Gratitude offers a path to our resilience

This has been a year for the history books. A pandemic of global proportions, storms and wildfires leaving ruins, economic upheaval, political divide, social injustice, civil unrest, and in dairy and agriculture supply chain disruptions, bankruptcies, dispersals, consolidations and exits.

God’s promises are the blessings through all personal and public loss. This year, we saw loss, but we also saw courage, care and giving. 

Whether or not we know someone who recovered from or was lost to Covid-19, we are reminded daily of the rising death toll, the rising number of positive cases. We are reminded daily of families facing evictions, still unemployed, of small businesses having to close, many for good. We see the rise in dairy herd dispersals and farm sales that were underway even before the pandemic. We see the shifting sands of rural landscapes. 

It’s a lot to take in, what 2020 has delivered. But notice how folks in the midst of ruin are often more thankful than those going about their daily lives without a problem or care?

A family losing home, belongings and memories to a disaster hold each other close in thankfulness. Citizens of a community devastated by storm help each other pick up the pieces. When a farmer is gravely ill, neighbors gather to harvest the crops. When lives are lost, loved ones are lifted up and memories are shared.

A thankful heart does not change the circumstances or stop the pain of loss, rather gratitude offers a path to our resilience. Without gratitude, there can be no hope. The bird that sings in the midst of a storm is no doubt thankful for its perch and made stronger by its song.

The act of giving thanks strengthens us.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving 2020, it will be different for many of us. For some, the normal family gatherings will occur, for others it will not. Some will mark a first Thanksgiving without a loved one. Others will be celebrating the addition of new family members. Many will be separated from gathering if a family member is under quarantine for the virus. Some will spend the day working in earnest to get a home or barn under roof before winter after devastating summer storms. Some will find it difficult to buy groceries and prepare a meal. Some will navigate political differences that have sharp edges and create splinters.

For my mother, it will be the first Thanksgiving without my younger sister. And, because of the pandemic, and a member of our family’s exposure to the virus, with her underlying health, mom will spend Thanksgiving alone — except for telephone, ‘hugs’ (and a meal) through the glass door, and prayer. Many of our elders will see Thanksgiving 2020 this way.

We are accustomed to the traditions of gathering around a meal – representing a celebration of harvest. We are accustomed to gathering as family, extended family, friends and community, of having the opportunity to look around at family, friends, home, hearth, sustenance, to readily count our blessings in conversation, see our blessings in the faces of children, feel them in the warmth of a hug.

But to give thanks in ALL things is an action we are reminded to engage in despite our circumstances.

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was such an occasion after profound loss. The community meal with prayer and thanksgiving came after a first successful harvest, which had been preceded by the plague of disease, hunger and fear, followed by a spring and summer of drought. Faith continued. A harvest sustained them, and they gave thanks.

We live in a world today of high-tech distractions from the things that are most important. 2020 brought events that got our attention. Time stood still, and families spent time together.

Whether we are in the storm or seeing our way clear of it, a thankful heart opens us to faith, hope and optimism. A thankful heart gives strength to sing instead of sitting quietly to dwell in the dark.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:18

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.” Psalms 28:7

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DMI-led, DFA-made: ‘siips’ is new ‘teen milk’, but…

But… when given the opportunity, teens choose regular fresh whole milk

siips: Siimply Perfect. Real Milk. Real Good. You Be You. These are the descriptive taglines for SIIPS, a shelf-stable, aseptically-packaged, ultrapasteurized, lowfat milk packaged by DFA in an 8-oz. aluminum can as a new “teen milk” based on DMI’s research of what it takes to make milk relevant to teens again. And DMI says more ‘innovations’ or ‘reinventions’ or ‘relevant products’ are on the way from other partners. All of this money and time spent to answer a question teens and pre-teens and elementary-aged students could have told us quickly, cheaply and easily, given the opportunity to choose whole milk – without the fancy packaging and processing that puts it neatly into a global supply chain instead of a local or regional fresh food system.

By Sherry Bunting (Farmshine, Nov. 13, 2020)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – On one hand they say they are not involved in reinventing school milk and then, well, they say they are.

Siips is the new low-fat, shelf-stable grab-and-go “teen milk” from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). According to Dairy Management Inc (DMI), checkoff led the way on the innovation and test launch in selected locations over summer.  

Siips is a result of DMI’s fluid milk revitalization efforts and is targeted to improving the youth milk experience with relevant packaging and flavors,” according to a recent edition of Your Checkoff News.

During last week’s Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call, a portion of the hour was devoted to questions and answers with DMI leaders, and we learned more about revitalization, innovation, and reinvention.

According to Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president for global innovation partnerships at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), DMI has been working since last summer to “understand perceptions of milk in schools.”

He said products like siips represent what DMI has learned from students in a variety of demographics so that milk can compete again.

Siips is grab-and-go milk in an aluminum 8-oz. can in the flavors of caramel, mocha and chocolate,” he explained. “Products like this will make milk competitive in the school ala carte area, and we are working with other partners for other ala carte grab and go products.”

Ziemnisky noted that DMI is also working with processors and technology companies to develop dispensers like those used in foodservice where students can choose their milk ‘formula’ or ‘flavors’. He said Covid set the test launch back for those, but they are coming.

