CADOTT — Yellowstone Cheese shop in Cadott has seen strong growth in the past decade, said manager Jeff Soppeland.
Ten years ago, the store purchased between 250,000 and 280,000 pounds of milk to turn into cheese. This year, Soppeland anticipates the company will purchase 1.5 million pounds of milk, which means they’ll produce about 160,000 pounds of cheese this year. They sell 2,000 bags of cheese curds every week.
“It’s small, but really big for the area,” he said, adding he has no desire to grow larger. “We’re where we want to be, but we want to maintain.”
While Soppeland said the business is solid, he is fearful of how the changing dairy industry could affect him. For instance, if nearby dairy farms shut down, he will have additional challenges of getting milk to replace it. Large milk haulers require enclosed buildings to unload their product, he said. Also, there is a long apprenticeship to become a cheesemaker, he said.
“If something happens to our cheesemaker, I might become a cheese store, not a cheese factory,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., stopped at Yellowstone Cheese on Oct. 8, hearing stories from Soppeland and other people in the dairy industry who are concerned about low prices and the loss of overseas markets because of trade wars.
“This has been one of the worst periods for the dairy industry across our state I’ve ever seen,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin, who sits on the Senate’s Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said additional challenges facing farmers this year include flooding and a late planting season.
“It’s been a perfect storm of really horrible things,” she said.
Baldwin discussed a Dairy Business Innovation Act, a proposal that would provide money for farmers who are creating value-added products. The plan establishes regional initiatives to increase innovation, fostering the development of new dairy products, helps modernize existing dairy plants and supports new dairy entrepreneurs.
“There is a lot of innovation happening in dairy in Wisconsin,” she said.
The 2018 farm bill created three “innovation hubs,” one of which is established in Wisconsin, she said. Congress approved $20 million for the innovation hubs this year, up from $2 million in the first year.
Marieke Penterman, who operates Marieke Gouda in Thorp, told Baldwin about challenges facing the cheese industry, such as purchasing a milking parlor that is three times the cost of one in Europe because of higher standards on steel used in the equipment. She said U.S. cheese prices wind up being higher than European cheese, which makes it harder to export it.
Penterman said above all, farmers need higher prices for milk.
“We do not protect our farmers enough,” Penterman said. “They want to have fair milk prices.”
Baldwin also talked about the Dairy Pride Act, which would require almond milk and other non-dairy food items to not use terms that suggest they are dairy products. Baldwin said those foods are misbranded.
“The Dairy Pride Act is very much alive,” she said.
Baldwin said the mislabeled products imply that you could use almond milk as a substitute in cooking, or suggests it has the calcium equivalent of milk, which it doesn’t.
“I think there are some serious health issues (with these mislabeled foods),” she said.
Charlie Walker, Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. executive director, was pleased to have Baldwin visit the area and meet with leaders in the dairy industry.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to educate our representatives of the struggles of the dairy industry, it is a win for Chippewa County,” Walker said.