The U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 3 announced the April Federal Order Class III benchmark milk price at $15.96 per hundredweight. That is up 92 cents from March, $1.49 above April 2018 and the highest Class III price since September 2018.

The four-month 2019 average stands at $14.71, up from $14.02 a year ago but below the $16.17 of 2017.

The April Class IV price is $15.72, up a penny from March, $2.24 above a year ago and at its highest level since 2014.

The rising tide is welcome news to an industry suffering its fifth consecutive year of low milk prices and second year of trade-related challenges, but it is still too little too late for many who have called it quits throughout the country.

Block cheddar cheese at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange slipped to $1.6550 per pound on Thursday, but regained 2 cents Friday to close at $1.6750, down a penny on the week. The barrels, after holding at $1.63 for five consecutive sessions, shot up 3.25 cents Friday, to $1.6625, up 3.25 cents on the week and 6.25 cents above a year ago.

Twenty-five train cars of block cheese exchanged hands on the week, 22 on Friday alone, the largest single day of trading since March 24, 2011. Also, 25 cars of barrel cheese were sold on the week.

Milk remains available for cheesemakers in the Midwest, according to Dairy Market News, although not at the discounts seen in spring flushes of the past. Cheese demand reports remain mixed, with some cheesemakers seeing improved sales throughout April and expecting similar results for May. Others say orders are slow and point to plentiful supplies as a bearish pull on orders.

Western cheese inventories are above what buyers need, but are “manageable.” Milk output is plentiful and cheese production is active. International cheese sales are termed “fair.”

Butter closed Friday at $2.2725 per pound, up a quarter cent on the week but 8 cents below a year ago.

Cream is still headed for Midwestern churns, but plant managers say current prices are nearing their limit and intakes have begun to ebb. Some are finding cream from the West.

Western butter makers relay that cream, although available, is somewhat tighter and surmise that ice cream manufacturers are taking the extra loads. Butter manufacturing is steady and butter stocks are building.

Grade A nonfat dry milk saw a Friday close at $1.0525 per pound, up 1.25 cents on the week. It is the highest CME price since Oct. 6, 2015, and 21 cents above a year ago.

The May 2 Dairy Products report pegged March U.S. cheese output at 1.1 billion pounds, up 11 percent from February but 0.7 percent below March 2018. Year-to-date cheese output is now at 3.2 billion pounds, down 0.3 percent from a year ago.  

The Northwest Dairy Association makes these price projections for the Class III price and Pacific Northwest blend price:

Month   Class      PNW


April    $15.96    $16.00


May    $16.40     $16.60

June   $16.50     $16.90

July     $16.60     $17.10

Aug.    $16.70     $17.30

Sept.   $17.00     $17.40

Oct.     $17.10     $17.50

Nov.     $17.00     $17.40

Dec .    $16.70     $17.30

Lee Mielke, of Lynden, is editor of the Mielke Market Weekly. Whatcom County has about 85 dairy farms.