Wisconsin milk production up means lower prices; but where are we going to put it all?

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- “Milk production is up in Wisconsin, its up across the United States,” said Eau Claire County UW-Extension Ag Agent Mark Hagedorn. “As a state, as an industry, as a whole, that's what we’ve been striving to do for the last 20 to 30 years.”

As Wisconsin farmers continue to see an increase in milk production, one reason in our area due to better feed for cattle, it also poses some challenges. As industries typically strive to surpass themselves in production, an overproduction of milk in Wisconsin asks the question of where are we going to put it all?

“Milk is not one of those commodities that sits around and stores well,” Hagedorn said. “We’ve got the infrastructure in this state to produce cheese and we can choose to store cheese. We can age cheese and that makes more value added to the product, but only so much cheese is consumed. We see the infrastructure for cheese manufacturing in this state; we do not have the infrastructure to process milk. Liquid bottling plants, you find a few of them scattered around the state of Wisconsin, but not very many of them, we’re all about cheese.”

While farmers continue to produce more milk, the consumer gets to save a little bit more when buying things like cheese, milk or butter at the grocery store; however, that's not always the case for the farmer.

“For the consumer it’s probably a positive thing,” Hagedorn said. “If you like to have your glass or two of milk a day like I do, it’s good for us. The downside, the dairy producer himself isn't seeing as much in his check as maybe he could, should or would.”

Ag agents add, if farmers start to overcompensate and really cut back, the consumer could feel it in their pockets.

Farmers like Jeff Peck, who said he’s seen an increase in his farm’s milk production this year due to better quality of forage, said the balance of supply and demand in Wisconsin is something to be talked about.

“If we keep having oversupply problems where it puts the prices too low or you run out of places to take your milk, and you have plants telling producers with a letter we're not going to take your milk anymore, and you have farmers within days of finding a home for their milk, that is a serious problem,” Peck said. “It’s a good reminder why supply management is something we should be looking at whether it's a government-controlled program or whether the industry works together through co-ops to try and balance supply and demand.”

In the past, Wisconsin has implemented programs like a whole herd buyout in 1986 to help control production. Hagedorn said other practices in some states and countries, like California and Canada, even have a quota system to regulate milk production.

In all, Hagedorn said it doesn't look like milk prices are going to change for the time being. He does add that maybe buying and freezing cheese could be a good strategy to save money when prices are low.

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