But who’s lifting? And who’s rising?

The theme for the 2019 GENYOUth Gala in Manhattan Dec. 4 will be “Rise, by lifting others.” It’s clear that dairy farmers are doing GENYOUth’s heavy lifting, but for whose priorities? And who is rising? Are our schoolchildren really better off? Are our farmers?

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine, November 1, 2019

Tom Gallagher is “setting the record straight about the value of the annual GENYOUth Gala, which has garnered millions of dollars for our youth wellness efforts without spending any checkoff dollars,” according to the Oct. 24 weekly checkoff update emailed by American Dairy Association Northeast.

Gallagher is CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and chairman of Youth Improved Inc., doing business as GENYOUth, and he writes about the Gala set for Dec. 4 in Manhattan. 

Let’s take a look.

Gallagher says the Gala “will resemble a Hollywood red carpet event” and tells us it’s understandable to see it as being “a bit on the extravagant side.” He states that the “formal-attire affair is held each year in New York City, drawing famous athletes and CEOs from some of the nation’s most recognized companies.”

Gallagher reminds us that this ‘formula’ mixes dairy farmers with corporate influencers!

“It’s a very different look and a very different strategy from the traditional efforts done to support dairy farmers’ priorities,” he writes, asking dairy farmers to “not get blinded by the glitz and glamour of the evening and instead look deeper into the strategic aspect.”

Okay, let’s look deeper.

By now, more dairy farmers are seeing the effects of the ‘strategic aspect’ in DMI’s ‘formula’ put into play over the past 10 years, beginning with deals (MOUs) struck between dairy checkoff and USDA under then Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2008-10. Today, Vilsack collects $800,000 a year working for dairy checkoff.

As reported in the September 20th edition of Farmshine, the ‘formula’ since 2008 has led to the creation of a growing number of tax-exempt organizations with aliases under the DMI umbrella, most of them through the Innovation Center, known to the IRS as Dairy Center for Strategic Innovation and Collaboration doing business as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The ‘formula’ brings certain multi-national corporations, dairy innovators and dairy production integrators into these tax-exempt organization boards that then influence how dairy farmer promotion dollars are spent via partnerships.

They’ve all got their eyes on our kids, you know. They want to shape those future consumers. But how? With ‘government speech.’

The ‘formula’ also brought in World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to be the stamp-of-approval partner for “sustainability” platforms, including the FARM program. And yet, WWF promotes vegan diets to solve climate change, and USDA, under Vilsack, was instrumental in pushing whole milk out of schools. Some partners, right?

In effect, the ‘formula’ is bringing these ‘foxes’ – a whole den to be precise – into the henhouse and using the hens’ own mandatory funds to do it.

It is disconcerting, to say the least, to hear DMI staff, who are paid with mandatory farmer-funds, speak at a September seminar in Pennsylvania stating that, “We want to move consumers away from the ‘habit’ of reaching for the jug and get them to be looking for these new and innovative products.”

They are talking about the products developed with industry partners using checkoff funds. Most believe that these products are aimed at consumers who are NOT in the habit of reaching for the milk jug, not the consumers who are!

You see, DMI is helping to shape future consumers toward the diluted diets the ‘thought leaders’ promote for our futures. These are touted by USDA through Dietary Guidelines and enforcement of ‘government speech’ in dairy promotion. Diet dilution is embraced by the Edelman company, via their sponsorship and social marketing assistance with the EAT FreSH Initiative that promotes “eating according to planetary boundaries,” meaning less dairy and animal products.

As a key link, Edelman, the purpose-driven social marketing company was instrumental in DMI’s formation of GENYOUth. (Edelman is paid $15 to $17 million a year in dairy checkoff funds as a contractor for DMI according to 2016-17 IRS 990s.)

The ‘strategic aspect’ is clear: Throw a Gala, bedazzle a few dairy producer board members to rub elbows with the elite corporate CEOs and ‘thought leaders’, and everyone goes home feeling good because they think they are working on shared ‘health’ and ‘sustainability’ goals.

Gallagher states in the checkoff update that dairy farmers have the number one health and wellness program in the schools. DMI chairwoman Marilyn Hershey has stated that “other companies would kill to have our what we have in the schools.”

One fox in the henhouse is PepsiCo. Did you know PepsiCo assisted USDA with the development of a Smart Snacks website where school foodservice directors go for lists of products and beverages that are designed to meet the USDA requirements for calories, fat, salt, etc.? Most of them courtesy of PepsiCo?

Guess what is not on the Smart Snacks list? Whole Milk. 

Guess what is on the list? Mountain Dew Kickstart energy drink, Gatorade, Doritos, Breakfast bars, Breakfast cookies, and on and on – courtesy of PepsiCo.

Gallagher states that the Gala “supports a goal that is near and dear to every dairy farmer I have ever met – childhood health and wellness.”

Meanwhile, how is the health and wellness of our kids at school with these diets?

Gallagher also tells us: “Not a single farmer checkoff dollar is used to put on the event. The Gala is underwritten through third-party sponsorships, table sales and on-site auction purchases.”

Well, that’s a relief, right? But think again.

According to IRS 990 forms, the supposed partner of dairy farmers in this effort – the NFL — has donated anywhere from less than $500,000 to a little over $1 million annually to GENYOUth, but at the same time, DMI paid the NFL $5 to $7 million annually for promotion !(according to 2016-17 IRS 990s)

In addition, over 50% of GENYOUth’s total annual expenditures as an organization comes from dairy farmers via their mandatory nickel and the dime. Yes, one can say those regional funds are linked to breakfast carts in schools, but the checkoff nickel portion funds the operating budget, and more.

Meanwhile, the kids. Who has been looking at their breakfast carts lately?

The carton of milk with every breakfast is the same fat-free and 1% milk that USDA’s own studies show is often discarded. The soupy sweet hot pink yogurt doesn’t come close to the real thing; many children turn away from it. The cheese, well they’ll eat that, but it too is fat-free.

What populates the breakfast cart heavily, according to children, is Quaker (PepsiCo) oatmeal bars with chocolate, breakfast cookies, a foil wrapped item similar to a pop-tart, and if you get there early – you’ll find apples or bananas.

Meanwhile, when corporates boarding the GENYOUth schoolbus for this “access” donate to buy ‘grab n go’ breakfast cars or sponsor a table at the Gala, and earmark funds for pet programs. When SAP donates, their funds go specifically for GENYOUth’s recent addition of the AdVenture Capital program, where students can learn about marketing and being entrepreneurs and leaders.

The USDA (MyPlate) is now concerned about students getting enough sleep, so the sleep industry, like Sleep Number, board the GENYOUth schoolbus with donations, and a new sleep program is added to GENYOUth messaging.

