Can queso revive Maryland’s dairy industry?
UNION BRIDGE, Md. — A recent study commissioned by the Maryland dairy industry has a recommendation for milk producers hoping to stay afloat in a down market: Process your milk into Hispanic cheeses.
Cheese has steadily increased in price and is forecasted to continue to do so, said Laurie Savage, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland Dairy Industry Association, which partnered with a group of Carroll County dairymen to examine how farmers in the state could process their milk into a more profitable, value-added product.
“The fluid milk market continues to fall while value-added dairy products continue to find success,” Savage said in an e-mail to The Delmarva Farmer. “Yogurt has plateaued while cheese and butter have room to grow.”
The association has not released the full study completed in the spring through a grant from the Rural Maryland Council, but it published the study’s conclusions in late September.
The number of Hispanic consumers in the United States continues to rise, Savage said, and Americans are increasingly willing to try foods from other cultures. Most of the growing cheese varieties in the country are Hispanic, and queso fresco, for instance, can be produced at existing processing facilities in the state, the study said.
More Hispanics are also moving into the Washington-Baltimore corridor and buying imported cheese, said Charlotte Davis, executive director of the Rural Maryland Council.
“If they’re importing those products, maybe it would be easier, cheaper and an opportunity if we just produced those products locally,” she said.
Farmers initially approached the association to explore building or retrofitting a value-added processing facility in the state, Savage said. The study recommended they instead take advantage of existing facilities. The association is working with the state department of health to identify facilities that could serve those farmers. Farmers would also need funding to realize the project.
How many could benefit from a queso production facility would depend on its location, Savage said.
“The state has lost a large number of dairies over the past few years, and the industry needs to find ways to put more money back in the dairy farmer’s pocket to ensure their success and stem the tide of loss of farms,” she said. “Offering a local product would not only help the state’s farmers but also boost processors, transporters, marketers and many others along the production chain, as well as the local economy.”
Value-added dairy products have saved a number of farms in the state despite the labor-heavy process of launching a creamery, said Colby Ferguson, government relations director at the Maryland Farm Bureau.
“When you get through that process, it proves to be a pretty profitable diversification of your farm,” he said.
The study was conducted by AgVisory, an agricultural consulting firm in Nassau, Del.
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