A Cheesehead’s Favorite Month
If someone from another state asked you to describe Wisconsin in a few words, I bet one of your answers would be cheese. We are America’s Dairyland, after all. However, that title is much more than a motto on a license plate. Dairy farming is a huge part of our state’s history, identity, and economy. Since June Dairy Month is just around the corner, we should take some time to pay homage to the farmers who work diligently to put milk and cheese on our tables.
June Dairy Month is a wonderful tradition that connects the community to farmers with a unique celebration of dairy products. This tradition first started in 1937 when the National Dairy Council designated June as National Milk Month. Initially, the Council used National Milk Month as a way to get more people to drink milk during times of surplus so it did not go to waste. In 1939, the National Milk Month changed to June Dairy Month to highlight all aspects of dairy farming. Today, we celebrate June Dairy Month with breakfasts prepared with local food and dairy products, parades, barn tours, and meeting the farmers who are responsible for your meat and cheese spread.
Have you ever had Colby cheese on your plate? This cheese was actually created back in 1885 by John Steinwand in Colby, Wisconsin, which I am proud to represent in Madison. Colby cheese is just one example of the dairy legacy in our state, which stretches back over 150 years. Back in the 1800s, farmers began to raise cows for butter and cheese as an alternative to wheat farming. By 1935, there were over 180,000 farms in the state that had dairy cows. Most of these farms were started by families and they have been passed down through many generations. Even today, 96% of farms in the state are still kept in the family.
Dairy farming, while having gone through many challenges throughout the years and especially recently, is still prevalent and important to our economy today. There are 144 cheese plants in our state, some of which are located in our area. These cheese plants produced 677,742,000 pounds of cheddar cheese in 2017. That amount of cheese weighs more than 450,000 cows!
Last year, the dairy industry contributed $43.4 billion to the state’s economy, including dairy plants, milk haulers, veterinarians, and many more jobs related to the industry. Our dairy presence has made us the home of the World Dairy Expo, which has been held in Madison every fall since 1967. Farmers from all over the world make the trek to meet other farmers to share expertise and knowledge, watch dairy cattle shows, purchase innovative products and learn about new research that improves dairy farming practices.
Some of the research and products you see at the Expo might have ties to the University of Wisconsin System and the University of Wisconsin Extension. The collaboration between farmers and the UW has existed for decades and truly upholds the Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin Idea is a philosophy that focuses on how the University of Wisconsin System should have an influence outside of the classroom to solve problems and improve the quality of life for our state’s residents through education and research. This partnership has improved many areas of the industry, like new medications to prevent milk fever or low levels of blood calcium, new findings about nutrition for cattle, and even ice cream that helps athletes recover after a workout.
This is only a small portion of all the good that dairy farming does for our economy and state. Cows are not just a feature of the landscape that we drive by in Wisconsin, they are a symbol of our state and the strong dairy farming tradition that has existed for decades. This June, take some time to attend a dairy breakfast and talk to your local farmers about the importance of dairy. Let’s raise a glass of milk and toast our Wisconsin dairy farmers!