GENYOUth has become a marketing vehicle for the ‘foxes’ — cleverly disguised as a school health and wellness program — founded and primarily funded by the ‘hens.’

In fact, dairy farmers are the only ones involved in GENYOUth that are producing a truly healthful product but are not free to truly provide or promote it to the kids.

“One of the great responsibilities we have as your dairy checkoff is to use your investment as wisely and strategically as we can,” writes Gallagher. “This is why we seek globally recognized partnerships that can extend your commitment on goals that matter to you.”

At the Dec. 4, 2019 Gala in Manhattan, the theme will be “Rise, by lifting others.” It’s clear that dairy farmers are doing GENYOUth’s heavy lifting, but for whose priorities? And who is rising? Are our schoolchildren really better off? Are our farmers?

A decade of this ‘formula’ – and the millions spent by dairy farmers annually — have resulted in ‘partners’ profiting while dairy farmer freedom and competitive position diminishes. Meanwhile, new generations of children and adults do not know what real milk and dairy products taste like, and they know absolutely zero about the nutrition in them.

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Addendum after publication:

The latest to board the GENYOUth schoolbus, complete with name and logo-swoosh for its program, is Nike with the “Nike Game Growers”. The program seeks to increase school sports participation — especially among middle-school-aged girls — by having a competition among student teams presenting their ideas for how to grow sports participation at their schools. The Womens National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Basketball Association (NBA) are also involved in the Nike Game Growers platform. The swoosh has come under fire for its competitive dealings in high school team apparel contracts and recently by female athletes who’ve been sponsored by Nike in ‘elite’ camp teams telling of health impacts from dietary restrictions aimed at keeping them super thin.

The Dec. 4, 2019 GENYOUth Gala (Galabration) Host Committee is made up of: Tom Gallagher, DMI CEO; Alexis Glick, GENYOUth CEO; Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner; Audrey Donahoe, National Dairy Council Chair; Richard Edelman, Edelman CEO; Carla Hall, former co-host, The Chew famed chef, author and TV personality; Howie Long, commentator, FOX Sports, NFL Hall of Fame; Jeff Miller, NFL EVP Health and Safety; Steve H. Nelson, former United Healthcare CEO; Donald “DJ” Paoni, SAP North America President; Claressa Shields, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Boxer; DeMaurice Smith, NFL Players Association Executive Director; Selwyn Vickers, M.D., Dean, University of Alabama School of Medicine; Tom Vilsack, President and CEO U.S. Dairy Export Council and former Secretary of Agriculture; Russell Weiner, Domino’s COO and President; and Dr. David Satcher, 16th U.S. Surgeon General emeritus.

Milk education ‘heroes’: How 97 Milk came to be

AUTHOR’S NOTE: With proof of concept in place, the support of farmers and community running strong (see graphic), and the public response rewarding these efforts, there is something powerful here with the 97 Milk effort, and it is just the beginning. 

By Sherry Bunting from Farmshine, October 23, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. — One farmer. One roundbale. And six painted words — Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free.

The excitement of the 97 Milk effort is contagious. What started with Nelson Troutman’s first painted roundbale in Richland, Pa., has rapidly multiplied into community-wide and nation-wide milk education efforts aimed at consumers on one hand and policymakers on the other.

Nelson Troutman placed his first “Milk Baleboard” in a pasture by an intersection.

By February, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia found five businesses to pay for the first 1000 magnetic 12” x 12” vehicle signs with the same message. Since then, more companies have joined in and some of the original businesses have printed more.

As legislators began to take notice, Morrissey and Troutman assembled a grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee of 10 farmers that meet monthly in person or by teleconference and interact with lawmakers, including the petition effort to bring whole milk back to schools. More agribusinesses joined in to help fund their expenses.

Then, 4’ x 6’ banners were created for places of high visibility and an effort to place them at stores is underway. A September Farmshine cover story helped spread the word. Morrissey reports the banners “are going like hotcakes” with additional businesses joining in to print more.

Another effort was underway simultaneously, when Rick Stehr invited a diverse group of farmers to a February meeting in Lancaster County to talk about milk education beyond the bale. Today, the joint efforts work together like two well-oiled machines comprised solely of volunteers.

Stehr recalls getting questions back in January. He invited Morrissey to talk about the milk baleboards at R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy meeting. Noted expert Calvin Covington was the keynote speaker that day, and he told the 300 dairy farmers that promotion needs to focus on domestic demand, and that “we in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it,” he said.

Morrissey then told the crowd about Troutman’s “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” roundbales that were just starting to multiply at farms and businesses after a cover story appeared in Farmshine.

“As I talked with non-ag people, I realized many of them didn’t know quite what it meant,” says Stehr. “I thought the missing link is education. We needed to educate the public.”

Nelson Troutman and Jackie Behr prepare for a television interview about 97 Milk.

Stehr’s daughter Jackie Behr has long believed milk sales suffer because milk education is missing. She has a marketing degree from Penn State and experience in non-ag positions before becoming R&J’s marketing manager.

Even Behr was surprised by her February focus group interviews with non-ag friends. “I was blown away by the obvious gap between dairy farms, milk nutrition and consumer perception,” she reports.

Behr shared the focus group responses at a February meeting of farmers that included Troutman. “It was an obvious eye-opener for everyone. These were educated women responding to my questions. How did we miss so much milk education all of these years?” Behr wondered.

They not only had zero knowledge of milk’s nutrition — other than calcium — their minds were full of information that was just plain false.

They said they drank organic milk because they ‘didn’t want to drink all those hormones.’ Or they chose almond beverage ‘because there are no antibiotics in it.’

“The biggest misconception is how much fat they thought was in whole milk. Just like Nelson’s been saying. And when you tell them whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat, their response is ‘Oh, wow!’ That alone is big,” says Behr.

Her marketing savvy kicked in. Ideas for a website were kicked around with obvious choices already taken.

Then one attendee said: “How about 97 Milk?”

It fit. And it captured attention. By the second meeting, they were ready to establish 97 Milk LLC and chose a volunteer board of Lancaster County farmers Mahlon Stoltzfus, Lois Beyer, Jordan Zimmerman and Behr, with GN Hursh serving as chairman.

The website was up and running by the end of February with a Facebook page (@97Milk) that has gained more than 8,500 followers in less than eight months and a weekly average reach of over 150,000. Individual posts have reached up to 1.2 million through thousands of shares and hundreds of interactions. Twitter (@97Milk1) and Instagram (@97Milk) are also active.

Behr says it all stems from what Troutman started, and he was happy to add 97milk.com to the bales with Morrissey making sure the website appears on signs and banners.

