By Sherry Bunting
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA released the long-anticipated study on milk price ‘make allowances’ recently. These are embedded in the end-product pricing formulas.
Make allowances are processor credits for transforming raw milk into the four base commodities – cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey that are used in end-product pricing formulas for Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) Class and Component prices as well as the Class I Mover price.
During ADC’s Future of Federal Milk Pricing Forum Feb. 15, set make allowances were cited by panelist Mike McCully as margin guarantees that “encourage commodity production and deter innovation.”
He believes ‘value-added’ products are the path to return more dollars to farmers in the future for all classes, including Class I fluid milk.
“If (FMMO) end-product pricing continues, then the make allowances will have to be raised, and this will come at a cost to producers,” said McCully, referencing the Cost of Processing study commissioned in 2019 by USDA and completed in 2022 by Dr. Mark Stephenson, dairy economics professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In a USDA AMS webinar Feb. 23, Dr. Stephenson talked about the report as well as previous reports in 2006-08 when make allowances were last raised. He observed that today’s plants are more complex with a wider range of products and innovations. Therefore, isolating the costs for the four basic commodities was more difficult this time.
He said 80% of the data came from participation by processing plants owned by cooperatives. Many proprietary plants chose not to participate.
The Class III make allowances for cheese and whey currently total $3.17 per hundredweight, and the Class IV make allowances for butter and nonfat dry milk total $2.17, according to Dr. John Newton, chief economist for the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Republicans.
Newton said the new Cost of Processing report shows these make allowances could go up to $4.00 for Class III and $3.12 for Class IV, which represents a nearly $1.00 impact in Federal Order minimum class price reductions if implemented.
“The ultimate result is a reduction in farm milk checks,” said Newton speaking virtually to Kentucky dairy producers at their annual Dairy Partners conference Wed., Feb. 23 in Bowling Green.
“The make allowances are designed to cover the costs of taking raw milk and converting it to these products, where the component value is captured in end-product pricing,” said Newton, observing that they haven’t been raised for more than 10 years, but this hasn’t stopped explosive growth in product production and significant re-blending of farm milk prices in recent years.
“Processors have opportunities to add value in the many other product streams outside of the make allowance and end-product pricing formula, already,” said Newton, noting some of the cumulative numbers and describing this as “effectively a subsidy from farmers to processors to process their milk.”
“This will be a very tough debate, and hopefully farmers are at the table as this debate happens,” he said.
I’m a farmer and I really don’t think it matters if we are ‘at the table’ or not. We have no vote really on anything and therefore no power to accomplish anything of value. The only way we have anything at all is if our coops can come together in a meaningful way and this is unlikely because of our competitive nature and investments.