Recently released dairy product consumption figures for 2009 are encouraging. Looking at consumption on a per-person or per-capita basis always is informative, because that accounts for changes in the population. Last year, there was per-capita growth in consumption of all products on a milk-equivalent, milk-fat basis. The total was 611 pounds per person, highest in many decades. The amount has been above 600 pounds per person for the past three years. In 2000, the total was 592 pounds per person.

There was another tick up in cheese consumption last year. It totaled 32.87 pounds per person, 0.17 more than in 2008. Last year's cheese consumption was second only to 2007, when the total was 33.16 pounds. For many years, people have been consuming about equal amounts of American-style cheeses such as Cheddar and Colby and Italian-style cheeses such as mozzarella and provolone. Italian cheese consumption was 13.96 pounds per person last year compared to 13.37 pounds for American.

Butter consumption went up last year reaching 5.1 pounds per person. That was the first time in decades that butter consumption has been more than 5 pounds per capita. Ten years ago, butter consumption was 4.5 pounds.

Fluid-milk use ticked up, as well, to 205 pounds per person. That was 1 more pound than in 2008. However, per-capita, fluid milk consumption has shown a long, downhill trend. It was 210 pounds per person 10 years ago and 233 pounds 20 years ago. The proportion of fluid milk sold that is "whole" continues to decline. It was 27. 6 percent of the total last year compared to 33.8 percent 10 years ago. The proportion that was either 2 percent or 1 percent was 48.5 percent last year compared to 43.4 percent 10 years ago. The proportion of skim milk has held steady at about 15 percent.

But regular ice cream outsells reduced-fat ice cream. The difference was 13.4 pounds per person versus 6.8. Interestingly, total ice cream consumption is slipping. Ten years ago, it was 24 pounds per person. Last year, it was 20.2. Analysts probably would say that last year's relatively low retail and foodservice prices encouraged dairy production consumption. Of course, you would have thought that the weakened economy would have had a negative effect on consumption.

During the first 6 months of this year, dairy product use as measured by "commercial disappearance" was up 2.7 percent over the same period last year. That would be overall consumption, not per-capita consumption. So far in 2010, nonfat dry-milk use was up 12 percent, Italian cheese was up 4.8, butter was up 2.1, and American cheese was up 0.3 percent. Fluid was down 1.3 percent.

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