USDA Keeps 1.4 Billion Pounds of Cheese in Missouri Caves

It's not all 'government cheese,' at least not anymore
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2022 11:45 AM CDT
Why Does the US Have a Massive Cheese Stockpile?
A stock photo of a cheese storage facility   (Getty - Traimak_Ivan)

You might say Springfield, Missouri, is the cheese capital of America, not because it’s known for great cheese but because the USDA maintains a hoard of 1.4 billion pounds of cheese in caves beneath the town. The so-called Springfield Underground has been there for decades, but its exact purpose has “shifted” over time, according to Modern Farmer. It all started with a basic supply-and-demand problem: milk production peaks during the spring calving season, but consumer demand for milk peaks in fall, when schools reopen. Dairy farmers rely on increased capacity to meet that demand, but their cows still make the most milk in the springtime, which can create big surpluses that drag down prices.

To stabilize markets, the USDA introduced the Dairy Product Price Support Program in 1949 and started buying surplus milk in the form of cheese. When prices rose above a specified level, the government opened the cheese reserves; when prices dipped, the government simply bought more cheese. The unintended consequences reached absurd levels when milk prices spiraled due to economic problems in the 1970s. To save dairy farmers, the Carter administration started buying cheese at an unprecedented rate, thus encouraging overproduction and creating a massive surplus. By 1984, there were five pounds of government cheese for every American, and it was getting moldy, per Atlas Obscura.

The Reagan administration distributed as much as possible through food assistance programs, and the government has been trying to wean itself off surplus cheese ever since. Meanwhile, American milk consumption has declined steeply since 1975, but that hasn’t stopped dairy farmers from overproducing. In 2016, the industry literally dumped 43 million gallons of unwanted milk. The USDA helped “cut the glut” then by purchasing $20 million worth of fresh cheese. Today, the government still buys and stores cheese for food assistance programs; however, only about 300 million pounds in the Springfield Underground are owned by “We the People.” Kraft and other private cheesemakers store their goods there now, instead. (More cheese stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.