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Dairy industry impacts more than farms

June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin.

For decades the state of Wisconsin, along with the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has designated this month to celebrate the state’s multi-billion dollar dairy industry and the farmers who work year-round to keep that industry strong.

It is only fitting that Wisconsin residents take time this month to recognize the impact dairy has on the state and to thank farmers for their hard work as the backbone of the state’s economy.

The dairy industry in Wisconsin is big business.

Dairy farms in the state generate $45.6 billion of economic impact in the state. This takes into account milk sales by farmers as well as many other jobs, from veterinarians to cheese factory workers, who serve the dairy industry.

According to state statistics, Wisconsin dairy farms fuel the state’s economy to the tune of more than $86,000 per minute.

By the numbers, dairy in Wisconsin has a far greater impact on the state’s economy than citrus does in Florida or potatoes in Idaho. Citrus contributes only about $10 billion to the Florida economy and potatoes contribute $6.7 billion to the Idaho economy.

According to the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS), the state has about 1,274,000 dairy cows spread over 6,804 licensed herds a drop from more than 9,000 just a few years ago. While there have been many headlines about large dairy farms with thousands of cows crowding out smaller operations, the average number of cows per farm in Wisconsin remains relatively low at 186.

At the same time, farmers, through improved genetics and feed options, continue to increase the milk production per cow. Total monthly milk production in the state was 2.64 billion pounds in April. Each month, cows in the state produce 2,000 pounds (about 233 gallons) of milk. This comes to 69 pounds (about eight gallons) per day. Annually cows in Wisconsin outperform cows in 54 other states as far as production per cow. Nationally, dairy farmers produce 217.6 billion pounds of milk each year, of that amount 14.1 percent comes from Wisconsin farms. In 2018, Wisconsin farmers set a new record by producing 30.6 billion pounds of milk.

About 90 percent of the milk produced in the state is turned into cheese with about 90 percent of that cheese sold outside of the state. Wisconsin accounts for more than 25 percent of all cheese produced in the United States and 48 percent of all specialty cheese sold.

Wisconsin dominates the country in awards and recognitions for its specialty cheese products. While dairy in Wisconsin is strong, dairy farmers continue to face challenges. Increased milk production, at the prompting of the state, has resulted in depressed milk prices. Increasing international competition, reduced access to some foreign markets and retaliatory tariffs have also hurt Wisconsin’s farm families.

It is vital as Wisconsin’s leaders look to the future for job creation and growth opportunities, that they do not overlook the importance of the dairy industry. State leaders must continue to make basic investments in things such as local road maintenance and educational programs in agriculture and related sciences. This ongoing investment is needed to keep the milk flowing in Wisconsin now and for decades to come.

June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin, it is a time to celebrate the state’s rich dairy heritage and look to the future of the dairy state.