The bottom line is, he said: “We are looking at new packaging systems… aseptic sustainable packaging, all in the process of starting up. We are working with the industry to line up 6 to 7 tests in key systems to create a catalytic effect across the whole industry.”

A dairy producer submitted this question: “We are seeing grants from checkoff to develop a ‘kids milk’ at Cornell. We already have a ‘kids milk.’ It is called whole milk. We are frustrated. Why would our checkoff spend money on this rather than spending money to get whole milk back in schools?”

DMI president Barb O’Brien replied that she is “not familiar with the ‘kids milk’ project. We are not involved in specialized formulation for school milk,” she said. “But we can tell you about the research programs we have invested in.”

Ziemnisky picked up from there to explain that, “Everything we do has to start with consumers to make sure what we do is relevant.”

He said DMI’s partners, including MilkPEP, are the experts in marketing and advertising while DMI is the expert on consumer research and insights.

O’Brien and Ziemnisky explained that what DMI does is “back-end strategy with brands to advance U.S. Dairy’s priorities.”

They said the brand partners spend “10 to 20 times our investment in bringing to market these innovations.”

“Three years ago, the milk revitalization alliance was formed,” said Ziemnisky. “By partnering with brands, we unlock new platforms and then leverage that to access their customers.”

O’Brien said that’s how DMI has managed what is essentially a $300 million state and national budget to become the equivalent of $3 billion in consumer access and increased per capita dairy sales.

Ziemnisky reported that whole milk sales grew by $1.8 billion on a value basis over the past five years to 41% of net sales at retail. He owed this to what he said were DMI’s “57 whole milk studies.”

(We can’t find any whole milk studies on the list of 57 studies, just a few studies related to full-fat cheese.)

The problem with 40 years of declining overall fluid milk sales, said Ziemnisky is that “the sector has gone 40 years without innovation.”

(The sector has also gone 40 years under what have become increasingly fat-restrictive USDA enforcement of its Dietary Guidelines, but that wasn’t mentioned.)

Ziemnisky pointed out that the gains made in whole milk sales have come at the expense of fat-free milk sales.

“We have a fix for that too,” he said. “Our goal is to make milk relevant again with high protein, low carb, portability, as well as reinvention at schools, foodservice and e-commerce to fit changing consumer lifestyles.”

As for the simple choice of whole milk in schools? DMI leaders were asked if they would fund and support a research trial like the one done last year at one middle/high school in Pennsylvania showing 65% gains in milk sales and sustainable reductions in waste of 95%.

O’Brien was “thrilled” to hear about that study and said exceptions can be granted for research, but quickly turned the conversation over to Ziemnisky to talk about the research and innovation of school milk DMI is already investing in.

Look for more in the next edition on DMI’s partnership with DFA on plant-based blends – why and how and other topics.

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Grassroots dairy meet with Rep. Thompson, a champion for Ag; Dietary Guidelines, whole milk in schools top the agenda

Congressman G.T. Thompson (center) is flanked on left by Dale Hoffman of Potter County and Sherry Bunting of Lancaster County and on his right by Bernie Morrissey of Berks County, Krista Byler of Crawford County and Nelson Troutman of Berks County. The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort met with Rep. Thompson this week on dairy issues.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 30, 2020

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — From the Dietary Guidelines and whole milk choice in schools to dairy checkoff and milk pricing formula concerns, five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort from across northwestern, northern tier and southeast Pennsylvania met with U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-15th) in Bellefonte, Pa. this week to talk about dairy.

Rep. Thompson helped lead the writing of a letter signed by 53 members of the U.S. House, including Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking for a delay on the decision about final Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) for 2020-25 until all of the science on saturated fat is considered.

Despite the bipartisan letter, Thompson indicated that USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) will move ahead to finalize the guidelines by the end of the year.

Thompson shared his thoughts about the disconnect between the legislative branch and a bureaucratically appointed DGA Committee in formulating the DGAs which have so much impact on children and Pennsylvania’s rural economy.

With the election next week in the balance, Thompson said he is looking at introducing language that would give the legislative branch some role in advise and consent with regard to the DGAs. He also praised his colleagues from Pennsylvania as many have cosponsored the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and the Give Milk Act. These bills would allow whole milk as an option at school and in the WIC program.

Under the current House leadership, the bill on school milk is not moving as it has not been taken up by the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.

“As you know, our office made recommendations for members of the DGA Committee, but that didn’t happen,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to believe that the modern-day science is being ignored on this issue of whole milk. We need checks and balances, not only to serve the needs of children in school, to give them this choice, but also because of the damage these rules do to our rural economy.”

It goes without saying that if the Republicans are able to gain a majority in the House, there would be a better pathway to moving on some of these issues surrounding the way whole milk (and even 2% milk for that matter) are banned from school choices while other less nutritional beverages are offered unchecked. With Democrats in the majority for the past three years, there has been no movement on the bills.

Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee member Krista Byler of Spartansburg, Crawford County, reported to the Congressman that while the beverages offered ala carte at school are calorie controlled per serving, there are no limits on how many of these beverages a student can purchase. At the middle and high school level, sports drinks, diet tea coolers, diet soda, and energy drinks are all allowed.