“To get someone to change their mind, you have to get the facts in front of them,” Behr observes. “We’ve got three seconds in front of their eyes to leave information that plants a seed.”

With some content help from others, Behr comes up with ideas, designs and coordinates Facebook posts six days a week.

The result? “People are shocked and come back and say, ‘I had no idea,’” Behr explains. “I am in the industry, and even I have learned so much about milk that I didn’t know before.”

“Now that 97 Milk has become a tool used by dairy farmers to educate the public about our product, the conversations that are happening are only the beginning,” Stehr observes. “We could have 97 Milk boards across the nation.”

As interest builds, 97 Milk LLC is looking into how different geographies could have their own chapters, with the website and materials providing some continuity.

“That’s where the power is, with the producers in each community or state,” says Stehr.

He credits Troutman and Morrissey for getting everyone’s attention and believes what they are doing creates the opportunity for the ‘beyond-the-bale’ education piece carried by 97 Milk LLC.

“The word milk has been used liberally, and the understanding of what it is has been diluted,” says Stehr. “We let that happen over the past 30 years and did nothing about it. We let them bash our product. Now we are educating people that the fat in milk is not bad, that there’s not 10% or 50% fat in whole milk, but 3.25%, that there is complete protein in milk and all of these other good things.”

From the baleboards, vehicle signs, banners and communications of the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee, to the website, social media and educational events of 97 Milk LLC, a common bond unites these efforts — Troutman’s practical courage when he painted the first roundbale because he was frustrated and had had enough.

“We have lost market share, why? Because people don’t know what milk is and they don’t know what it tastes like,” says Troutman. “By promoting whole milk, we are opening their eyes and their tastebuds.”

While national co-ops think it’s “innovative” to develop a low-fat milk and nut juice blend, those involved in 97 Milk believe the response they see from diverse consumers tells a different story.

“People want to feel good about the products they are buying. The goal of 97 Milk is to share education, to share the dairy farmers’ stories,” says Behr. “You don’t pick up health magazines and see the benefits of milk. People need to see that positive information because they don’t know what milk provides.”

The Dairy Question Desk at the website fields a steady stream of five questions per week and when social media is included, 97 Milk fields 5 to 20 questions a day.

Every one of Behr’s original focus group have switched to whole dairy milk. The experience so far shows her consumers know very little about milk and have a real willingness to learn.

“All of our messages are simple. One fact. An infographic that’s simple to understand and that people can relate to,” says Behr. “Even if we have their eyes for just three seconds scrolling through, that little seed is huge.”

The posts fill other gaps. Behr believes people want to see that dairy farmers love their cows, that they care. The baleboard sightings and “cow kisses” have poured in for posting from several states.

The posts also help consumers fulfill a desire to be connected to their food, to buy local, and to support family-owned small businesses. “The simple fact that 97% of dairy farms are family-owned is a post that generated a lot of activity,” says Behr.

While she sees the environmental discussion as being big right now, she attributes this to the vegan activists driving it. By contrast, the 97 Milk facebook data and demographics reveal that 90% of consumers really want to hear about the health benefits, according to Behr.

She gives the example of the popular “yummy yogurt” infographic posted last week. It was visually attractive and simply listed a few health benefits.

“We get a few facts out on an infographic, and if you’re kind of hungry — or a mother like me trying to find healthy snacks for my kids — it hits,” says Behr. “It’s the simple things that get milk back in and help people feel good about buying milk products.”

The support from the agriculture community, and others, has been overwhelming.

“When someone calls, who you’re not even working with, to complement the work Jackie is doing, that’s rewarding,” says Stehr.

“When you see the response of a person in your community finding out they can drink whole milk and they really like it, that’s rewarding,” says Troutman.

“When legislators hold up a sign, or want their picture taken with a baleboard and say ‘this is the best thing going in dairy right now’, that’s rewarding,” says Morrissey.

“When people write into the Dairy Desk and we can answer their questions, that’s rewarding,” says Behr. “But most rewarding is hearing the excitement, seeing dairy farmers wanting to be involved, understanding the importance of marketing and seeing the results of getting involved. Receiving a simple note thanking us for positive messages, that’s rewarding.”

97 Milk LLC raised funds from more than 20 local and national businesses (see graphic) to cover expenses for the website and printed materials, and they’ve worked with Allied Milk Producers to have milk and dairy products available for parades, corn mazes, and other venues.

Meanwhile, individuals and communities take it upon themselves to paint bales, print bumper stickers, make signs, incorporate the message into corn maze designs, hometown parades, create farm tour handouts, initiate milk tents at athletic events, and more.

Young people are enthusiastic: FFA chapters, 4-H clubs and county dairy maids are printing their own banners and carrying the message at diverse public events. They love participating because it is real milk education, sharing the truth about milk and the life and work of America’s dairy farming families.

Morrissey and Troutman get calls from other states for banners and car magnets, and they’ve sent to these states at cost. Locally, the businesses paying for printing these items are giving them away (see graphic).

Behr has also designed items with the 97 Milk website logo, cows and farm scenes. These files are on the download area at 97milk.com and can be used to make banners, yard signs, license plates, bumper stickers, educational handouts, and more.

Troutman has added new baleboards for community events, including one that reads: Ask for Whole Milk in School. He and Behr recently did a television interview with a local PBS station.

Both the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and the 97 Milk LLC are running on shoestring budgets from donations (see graphic) with all volunteer effort, and the grassroots are blooming where planted to multiply the impact in ways too numerous to mention.

As a glimmer of hope, fluid milk sales nationally were up 0.2% in July, the first year-over-year increase in decades, with whole milk up 3.6% and flavored whole up 10.4%. Stores surveyed in southeastern Pennsylvania, where 97 Milk began, say whole milk sales are up significantly since January. It is also notable that many stores don’t seem to be able to keep enough whole milk on the shelves — a nationally obvious phenomenon.

Also being promoted is the petition to bring whole milk back to schools. This week, the online petition ( https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools ) topped 8000 signatures, plus 4000 were mailed in envelopes for a first-batch delivery in Washington Oct. 24, with a second batch goal to double that by January.

Reflecting on the past 10 months, Troutman says, “I thought if they’re not going to do it, someone has to, and here I am.”

And he’s happy. “Really, I’m thankful, thankful for so many who are helping make this work.” 

To contact the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee about banners, magnetic vehicle signs and baleboards, call Bernie Morrissey at 610.693.6471 or Nelson Troutman at 717.821.1484.

