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Deadline Looms for Wisconsin Dairy Farmers

What to do with nearly 1 million pounds of milk a day is a critical question for a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers. (RGtimeline/
What to do with nearly 1 million pounds of milk a day is a critical question for a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers. (RGtimeline/
April 24, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – As the May 1 deadline approaches, dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers still are looking for a buyer for 800,000 thousand to 1 million pounds of milk a day.

A decision by Canada to shut down ultra-filtered milk trade from U.S. producers has left the farmers with a very short time to either find a new buyer for their milk or shut down their dairy operation.

President Donald Trump last week criticized Canada’s position as unfair.

Ultra-filtered milk is used to make cheese and butter.

Daniel Smith, administrator of agricultural development for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, says his agency has taken a number of actions to try to find a new market for the affected dairy farms.

"Working on possibilities of the federal government coming in and buying inventory so that we can free up more space through the processing network and make more dairy products and not contribute to the inventory," he states.

Because inventories are very high right now, it's difficult for processors to find room for an additional 800,000 to 1 million pounds of milk every day.

Mullins Cheese in Mosinee has taken on eight of the 75 dairy farms affected, and there are ongoing efforts to find other processors that can help pick up other farms.

Smith says people can help simply by buying more Wisconsin dairy products.

According to Smith, the Agriculture Department's Farm Center staff is working diligently to try to help. He says the situation facing the dairy farmers affected by the abrupt decision is critical, and they must either find a new processor to take their milk or sell their herd, which would mean losing their job and their livelihood. He says the state is working with the USDA to assist by purchasing cheese and butter in inventory and distributing it through nutritional-aid programs.

"So if we could move the inventory, maybe we could free up enough space in the processing sector, even if we put on extra shifts or whatever it would take to process this milk,” Smith states. “The simplest way to look at it: On May 1, we need a place for between 800,000 and 1 million pounds of milk a day to go."

Wisconsin is home to 9,236 dairy farms, more than any other state, and 96 percent of those farms are family owned.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI