As of August 1 ,2008, Wisconsin had 13,635 licensed milk cow herds, more than any other state in the nation. However, even though we have more farms, we have less milk cows than California and other states are ramping up their dairy farm production.
Reports show that California and Wisconsin continue to be the top two producers of milk, but, for the first time, this past month Idaho passed New York for third place. The number of milk cows in New York had remained steady over the past year, while Idaho added 40,000 cows. The additional cows combined with a higher milk per cow helped push Idaho’s total production past New York into third place.
See this chart for an interesting comparison of milk production around the country — it shows up-and-coming dairy powerhouse states such as Texas and New Mexico are producing as much as 18 percent more milk than they did a year ago.
What does this mean for Wisconsin? Well, commodity cheese production will probably continue to move and be outsourced to the West — but it won’t be in California. No new cheese plants have been sited in the land of happy cows since 2002, largely because of strict environmental standards.
So where are the big plants going? Look at the chart where milk production is increasing — Texas and New Mexico. Some of the biggest cheese plants in the nation are located in these two states — pumping out millions of pounds of mozzarella cheese for pizza and commodity cheddar.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to support Wisconsin artisan and specialty cheese makers. We continue to be the nation’s leader in cheese production. We have some big plants in Wisconsin that help with these numbers, but we have something else that no other state has: a huge diversity in the number and size of cheese plants dotted around the state — 124 in total.
Of these 124 plants, 83 are crafting at least one type of specialty cheese – and that number is only going to increase. In fact, since 2004, 34 new dairy plants have opened in America’s Dairyland and 54 more have expanded. The majority of these plants are small, value-added and farmstead operations — dairy farmers cutting out the middle man and stabilizing farm income by diversifying their operations.
And, while these new plants and expansions can’t compare in size with the mega dairy plants of Texas, New Mexico and even California, there is no comparison between the quantity and quality of Wisconsin artisan and specialty cheeses and those made elsewhere — nearly 50 percent of all specialty cheese made in this country is made in Wisconsin.
If you’re planning a visit to Wisconsin in the near future, or if you live here and are looking for a good day trip, request a Traveler’s Guide to America’s Dairyland from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. There are hundreds of cheese plants and retail stores just waiting for you to visit.