License Plate

Over the past month there has been a renewed conversation about removing America’s Dairyland from Wisconsin license plates.

This conversation was reintroduced by a suggestion from Kurt Bauer, the executive director of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and came on the heels of the $10 billion plan by Taiwanese electronics firm, Foxconn, to build a manufacturing facility near Racine.

In regards to due diligence, let’s take a look at what the dairy industry means for the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsinites have a proud heritage of generations of dairy farmers. Even most residents that live in urban areas of the state can look back on the not so distant past to find a family member that dairy farmed. The industry has evolved over the past few decades, but this doesn’t mean that Wisconsin has changed its local, national or even global impact on the dairy economy.

There are still 9,520 licensed dairy farms in the state of Wisconsin that are home to nearly 1.3 million cows. The more interesting statistic is the average farm size is 134 cows and 234 acres.

Wisconsin falls just short of California on total milk production, but Wisconsin’s cows are more efficient and produce about four percent more milk per cow than that of their western counterparts.

This is due to many environmental factors wherein cows are more comfortable with the cooler Wisconsin climate. Furthermore, Wisconsin producers are able to produce a better and more economical feed product for their cows by having a higher feed conversion rate.

Wisconsin is truly the cheese state. Wisconsin is far and away the highest producing cheese state in the country producing 26.2 percent of the U.S. cheese market from 144 cheese plants.

This is amazing enough, but what is more interesting is that more than five percent of this is exported globally. If Wisconsin were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for cheese production.

If cheese isn’t your fancy, there are 14 butter plants and 15 yogurt plants. Eighty nine percent of the butter and yogurt leaves the state to feed the nation and the world.

The World Cheese Making Championships are held in Milwaukee every two years. Wisconsin is blessed to be home to the current World Championship cheese. Moreover, Wisconsin owns the crown of the world’s top feta and flavored goudas.

Statistically, Wisconsin’s dairy industry can stand on its merit alone, currently and historically. The economic impact is mind blowing. Dairy is a $43.4 billion annual business. For comparison, the citrus industry in Florida is $10.7 billion and the potato industry in Idaho is $6.7 billion.

Dairy accounts for half of Wisconsin’s $88 billion agricultural segment and is the largest segment by far. Wisconsin’s dairy industry fuels the local economy of the state at the rate of $82,500 per minute.

On a more micro level in the local community, each dairy cow has an annual impact of $3,400. This has a ripple effect on the local economy as wages are spent on gas, food, clothes and recreation.

These farms tend to own larger amounts of land so they pay a larger portion of the property taxes in the county. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, one out of ten people are employed in Agriculture in our communities.

The suggested $10 billion investment into Wisconsin’s global economy by Foxconn will in fact lead to positive economic gain, but this pales in comparison to the annual impact the dairy industry has on the state.

The great news is, Wisconsin has continued to grow their dairy impact over the past ten years and has the ornate ability to continue this upward trend. Our people, climate and history allow us to be America’s Dairyland today, and should enable us to be for many generations.

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Dorothy Robson is editor of the Westby Times. Contact her at 608-637-5625.

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