The industry that gave Wisconsin its nickname has been a bright spot in international trade during an otherwise flat year.

Wisconsin dairy exports were up 23 percent in the first half of 2013, moving the state up to fourth in the nation for exports, according to new trade numbers.

Compared to the first six months of 2012, overall exports were up just 0.35 percent to about $11.7 billion in 2013, putting Wisconsin 19th among the states, according to trade data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Wisconsin ranked 18th in 2012.

About $7.8 billion of the state’s exports were durable goods, with industrial machinery accounting for nearly 30 percent of all exports. Industrial machinery was down nearly 8 percent compared to the first half of 2012.

But agricultural exports were up 9.7 percent to $1.6 billion, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Dairy was the top agricultural product, with sales of $171 million.

Exports to Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and other countries keep workers busy at Agropur Ingredients in La Crosse, where nine production lines run day and night during the week.

Founded in 1989 as Main Street Ingredients, the company was acquired in 2010 by the Canadian dairy cooperative and makes a wide array of powdered ingredients used in baked goods, soup mixes, frozen dairy products and powdered sports drinks, which are very popular in Australia, said Cheryl Hundt, sales coordinator for exports.

While they don’t show up on retail shelves — at least not with the Agropur name — Hundt said U.S. products are sought after for their high quality.

Organic Valley projects its global exports will nearly double this year to about $10 million, thanks to a growing thirst in Asia for USDA-certified organic products, said Eric Newman, vice president in charge of sales for the nation’s largest organic cooperative, headquartered in La Farge, Wis.

Cheese, butter and shelf-stable milk, which lasts up to a year without refrigeration, can be easily shipped overseas, though Newman said ultra-pasteurized milk also lasts long enough to make the voyage by ship. Organic Valley also serves a thriving Hong Kong market for buttermilk flown in from St. Paul.

With the advent of free trade agreements that will lower tariffs to South Korea and an ever-growing market in China, Newman expects overseas sales will reach $200 million in the next three to five years.

While not all the products come from Wisconsin, Newman said, those numbers mean “Lots of farmers, lots of jobs.”

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