A Column Offered by WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer
Milk for cheesemaking continues to slosh about the Upper Midwest, but milk production eased in April and cheese prices are on an upward track. The dairy industry takes a bow each June, and with warm weather and abundant moisture greening up fields, it’s time to unearth some positives for an industry that keeps delivering naturally wonderful foods.
- Cheese production continues to grow, and specialty cheese growth is the headline in Wisconsin. U.S. production last year climbed nearly one-half billion pounds to 12.6 billion pounds of cheese, with Wisconsin leading the pack with 3.36 billion pounds. Nearly a quarter of Wisconsin cheese – 800 million pounds – is specialty cheeses led by tangy feta, Hispanic styles, wheels of parmesan and creamy Havarti. It’s good news for dairy farmers: in the past ten years, higher-value Wisconsin specialty cheese production doubled – increased 100 percent – while cheddar, mozzarella and other high-volume cheeses grew 25 percent.
- Cheese exports are rising, up nine percent in March and 11 percent in the first quarter of 2018 vs. the previous year. March sales of U.S. dairy products abroad are up 27 percent in Southeast Asia, 15 percent in China, and the smaller Middle East/North Africa market grew 51 percent in March. Overall, export volume of dairy products rose 19 percent in January through March, meaning 1.2 billion pounds of dried milks, cheese, butter and whey products found markets outside the U.S.
- Exports to Mexico were flat. But there’s a silver lining: while NAFTA negotiations to date have strained dairy relations with our neighbor to the south, dairy leadership in Washington DC has rallied with unprecedented solidarity to stress the importance of America’s largest export market.
That’s right, the silver lining here is extraordinary cooperation and ideas emerging from National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association. From emphatic lobbying for better relations with Mexico, to common sense ideas in the emerging U.S. Farm Bill to make the margin protection program more affordable for farmers and classified milk pricing more stable, these organizations are working together just when dairy farmers need it most.
Add to that crucial programs like U.S. Dairy Export Council and Consortium for Common Food Names, both supported by NMPF and both working hand in glove with dairy processors. Dairy has learned that its competition is not among dairy interests, but other foods and other movements that want dairy’s crown.
- A new crop is blooming in June in America’s Dairyland: construction fences will pop up around Babcock Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the dairy pilot plant at UW-River Falls. It’s taken years to germinate, but a new $46 million Center for Dairy Research and renovated dairy plant in Madison is about to grow. Dr. John Lucey, CDR director, and industry leaders Lou Gentine, Dave Fuhrmann and Tom Hedge can take a bow in June for leading the fight for a world-class research center that will impact every farmer in the U.S.
At University of Wisconsin-River Falls, an all-new, state-of-the-art cheese and ice cream production plant will train student and industry alike. In June, exactly five years after the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association kicked off fund-raising, our Board will visit River Falls again to watch the construction dust fly.
- The wonder of pizza. This single food category has fueled the rise of modern dairying in the U.S., and pizza isn’t slowing down. Worldwide sales grew 5 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in the U.S. alone, according to annual data compiled by PMQ Pizza Magazine. In 2003, mozzarella became king of cheeses in the U.S., and sales of pizza’s favorite cheese grew 25 percent in the last decade alone. One-third of U.S. cheese is mozzarella, and adding in other cheese used on pies, pizza may melt nearly 40 percent of all U.S. cheese.
Margins are stressed in the dairy community, but dairy sales, exports, research and cooperation are growing – and that calls for a June pizza party.