Iowa looking to Wisconsin for dairy success

WAVERLY, Iowa -Iowa dairy leaders hope that Wisconsin's success in reinvigorating its dairy industry holds lessons for them.

Tom Lyon

WAVERLY, Iowa -Iowa dairy leaders hope that Wisconsin's success in reinvigorating its dairy industry holds lessons for them.

Representatives from 29 dairy producer, allied industry, government and education groups gathered in Waverly last week to talk about Iowa's dairy outlook.

"It is not my purpose to sell the Wisconsin programming, but rather give you an inventory of what has been done in the past decade, and hopefully trigger some things that might add to an Iowa dialogue," said Tom Lyon of Cambridge, Wis.

Lyon, grew up on a Toledo dairy farm but spent much of his professional career in Wisconsin. He is the retired chief executive officer of Cooperative Resources International and co-chaired Wisconsin's Future of Farming and Rural Leadership project.

Lyon said he would make just one recommendation: That the various players come together and engage as many interested as possible in a comprehensive study of the Iowa dairy sector.


He said that those in the room could probably categorize the needed changes and organize a plan in a few hours.

"However, you will be much more effective if you reach out beyond the folks with titles and work to obtain buy-in from a bigger circle," Lyon said.

Wisconsin's total milk production has increased between 9 percent to 10 percent during the current decade from 23.1 to 25.2 billion pounds. Growth, he said, includes a fair increase in grazing operations.

Cow numbers at 1.25 million have stabilized during the last half of the decade, and milk production per cow is now a little over 20,000 pounds.

"In the late 1990s projections showed California's 'Happy Cows' would be producing more cheese than Wisconsin," Lyon said. "That headline got the attention of the industry and politicians."

Wisconsin produced 2.63 billion pounds of cheese in 2009 compared to 2.15 billion in 1999. Wisconsin produces 26 percent of the nation's cheese compared to 20.4 percent for California.

Wisconsin has 126 licensed cheese plants, which is about the same as 10 years ago. Fifty percent to 55 percent of the nation's specialty cheese production comes from Wisconsin, which is 18 percent of the state's total. Wisconsin produces more than 600 varieties of cheese.

In total, Wisconsin is second only to California in overall organic production with about two-thirds of the dollar volume coming from dairy.

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