The end-of-year numbers are in and it’s official: U.S. dairy exports are now a $5 billion business. In 2012, the U.S. dairy industry shipped more than 13 percent of its annual milk solids overseas for the second year in a row.

Setting volume and value records, exports hit $5.21 billion in 2012 and the nation’s dairy suppliers sent 3.295 billion pounds of total milk solids into export channels last year.

With more dairy products moving overseas, U.S. dairy producers have been able to grow in the last decade while minimizing the accumulation of burdensome inventories in the domestic market, notes Paul Rovey, a dairy producer from Arizona and chairman of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“Since 2003, U.S. milk production has increased 18 percent and more than half (56 percent) of the incremental milk volume has been sold overseas,” Rovey says. “USDEC’s long-term engagement in overseas markets has helped make that possible.”

The United States posted broad gains across geographies and product lines. Among the 2012 highlights, cheese, whey protein concentrate (WPC) and nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) all set volume records. U.S. cheese exports cleared 260,000 tons (573 million pounds), nearly twice the volume shipped just four years earlier in 2008, with Mexico, Japan, South Korea and China fueling gains. NDM/SMP shipments grew 2 percent to 444,727 tons (980 million pounds), driven by strong demand from across Latin America and the Middle East. WPC toppled the previous volume record, jumping 27 percent to 233,362 tons (514 million pounds), powered by Southeast Asia, Mexico and South Korea.