Is Cheese Getting Kicked To The Curd in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin: a state so synonymous with cheese that its residents are equally called cheeseheads and Wisconsinites. In fact, you’re likely to find a bunch of literal cheeseheads at any Green Bay Packers game. Given this, it’s no surprise that agriculture is one of the biggest industries in Wisconsin. Traditional farming, especially the dairy industry, makes up most of the agriculture industry in the state but Wisconsin is also the second leading US state in organic farming, falling only behind California. Interestingly enough, that’s only 2% of Wisconsin’s farms.

Despite Wisconsin’s prominence in the dairy industry, the bulk of organic farming production seems to be concentrated in fruits and vegetables. On average, organic dairy farms are producing about 500 pounds of product while fruit and vegetable farmers are producing 2,000 pounds. To put this into further perspective, a gallon of milk weighs over 8.5 pounds, while cranberries, the product of Sandhill Cranberry, Inc. — a farm also producing 500 pounds of product — are sold in ¾ pound increments. Assuming a dairy farm only sells milk, and only by the gallon, that’d be 58 gallons of milk and 667 packages of cranberries. My local Walmart lists these cranberries at $1.98 and organic milk at $5.68 putting the total costs at $329 for the milk and $1321 for cranberries. Other fruit and vegetable farms are producing 8 times the amount of produce, double that of the largest organic dairy farm. Additionally, on average, fruit and vegetable farmers employ five times the number of people as dairy farms.

Does this mean that the dairy industry is on the decline? Not quite. There are three times as many dairy farms as fruit and vegetable farms and although they employ only about 200 more people, they still produce over three times the amount of produce. This means that overall production between the two groups is roughly equal. Additionally, the average gross value for dairy is $95,000 more than that of fruits and vegetables. So, how does that happen? The short answer… cheese! Processing milk brings about a greater profit than does raw milk. The chart below shows the product breakdown of Wisconsin’s dairy farmers.