To contact 97 Milk LLC about spreading the milk education to other communities, email 97wholemilk@gmail.com or call Jackie Behr at 717.203.6777 or write to 97 Milk LLC, PO Box 87, Bird in Hand, PA 17505, and visit www.97milk.com, of course.

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Hoffman Farms: ‘We do what we can to promote milk education’

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine Nov. 8, 2019

Tricia (Hoffman) Adams planned her educational exhibit for months ahead of a multi-county cross country meet at the farm on October 15.

SHINGLEHOUSE, Pa. — Educating the public has long been a passion of the Hoffman family at Hoffman Farms in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The school and home communities of the two generations (five families) involved in the 1000-cow dairy are on both sides of the Pennsylvania / New York boundary.

In fact, Tricia (Hoffman) Adams gave a presentation back in 2006 on how they set up the learning components of their school tours at a Women in Dairy Conference that year. Attendees were inspired to find ways to invite the community in, and the family was later recognized with a Pa. Pacesetter Award in part because of progressive operations on the farm and in part because of their commitment to educating the community about milk and dairy farms.

Today, with tours, community events, a facebook page and the next generation so involved in school clubs and sports activities — in addition to showing dairy animals and market steers and pigs — the family has become a recognized source for their community to ask questions about dairy, livestock and agriculture, in general.

Earlier this year, the Hoffmans were among the many farms painting round bales and placing them in visible areas with the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free message. They have always served whole milk, along with other dairy treats, when schools and community groups tour the farm. The Baleboards drew attention and gave Tricia an opening to answer questions people didn’t even know they had!

She reports that the schoolchildren on tours last spring loved the ‘milk baleboards’ and wanted their pictures taken with the “cool” roundbales.

In fact, the 97 Milk effort has revitalized Tricia’s educational resources, she says. She and her father Dale Hoffman are also both serving on the grassroots Pennsylvania Dairy Advisory Committee.

In September, Tricia worked with two vendors — Dan Rosicka of Progressive Dairy Solutions and Country Crossroads Feed and Seed to help share the good news about whole milk. Each vendor purchased 50 of the 12-inch x 12-inch magnetic vehicle signs with the 97 Milk message and website to make available in the community.

Tricia also acquired a 4-foot x 6-foot banner as well as other materials with the 97 Milk message and milk education information.

And then she added her own flare. She had been thinking about it and working on it on-and-off since summer. The farm was hosting a multi-school championship cross-country meet in October, and she was providing the “recovery” beverages – whole milk and whole chocolate milk — and other goodies.

“I’m not one to sit around and wait for help,” says Tricia. Like other dairy producers she is frustrated with the negativity surrounding milk and meat. “I am upset that our children have to suffer in their school diets, with the lack of milk choice and the meatless days. I decided our farm will do what we can to promote the ag industry through ag education, ag awareness and ag positivity!”  

Each time Hoffman Farms is asked to donate money to a school club or a team sport, they donate dairy products instead — “with a side of education,” says Tricia.

For the North Tier League Championship Cross-Country Meet on October 15 at Hoffman Farms, Tricia set up two tents and tables. In addition to the 97 Milk banner, she had a Chocolate Milk Refuel and Recovery banner. For the “side of education,” she created a large cutout cow and numerous ‘spots’ with questions and answers.

As a farm that buys their own materials for these events and tours, Tricia feels strongly that whole milk products should be served and serves them when the events are after school or at the farm so that the schools are not jeopardized in any way due to the flawed diet rules they have to live by during school hours.

She reports that the young people (and adults) say they look forward to having “the good milk.”

“Whole chocolate milk as a recovery drink after a race, whole milk cheese sticks or toasted cheese sandwich supplies to add to a sports concession stand — whatever helps our industry and our future generation of students is what we are going to focus on,” Tricia explains.

She’ll admit that some days, “It feels like an uphill battle, but we have had many clubs, organizations and businesses wanting to help as well,” says Trica.

“At the end of the day, I’m not sure how many people will benefit or even how much I can change, but I would rather try by doing something constructive.”

Three generations are involved in the award-winning 1000-cow dairy at Hoffman Farms in Potter County, Pa. The farm was founded by Dale and Carol Hoffman with 30 cows. Today their daughter Tricia and sons Keith, Brad, and Josh have transitioned into leadership and a third generation is also involved.

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They have a knack for niches, and the #4 GJPI herd in the nation — Profiles in comfort and quality

MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Healthy cattle on summer pasture. That’s the scene that makes Alan Kozak happy. That, and some of the exciting new things he and his wife Sharon are doing with the high-quality milk from their 429 Jersey cows at Clover Patch Dairy here in Holmes County, Ohio. Alan credits Sharon as the “calf […]

They have a knack for niches, and the #4 GJPI herd in the nation — Profiles in comfort and quality

Mixed feelings prevail after Expo

There were plenty of new things to see among the 859 trade show vendors, but the trade show was down a bit from 887 businesses exhibiting a year ago. Attendance was reported at just over 62,000, down from over 65,000 a year ago and over 68,000 two years ago. International attendance at 2,133 people from 94 countries last week was off by about about 200 compared with a year ago and 500 fewer than two years ago. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, October 11, 2019

MADISON, Wis. — On the business side of the 53rd World Dairy Expo last week, I came away with feelings as mixed as the weather — gloomy skies and a deluge of rain at the beginning of the week gave way to sunny skies and brisk breezes at the end.

There were plenty of new things to see among the nearly 859 trade show vendors. Annual attendance is reported at around 62,000. U.S. and international attendance did appear to be down from previous years. 

For many, the first three days of the show felt slow in comparison even to last year. Some observed that the steep loss of family farms over the past 18 months was “being felt” at Expo.

Some pointed to the weather as heavy rains produced flooding Tuesday into Wednesday. 

Others blamed the discouraging — and twisted — headlines that came out of a town hall meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the start of the week. The town hall was attended by around 200 dairy farmers, agribusiness representatives and organization leaders, along with dozens of reporters and television cameras.

What followed the hour of honest and detailed discussion (reported here as in Farmshine last week) were press accounts that warped Sec. Perdue’s comments and went viral through the wire services, starting with the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune and continuing into various agricultural press.

By Thursday, Wisconsin Farmers Union had sent op-ed responses to high profile news outlets, taking on the Secretary for his supposed comments about how we supposedly do things in America.

The stage was effectively set to cast the current Trump administration as purveyors of a factory farm model, attributing to the Secretary a proclamation that, “In America, the big get bigger and small get out.” This is now playing right into the hands of Democratic presidential hopefuls who are pal-ing around with HSUS in the Midwest, pretending to care about cows, farms and fly-over country.

Well, maybe some Democrats do care, but we know HSUS does not, and we know what the purveyors of the Green New Deal think of our cows. That’s another story.

