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A drop in milk consumption means a lot of cheese is sitting in warehouses

Margaret Eby
June 28, 2018

Can you ever have too much cheese? Are you sure? What about 1.39 billion pounds of cheese? Because that's the amount that the United States currently has stockpiled, the largest amount of cheese in the hundred years since the Agriculture Department started documenting that stuff. That is an incredible amount of cheese! Up 16 percent since 2016 and six percent since last year. The cheesening is upon us!

Why is there so much cheese hanging out? Well, as The Washington Post explains, it's because processors have too much milk on their hands. Milk production is way up, but consumers are drinking way less milk. So what do you do when you have a lot of surplus milk? Turn it into things that store more easily than a gallon of milk: cheese, milk powder, and butter. 

Summer tends to be when Americans buy less cheese in general, but it coincides with the time of year when dairy cows are most productive. Thus surpluses in the summer are nothing new, but their recent dramatic growth has to do with the booming non-dairy milk industry as well as genetic advances making dairy cows produce more milk than ever. 

The surplus, of course, means that cheese prices have fallen, which is bad news for dairy farmers. When prices get very low, diary groups sometimes asks the USDA to buy the surplus, a process which American Farm Bureau market intelligence director John Newton calls, delightfully, "quantitive cheesing." 

And if you're wondering if Trump's escalating trade wars have some effect on the cheese mountain, why yes, they do. If cheese exports drop to places like Mexico, dairy prices drop further, and it's bad news for cheesemongers and cheese lovers alike. 

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