U.S. government to buy $20 million of glorious cheddar cheese

For Americans who want to see our values reflected in our government – values such as freedom, justice and an intense devotion to cheese – Tuesday brought welcome news.

After meeting beleaguered dairy farmers in La Crosse, Wisc. Tuesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilscack made a proposal: We, the government, shall buy your cheese – a  lot of it.

The Department of Agriculture offered to buy $20 million of cheddar cheese to cut back on a record-level cheese surplus that has plagued dairy farmers this year, with plans to distribute the coagulated gold among food banks and other food assistance programs.

“While our analysis predicts the market will improve for these hardworking men and women, reducing the surplus can give them extra reassurance while also filling demand at food banks and other organizations that help our nation's families in need,” Vilsack said in a statement.

So how much cheddar cheese can $20 million get you?

According to Cheese Reporter, a publication for which this reporter wishes he wrote, a 40-pound block of cheese went for about $1.60 per pound as of Sept. 20. That means the average joe with a cool $20 million could buy himself enough cheese to make 5,900,000 grilled cheese sandwiches – each with three slices of melty gold.

It’s been a rough year for food producers in the United States, though a good one for food consumers: The prices for many groceries have fallen for months. That’s because a stronger U.S. dollar has increased the prices of American foods abroad, leaving producers sitting on giant stockpiles of staples – including cheddar cheese.

Dairy revenues have dropped 35% over the last two years, the USDA said.

"America's farming families are being called on to demonstrate their world-famous resourcefulness and resilience in the face of this current market downturn, and USDA is making use of every tool that we have to help them," Vilsack said.

In August, the USDA said it would purchase about 11 million pounds of cheese from private inventories to stave off a cheese surplus that’s at a 30-year high.

The government’s cheese-mongering authority stems from the Agriculture Act of 1935, a Depression-era provision that lets it buy surplus foods for the benefit of food banks and nutrition assistance programs.

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner


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