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Up and down year ripples across America’s Dairyland

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WESTBY, Wis. (WXOW) - Wisconsin's dairy farmers are tough. They've been through harsh weather struggles, trade agreements, and now the pandemic.

John Umhoefer, the Executive Director for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said the dairy industry saw the highest cheese prices in the nation's history and the lowest all within the same year.

The industry's sharpest decline comes from a lack of sales to bulk businesses like schools, restaurants, and hotels. The reduction in sales has also caused a downward ripple effect on people who assist the dairy industry such as electricians, equipment manufacturers, veterinarians, packagers, delivery services, and trucking companies.

Emily Bialkowski, the Sales and Marketing Manager for Westby Cooperative Creamery, said that regardless of the pandemic's adverse effects, there is hope. Bialkowski said the story of this year is that their online and grocery sales are up 290% compared to last year.

"We saw significant upticks in our grocery business and retail business. We have found that they are leveling each other off," Bialkowski said. "It's been an "OK" year in that regard, not super great and not super negative."

Umhoefer agrees with Bialkowski regarding the uptick in cheese sales within grocery stores. He said since March, cheese sales at grocery stores in the state rose 18 percent. He also mentioned the prominent cheeses purchased by people are cheddars and Colby cheeses.

Umhoefer said mozzarella is the number one cheese in the nation purely because of the pizza industry and fine dining.

"In Wisconsin, the cheese industry is valued at $46 billion," Umhoefer said. "This industry is important for the state, and it's one that I hope will recover from all of this."

Bialkowski suggested the best way for people to support the dairy industry is to find their local co-op and buy locally grown meats and food.

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Lindsey Ford

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist.

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