Trouble is, the Secretary never said the words that have started this chain reaction. Or, at least, not in the order in which his words were parsed together in print.

You see, many other words were omitted. Context is everything.

From the sidelines and super busy with other pursuits at the Expo — but having attended the town hall meeting in person and having written my own coverage of the event in last week’s Farmshine — I began to see the headlines erupting on social media as share upon share made the news travel rapidly from Tuesday into Wednesday and then it was off to the races.

I began wondering how I could have missed such a derogatory comment. And I learned by Friday that, no, my notebook and partial recording had not failed me. Full transcripts were released by other reporters — providing that important context.

Transcripts showed clearly that the offending quote from Sec. Perdue was pulled from a very long and detailed response to a question and spliced together to make new statements. Not only is context everything, so is punctuation.

Too late, the discouraging and depressing headlines continued to beat small and mid-sized family farmers over the head all week. They began to feel as though even the USDA could care less about their survival – wanted them gone in fact to make way for “factory farming.”

The narrative was discouraging and many farmers confessed to me just how it made them feel. Several said reading those words made them feel like – why bother even going to Expo?

“Stick a fork in us. We’re done, according to Perdue,” a Wisconsin dairy farmer said to me Thursday.

Bad enough that the headlines erupted after Tuesday’s town hall were discouraging. Worse, that they were false in what they signaled to family farms. But there is also much truth in Sec. Perdue’s observation. He was describing “what we’ve seen in America,” not making a proclamation of how things will be done in America.

And the advancements in science and technology ARE what we have seen in America. Yes, they help smaller farms too, but it is science and technology that are contributing to the progress that is allowing rapid consolidation to take place.

For the record, I am pro-science and pro-technology and pro-innovation. But I also believe we are at a crossroads where it has gone so fast and so far, that we need to walk back and look at outcomes and impact and have a national conversation.

Just one day after the Expo closed, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford and member farms like Dotterer’s Dairy, Mill Hall, Pa. were on CBS 60-minutes talking about how high-tech dairy is today and the market challenges being faced by dairy farmers at the same time.

The twisted quotes from Tuesday’s dairy town hall meeting at Expo gave the impression that Trump’s USDA is proclaiming a factory farm model for the future of agriculture. In a sense, as we embrace rapid technological advancement, we are embracing that transition. These are inescapable facts that must be sorted out and dealt with.

The Secretary was merely observing the reality of what has been happening in America’s rural lands with increasing speed over the past decade.

While some of Perdue’s specific answers to specific questions were disappointing and other responses were encouraging, none of those specifics were reported elsewhere with any attention. All attention was placed on the twisted quote.

We have a Secretary who can see what is happening and who can have an honest discussion about it, while being pragmatic about what the potential solutions are that can be accomplished without the help of a paralyzed Congress.

No matter what we think of Dairy Margin Coverage, it was put in place to help smaller farms withstand these difficult times and figure out their place in the future. That’s just reality.

At the same time, what was lost in those press reports is we have a Secretary that at least took time to cheer-lead for the small and mid-sized family farms by using his bully pulpit to advocate for whole milk in schools. No one picked up on that, except for Farmshine.

Perdue also touted “local” food as a way to bring value back to farms. I haven’t seen any other press reports talk about that.

Most reporters ignored those thoughts. They also ignored the fact that the stage for the rapid consolidation in dairy — that is occurring today — was set 10 years ago under former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who today has his salary paid by dairy farmers through their mandatory checkoff as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and defacto leader of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy that is streamlining “U.S. Dairy” through various checkoff funded innovations and programs.

Think about this for a moment: U.S. dairy has progressed with technological advancements that are unparalleled in the world. American farmers have always looked to technology and to the future to produce food for the growing population and to be good stewards of the land.

It is the love of science and technology – along with the love of cows — that draws throngs of U.S. and international visitors to the World Dairy Expo each year. They want to see what’s new. They want to learn from each other. They want to make progress to do more with less.

Technology allows farmers to do more with less. That has meant producing more food from fewer cows. At some point it also means producing more food from fewer farms.

Perhaps it is time to not just praise science and technology with the eagerness of children on Christmas morning, but to have an honest conversation about where science and technology are leading the food industry. 

Sec. Perdue was not very well informed when it came to the topics of fake meat and fake milk that are ramping up through USDA science and technology into cell-cultured and DNA-modified yeast factory vats and bioreactors. Instead of talking about factories replacing farms, he stated that “consumers will choose”, and he said currently those who are choosing fake meat and fake milk aren’t consuming the real stuff anyway.

That was the short-sighted comment that raised my eyebrow, not the parsed-together quote about big and bigger.

It’s time to dig into the structure of things.

Perhaps the real concern and conversation to be addressed is the structures and alliances that have been formed over the past 10 years as they are now coming to light. In former Secretary Vilsack’s talk at Expo about exports and dairy innovation, and in DMI’s workshop about what’s on the horizon, my initial impressions are that we are at a place where the industry is speeding up innovation and wanting more latitude on standards of identity at a time when we should be saying: “let’s push pause please.” 

The race to feed the world has produced immeasurable waste and loss already, will it now change the face of agriculture forever?

Where is science and technology supportive for the family fabric that has made our food production the envy of the world? And where is science and technology promoting a path that leads us away from that model of food production to take it out of the hands of many families enriched by competitive markets and put it into the new emerging models of fewer hands, consolidated markets and lack of competition.

Don’t blame Secretary Perdue for these wheels that have been in motion. Don’t expect the government to solve it. But what we can do is have the honest conversation, ask the questions, hold leaders accountable, and move the needle far enough to provide a more level field of play for the small and mid-sized family farms. 

You can count on Farmshine to break away from the narratives on both sides of this thing to do exactly that.

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DMI umbrella covers seen and unseen

New tax-exempt entities form — some with aliases — as checkoff funds flow to partnerships

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 20, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) umbrella keeps expanding to include a growing number and assortment of tax-exempt 501c3 and 501c 6 organizations, all having addresses of record being either DMI headquarters at 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 900, Rosemont, Illinois, or National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) headquarters at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia.

Several file their public IRS 990 forms under alias names, so these forms are a challenge to find. Some of the boards of these related organizations are not announced except on these IRS forms.

In reviewing IRS 990’s, many of these boards are comprised of the executive staff of prominent multinational dairy supply chain companies as well as executive staff and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives based in the U.S. and from other countries.

In addition to those IRS forms we could find for 2016-17, there are new organizations that are being formed since 2016-17, for which no IRS forms are yet publicly available.

