’Tis the season for good cheer, holiday festivities and cheese plates. There are seemingly endless varieties to enjoy – Gouda, Blue, Cheddar, Asiago, Feta, Muenster and many more. Hardworking American dairy farmers and cheese artisans make these delicious products. A strong dairy sector not only provides us with delicious food for the holiday table, it also has a great impact on rural America and local economies.
My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has a long history of working with the dairy industry, state governments and stakeholders to help farmers and producers. I’ve actually been able to see first-hand how AMS programs services benefit dairy operations. In August, I toured two Wisconsin dairy farms – Rosendale Dairy, a large farm with over 8,500 cows, and R&G Miller & Sons, an organic dairy farm with about 260 milking cows.
I left with a deeper appreciation for the extensive care and effort that farmers invest in providing consumers with safe milk and dairy products. They even named a calf after me at Rosendale Dairy! I also learned how AMS partnerships have helped reinvigorate and restore opportunities for dairy producers in Wisconsin.
In 2001, AMS’s Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) – which supports research projects that improve the marketing, transportation, and distribution of U.S. agricultural products, including dairy products – awarded a 2-year grant to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to help develop the state’s emerging farmstead dairy sector. The project focused on practical ways to help dairy farmers, producers, marketers, distributors, and beginning farmers respond to the growing consumer demand for specialty, locally-produced, and value-added products.
It was a big success! The FSMIP project set the stage for the Wisconsin Value Added Dairy Initiative (VADI), which launched the Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC) as a non-profit corporation to support specialty and artisan cheese and dairy businesses. The DBIC provided large and small emerging and existing dairy farmers and businesses with targeted, one-on-one technical assistance. Another important VADI component, the Grow Wisconsin Dairy Team, acted as a catalyst for reinvestment and innovation by focusing on producer modernization, enhanced value in the supply chain, and value-added production.
In all, the VADI helped 1,716 farmers with modernization services. Milk production rose from 22 billion pounds at the start of the project to a new state record of 27.6 billion pounds, and specialty dairy volume increased by more than 66 percent to 504,099 pounds. By the end of 2013, specialty dairy volume had increased to 611,162 pounds, a 102 percent increase since 2004. During this same time period, 93 processing plants were created or expanded, and Wisconsin dairies produced 73 new products and for consumers to enjoy. DBIC clients also won more than 1,000 awards at various national cheese competitions.
With over 11,000 dairy farms, more than a million cows, and over 200 dairy plants, Wisconsin’s dairy industry is a mainstay of the state’s economic backbone. Today, Wisconsin produces more than 25 percent of all cheese in the United States. This success shows the value of leveraging Federal, state, and stakeholder partnerships to move the dairy industry forward and help revitalize rural America. It also demonstrates USDA’s commitment to revitalizing the rural economy, creating jobs and supporting American farmers and ranchers.