Jonny Hunter (CC BY 2.0)

Series: The Dairy State Economy

Dairy is iconic in Wisconsin, with the production of milk and cheese a longstanding foundation of the state's identity and global reputation. This industry is a significant component of Wisconsin's economy, dependent on the fluctuations of international markets and tastes of consumers, with each affecting the livelihoods of farmers and their employees. Meanwhile, the structure of the business is changing, with the number of farms decreasing as their average size is increasing. Around Wisconsin, the direction of the dairy industry will define the future for producers and communities.
 
While the economic and human toll wrought by low milk prices have been documented, the factors that determine those prices can feel enigmatic or perhaps even baffling for people outside of the industry.
At 5 a.m. it's still dark outside, but the lights are on in the barn at Cherryland Dairy in Door County.
Roberto Tecpile often puts in 70 hours a week at the Rosenholm dairy farm in Cochrane — a village in Buffalo County where winter days are short and can be bitterly cold.
As farms and other agricultural businesses around Wisconsin struggle to find and retain employees, many turn to seasonal worker programs to hire workers from outside the United States to fill empty positions.
An increasing number of dairy farmers are adopting new sales practices, or are entirely shifting the focus of their business to keep themselves afloat and making money.
For land-owning farmers facing tough economic circumstances, the decision to forgo another year's crop or to liquidate their livestock is not an easy one.
Wisconsin's popular identity owes quite a bit to cows, their milk and culinary staples like cheese and ice cream.
As the U.S. dairy industry continues to struggle in the face of ongoing low prices, federal policies intended to support farmers are attracting more attention.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its deadline for milk producers to apply for the Dairy Margin Protection Program — an insurance system to compensate producers if prices fall. What the program means for Wisconsin's dairy farmers?
As the dairy industry struggles with low prices in the face of a long-mounting milk glut, more farmers are finding that their woes are escalating.