One up-and-coming new organization is the so-called Center for Dairy Excellence, which is the product of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Innovation Center for U.S Dairy under their Dairy Sustainability Initiative and Dairy Sustainability Alliance.

At a recent dairy risk management seminar in Harrisburg, Pa., a panel of DMI staff mentioned the new “Center for Dairy Excellence”, which they said is unrelated to Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, it just happens to use the same name.

An internet search shows the information about this new center is available in the password-protected “members-only” area of USDEC’s website, but the word is that it will be a new hub for product innovation and sustainability.

One point the DMI panelists made really hit home: “We want to move consumers away from the ‘habit’ of reaching for the jug and get them to be looking for these new and innovative products.”

Products that are rooted in what is increasingly the very hands-on work of national dairy checkoff through these proprietary partnerships that are facilitated by this growing series of related tax-exempt organizations that are then able to push decisions about how checkoff funds are used further into the proprietary pre-competitive hands of the global dairy supply chain and multinational corporations that serve on these related boards.

The companies involved benefit from DMI’s ability to use tax-exempt status to conduct new product research and market testing paid for by dairy farmers under entities such as the Dairy Research Institute — a 501c3 organization that files under the alias name of Dairy Science Institute Inc. and includes several university laboratory sites, including Cornell, where the new fake butter made with water and 10% milkfat was recently discovered and paid for by New York dairy promotion dollars (reported in Farmshine Sept. 6, 2019).

The Dairy Research Institute is referenced at the websites for National Dairy Council and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, but most of the links to their work are in a password-protected “members-only” area. Attempts to sign up to view this information were denied.

Yes, dairy farmers pay for the research, the market testing, and so forth, and the companies then bring these products into the marketplace via the national dairy checkoff funding stream via the tax-exempt status of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Having gathered as many related IRS 990 forms as we could find (due to the confusing use of alias names), there are some interesting things to learn about how the vehicle of dairy industry consolidation and trends in promotion and research have been forming since 2008 — right under our noses — and how the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff continues to fuel the global supply chain engine.

IRS 990 forms show how executive staff for large multi-national companies – some of them based in other countries – are influential in charting this course under the mantra of “pre-competitive collaboration”, which of course makes it all confidential and proprietary.

These related organization boards include leaders of companies and cooperatives based not just in the U.S. but also in New Zealand, China, Netherlands, Canada and Denmark as they acquire assets and form joint ventures in the U.S.

The 2011 implementation of the 7.5-cent import promotion checkoff that perhaps gave entities like Fonterra the entitlement to help shape this direction, leading UDIA to transfer ownership of the Real Seal to NMPF, which now charges companies a licensing fee to use the Real Seal. (More on that another day.)

While a main focus of the USDEC and U.S. Dairy efforts is to increase exports, it is interesting to note that these gains have had a reverse effect on dairy farm milk price revenue, according to a recent study by dairy economist and supply chain expert Chuck Nicholson (more on that, too, another day).

Suffice it to say for now that export volumes were higher in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019, while dairy farm level milk prices were lower in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019. In fact, former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called 2018 “a banner year for exporters.” For dairy farmers, 2018 was anything but banner.

Meanwhile, Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC and a primary leader on the board of U.S. Dairy, is heavily promoting two of DMI’s new internal campaigns: 1) The “Next Five Percent” campaign wants to move exports from 15% of U.S. milk production to 20% within the next two years, and 2) The Net Zero Initiative wants the entire dairy supply chain at net zero emissions by 2050.

Let’s open the DMI umbrella with a short summary on some of the DMI-funded 501c3’s and 6’s by their known names and aliases. (We published a timeline for some of the major pieces under the umbrella in Keep in mind that NMPF is intrinsically involved in at least two: USDEC and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. These are the two organizations spawning a growing number of new tax-exempt organizations under DMI’s umbrella.

U.S. Dairy Export Council

USDEC and NMPF share offices at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C., according to forms filed with the IRS. According to financial audits, DMI and NMPF trade and buy services from each other, and NMPF rented offices from DMI in Arlington until 2016 when these offices were sold.

In 2017, USDEC listed NMPF as an independent contractor paid $1.85 million for “trade services”.

USDEC paid DMI $6.5 million for management services in 2017, while also listing $6.4 million in salaries and employee compensation.

USDEC’s total revenue was $24.6 mil in 2017, of which $1.43 mil came from membership dues, $5.7 mil from government grants and $17.1 mil from DMI. This means that USDEC received 71% of its funding from national mandatory dairy checkoff and 23% from government grants with just 6% of its funding coming from the membership dues paid by the corporations and cooperatives that are significantly represented on the USDEC board of 140 directors.

The chief financial officer for USDEC in 2017 was Carolyn Gibbs, who was also listed as the CFO for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Halfway through 2017, she left this position to become a principal officer of Newtrient LLC, another related organization formed under the DMI umbrella in 2017. IRS forms for this organization are not yet publicly available.

Before coming to DMI, Gibbs spent 13 years at Kraft Foods, Inc. Her consulting work today with Newtrient LLC is described as “industry outreach, strategy, Net Zero Initiative, and project continuity.”

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — a 501c6 formed in 2008 — is officially known to the IRS as Dairy Center for Strategic Innovation and Collaboration doing business as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The national dairy checkoff organizations increasingly refer to this organization simply as “U.S. Dairy,” and the website for some of its activities is USDairy.com.

According to DMI’s IRS 990 form, this organization is directly controlled by DMI.

The “collaboration” has a small budget of around $115,000 for each of the past three years and no paid staff. But it is the hub of new tax-exempt organizations as well as trademarked initiatives.

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy describes its reason for tax-exempt status on the 990 forms, as follows: “…to provide a forum for the dairy industry to identify opportunities to increase dairy sales through pre-competitive collaboration. It combines the collective resources of the dairy industry to provide consumers with nutritious dairy products and foster industry innovation for healthy people, healthy products and a healthy planet.”

On its 990 forms, U.S. Dairy lists its board of directors — a who’s who of chief executive officers and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives as well as multinational dairy processors. The board also includes DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and of course Vilsack.

The Dairy Sustainability Alliance

A key subset of The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is The Dairy Sustainability Alliance, trademarked by DMI in June 2017. A search for The Dairy Sustainability Alliance at guidestar.org, a database of non-profits, brings up Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform is a tax-exempt organization formed and incorporated as a 501c6 in 2012 and it lists its physical address as DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.

It describes its tax-exempt justification as follows: “A pre-competitive collaboration of dairy sector organizations, the Global Dairy Platform works with its global membership, scientific and academic leaders and other industry collaborators to align and support the international dairy industry to promote sustainable dairy nutrition.”

