This past spring, when a group of 75 dairy farms found out they would be dropped by their processors, Mark Stephenson was among the first to hear about it. The Wisconsin dairy market faced a crisis. Canada had changed its trade policy, halting the flow of ultra-filtered milk from U.S. processors. The policy coincided with an unusually large amount of milk. In the past, cheese plants had been happy to pick up additional supply, but “this situation was different,” says Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis with UW–Madison and UW–Extension.
Within a week, Stephenson was in conversations with state agriculture officials, exploring ways to find processors and cooperatives that would take milk from almost all of the affected farms.
Wisconsin’s dairy industry is worth $43 billion annually, accounting for about one-seventh of the state’s GDP. The industry has benefited from a long tradition of university and extension support to improve dairy feed, promote animal health and nutrition, help develop new artisan cheeses and other products, train the workforce, and assist with farm modernization and business decisions.
In June, the UW System hosted a summit to debrief and strategize for the future. Stephenson gave the keynote talk, explaining how Wisconsin’s dairy industry has become more vulnerable to global market forces and proposing a work group to ensure that the state is positioned to thrive in this new reality.
Published in the Fall 2017 issue