Your weekly grocery list probably includes cheese. It’s great on sandwiches, as a snack, and melted over veggies to make the green stuff more appealing to kids.
Whatever your preference – gouda, provolone, cheddar – keep eating! America has a huge surplus of cheese.
How much cheese are swimming in? The Agricultural Department last month reported that we have 1.39 billion pounds of extra cheese. That’s a lot of grilled cheeses.
This number represents a 6% increase from this time last year and a 16% increase since 2016 when the surplus prompted the federal government to do a cheese buy-up. (The formal name for this process is “quantitative cheesing,” in case it ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit.)
“Milk production continues to trend up, and that milk has to find a home,” Lucas Fuess, a dairy market analyst, told The Washington Post. “The issue this year is that, with so much supply, it’s going to be tough for a lot of farmers to be profitable.”
As a result of the milk surplus, cheese prices have declined drastically, probably because milk is most easily stored as cheese. Advances in science and genetics have translated into cows that produce more milk, and farms are keeping more cows. When farmers are unable to sell off all the milk — which Americans are moving away from — the processors convert the excess milk into butter, milk powder and cheese.
Industry experts acknowledge that the need for cheese declines around this time each year. During the spring season, cows are their most productive, as they feed better and the days are longer. At the same time, school is out, restaurants begin shying away from rich, cheesy dishes during the hottest months, and people at home are eating less cheese than they do around the school year and the holiday season.
Still, the cheese surpluses the U.S. is experiencing during the summer months keep getting bigger.
“I anticipate that we’ll continue to set these records,” John Newton, director of market intelligence at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told The Washington Post. “We’re producing more milk. It’s inevitable. That milk needs to get turned into something storable.”
What’s more is the abundance of cheese in storage may also be part of the problem. Cheese prices have fallen in recent weeks, which some believe are both a response to the surplus and to growing trade concerns. Some people are worried that American cheese stockpiles will continue to swell if trade tensions with China and Mexico cut into dairy exports.
That fall in the profit margins on cheese is troubling on another level – the price of cheese is a key player in the equation the USDA uses when determining the price dairy farmers will receive for milk. Currently, the price is $15.36 per 100 pounds, which is about a dollar below 2017’s average and far below the amount many farmers claim they need simply to break even.
So far, dairy groups haven’t approached the USDA for quantitative cheesing (there’s that term again!), like they did back in 2016 when the agency bought more than 90 million pounds of excess cheese.
Michael Dykes, president of the International Dairy Foods Association, told the Washington Post that although stockpiles are high, he believes Americans will eat their way through them. That’s because stock-to-use ratios have remained constant even at higher levels like the ones we have in stored cheese right now.
And who doesn’t love good homemade macaroni and cheese? Or a tray of lasagna? Or fresh, gooey pizza? No matter how you incorporate it into your dinners, it’s a fact that we Americans enjoy our cheese. If I loaded up on cheese-filled dishes this week despite my summer diet, could I say I’m just patriotic? Well, that’s what I’ll tell myself.