State's dairy industry waiting to see impact from tariffs

American Heritage Cheese at Schreiber Foods. (Photo credit: WLUK)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- As global trade talks heat up, one of Wisconsin's largest industries is waiting to see where it can do business.

While cheesemakers across the state took time to celebrate the state’s “Cheese Day”, there was also plenty of talk about how a trade war could impact the state’s $34 billion-a-year dairy industry.

Green Bay-based Schreiber Foods has yet to see an immediate impact from tariffs.

“But what's happening is that as other nations start to figure out is this going to be a permanent situation, they're starting to consider other options and that is possibly the biggest threat,” said Mike Haddad, President and CEO of Schreiber Foods.

Schreiber is one of the country's largest dairy exporters. It also has plants around the world.

One possible advantage that Haddad sees is the uncertainty whether tariffs are here to stay.

“Five percent of all milk or dairy solids that are produced in the United States is exported to feed people around the world, so we're certainly concerned,” said Haddad. “We hope the administration hears us, and we recognize fighting for America, we get that, but we certainly don't want to be inhibited or held back in our ability to sell dairy.”

At Schreiber's headquarters for Cheese Day, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch says she wants to wait for all trade negotiations to be made.

“I'm very hopeful that we'll continue to be able to pursue markets, particularly Asia, where we know that our dairy industry has yet to make its full impact,” said Kleefisch.

To try to help ensure dairy business sustainability, a state task force is being brought back to look at the challenges facing the industry. It was first formed in 1985.

“When that happened, after the recommendations from the taskforce were analyzed and adopted, we saw the dairy industry absolutely soar, that's exactly what we want to see again,” said Kleefisch.

“They hear us,” said Haddad. “They hear us loudly and I know they're speaking loudly to the administration and its desire to go ahead and give America an ability to be competitive around the world, but they don’t harm the dairy industry and all of ag along the way.”

An announcement on who will be on that task force is expected soon.

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