MADISON, Wis. -- Block cheese prices increased a few cents during the past week, but market watchers don't expect much upward travel until the summer.
According to Cheese Market News, Mark Stephenson, a dairy economist and senior extension associate at Cornell University, said demand will have to increase before prices do. Noticeable price change, he added, still isn't expected until summer.
Jim Walsh, director of marketing at Associated Milk Producers, Inc. in New Ulm, Minn., expects block prices to remain below $1.25 until June, but said prices may climb into the $1.40 to $1.50 range in the second half of 2002.
This year's mild winter had a hand in boosting milk production, and consequently, cheese inventories. Should the fair weather continue, experts say prices will likely remain low.
Due to a dip in 2001 production, experts say current inventory levels aren't particularly high. With demand for 2002 uncertain, the market is relatively balanced.
"If you look at prices, demand's been a little soft," said Richard Cotta, senior vice president, government and producer relations at California Dairies, Inc. Cotta added that demand appears to be rising relative to the declines of last fall.
In other news, California's cheese production hit record levels in 2001. According to the Cheese Reporter, the state manufactured 1.64 billion pounds of cheese, up 9.8 percent from 2000. Nationally, 2001 cheese production totaled 8.15 billion pounds, down 1.2 percent from 2000.
California's production of mozzarella was 726.8 million pounds, up 7 percent from 2000, and up 77 percent from 1993. Mozzarella accounted for 44.2 percent of the state's cheese output last year, down from 45.3 percent in 2000.