As 2016 draws to a close, we’d like to take a quick look back at some of the biggest stories and developments in the cheese and dairy industry during the year.

Arguably the biggest story of the year, at least for the US cheese industry, happened back in March, when Emmi Roth USA, of Fitchburg, WI, captured top honors in the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest with its Roth Grand Cru Surchoix.

Not only did this victory mark the first time since 1988 that a US cheese maker captured top honors in the contest, it was the first time since 2000 that the US even placed a cheese in the top three. No matter how you look at it, a US-produced cheese capturing top honors in the World Championship Cheese Contest is a huge achievement.

On the pricing front, 2016 will go down as the second straight year in which cheese prices didn’t rise above $2.00 per pound. The last time the CME 40-pound Cheddar block price didn’t reach $2.00 per pound for two straight years was in 2009 and 2010.

But cheese prices moved around quite a bit under that $2.00 level. Specifically, the block price ranged from a low of $1.2700 per pound back on May 12 to a high of $1.9300 per pound on November 7, a range of 66 cents.

How does that price range for blocks compare with other recent years? In 2015, the block price ranged from a low of $1.4000 to a high of $1.8000, a difference of 40 cents; in 2014, the block price ranged from a low of $1.4950 to a high of $2.4500, a difference of 95.5 cents; in 2013, the block price ranged from a low of $1.5500 to a high of $2.0000, a difference of 45 cents; and in 2012, the block price ranged from a low of $1.4600 to a high of $2.1200, a difference of 66 cents (coincidentally, the same as in 2016).

So cheese prices in 2016 were more volatile than in at least a couple of recent years, less volatile than in 2014, with the lowest low in recent years and also one of the lowest highs in recent years.

Meanwhile, the CME butter price failed to top $3.00 per pound for the first time since 2013 (in case anybody doesn’t remember, the butter price reached $3.0600 per pound in September 2014 and then hit a record $3.1350 a pound a year later), which also means butter prices were far less volatile this year (a high of $2.3675 and a low of $1.7550, a difference of 61.25 cents) than in the last couple of years (the CME butter price ranged from a low of $1.5400 per pound to a high of $3.1350 per pound in 2015, a difference of $1.5950 per pound; and ranged from that same low of $1.5400 per pound to a high of $3.0600 per pound in 2014, a difference of $1.52 per pound).

On the production front, arguably the biggest story in 2016 (outside of the usual records for milk production, cheese production, etc.) was the shake-ups in the leading milk-producing states. In 2015, the top seven states were, in order, California, Wisconsin, Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan.

By June, Michigan had passed both Texas and Pennsylvania to take over the number five spot in milk production. As noted in this space back on Aug. 26, Michigan’s move into the top five dairy states was the first time since 2002 that the top five states included states other than California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho and Pennsylvania (Minnesota was in the top five back in 2002, Idaho was not).

But Michigan’s stay in the top five didn’t last long. By October, Texas had surged past both Michigan and Pennsylvania into the number five spot, pushing Michigan back to sixth and Pennsylvania down to seventh.

Where these states end up for the entire year remains to be seen, but it appears that the days of the top five consisting of California, Wisconsin, Idaho, New York and Pennsylvania are over.

It’s been a relatively quiet year on the legislative front, as is often the case in a presidential election year. Probably the biggest development in Congress was the passage, back in July, of legislation creating a national bioengineered food disclosure system.

This law accomplishes at least two things, one in the short term and one in the medium term. In the short term, it preempts state GMO labeling laws, including the Vermont law that went into effect on July 1, 2016. And in the medium term, USDA’s Ag Marketing Service has two years to implement the law.

Also at the federal level, it was a mighty busy year for the US Food and Drug Administration. Among other things, the agency issued two final rules required under the Food Safety Modernization Act (one on sanitary transportation of food and feed, the other on intentional contamination); issued numerous guidance documents pertaining to the implementation of FSMA rules; issued final rules updating the Nutrition Facts label and updating serving sizes for foods and beverages; and proposed voluntary sodium reduction targets for a variety of cheese, butter and other food products.

On the trade front, the 12 countries that are participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement signed the historic trade pact early this year, but at this point it appears that the US will withdraw from the agreement after President-elect Donald J. Trump takes office.

And that might be another truly major story in 2016, from a dairy and food industry perspective: the election of Donald Trump as President. Trump doesn’t take office until January 20, 2017, so his impact on 2016 is minimal, but he’ll have tremendous influence in the next four years over everything from trade policy and the next farm bill to FDA’s activism on issues ranging from food labeling to food safety.

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