The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week it will purchase about $20 million worth of cheese to help American dairy farmers who are facing heavy surpluses and depressed prices.
"America's farming families are being called on to demonstrate their world-famous resourcefulness and resilience in the face of this current market downturn, and USDA is making use of every tool that we have to help them," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a ceremony held Oct. 11 at Wisconsin's Westby Creamery. "For producers challenged by weather, disease and falling revenue, we will continue to ensure the availability of a strong safety net to keep them farming or ranching."
In May, the nation's cheese stockpile reached a record 1.19 billion pounds, and in August, the National Milk Producers Federation asked the Department of Agriculture for market support to the tune of some $150 million in products to stock national food pantries, emergency food programs, school lunch programs and more. The USDA responded by purchasing about 11 million pounds of cheese for a cool $20 million.
Dairy farmers aren't the only ones facing a surplus. Producers of corn, soybeans, pork, poultry, and more are dealing with a glut due to sharply increased global production and favorable at-home conditions. In fact, the U.S. is headed for the longest stretch of falling food prices in more than 50 years, with eggs, dairy and bakery products dropping to new lows.
This oversupply has dairy farmers hurting, expected to have farmers facing their third straight year of falling incomes, down 30 percent from just two years ago.
Just how much cheddar are we talking about?
Well, according a piece in the aptly named publication Cheese Reporter penned by Dr. Bob Cropp, Professor Emeritus of University of Wisconsin-Madison, cheddar cheese prices hovered around $1.60 per pound during September. That puts the government's block of cheese in the ballpark of 12.5 million pounds. That's 250 million slices of cheese.
The USDA is authorized though secretarial authority to purchase food products to aid farmers through Section 2 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1935, a New Deal program that aimed to reduce crop surpluses and, therefore, effectively raise the value of the crops that were produced. Section 2 allows the USDA to buy up surplus food to stock the numerous government-funded food banks and assistance programs.