Cheese production in Wisconsin ended two straight years of modest growth in 2012 with its strongest percentage gain in a decade, and Wisconsin increased its hold as the nation's top cheese producer.
Wisconsin increased overall cheese production by 4.6 percent to 2.8 billion pounds in 2012, according to statistics from the National Agricultural Statistics Service that were compiled by UW-Madison agricultural and applied economics professor Brian Gould and analyzed by the Wisconsin State Journal.
"The numbers reflect our increase in milk production," said Gould, who was referring to the NASS estimate that state milk production increased 4.1 percent in 2012. "Our milk has to go someplace. If we have an increase in milk, we're going to have an increase in cheese."
The analysis showed that the state's cheese production percentage gain was the largest since 2002 and followed two straight years where production failed to increase by at least 1 percent.
It also was the largest percentage increase in production of the country's top five cheese-producing states, according to the analysis.
California, which made a run at Wisconsin as the nation's top cheese producer last decade, increased production by just 0.5 percent. That was the smallest increase among the top five cheese-producing states.
The analysis showed that Wisconsin produced 25.4 percent of the nation's cheese in 2012 — up from 24.9 percent in 2011 — while California produced 20.7 percent, down from 21 percent n 2011.
Nationally, overall cheese production grew 3.9 percent to 10.9 billion pounds, according to the analysis.
The numbers show that the state's dairy industry is making strides despite economic problems that threatened to slow it down, according to John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.
"What you're seeing bodes well for the future," Umhoefer added.
State mozzarella production jumped 5 percent in 2012 to 946 million pounds, which was 26.2 percent of the nation's production. California is the nation's biggest mozzarella producer (36.2 percent), but its production increased just 0.07 percent in 2012, according to the analysis.
Wisconsin's cheddar production grew by 3.6 percent to 570 million pounds in 2012, which was 18.2 percent of the nation's production. That continues to lead the nation.
Wisconsin also had production increases in whole milk, American cheese, Italian cheese and Hispanic cheese.
Source: Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)