Mention Idaho, and the common reply is “the potato state.” What you won’t hear is “Oh, Idaho, famous for milk and cheese!” But that’s equally true. Especially in southern Idaho, where there are more dairy farms than anywhere else in the state.

A massive amount of milk is produced in southern Idaho. Over 76% of Idaho’s dairies are located here, producing 34 million pounds of milk every day at a value of over $4 billion. That’s 75% of Idaho’s total milk production, putting Idaho in the #4 spot for U.S. milk production and #3 for cheese production. Cheese? Yep, we’re famous for that too. Production reached 875 million pounds of cheese in 2013, making this region #1 for cheese in Idaho and #3 nationally.

So yes, while Idaho is famous for our potatoes, we’re also famous for our milk and cheese as well as other dairy-related products.

Southern Idaho is ideal for dairy farming

Why? Well, cows of course, and location, climate, space and a strong dairy industry sector.

The area is an ideal location for dairy farming. There’s excellent, high-quality grass available for grazing herds, allowing southern Idaho’s dairy farmers the ability to offer a competitively priced, high quality milk supply. Water from the mighty Snake River to irrigate crops and land availability makes this area the best in the state for dairy operations. And a generally cool year-round climate means comfortable cows with high milk production. The quality of the most basic ingredients available here – water and feed – are the building blocks of the region’s dairy industry.

Minimally populated Idaho means plenty of open space for raising dairy cows. That smaller population means only a portion of milk produced here goes directly to consumers. That leaves millions of pounds of liquid milk available to make yogurt, cheese and other dairy-related products.

Chobani manufactures 1 million cases of yogurt weekly in Idaho

And there is plenty of industry here to utilize all that dairy production. Southern Idaho milk supports Chobani’s 12 lines of operation to churn out more than one million cases of yogurt every week.

Glanbia Foods, the world’s largest producer of American-style cheese, processes nearly 12 million pounds of milk every day, generating a staggering 880 million pounds of cheese annually. Numerous other area cheese processors also operate here to produce a large variety of cheeses.

Dairy research, product development and whey processing are growing spin-off industries in the local dairy processing industry. Research focuses on development for whey proteins and milk minerals, while product development takes whey products and applies them in a variety of food products and processes.

Several other companies utilize the large amount of post-cheese processing ingredients to produce whey, milk protein powders, concentrated filtered milk, milk lactose permeate powder and/or cream for use in nutritional supplements, health enhancing beverages, infant and medical use, oral health and animal nutrition products.

Glanbia has a major whey plant in southern Idaho

Glanbia Foods’ nutritional operation has one plant solely dedicated to whey processing, producing 18 million pounds of dairy ingredient annually. They turn high-protein cheese by-product into products for a burgeoning global marketplace in nutritionals.

Humans aren’t the only ones benefitting from Idaho milk. Infant animal milk manufacturer, Calva Products, converts neighboring Brewster Cheese’s by-products into liquid milk replacer for calves.

Logistics systems make southern Idaho a good choice for dairy processors

The dairy industry is king in southern Idaho, not only for the massive level and quality of milk production, but for the numerous other businesses that have links to dairy. Southern Idaho’s dairy industry not only exports milk, cheese and yogurt, but also grows the crops to feed the cows, produces and processes the milk and hires local labor to do it all. Local warehouse, distribution, packaging, and transport companies get dairy products out to local, national and international customers.

Folks here know and appreciate what southern Idaho dairy farmers offer to our communities. Dairy reigns supreme here, and that’s just fine with us. So, the next time someone mentions Idaho and says potatoes, you can say, “Oh, Idaho, famous for milk and cheese!” They’ll be surprised, and you’ll be right.

The Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization secured a record-setting seven projects in 10 months, including new investments from Chobani, Monsanto, Clif Bar and Frulact Group, and expansions of Glanbia Foods, McCain Foods and Calva/Brewster. These projects are expected to generate 5,000 new jobs with a combined investment of over $773 million.