Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Milk = More Cheese

A new report issued by the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows Wisconsin milk production totaled 2.10 billion pounds in July, up 7 million pounds from July 2007. During the past couple of years, Wisconsin's milk production has slowly and steadily increased, which is good news for our cheese plants -- more milk means more cheese.

As of August 1 ,2008, Wisconsin had 13,635 licensed milk cow herds, more than any other state in the nation. However, even though we have more farms, we have less milk cows than California and other states are ramping up their dairy farm production.

Reports show that California and Wisconsin continue to be the top two producers of milk, but, for the first time, this past month Idaho passed New York for third place. The number of milk cows in New York had remained steady over the past year, while Idaho added 40,000 cows. The additional cows combined with a higher milk per cow helped push Idaho’s total production past New York into third place.

See this chart for an interesting comparison of milk production around the country -- it shows up-and-coming dairy powerhouse states such as Texas and New Mexico are producing as much as 18 percent more milk than they did a year ago.

What does this mean for Wisconsin? Well, commodity cheese production will probably continue to move and be outsourced to the West -- but it won't be in California. No new cheese plants have been sited in the land of happy cows since 2002, largely because of strict environmental standards.

So where are the big plants going? Look at the chart where milk production is increasing -- Texas and New Mexico. Some of the biggest cheese plants in the nation are located in these two states -- pumping out millions of pounds of mozzarella cheese for pizza and commodity cheddar.

That's why it's more important than ever to support Wisconsin artisan and specialty cheese makers. We continue to be the nation's leader in cheese production. We have some big plants in Wisconsin that help with these numbers, but we have something else that no other state has: a huge diversity in the number and size of cheese plants dotted around the state -- 124 in total.

Of these 124 plants, 83 are crafting at least one type of specialty cheese - and that number is only going to increase. In fact, since 2004, 34 new dairy plants have opened in America's Dairyland and 54 more have expanded. The majority of these plants are small, value-added and farmstead operations -- dairy farmers cutting out the middle man and stabilizing farm income by diversifying their operations.

And, while these new plants and expansions can't compare in size with the mega dairy plants of Texas, New Mexico and even California, there is no comparison between the quantity and quality of Wisconsin artisan and specialty cheeses and those made elsewhere -- nearly 50 percent of all specialty cheese made in this country is made in Wisconsin.

If you're planning a visit to Wisconsin in the near future, or if you live here and are looking for a good day trip, request a Traveler's Guide to America's Dairyland from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. There are hundreds of cheese plants and retail stores just waiting for you to visit.

On Wisconsin!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article Jeanne. The concept can also be viewed in a slightly different light, "More Cheese = More Milk." By increasing cheese production, we can create a pull demand for more milk. A greater demand for more milk means opportunity for dairy producers. With some new grants available through the government to help cheese plants increase production, dairy producers should see a benefit by an increase in the volume and quality of milk produced.

Anonymous said...

Nice article Jeanne. Not being involved in the dairy industry (other than that of a consumer) I have a question about the chart you referenced in your article. If I read it correctly, WI cows seem to have a lower yield per cow than most of the other states. Do you know why that is?
Thanks and keep writing about cheese.

cheese underground lady said...

Good question. I'll forward your question to colleagues at the Dept of Ag. My guess would be it's because Wisconsin farms are for the most part, still small, family-owned operations and are just beginning to modernize. The average size of a Wisconsin dairy farm is still only 90 cows (compared to California where's it's 800). Smaller farms are sometimes less efficient at getting the maximum amount of milk per cow. If you look at the yield numbers for the other traditional dairy states - Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania (where farm sizes are still pretty small), they are comparable to Wisconsin. There's a reason they call the dairy farms in the Southwest "factory farms" -- it's because they're big and efficient. They also don't know their cows by name. :)

Anonymous said...

Jeanne is right. When comparing production per cow there are many factors that come into play. Feeding systems, weather conditions, genetics, age of the cows, and a host of other management related issues all contribute to production.

One reason, related to the smaller farm size that Jeanne spoke of, is that many smaller farms hold onto their dairy cows longer than some larger-based farms in other states. A WI farmer may have his/her cows for upwards of 7,8 or more years versus some other farmers that may only hold onto them for 3 or 4 years. Although, I have witnessed some cows many years old still producing milk as well as the youngsters. There are also several farms in WI that have cows and are not necessarily focused on high milk production, rather the longevity of the cow.

Increased production per cow can also increase costs, however. For example, several dairy operations I have worked with are smaller and may rely on grazing. In some cases their production per cow is lower than perhaps a 1,500 cow dairy that feeds with a rich, grain based diet. That grain based diet will generally cost more than grazing and thus may limit the amount of profit earned for increasing production. This is just one example of challenges when comparing systems.

Dare I say, California, also has much more concentrated and specialized feeding regimes than here in the Midwest. Many of the farms there have nutrients that solely work for one farm instead of several farms. This specialization and focus on one particular group of cattle can also be a management technique that can aid in increasing production.

As I mentioned, these are just a few of the many, many challenges when comparing production levels. While WI production per cow may not be as high as other states, I have received comments from many non-Wisconsinites who say they have found no better looking or healthy cows than in WI. In fact, much of the genetics in those high producing herds came right from our own back yard.