We are fortunate in this country. Our local farmers as well as those across these United States produce an abundance, and sometimes, a surplus of food for us. For example, after meeting the needs of us consumers for dairy products, we have a sizeable surplus. That surplus, then, is available for export.
Exports are important to the economy of this country. Selling to other countries creates jobs and stimulates our economy. Export of agricultural products help our trade balance because we export far more than we import. Dairy product exports add to the favorable trade balance.
Exports are also important to dairy farmers by improving milk prices. Without them, prices for milk could be too low to provide a satisfactory family income. It would be a near disaster for dairy farm families and the total industry.
Last year, dairy export value was $5.2 billion. We sent abroad more than three billion pounds of total milk solids or 13 percent of the total produced in this country. So far this year, 2013, we have exported 15.4 percent of the milk produced. We have good dairy products that our international customers like and they can depend on our supply.
To look at this another way: almost one in seven milk tankers that roll out of producer's driveways is turned into a dairy product that is consumed internationally.
Most of the dairy products that are exported are in the dry form. Forty seven percent of our whey protein is exported, 45 percent is skim milk protein and non-fat dry milk. The balance is cheeses and other dairy products.
Who buys our dairy exports? It might surprise you to know that our biggest customer is Mexico, buying about $1.2 billion worth of dairy products. Other customers include Southeast Asia, Canada, China/Hong Kong, Middle East/North Africa, Japan, South America, South Korea and Australia/New Zealand.
Dairy exports are helped by a voluntary program that dairy farmers have established. Through this program called the dairy check-off, they contribute about 15 cents for each hundred pounds of milk they ship from their farms. These funds are used in several ways that include setting up a U.S. Dairy Export Council that helps grow the volume and value of our dairy exports.
Dairy check-off funds are also used in several other ways. They help tell the story that dairy products are a healthy and great tasting food, dairy farms are an important part of many communities and are committed to protecting our environment.
Funds are also used to help turn around the decline in fluid milk use, to partnership with several firms to promote dairy, supporting cutting-edge research on dairying and other promotional programs.
Today's dairy check-off has one main mission: to grow the demand for dairy products and ingredients. They do this through the programs I have mentioned that include working with and through the dairy industry and partnering with industry leaders like Domino's Pizza, McDonalds and Quaker.
According to a recent report from the American Dairy Association, for every dollar dairy farmers invest in the program, business partners invest more than six dollars, a good return on farmer investment.
We need to give credit to America's dairy farmers for sponsoring a self-help program to improve their family income.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer.