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USDA Plans To Buy Another $20M In Surplus Cheese

Agriculture Officials Say Purchasing More Cheese Should Help Improve Prices For Producers

Round Cheese
infowidget (CC-BY-SA)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the purchase of $20 million worth of cheese at an event Tuesday in Westby.

Back in August, the USDA authorized an initial $20 million cheese purchase to help alleviate a national surplus weighing down prices. But USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said only about $7 million was used before the end of the fiscal year in September.

Now the USDA is planning to buy an additional $20 million in cheddar that will go to food banks and nutrition assistance programs in the next year.

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The purchase plan should temporarily help farmers, said Darin Von Ruden, a dairy farmer near Westby and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

“Short term, we’re going to probably see just a small bump in pay prices of the farmers. But in the long term, it’s not going to have a dramatic increase on prices for producers,” Von Ruden said.

Some producers have criticized the USDA’s strategies, saying they aren’t doing enough to help struggling farmers. But during the Tuesday stop, Vilsack said it’s hard to please everyone.

“The dairy industry is so diverse across the country, and depending upon what part of the country you’re in, you’re going to hear a different attitude about what works and what doesn’t work,” Vilsack said. “I encouraged producers today in the roundtable discussion to see if they can formulate a single dairy position.”

Vilsack met with producers at the Westby Cooperative Creamery to talk about the purchase plan and how international trade could improve the dairy industry.

Von Ruden said farmers at the meeting talked about recent increases in the amount of dairy products purchased in the United States. But he said a continued surplus on the world dairy market means prices won’t be improving as quickly as farmers hoped.