Wisconsin hits 7th month of lower cheese production

Hope Kirwan
Wisconsin Public Radio
In this Feb. 27, 2017, photo, wheels of Grand Cru Surchoix cheese sit on spruce planks to age for nine months at the Emmi Roth USA production plant in Monroe.

Wisconsin cheesemakers continue to produce less this year.

The latest report from the state's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Office found Wisconsin produced 281 million pounds of cheese in June. That's 0.7 percent lower than the same month last year.

It's the seventh consecutive month that Wisconsin cheese production fell below 2018 levels.

John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said that lower milk prices are having an impact on production.

"It's probably the longest spell of reduced cheese production in at least the last decade. And it does reflect three to four years of down milk prices for the dairy farmer," said Umhoefer.

He said low milk prices have forced some dairy farms out of business, impacting the state's milk production.

"Especially in the last four months, (milk production) has been flat to down," Umhoefer said. "So there's definitely a correlation between how much milk is available and how much cheese you can make in Wisconsin."

The NASS report shows Wisconsin produced 2.57 billion pounds of milk in June, a 0.5 percent decline from the same month in 2018.

Patty Koenig is general manager of Carr Valley Cheese Company in La Valle. She said it's become more difficult for her company to source milk over the last five years.

"We can’t seem to always sustain a certain level of quality milk that we want to maintain," Koenig said. "So it's a bit of a struggle. And I see farms going out of business every week and it's hurting us."

Koenig said her company has seen demand for their products increase in recent years, so they're having to travel farther to pick up enough milk.

"Our milk is from within a 25- to 30-mile radius," Koenig said. "It used to be about a 5-mile radius, but so many farms have gone out of business we have had to go farther and farther."

Umhoefer said flat milk production in the state is concerning for the cheese industry, but there is a bright side to producing less cheese.

"You're going to see that the markets tightening for cheddar and that will directly impact the milk price in a favorable direction," Umhoefer said.

National cheese production increased 0.6 percent from last year, totaling 1.07 billion pounds in June. California, the nation's second-largest cheese producing state, saw an 0.8 percent increase in cheese production from 2018. Cheese makers in that state produced 205 million pounds in June.

Umhoefer said he isn't concerned about Wisconsin losing its title as top cheese producing state in the nation.

"Wisconsin's still got about 140 cheese making sites, so things are a little more tempered as far as one plant making a difference up or down (on production)," Umhoefer said.

This article reprinted with permission from Wisconsin Public Radio