Chaired by Rick Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the Global Dairy Platform (GDP), has a board of 12 executives representing the following corporations, cooperatives and organizations: Fonterra (New Zealand), Saputo (Canada-based multinational), Leprino (multinational), Land O’Lakes, Meiji Holdings Ltd. (China), FrielandCamprino (Dutch multinational), Arla (Denmark multinational), China Mengniu Dairy Company and the International Dairy Federation.

Donald Moore was paid nearly $600,000 as GDP executive director in 2016, the most recent IRS 990 form available. Moore currently also serves as chairman of the International Agri-Food Network and the Private Sector Mechanism to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.

DMI senior vice president Dr. Greg Miller is listed as the research lead for the GDP, and he is currently also serving on a food and sustainability committee with the UN World Health Organization. He was the highest paid DMI executive in 2017 at $1.49 mil (including benefit package and deferments).

GDP had revenue of $3.74 million from DMI in 2017 — $2.6 mil for program services and $1.12 mil in the form of grants in 2016. According to the IRS 990, $583,329 of this revenue came from the import checkoff assessment. Research projects accounted for $1.85 million of expenses.

Newtrient LLC

Until July of 2017, Carolyn Gibbs was listed as chief financial officer of USDEC and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, where she assisted with the launch of Newtrient LLC, another tax-exempt 501c6 formed in 2018, according to Gibbs’ bio at newtrient.com.

Newtrient falls under the Dairy Sustainability Alliance (Global Dairy Platform), which comes under the Dairy Sustainability Initiative.

No IRS 990 forms are available yet for Newtrient LLC.

Newtrient is described at its website (newtrient.com) as “an entity focused on turning waste into renewable energy and other commercially viable products, while reducing dairy’s environmental footprint and improving economic returns for dairy farmers.”

Dairy Research Institute

The Dairy Research Institute is a name trademarked by DMI, but the IRS recognizes this 501c3 as Dairy Science Institute Inc. doing business as Dairy Research Institute with a physical address at DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Ill.

The Institute describes its tax-exempt status to the IRS as “created to strengthen the dairy industry’s access to and investment in the technical research required to drive innovation and demand for dairy products and ingredients globally. The Institute works with and through industry, academic, government and commercial partners to drive pre-competitive research in nutrition, products and sustainability on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the National Dairy Council and other partners.”

The Institute is primarily funded by DMI with reported revenue of $1 million in 2016 and $785,935 in 2017. However, from 2013 through 2017, the Institute received a total of $24.3 million from DMI, including it’s first-year startup grant of $19.16 mil. in 2013.

Its officers are listed as Dr. Gregory Miller, president, Tom Gallagher, chairman and Carolyn Gibbs, CFO through July 2017 (before heading over to Newtrient and being replaced by Quinton Bailey).

Dr. Miller is also the research lead for Global Dairy Platform and chief science officer for the National Dairy Council (NDC), a 501c3 tax-exempt organization formed in 1969 and today controlled by United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) and managed by DMI.

GENYOUth

While the sustainability organizational rollouts have been ongoing since 2009-10 memorandums were signed between USDA and DMI, another organization was simultaneously formed while Tom Vilsack was Ag Secretary in 2010 through a three-way memorandum of understanding between National Dairy Council, USDA and the National Foodball League.

This 501c3, of course, is Youth Improved Inc. doing business as GENYOUth, describing its tax-exempt status as “activating programs that create healthy, active students and schools, empowering youth as change-agents in their local communities, engaging a network of private and public partners that share our goal to create a healthy, successful future for students, schools and communities nationwide.”

DMI is listed as GENYOUth’s controlling organization and paid one of its partners, the NFL, $5.6 million for promotion in 2017, according to IRS filings. 

At the same time, in 2017, GENYOUth’s most expensive “charitable activity” was listed as Fuel Up to Play 60, costing $5.4 million and giving considerable advertising exposure to the NFL among future fans. That year, the NFL contributed less than $1 million to GENYOUth.

Alexis Glick, a television personality until 2009, has been GENYOUth’s CEO since its inception in 2010. In both 2016 and 2017, she was paid $259,584 as “compensation for services provided under an independent contractor agreement.”

Other employee compensation totaled $517,165, including vice president Mark Block, at $221,000. Pension plans and other employee benefits totaled $110,026 and other professional fees paid to contractors totaled $2.36 million.

Since 2010, the organization has brought donors to the table including some of the multinational dairy and foodservice corporations DMI is working with in other tax-exempt product innovation and ‘sustainability’ ventures.

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U.S. Ag Secretary Perdue: Small farms face difficult times

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (right) and Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture and Trade Brad Pfaff field questions and take in comments at dairy town hall meeting early Tuesday morning on the official first day of the 53rd World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – Grabbing the headlines from a town hall meeting with U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue during the opening day of the 53rd World Dairy Expo, here in Madison, Wisconsin, was a comment the Secretary made about the viability of small family farms.

He was asked whether they will survive. To which he answered, “Yes, but they’ll have to adapt.”

In fact, the Secretary said that the capital needs and environmental regulations that impact farms today make it difficult for smaller farms to survive milking 50 to 100 cows.

“What we’ve seen is the number of dairy farms going down, but the number of dairy cows has not,” said Perdue. “Dairy farms are getting larger, and smaller farms are going out.”

But in additional discussion, Perdue said that consumers want local products. He said that marketing local, even without the buzzwords, can be done successfully to bring value to farms.

He noted two things about dairy farms. First, they can’t be sustainable without profitability and second, he described the dairy industry as prone to oversupply.

Picking up on these comments, recently retired northwest Wisconsin dairy producer Karen Schauf said Farm Bureau is looking at the Federal Milk Marketing Orders and how make some adjustments on the milk pricing.

“But what we really need to do is balance supply and demand of dairy products much closer,” she said. “I would ask if you would support a flexible mandatory supply management system to help producers keep that supply and demand in closer relationship.”

Perdue asked if she wanted the short answer or the long answer, stating that when his children want a quick answer, it’s always “no.”

Schauf replied, “Mr. Secretary, I just want you to think about it.” The subject went no further.

At another point in the questioning, a Wisconsin producer observed the disheartening price levels and said last year was a record high level of exports, while prices to farmers were worse than this year and worse than 2017.

He noted that exports hit 17.6% of milk produced, and settled out at 16% last year, which is a record, but his milk price averaged $14.60. He went on to say that, “our exports are off 2% this year, but I’ll probably come close to an average of $17 on my milk price.” He also noted that National Milk Producers Federation recently put out a press release stating 2015-18 as record years in domestic dairy consumption.

