Leading the nation in dairy production

California: Leading the nation in dairy production

Dramatic growth fuels dairy output in the Golden State.

California is the nation’s largest farming state, producing more than 250 commercial food and fiber commodities. Dairy farming is the largest of these commodity groups, producing $4.6 billion in sales annually. In 1993, the state became the nation’s largest milk producer. In fact, only seven countries in the world currently produce more cow’s milk than California. In addition, the state is the country’s largest ice cream, butter and nonfat dry milk producer, and the second largest cheese producer.

California’s dairy farms make for a dynamic and growing statewide industry that reaches into foodservice and manufactured food products, as well as retail dairy products. And with dairy industry exports on the rise, due to recent trade agreements that have opened new distribution channels, it is likely dairy farming will make even greater contributions to the state’s economic growth in the near future.

California’s dairy industry began a period of rapid growth in the 1970s that continues today. In 1975, California produced 10.8 billion pounds of milk. In 2002, production reached 34.8 billion pounds, an increase of more than 200 percent. Shifting demographics and changing tastes have played a role in this growth, resulting in a wider variety of dairy products and increased development in certain product categories. In the period between 1990 and 2002, California dairy production experienced growth of nearly 60 percent, from 21 to nearly 35 billion pounds of milk. During the same period, the state’s cheese production more than doubled, from 702 million to 1.72 billion pounds.

California’s dairy industry enjoys some of the highest standards in the nation, employing the latest techniques in dairy farm management, herd health and milk handling. The industry maintains ongoing research programs through the California Dairy Research Foundation, which sponsors scientific studies at two California universities – University of California at Davis and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

Modern dairy farms practice preventive veterinary medicine. Inspectors monitor herd health, farm water supplies, the sanitation of milking equipment and bacteria counts. Finished dairy products are tested regularly by state inspectors to ensure compliance with state standards of identity and purity. California’s dairy farmers are also dedicated to recycling. Modern engineering is used to gather, separate and store organic waste materials. This allows organic material to be substituted for the purchase of organic fertilizer. Also, dairy farmer organizations work closely with state and local governments to develop environmental regulation. Water quality standards are very high and applying them to dairy farms requires coordination between dairy farmers and many state and government agencies.

Specialty and Artisan Cheese Production

A driving force behind American cuisine and home to world-class wines, California has emerged as a leading producer of fine specialty cow’s milk cheeses that are increasingly featured on restaurant menus and in specialty food stores across the country.

California currently claims 60 cow’s milk cheesemakers producing 200 different varieties, types and styles of cow’s milk cheeses, most of which are specialty cheeses. This marks a dramatic increase over the 70 types of cheese produced in California in the mid-1990s.

Already established as the nation’s leading dairy state and one of the main large-scale cheese-producing regions in the world, California’s specialty cheesemaking industry is experiencing energetic growth that echoes its reputation for fine winemaking in the 1970s. As California’s many specialty, artisan and farmstead cheesemakers expand their offerings, new cheesemakers continue to emerge on the scene, building on a cheesemaking tradition that began in California more than 200 years ago.

Copyright Stagnito Publishing Aug 2003

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