Guest Columns

Dairy Marketing

The state of Wisconsin dairy

Patrick Geoghegan

Patrick Geoghegan is senior vice president, marketing and industry relations, for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. He is a guest columnist for Cheese Market News®.

There’s a saying here in America’s Dairyland: as goes the dairy industry, so goes Wisconsin. The success of the dairy industry is so intrinsically tied to the state’s economic health, it can be summed up in one word: vital.

This week, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension and Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, published the latest data that supports the importance of the state’s symbiotic relationship with dairy.

The news is encouraging. The industry continues to grow despite the challenges of the past four years — and, as a result, so does Wisconsin. While the report speaks to the economic impact of agriculture as a whole, the dairy industry represents nearly half of $104.8 billion total agriculture contribution with an economic impact of $45.6 billion.

Compared to the signature industries of other states, dairy brings more to Wisconsin than the citrus industry brings to Florida, or the potato industry brings to Idaho and the apple industry brings to Washington.

That total number — $45.6 billion — is only part of the story. Local and state tax revenue generated by dairy now stands at a total of $1.26 billion. That revenue is essential to state infrastructure, maintaining public services, schools, roads and parks and all of the amenities that sustain our quality of life. These are benefits that touch every person living and working in Wisconsin, whether they are directly tied to dairy or not. Since we began sharing dairy impact data with consumers nearly 20 years ago in cooperation with UW-Extension, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has told anyone willing to listen that even if you’ve never lived on a farm or milked a cow in your life, you’re still connected to the dairy industry. Dairy plays a huge role in the sustainability of rural life, and when our industry faces challenges, the ripple effect is felt across our state like no other industry.

Dairy continues to be a pillar in our economy by providing significant employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at just 2.9%, Wisconsin has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Great Lakes region. Dairy plays a big role in that number. Currently, on-farm activity generates 154,000 jobs that can be attributed to dairy, while dairy processing generates an additional 108,000 jobs.

One of the reasons dairy continues to evolve and grow is because of processing. Food processing is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the agricultural economy, especially over the past five years. Dairy processing alone generates $6.5 billion in labor income and $760 million in state and local tax revenues. The USDA Economic Research Service reports that cheese consumption is at an all-time high, and foreign demand for dairy products is growing, showing that processing will continue to be an area of opportunity for Wisconsin in the future.

Of course, the biggest factor in our processing success is the high-quality milk that Wisconsin has become known for. One of the reasons Wisconsin wins more awards than any other cheese-producing region is because our milk is second-to-none. When you consider that about 90% of the milk in Wisconsin is processed into cheese, you can see how processing simply wouldn’t be where it is without the hard work — and commitment to quality — continually demonstrated by our dairy farm families.

Our state economy is, without a doubt, fueled by milk, which is why we need to continue to find ways to support and shape the industry for continued growth and success.

How will we do that? Innovation.

One of our greatest resources for thought leadership and innovation is the Center for Dairy Research. It is the gold standard for ideating and executing new products that will be the lifeblood of our industry. Working with and through other partners in the industry such as Dairy Management Inc. and others will also help us continue to find markets for milk, ensuring a strong future for Wisconsin farmers, and thereby, the state.

Another growing opportunity for dairy in Wisconsin is the foreign export market. In 2018, Wisconsin exported just over $2.5 billion in agriculture, $451 million of which were dairy products. A particular area of opportunity for us is the growing demand for dairy in the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA). The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) predicts that exports in total to MENA countries will rise by more than 85,000 metric tons by 2021.

In Wisconsin, the impact that the dairy industry has had on our economy can be traced back to the earliest European settlers who brought their dairy farming and cheesemaking traditions with them from the old country. It is a relationship that continues to thrive today, and with new innovations and a commitment to supporting our farmers, it’s a relationship that will thrive for the next many generations.

To learn more about agriculture’s impact on Wisconsin, go to


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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