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How Big is the U.S. Cheese Stockpile?

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Graphic showing the amount of cheese the U.S. has stockpiled in cold storage

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How Big is the U.S. Cheese Stockpile?

As of August 2022, the U.S. had 1.5 billion pounds of cheese in cold storage across the country. That’s around $3.4 billion worth of cheese.

Using data from USDA, this graphic looks at just how big the U.S. cheese stockpile has gotten over the last few years, and compares it to notable landmarks to help put things into perspective.

But before diving into the data, we’ll take a step back to quickly explain why America’s cheese stockpile has gotten so big in the first place.

Why So Much Cheese?

Over the last 30 years, milk production in the U.S. has increased by 50%.

Yet, while milk production has climbed, milk consumption has declined. In 2004, Americans consumed the equivalent of about 0.57 cups of milk per day. By 2018, average milk consumption had dropped to 0.33 cup-equivalents.

In response to this predicament, the U.S. government and dairy companies have been purchasing the extra milk and storing it as cheese for years.

So, where does one store such a large amount of cheese? A sizable portion of the stockpile is stored in a massive underground warehouse (a former limestone quarry) outside of Springfield, Missouri.

The Stockpile Keeps Growing

Apart from a small dip in 2021 during the global pandemic, America’s stockpile of cheese has increased steadily over the last five years:

DateTotal cheese in cold storage (billion pounds)Y-o-y change (%)
April 20181.353.8%
April 20191.403.7%
April 20201.485.7%
April 20211.45-2.0%
April 20221.482.1%

Between April 2018 and April 2022, U.S. cheese holdings increased by 130 million pounds to reach 1.48 billion pounds. After climbing up to 1.52 billion pounds in July, the stockpile settled once again at 1.48 billion pounds at the end of August 2022.

Now, the U.S. cheese stockpile weighs more than the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Tower of Pisa, and the Great Sphinx of Giza—combined.

Is the Cheese Stockpile Here to Stay?

Attempts have been made to get rid of the cheese stockpile. Over the years, the government has established federal food welfare programs and encouraged milk consumption in schools throughout the country.

Yet, despite their best efforts to decrease the surplus, America’s cheese stockpile continues to grow.

As domestic consumers continue to decrease their milk consumption, and switch out their dairy milk for milk alternatives like almond or oat milk, how much bigger will this cheese stockpile get before the government comes up with an alternative solution to deal with its surplus of dairy?

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Environment

Mapped: How Much of the World is Covered by Croplands?

Where are the world’s croplands located? This detailed map highlights the world’s cropland cover as of 2019.

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Detailed map of the world’s cropland cover as of 2019.

Mapping Cropland Cover Around the World

Over the last 50 years, the world’s human population worldwide has grown exponentially.

And this population explosion brought greater food production needs with it, through livestock breeding, cropland expansion, and other increases in land use.

But how evenly is this land distributed globally? In this graphic, Adam Symington maps global croplands as of 2019, based on a 2021 scientific paper published in Nature by Peter Potapov et al.

The World’s Croplands

Croplands are defined as land areas used to cultivate herbaceous crops for human consumption, forage, and biofuel. At the start of the 21st century, the world’s croplands spread across 1,142 million hectares (Mha) of land.

Some of these croplands have since been abandoned, lost in natural disasters, or repurposed for housing, irrigation, and other infrastructural needs.

Despite this, the creation of new croplands increased overall cropland cover by around 9% and the net primary (crop) production by 25%.

Africa and South America Lead Croplands Expansion

In 2019, croplands occupied 1,244 Mha of land worldwide, with the largest regions being Europe and North Asia and Southwest Asia at around 20% of total cover each.

Interestingly, even though Africa (17%) and South America (9%) held lower percentages of the world’s croplands, they saw the highest expansion in croplands since 2000:

RegionCropland Area
(Mha, 2000–03)
Cropland Area
(Mha, 2016–19)
Change (Mha)
Africa155.1208.3+53.2
South America75.5112.6+37.1
Southwest Asia237.3244.8+7.5
Australia and New Zealand37.340.3+3.0
North and Central America192.1193.9+1.8
Europe and North Asia252.3253.2+0.9
Southeast Asia192.7191.1-1.6
World1,142.31,244.2+101.9

South American nations including Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay witnessed a steep rise in crop production between 2000 and 2007. Agricultural growth in the region can be attributed to both modern agricultural technology adoption and the production of globally demanded crops like soybeans.

A similar expansion in croplands within Sub-Saharan African countries at the start of the 21st century continues to persist today, as producers ramp up crop production for both exports and to try and alleviate food scarcity.

Much of these the world’s croplands were once forests, drylands, plains, and lowlands. And this loss in green cover is clearly seen across Africa, South America, and parts of Asia.

However, some regions have also witnessed tree plantations, orchards, and aquaculture replacing former croplands. One such example is Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, and indeed Southeast Asia was the only region that saw an overall decline in cropland cover from 2000 to 2019.

Moving Towards Sustainable Agriculture

The expansion of croplands has also come at a cost, destroying large stretches of forest cover, and further contributing to wildlife fragmentation and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, hope for more sustainable development is not lost. Nations are finding ways to improve agricultural productivity in ways that free up land.

As global demand for food continues to increase, agricultural expansion and intensification seem imminent. But innovation, and a changing climate, may elevate alternative solutions in the future.

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