0.6 million tonnes generated from other fresh products, this skimmed milk was used with 83.9 million tonnes of whole milk for the processing of other dairy products.

Indeed, 16.7 million tonnes of skimmed milk together with 57.6 million tonnes of whole milk were used to produce 10.3 million tonnes of cheese in the EU in 2020. Together, the production of cheese and butter used a little more than two thirds (69.8 %) of all the whole milk available to dairies in the EU.

Table 1: Utilisation of milk and dairy products obtained
(million tonnes, EU, 2020)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta)

The EU also produced 24.0 million tonnes of drinking milk, from 10.1 million tonnes of skimmed milk and 13.5 million tonnes of whole milk. Drinking milk accounted for about one tenth (9.1 %) of all the whole milk used by dairies in 2020.

In 2020, 3.1 million tonnes of dairy powder products were produced in the EU from 21.2 million tonnes of skimmed milk and 4.5 million tonnes of whole milk.

Germany produced about one-fifth of the EU’s drinking milk (about 19 %), butter (about 19 %) and cheese (about 23 %) in 2020. The other main cheese producing Member States were France (a provisional 1.9 million tonnes, about 18 % of the EU total), and Italy (1.3 million tonnes, about 13 % of the EU total). Unsurprisingly, the highest levels of production for dairy products were generally recorded in the most populous EU Member States, although there were some exceptions. For example, the Netherlands had the second highest level of production for whey (16.9 % of the EU total) and the fourth highest for cheese (9.7 % of the EU total), while Ireland accounted for the third highest share of butter produced (11.5 % of the EU total).

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Milk and milk product statistics

Milk and milk product statistics are collected under Decision 1997/80/EC and implementing Directive 1996/16/EC. They cover farm production and the utilisation of milk, as well as the description (structure), collection and production activity of dairies. Due to the small number of dairy enterprises, national data are often subject to statistical confidentiality. Thus, providing EU totals in this context is a challenge and some of the information presented in the analysis is based on partly provisional data. On the one hand, statistics from these few enterprises provide early estimates on trends. On the other, a complete overview of the dairy sector requires detailed information from farms and this means that the final figures on milk production are only available at an EU level about one year after the reference year.

Dairy products are recorded in terms of weight. It is thus difficult to compare the various products (for example, fresh milk and milk powder). The volume of whole or skimmed milk used in the dairy processes provides more comparable figures.

Livestock statistics

The number of dairy cows that was used in the analysis was drawn from the livestock population in November/December 2020.

Agricultural price statistics

EU agricultural price statistics are based on voluntary agreements between Eurostat and the Member States. National statistical institutes or Ministries of Agriculture are responsible for collecting absolute prices and calculating corresponding average prices for their country, as well as for calculating price indices and periodically updating the weights. Price indices are reported quarterly and annually. Absolute prices are reported annually. The agricultural prices expressed in national currency are converted into euro by Eurostat using fixed exchange rates or financial market exchange rates, in order to allow comparisons between the Member States. Eurostat is responsible for calculating indices for the EU.


The abolition of milk quotas in 2015 resulted in a restructuring and further modernisation of the sector, including a re-orientation towards the most productive herds, more intense cross-border milk flows and increased volatility in production. Over recent years, milk prices have followed the global milk fat market.

There is no ‘typical’ European dairy cow breed, though the Friesian-Holstein is prevalent.

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  1. Two dimensions (quantities of whole and skimmed milk used) reflect the material balance of the valuable milk components, especially fat (in whole milk only) and protein (in total milk used).