Guest Columns


Feeling positively June

John Umhoefer

John Umhoefer is executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. He contributes this column monthly for Cheese Market News®.

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.

1. 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 10 years, higher-value Wisconsin specialty cheese production doubled — increased 100 percent —while cheddar, mozzarella and other high-volume cheeses grew 25 percent.

2. Cheese exports are rising, up 9 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 United States.

3. 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, D.C., 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.

4. 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 United States.

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.

5. The wonder of pizza. This single food category has fueled the rise of modern dairying in the United States, and pizza isn’t slowing down. Worldwide sales grew 5 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in the United States alone, according to annual data compiled by PMQ Pizza Magazine. In 2003, mozzarella became king of cheeses in the United States, 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.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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