Idaho Dairymen's Association

McClure Center Research dairy workers

McClure Center Research

Community Impacts of Dairy Workers: May 2017, Vol. 8, No. 3



Two national trends shape the regional context for our study. The first is a decades-long shift in the dairy industry towards fewer and more geographically concentrated large farms. This trend is especially pronounced in Idaho’s Magic Valley, where milk production is increasing, the number of dairy farms is decreasing, and average herd size is going up.

The second national trend is slowing growth in the nation’s Hispanic population, largely the result of lower birth rates among resident Hispanic women and a dramatic decline in the number of Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. since the recession. In the Magic Valley, the Hispanic population grew at an average annual rate of 8.9% in the 1990s, 6.6% in the 2000s, and 2.6% from 2010 to 2015.

For this research and our 2009 analysis on the same topic, we conducted personal interviews with people knowledgeable about the Magic Valley’s dairy industry and the communities it impacts. We also analyzed secondary data from federal, state, and local sources. Both studies were funded by grants from the Idaho Dairymen’s Association



  • With its predominantly Hispanic workforce, south central Idaho’s dairy industry has shaped the region’s demographics, contributing to both population growth and diversity.
  • The dairy industry’s workers, many of whom are immigrants, have had a positive economic impact on communities. The largest economic impacts are in communities with jobs on dairy farms, as well as in value-added, dairy processing plants. Small towns with relatively fewer processing jobs (compared to production jobs) struggle to diversify and build infrastructure.
  • The net flow of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. (including those who are unauthorized) has slowed dramatically since the recession. One sign of this in Idaho is that the number of unauthorized immigrants is unchanged since 2009. With fewer potential workers moving to Idaho, the dairy industry is facing a severe labor shortage at current wage rates.
  • Addressing labor shortages and other challenges discussed here should be a high priority for the regional leaders who so successfully expanded value-added manufacturing, as well as for the emerging Hispanic leaders who are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Many people we interviewed said that to continue prospering, regional leaders must focus on education and integration.

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