Canada's dairy industry at a glance

Facts and key features of the Canadian dairy industry.


The Canadian dairy sector operates under a supply management system based on planned domestic production, administered pricing and dairy product import controls. The dairy industry ranks second (based on farm cash receipts) in the Canadian agriculture sector ranking just behind red meats.

In addition to being world-renowned for their excellence, the Canadian milk and dairy products are recognized for their variety and high-quality. Enforcement of strict quality standards on dairy farms and in processing plants enhances this international reputation, along with a strong commitment to sound animal welfare practices and environmental sustainability.

The table below highlights some key features of the Canadian dairy industry:

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2023 Highlights

Total net farm cash receipts from dairying $8.56 billion
Dairy cattle population (dairy cows and heifers) 1.382 million head (July 1, 2023)
Number of dairy farms 9,443 (August 1, 2022)
Milk production 95.90 million hl
Organic milk production 1.49 million hl (dairy year 2022/22)
Processing sector
Dairy manufacturing shipments $18.1 billion
Number of plants 518 dairy plants
Milk utilization
Fluid milk 26.4 million hl
Industrial milk 68.90 million hl
Production of main products Cheese (498.2 thousand tonnes)
Yogurt (382.0 thousand tonnes)
Hard ice cream (160.3 thousand litres)
Butter (114.9 thousand tonnes)
Skim milk powder (82.1 thousand tonnes)
Dairy product available per person (2022) Fluid milk (67.7 litres)
Cheese (22.7 kg)
Cream (10.4 litres)
Yogurt (9.9 litres)
Butter (6.4 kg)
Dairy workforce
Manufacturing sector (2023)
Dairy farm operations (2021 Census of Agriculture)
28,981 jobs
16,665 jobs
Dairy products
Imports $1501.2 million
Main products imported Cheese, butter, whey products and milk protein substances
Major suppliers United States, Netherlands, New Zealand and United Kingdom
Exports $488.1 million
Main products exported Whey products, skim milk powder, cheese, yogurt and products consisting of natural milk constituents
Major markets United States, Australia, Netherlands and France
Dairy genetics
Net exports (Bovine embryos, semen and live dairy cattle) $170.4 million
Net imports (Bovine embryos, semen and live dairy cattle) $14.5 million
Major markets for Canadian animal genetics United States (Dairy cattle)
United States, Netherlands and Brazil (Dairy semen)
United States, Australia and Republic of Korea (Embryos)
Genetics (2023)

The Canadian dairy industry is famous for the superior genetic quality of its herd as well as its strong dairy cattle genetic evaluation and improvement programs. Canada is at the forefront of innovative use of genetic technologies in dairy cattle breeding. Animal DNA profiles are assessed by genomic evaluation for over 60 different traits. Genomic evaluations using imputed genotypes (3K and 50K panels) has contributed to a doubling of the rate of genetic progress for key traits.

Cows recorded in official milk recording programs produced on average 10,994 kg of milk per lactation (305 days) with an average content of 4.13% fat and 3.35% protein.

The Holstein breed is the most common dairy breed (93% of the dairy herd); Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Canadienne, Guernsey, Jersey and Milking Shorthorn breeds are also found on Canadian farms.

Manufacturing of dairy products

Canadians looking for healthy and nutritious products continue to have access to an ever expanding range of quality and innovative Canadian dairy products. New dairy products have been developed such as Greek-style yogurt, pre- and probiotics, lactose-free and calcium or omega-3 fortified products. Milk protein products continue to be used as ingredients in a growing array of food items, such as infant formula, sports and nutritional beverages and confectionaries.

The Canadian cheese industry has entered into a maturity phase, evidenced by its know-how developed through extensive cheese making traditions and the diversity of approximately 1,450 varieties of cheese (cow, goat, ewe and water buffalo). Many of these are recognized around the world for their quality and taste.

Trade Overview

In 2023, imports of dairy products totaled 259,183,516 kg ($1,501.25 million) and exports reached 150,936,728 kg ($488.07 million). This represents an annual increase of 10.2% in import value and an annual decrease of 3.30% in export value from last year. As illustrated below, Canadian imports of dairy products have been consistently higher than exports.

Canadian dairy imports and exports: 2014-2023

Millions of dollars (CAD)
  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
281.46 211.05 235.29 398.78 378.11 430.82 486.79 383.07 504.72 488.07
899.18 900.58 969.67 872.58 847.42 949.83 959.43 1083.67 1361.75 1501.25
Trade Balance
-617.72 -689.53 -734.38 -473.80 -469.31 -519.01 -472.64 -700.60 -857.02 -1013.18
Source: Statistics Canada; Prepared by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Animal Industry Division, Market Information Section


Safety and Quality

Government and industry partners work in close cooperation to coordinate the movement of milk from the farm to the consumer. Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Dairy Processors Association of Canada, the Canadian Dairy Commission, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, provincial marketing boards, dairy processing companies, cooperatives and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada all work as partners to ensure a strong and dynamic industry.

Strict quality standards applied throughout Canada's production and processing chain contribute to the excellent reputation of Canadian dairy products. The main quality assurance mechanisms that ensure milk and dairy products are safe and high in quality are:

  • A significant number of dairy plants are Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and/or ISO certified.
  • The on-farm food safety program "Canadian Quality Milk" is a HACCP -based and certified by CFIA .
  • Sound welfare practices in the Code of Practice of the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle.
  • National biosecurity standards, protocols and strategies designed to protect animal resources.
  • National eradication programs for serious cattle diseases (several of which have been eradicated from the dairy herd).
  • Mandatory control and monitoring in accordance with international agreements, particularly World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) agreements, protecting Canadian livestock from serious diseases.
  • Development of a full traceability system is a priority in Canada which includes three basic elements: animal identification, premises identification and animal movement.

Dairy Farmers of Canada also operates the proAction Initiative, a national framework that incorporates modules on milk quality, food safety, livestock traceability, animal care, biosecurity and environmental sustainability into a single assurance program.

Research and development of new dairy products and production methods are the result of strategic alliances among producers, processors, universities, and federal and provincial research centers.

For more information contact:

Deputy Director, Dairy/Poultry section
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
1341 Baseline Road, T5-4
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C5


Manager, Communications
Canadian Dairy Commission
960 Carling Avenue, Building No.55
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0Z2