Lots of milk and lots of competition

John Oncken
Sales at grocery stores have increased during the pandemic as people have eaten more “at home” meals.

Wisconsin set another state record for total milk production in 2020, despite having fewer cows. The latest production figures from the USDA show that Wisconsin farmers produced 30.7 billion pounds of milk in 2020, slightly more than the previous record of 30.6 billion pounds set in 2019. Milk per cow rose to an all-time high of 24,408 pounds, up 256 pounds from the year earlier. As of January 1, there were 6,932 licensed milking herds in the state – down 360 from a year ago.

Note: California remains as the number one milk producing state with over 40.7 billion pounds produced last year. The state surpassed Wisconsin in 1993 as the leading milk production state and has remained in that position ever since.

US Milk Production also up 

Total milk 2020 milk production in the US was 223 billion pounds, 2.2% above 2019. Annual total milk production has increased a shocking13.7% from 2011.  Production per cow in the United States hit  23,777 pounds for 2020, a plus 382 pounds above a year ago. 

Milk production on both state and national levels has been increasing for many decades – the ultimate question remains: Will demand continue to absorb that ever-increasing milk supply? Consider: In 1990, just 30 years ago, Wisconsin (then #1) produced 24.4 billion pounds of milk; California had a milk flow of 20.9 billion pounds and the total US production stood at 148.3 billion pounds.  

.Apparently some plant-based fake milks now are sold in gallon sizes.

Get rid of fake food

Wisconsin lawmakers Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, Rep. Clint Moses, R-Menomonie, and Sen. Howard Marklien, R-Spring Green, recently reintroduced the Truth In Food Labeling legislation “to protect and promote real dairy and meat products to consumers.”  The legislation is extremely important to the farmers and food processors” Marklien says. “They feel very strongly about the integrity of food labeling and are frustrated by the misleading labeling that has invaded dairy and meat cases in grocery stores." 

The milk display at grocery stores  remains huge with a wide variety of milk including A2, fairlife and milk with varying butterfat amounts. And, chocolate milk.

Senate Bill (SB) 83 is related to milk labeling, SB 82 is related to meat labeling and SB 81 is related to dairy-product labeling. All the bills state the only products that can be labeled as commonly used terms for milk, meat and dairy products must actually be made from real milk, meat and dairy products. That means one cannot use common terms such as “milk,” “burger,” “chicken wing,” “cheese,” “yogurt,” “provolone” and other terminology for products that are not made from actual milk, meat from a mammal or cheese made from milk.

“We know the bills aren’t a silver bullet that will solve the problems for our ag economy, but they’re something we can do to protect and promote real, healthy, excellent-quality agricultural products to consumers,” Marklien continues. “Those bills will also put pressure on the federal government to take action on existing food-labeling regulations that aren’t currently being enforced.”

Dave Buholzer, one of the owners of Klondike Cheese in Monroe, Wisconsin, attended the recent Senate hearing to support the legislation. “His leadership on the issue has been an important part of the conversation,” Marklien says. In addition to the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the bills are also vocally supported by the Dairy Business Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association.

Meat sales in 2020 have risen by over 10% over 2019 as consumers cooked at home.

“Milk is from a cow,” Representative Tranel said. “Meat is from an animal. Cheese is made from milk. Consumers, farmers and producers deserve clear labeling. Buyers should be able to easily purchase the real food products they intend to purchase. When I select a package of Provolone cheese, I shouldn’t have to figure out if it’s made from real milk, or coconut oil and modified starches. I want the real thing.”

All three bills have been approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism. 


Efforts to prevent the use of the words “meat” and “milk” on non-meat and nondairy products have been ongoing for decades and there has long been a legal description of milk: The term “milk” is defined by the FDA under 21 CFR 131.110 as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cow.” Thus, in order to meet standard of identity requirements, a product labeled as “milk” must have animal origin.

Woodman's Market identifies its non-dairy, vegan display area.

But, the FDA has never enforced the law and the fake milk and less so, the fake meat industries have thrived. Take a look at any big grocery store and you’ll see large displays of “milks” made from plant-based ingredients such as oats, almonds, coconuts, soybeans and more. 

Of course, the entire dairy industry would like to prevent the use of the word milk on nondairy products but the efforts may be too little and too late: the chickens have fled the coop, the cows have jumped the fence and the calves are out of the pen and consumers have widened their tastes. And, the food competition is just heating up.  

John Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406, or email him at