The problems started decades ago.
American milk production has been on the rise for decades; there are more dairy cows, and more advanced methods are increasing the amount of milk per cow that dairy farmers can produce. All this while milk consumption is down.
Milk sales have been decreasing steadily, especially over the past five years, as non-dairy beverages have secured a foothold in the marketplace. (We say beverages, not “milks,” to avoid the wrath of the FDA. And dairy farmers.) But production hasn’t decreased at all, leading to larger and larger surpluses. Because milk is so perishable, some dairy farmers simply dump their milk in the trash—to the tune of tens of millions of gallons per year. Others make cheese.
The benefits of making cheese is that it takes quite a lot of milk to make a little bit of cheese, that it commands high-ish prices, and, most importantly, it goes bad far slower than milk. But this isn’t necessarily a savior for dairy farmers, as the excess of available milk has driven the price so low that farmers are actually losing money for every gallon they sell.
In response to an agricultural surplus, the federal government sometimes buys huge quantities of a given product, distributing it to food banks and other programs, or simply storing it for…something. The Washington Post reports that the cheese surplus is now at its highest level ever, nearly 1.4 billion pounds of the stuff. There are also fears that a trade war could cut into exports of American cheese; the US exports more cheese to Mexico than any other country, and there have already been retaliatory tariffs placed on cheese exported from the US to Mexico.