Internet Coins a Cheese Mountain

Volume 140, No. 46, Friday, May 6, 2016

A Bloomberg article on cheese stocks – “The U.S. is sitting on a Mountain of Cheese” – lit up Internet media and bloggers this week, offering a window on how consumer opinion leaders view dairy.

Bloomberg built its article around an obscure fact: cold storage data for cheese, comparing March data year over year, finds stocks at an all-time high. And while cheese in storage is up, the missed story is booming worldwide milk production and cheese production.

It’s as if Bloomberg reported on a hurricane by counting the record number of puddles the next day.

Here’s four conclusions from media’s latest dip into dairy:

1. An Upbeat Response
Copy-cat articles and bloggers took an upbeat tone, such as this concluding paragraph from Smithsonian: “The U.S. may be built upon a veritable ocean of stockpiled cheese, but for residents, this is no queso emergency. It sounds too Gouda to be true—but it is.” The media was never as friendly about the government-held dairy stocks in the 1980s.

“For the rest of us, it just means we need to chow down on lots of cheese—for the good of the country,” Cosmopolitan joked. “As a huge fan of cheese, I am delighted to tell you that the U.S. currently has a cheese surplus,” wrote Liz Magee on Frisky.

2. A European Scapegoat
Bloomberg and followers placed blame for America’s growing cheese stocks on Europe, with barely a mention of rising U.S. milk and cheese production. By the second paragraph, Bloomberg condemns: “The reason is the U.S. is sitting on more butter and cheese than it knows what to do with, and the Europeans are to blame.”

Yes, EU milk production is up – 3.5 percent since quotas were lifted last spring – and cheese imports from the EU are soaring. The EU imported 17 percent more cheese into the U.S. in 2015 than 2014 – 47 million more pounds. But U.S. cheese production rose 326 million pounds in 2015 – a far larger contributor to cheese stocks than European imports.

Bloomberg lamented the fate of EU dairy farmers: “Even though sales increased, things are still pretty dire for European dairy farmers, who’ve warned for months that rock-bottom prices risk putting them out of business.”

3. What about our Farms?
Amazingly, the U.S. dairy farmer remained unmentioned in the Bloomberg article. Milk prices have headed south: The “All Milk” Price in Wisconsin held steady in the $17-$18 dollar per hundredweight range in 2015 but has dropped to $15.80/cwt. in March 2016. The last time the weekly average price for block Cheddar at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange matched last week’s $1.38 was March 2007.

In 2015, Wisconsin produced 4.3 percent more milk, New York rose 2.7 percent while the nation as a whole produced 1.2 percent more. In March 2016 US milk production rose 1.8 percent – and 5.3 percent in Wisconsin, 5.5 percent in New York and 7.7 percent in Michigan. Rising milk production will hit dairy farm income statements hard in 2016, but consumer media is more intrigued with the easy visual of a “cheese mountain.”

4. The Bigger Picture
The cold storage data that launched this week’s look at dairy is barely news. America has made more cheese every year for the last 20 years – is it surprising that warehouse stocks trend upwards? Undoubtedly warehouses are full of cheese, but the March 2016 holdings are only 3.5 percent higher than May 2013 stocks.

Here’s the point: Now more than ever before, news is manufactured for impact and echoes through hundreds of on-line outlets. For an industry, managing the message is harder than ever before. This week’s chat about a cheese mountain missed the bigger picture of economic repercussions from global growth in dairy. But the tone was a hit: the happy spin bloggers put on the idea of new cheese mountain affirms America’s positive view of US cheese today.

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at


Other John Umhoefer Columns

 Our 125th Year! (Sort of)
 A Dangerous New Raw Milk Bill
Wisconsin Makes Its Case Out West
 Dancing with the Devil in the Details
 Phosphorus’ Final Act
 20 Years of Change In One Bite
 The Whey Problem and California’s Solution
 The System Works - March 6, 2015
 100 Years of Success
 Thoughts for a Dairy Forum
 A Different Dairy Scene in 2015
 The Truth About Animal Care
 A Regulatory Hat Trick
 Flawed Security Program Bilks Wisconsin Dairy
 Leading Cheese Producers
 Success by the Numbers
 It’s Time for Training
 Exports Trump Farm Bill
 Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute’s 20-20 Vision
 Addressing Wastewater Head On
 Knowledge Opportunities Abound
 Say No to an Extreme Raw Milk Bill
 A Generation's Gift
 Government-Induced Uncertainty
 Decades Ahead on Food Safety
 Wisconsin’s Hot Winter
 A Successful Campaign for Babcock
 Ireland: Gearing Up For Growth
 Mired in Wash Water
 Less Government, More Dairy
An Interview With Jim Sartorii
The Other Solids Price Crush
 The Policy Answer Is Exports
 Rolling The Dice On Dairy Reforms
 Productive Changes In Wisconsin

 The Successful Idea Of DBIC
 Cheese Cuts Both Ways: Consolidation and Growth
 IDFA's Deep Dairy Reforms
 Wisconsin In The Spotlight
 An Overbuilt Foundation
 What the New Governor Means To Wisconsin
 No Man's Land
 Dairy & Wisconsin’s New Leadership
Wisconsin Cheese Is Investing, Expanding
 Talking Competition
 Being Big Dairy
Upper Midwest Prospects in 2010
Upper Midwest Growth: Perspectives From The Farm
Blue Skies or Bust
Pushing Back Against A Tough 2009
Support Demand, Not Price
Dairy: A Good Bet in a Bad Economy
Wisconsin's Future: Growth
Keeping Sustainability Real
Nose Dive
Dairy Dives into 2009
Consider This...
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Implement Make Allowances ASAP
Security Reforms
Spring Forward
A Week of Clarity

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