Milk and dairy products are important iodine sources and contribute about 30–40 % of total iodine in the Swiss diet. Information about variation in milk iodine concentration (MIC) in Switzerland is limited. We examined MIC and its potential determinants in milk from organic and conventional farms. We collected bulk milk samples at 3-month intervals over 1 year from thirty-two farms throughout Switzerland and Aosta valley, North-West Italy. We sampled all feed components including tap water, collected information on farm characteristics, feeding and teat disinfection practices by questionnaire and estimated the cows’ winter and summer iodine intake. Iodine in milk and feed components was measured using inductively coupled plasma MS. The overall median MIC was 87 (range 5–371) µg/l. In multivariate analysis, predictors of MIC were as follows: (1) farm type: median MIC from organic and conventional farms was 55 and 93 µg/l (P=0·022); (2) season: 53, 97 and 101 µg/l in September, December and March (P<0·002); and (3) teat dipping: 97 µg/l with v. 56 µg/l without (P=0·028). In conclusion, MIC varied widely between farms because of diverse farming practices that result in large differences in dairy cow exposure to iodine via ingestion or skin application. Standardisation of MIC is potentially achievable by controlling these iodine exposures. In order for milk to be a stable iodine source all year round, dietary iodine could be added at a set level to one feed component whose intake is regular and controllable, such as the mineral supplement, and by limiting the use of iodine-containing teat disinfectants.