The future of Wisconsin’s dairy business is promising, according to Ed Jesse, Professor Emeritus, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Jesse previewed information in preparation for the 2013-14 Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum, set for Jan. 22, in Madison, Wis. In his remarks, Jesse said today’s brighter future is a continuation of an upward trend started in 2005, following 16 years of decline.

Wisconsin milk production peaked around 1988, at about 25 billion lbs. per year. By 2004, annual production had slipped to about 22 billion lbs. “We lost 3 billion pounds of milk, and there was concern in the industry that we could be weakening the industry substantially,” Jesse said. 

It took a lot of effort, with roots in the 1980s, to bring the Wisconsin dairy industry back. The state created several initiatives, including tax breaks, use-value tax assessment and tax deductions for investments by both dairy farmers and plants. The University of Wisconsin-Madison had various efforts to try to modernize a dairy industry. And, two new dairy organizations – the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) and the Dairy Business Association (DBA) – helped change the climate and dairy farmer attitudes in the state. By 2013, Wisconsin produced almost 28 billion lbs. of milk.

“We’ve been increasing milk production at the rate of about 600 million lbs.a year, which is a phenomenal rate of increase,” Jesse said. 

That increase has been spearheaded by the growth and modernization of larger dairy farms, with more milk being produced per farm. At the same time, smaller dairy operations have strengthened, finding ways to remain profitable through grazing and organic dairying.

“We’re not losing dairy farms nearly as rapidly as we did in the 1980s and the 1990s,” Jesse said. 

Looking ahead, Jesse said there are a lot of opportunities – and some challenges.

“A major one is our specialty cheese business, which gives credibility and value to all of our cheese production,” he explained. “But at the same time we have challenges. Perhaps the biggest one is water, and I’m talking about quantity as well as quality.”

To hear the interview, click here.