“But students can’t purchase even one serving of whole milk,” she said. “They simply aren’t allowed.”

“We need to get back to where milk is not tied to the school meal calculation and let it stand alone, and give students the choice,” said Thompson.

Byler serves as head chef and foodservice director for Union City School District, and her husband Gabe operates a 125-cow dairy farm with his father and brother, along with beef cattle and grain crops.

She explained that schools are afraid to move outside of the USDA edicts based on the Dietary Guidelines because of financial repercussions, and it’s difficult to get others to see the issue because so many people are generally unaware that children are limited to only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk options at school.

Five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee from around the state talked about dairy issues with Congressman Thomspon, especially the Dietary Guidelines and getting whole milk choice in schools.

The group discussed ideas for how to obtain waivers from USDA to do a statewide trial where schools could simply offer all fat levels of milk and collect the data. One such trial, done quietly in Pennsylvania during the 2019-20 school year, revealed that when students at the middle and high school level were given the choice, they chose whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat. At the same time total milk consumption rose by 65%, and the volume of milk discarded daily by students declined by 95%.

“That’s huge,” said Byler, a constituent of the Congressman. “We don’t need to reinvent a new ‘kids milk,’ we already have one that students will choose if given the opportunity.”

Thompson agreed, stating that, “Now is the time to look at something like this because what have families been turning to in this pandemic? Whole milk,” he said.

This is supported by the most recent USDA data through June showing that both whole milk and 2% milk sales made big gains in June as supply chains worked through the early Covid issues – pushing total fluid milk sales up 2.2% over year ago year-to-date January through June with whole and 2% unflavored white milk together accounting for more than 70% of all fluid milk sales categories, and whole milk alone being the largest selling category.

“Whole milk is what families are seeking when the choice is up to them,” said Thompson, indicating that while consumers are seeing the science on whole milk, the DGA committee is not.

“All of the doctors interviewed on news programs during this pandemic are talking about Vitamin D as boosting the immune system,” said Bernie Morrissey of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee.

Thompson observed that with Vitamin D and other nutrients being fat soluble, the DGAs are missing the boat.

Morrissey and Troutman are working with businesses and organizations buying and distributing “Vote Whole Milk School Lunch Choice, Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com” yard signs that are proliferating across the countryside. A link at the 97 Milk website lets citizens know how to get involved, and a second link provides information to get involved in delaying the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines until all the science is considered on saturated fat.

Concerns about the transparency and accountability of the dairy checkoff program were also discussed, and Thompson was receptive to looking at ways to turn this around.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee suggested ending the influence of importers by ending the import checkoff of 7.5 cents per hundredweight equivalent. This seemed like a good idea when it was implemented in 2007, but in retrospect has set the globalization direction of the national dairy checkoff’s unified marketing plan and ended the practice of promoting Real Seal, made in the U.S. products.

The committee was also looking at the promotion order asking the Secretary of Agriculture, who can amend the order at any time, or to work legislatively to clarify producer rights under the law in where their ‘local’ dime portion of the checkoff is assigned for education and promotion.

Nelson Troutman, a dairy farmer in Richland, Berks County, who started the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free ‘baleboards’ noted that the corn and soybean growers have periodic review of their checkoff programs, and asked if there is a way for dairy farmers paying the mandatory checkoff to have more say on whether it should continue, or more transparency to see all of the expenditures and the plans submitted by DMI to USDA.

The Committee also suggested evaluating the way the boards are formed and even noted that the language of the order suggests the Secretary can call for a referendum even without a petition by 10% of the producers and importers. 

They noted that fresh fluid milk and other fresh dairy products are a critical market for Pennsylvania producers, but the emphasis of the industry appears to be moving in a different direction. Education, promotion and research are important, but the current direction of the national drivers is in question.  

Dale Hoffman of Hoffman Farms, Shinglehouse, Potter County and Troutman both shared the economic conditions in milk pricing and marketing of milk, especially the extreme difference between high protein value and CME cheese markets since June compared with what dairy farmers in the Northeast are actually seeing in their milk checks as negative PPDs subtract the value of their milk components.

In fact, the official Dairy Margin coverage margin for Pennsylvania is running $1 to $3 behind the U.S. average for June through September, when normally Pennsylvania runs with the U.S. average or 20 to 50 cents above it. The divergence makes it hard for producers to use risk management tools and have them function as intended.

Hoffman noted that producers have lost their ability to market their milk competitively in the region – especially in the north and west of the state — and their voice in how milk is priced is lacking. He observed that even Farm Bureau is recognizing this issue with some new recommendations.

Thompson welcomed the idea for a national hearing on milk pricing, especially as the next Farm Bill is not far off, and these issues need to be on the table early.

But first, there’s an election to get past. It is hoped that after November 3, these issues can be looked at. This has certainly been a difficult year on many fronts for all Americans, and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee was grateful to speak with the Congressman about their concerns.

Dale and Carol Hoffman of Hoffman Farms took “Vote Whole Milk” yard signs home to Potter County.

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