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Business booms for dairy farmers

Business booms for dairy farmers

WESTBY, Wis. (WKBT) - The dairy industry is arguably the best known business here in Wisconsin, and state officials say that's for good reason.

In just the last year, the industry has broken record sales numbers for milk and cheese, with exports up more than 40 percent in 2013. Just last week, experts say cheese hit a record high price - and that translates into more money for our local farmers.

Al Bekkum is a dairy farmer and cheese maker at Nordic Creamery, outside Westby. He says the recent upturn in Wisconsin's dairy industry is the first good news in quite a while.

"Cheese is hitting all-time records, milk prices are as high as I've ever seen them in my 25 years," Bekkum said.

With exported cheesed raking in $400 million for the state's dairy industry, even small-town operations like Nordic are reaping the benefits. They're feeling a higher demand for their products, including milk and butter.

"That translates directly through the milk price to the dairy farmer," said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, of the hike in prices. "They will see prices they've never seen this coming spring."

Bekkum's operation doesn't export its cheeses overseas, but that doesn't mean he isn't feeling the impact. As larger manufacturers like Kraft Foods are forced to raise their prices as a result of higher milk prices, the playing field becomes more equal for local creameries like Nordic.

"As the export market goes up, that creates more of a demand here at home, because some of the products we're competing against are going overseas, and it helps bring that price up a little bit," he says.

Bekkum is hoping the price hikes and boom in the business continues for area farmers.

"Maybe we're finally at that point where everybody's going to start to make a living in the dairy industry," Bekkum said. "As a dairy farmer milking their own cows and having a lot of friends in the dairy industry, we would really like to see that price finally stay up there and try and keep some of these small family farms in business."

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