There are some in our midst who continue to both belittle and bemoan dairy product exports. During a recent conversation, staff members for a rather well-known dairy farm organization went so far as to suggest that the U.S. completely exit the export market. “Great idea!” we retorted. “Would you be willing to step up to the podium and tell every Wisconsin dairy farmer that they must cull all their cows?”

Silence ensued after we made that outlandish statement. Clearly, no one in their right mind would suggest that Wisconsin’s 7,700 dairy farmers sell their 1.2 million dairy cows. However, that’s exactly what would need to take place if the U.S. dairy industry exits the export arena.

The premise for that “cull all the cows” statement centers on the fact that the U.S. exported 14% of its milk production via dairy products last year. The cows throughout America’s Dairyland produced 30.6 billion pounds of milk during that same time, and that total represented exactly 14% of the nation’s 218.4 billion pounds of milk.

To be fair, some of those who continue to suggest that dairy exports are not the answer point to the fact that many of the U.S. international sales are low-margin products. There may be some truth to that notion . . . to a point.

The U.S. remains in a structural deficit for milkfat due to strong domestic sales of full-fat products such as whole milk, butter, and cheese. As a result, many dairy product exports have the fat skimmed off, and that reduces the value of those products leaving our ports.

While the U.S. must strive to grow its higher value dairy product exports, there’s no turning back on the export endeavor. All of Wisconsin’s dairy cows would have to head to the slaughter plant without those international customers, as would all of the cows in Vermont and Illinois. That’s because the U.S. is on pace to export 16% of its production this year, and the cows in the Green Mountain and Land of Lincoln states collectively contribute another 2% to the nation’s 218.4 billion pounds of milk.