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.
 
As markets for artisan and specialty cheese grow, a new national survey found many cheesemakers have a hard time staying in operation.
To create the concept of "milk" as people know it today, the U.S. dairy industry exerted considerable energy — spending a lot of money to develop new technologies and build political clout.
Wisconsin dairy producers saw an increase in milk prices in December, reaching the highest price in the last two years.
High prices are a signal from customers indicating that they demand more product. In 2014, dairy farmers in Wisconsin and the rest of the U.S. received the highest prices for milk on record, signaling a demand that the world wanted more dairy products.
Most Wisconsinites – and Americans – have a special place in their hearts and kitchens for dairy milk. But the last few years have seen a growth in popularity of milk alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk and rice milk.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the purchase plan after a roundtable discussion with Wisconsin farmers. The cheese will go to food banks and nutrition assistance programs.
Dairy economists have an optimistic outlook for milk prices despite continued increases in production.
Wisconsin lost almost 400 dairy farms in the last year, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farms that raise animals — be they poultry, pigs, cows or other livestock — are growing. But whether smaller farms are simply updated with modern technologies or are concentrated animal feeding operations with hundreds or thousands of animals, they enable farmers to reduce costs and increase output.
Brian Gould discusses milk prices
Recently some of Wisconsin's biggest export customers have been purchasing fewer dairy products, and there is more competition on the international market.