“This is all good,” the dairy farmer said, “but in Wisconsin we are losing 2.5 farms per day and I think the call centers are full with distressed farmers calling in, so beyond trade and some of these things you promote at the federal level, what can we be looking at so we never experience another five years like this?”

Perdue thanked the producer for his facts and said it is amazing that things “can be good and yet feel so bad.” He acknowledged that dairy has been under the most stress, and he said that the 2018 Farm Bill did “exactly the right thing” with the new Dairy Margin Coverage. He pointed out that this coverage is specifically in place for smaller dairy farms.

“Milk prices are cyclical, and I think we’ve met that trough, and things will improve for 2020,” said Perdue.

Referencing the 2% milk on the table in front of him, Perdue said: “You pretty much know what happened to milk in our schools, with the whole milk and the accusations about fat in milk. We hope to get some benefit, maybe, from the Dietary Guidelines this year, which drive a lot of this conversation.”

Noting that USDA “is leading” the Dietary Guidelines along with Health and Human Services, the Secretary said: “We have a great panel and they will bring together the best scientific facts about what is healthy, wholesome and nutritious for our young people and our older people  and all of us, so we’re looking forward to that.”

On trade, the Secretary was hopeful. He cited the recent trade agreement with Japan, but did not have exact numbers for dairy, just that it will be beneficial for dairy. On China, he was optimistic and said progress is being made, but that it has been important to take this stand because they have been “cheating” and are “toying with us.”

One area he mentioned in regard to trade with China is that U.S. agriculture has become too dependent on “what China will do.” He said the administration is really working on trade with other nations in the Pacific and elsewhere that do not represent such large chunks as to disrupt or distort markets as they come in and out of the game. This has held true for dairy exports from the U.S., which are rising in so many other parts of the world.

On the USMCA, Perdue said the outcome will depend on whether the Speaker of the House brings it to the floor for a vote. “It will pass both caucuses, but it has to come to the floor. We hope to see that happen by the end of the year, that distractions won’t get in the way,” said Perdue.

The town hall meeting covered a wide range of other questions and comments, and often, the answer to the toughest questions was “it’s complicated and we’ll be happy to look into it.”

On the Market Facilitation Program, several had questions about why alfalfa-grass is not included as a crop, just straight alfalfa. Perdue explained that alfalfa is a crop exported to China and that the crops in the eligible crops for MFP payments have to be “specifically enumerated.”

As with other questions, he emphasized the local FSA Committees who implement some of the more subjective pieces of these programs that farmers can appeal to their local committees if they’ve been denied.

In the prevent plant flexibilities for harvesting forage, Perdue said USDA is looking at this as perhaps something to be made permanent – the ability to harvest forage on prevent plant acres in September rather than waiting until Nov. 1.

Paul Bauer from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery focused his comments on the spread between Cheddar blocks and barrels on the CME and how this is deflating the price paid to dairy farmers – especially in Wisconsin – but also across the U.S. because of how it affects the Class III pricing formula.

“For the last four years, the spread between blocks and barrels has been greater than 12 cents. Historically, the spread has been three cents or less per pound for the prior 50 years,” he said, noting that the spread at the end of the previous week stood at just shy of 35 cents per pound!

“The common thought is that this bounces back to a normal range, but it doesn’t,” said Bauer, noting that last year’s average spread cost dairy farmers 60 cents per hundredweight on their milk price. “Those farmers who ship to barrel plants, such as Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, were affected by $1.20/cwt on their milk price due to this wide spread.

He noted that last week’s 34 ¾ cent spread between blocks and barrels cost dairy farmers $3.40/cwt, which is 20% of their base price.

Acknowledging that this is a complex issue, Bauer asked the Secretary if USDA will take the first step and admit there is a problem instead of “rolling their eyes because of the complexity.”

“This is unfavorable to our farmers and unfair to our producers,” said Bauer, explaining that all dairy products are priced off the block-barrel on the CME, ultimately.

“It’s important to get it right,” said Bauer, explaining that it is a problem when the industry can build barrel inventory to create this divergence in block / barrel prices on the CME, which in turn suppresses the price they pay to producers for the milk used in a multitude of other “modern” products.

“Barrel production comes from 16 plants (nationwide), and represents 6% of the nation’s dairy supply, and yet has had a 58% of the impact on all producers’ milk checks,” said Bauer. “When the system is out of sync, that negative value affects us all.

“It’s time for USDA to formally take action and for the data to come to light that are influencing the market,” said Bauer. 

He explained that the system is there to protect farmers and local buyers but is now being influenced by foreign cooperatives that keep one product – barrels – in oversupply in order to keep milk prices lower for products that are priced off the higher blocks in short supply. 

Bauer said the secrecy of buyers and sellers on the CME protects this practice. “It’s time to update the system to keep up with modern times to protect our farmers and our food supply also in terms of quality and safety.” 

Secretary Perdue drew laughter when he asked Bauer: “Would you repeat the question?”  But he took it in and asked for a written copy of the question to look into it. Perdue said that concerns are often raised about the Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

“They are a fairly complex issue, but we’d be happy to investigate. The government’s role in general is to be the balance between the producer and the consumer and ensure no predatory pricing practices,” said Perdue, “while not interfering with commerce and contracts.”

He gave the example of the fire at the Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas and the staggering loss to cattle prices since that fire over a month ago that have resulted in packer margins at an unprecedented $600 per head.

“We saw a spike in the delta – the difference between the live cattle price and the boxed beef price at historic highs, and we are investigating that, to make sure there was no pricing collusion,” said Perdue. “I’ve asked those packers to come in and give me their side of the story. That’s the role of USDA.”

Pete Hardin of the Milkweed asked about the cell cultured meat, citing a publicized comment by the Secretary last summer pointing to the value of this science. Hardin asked if any studies have been done on the safety of this technology.

Perdue did not know if any specific studies have been done, and he confessed to trying an Impossible Burger, adding “There’s now one restaurant I no longer attend.”

He stressed that these products cater to people who aren’t eating meat anyway for whatever reason, and he said: “In the end, consumers will be the ones to choose.”

Picking up on this in a separate question about how dairy and livestock farms can remain viable with all of the imitation products competing for consumers, the Secretary observed that, “As farmers we are independent and like to sit behind the farm gate and produce the best, most nutritious food in the world at the lowest cost anywhere in the world, but we’ve never told the story.

“It’s up to every one of us to speak out locally and statewide and federally, nationally in that area and tell the story of what’s happening. No longer can we hide behind the curtain,” said Perdue. 

“There’s a growing movement about knowing how you do your job, what’s in the milk, how the animals are treated, and there’s no going back from that. We have to engage with consumers. We have to tell the story loudly and proudly.”

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