About Agmoos

I am a journalist writing primarily about agriculture for various newspapers over the past 30 years...and before that, I milked cows and tended calves and heifers. I am also a mother and grandmother with three grown children: A teacher, restaurateur and homemaker. Our two sons and one daughter all like to cook and they are food conscious... not paranoid. My "foodographic" Agmoos blog is a place to find stories and photos of the people and places behind the food we eat and for commentary and analysis on food, farm and marketing issues facing producers and consumers.

For the love of cows

A girl and her heifer in the full-circle of a cow-loving community

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Sometimes you hear something that strikes a chord and you want to know more… As we start this season of thanksgiving, there are young people all over the country who are thankful for the love of cows. They may have parents and grandparents who feel this way too. Some may operate dairy farms, others may rely on the older generation and a tight-knit cow-loving rural community, like the one in Susquehanna County, to make it possible. Such is the story of Delaney Curley and her Red and White winter yearling Curlydell Warrior Summer-Red — each with her own tale that would not be possible except for the love of cows.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 4, 2022

IRISH HILL, Pa. – The past three years have been a dream come true for Delaney Curley as her family moved to Irish Hill just a mile or so from her grandparent’s farm outside of Montrose. 

Growing up, she would stay with Bob and Mary Curley for weeks at a time in the summer. Laura, her mother, recalls the crying the entire hour and a half drive home to Mountain Top. The Susquehanna County farm is where Delaney had her 4-H club, her cousins and friends with similar interests and the wide open spaces of the mountains, hunting and fishing, all of it calling her to pursue conservation science after she graduates from Elk Lake High School this year.

“We didn’t always live here. When we lived in Mountain Top, grandma and grandpa’s farm was a magical place for me. I love every part of it – working with the animals especially,” Delaney reflects. “Here, in this tight knit rural community, I found people like me.”

Bob sold his 60-cow milking herd in 2001. He is the fifth generation with 540 acres of crop, hay and pasture land. The main farm has been in his family since the Curleys came to America from Ireland in 1840. Today, he rents corn acres to a nearby farm and he and son Bill, Delaney’s father, manage the hay and pasture land with 20 to 30 heifers on hand, additional progeny of earlier purchases by the sixth generation for the seventh generation to show over the years, and some dry cows.

If not for Bob’s love of cows, this story would not be unfolding. It began when Delaney’s cousin Cali was the first of Bob’s grandchildren wanting show calves but having no home herd to draw from.

While the Jersey, Holstein and Red and White heifers start out at Bob’s farm until they become milk cows, breeding for Red Holsteins has special significance. Bill recalls his dad breeding for Reds before it was cool, but as a youth, Bill never won a class in all of his show years. Back then, Red and White Holsteins showed with Black and Whites, but the industry’s breeding focus for Reds came later.

When his niece Cali started showing, “that’s when our quest to be an owner-breeder began,”  Bill reflects. They got her started with a calf purchased at the Nittany Lion Fall Classic, and she raised her to be grand champion Holstein of the State Junior Show. Bill’s son Patrick and later his sister Delaney got started with a purchase of bred Jersey heifers from Luchsingers in New York, and a Jersey calf out of that developed into a champion. 

Those heifers calved and the 20 to 30 milk cows they became went to Joe Vanderfeltz’s 400-cow freestall herd for milking, so the Curleys could keep working toward that owner-bred herd, which today includes the Holsteins. Heifers are pasture bred by genomic bulls, and the milk cows at Vanderfeltz’s are AI-bred. Those calves come back to Curlydell.

For the love of cows, they didn’t want to just buy and show, but rather to breed for show. That was especially important to Delaney.

“We’ve always viewed the show animals as 4-H projects to go through to states and have the kids working with them and making those decisions… to take out to show what you are proud of,” says Bill.

Even for Patrick, who gravitates to the technology side of dairy data working for Ever.Ag, showing cows was fun, he says.

In Delaney’s case, however, it’s for the love of cows. 

It’s a foggy, drizzly morning on Irish Hill and the family reflects over breakfast on the move here and the owner-breeder herd that’s been developed over the decade of youth shows. For example, Delaney’s first Jersey ‘Ricki’ was purchased as a two-month-old calf and won banners as a 4-year-old in 2018. Today, she is 10 years old in the retired cow meadow.

Yes, for the love of cows they have a meadow for special retirees.

Throughout the mountains of Susquehanna County in Northeast Pennsylvania, there are families who still milk cows, but even more families who still love them, breed them, show them and care for them. 

The county show at the Harford Fair in New Milford is always quite competitive.

“Our county show is small, but the quality is always amazing,” Bill relates. “If we do well locally, we know we can be competitive to do well in Harrisburg. The competition is deep with so many top breeder herds right here in our county.”

In fact, three of the animals in the pull for junior champion at the 2022 Premier National Junior Show (PNJS) during the All American in Harrisburg in September came from Susquehanna County. 

“That’s a nice meter stick,” Bill affirms, noting that Delaney’s Summer was one of them. Her first-place winter yearling Curlydell Warrior Summer lived up to her name and gave Delaney a perfect undefeated summer from county to districts to states and nationals.

Further testament to the owner breeder herds of the area, when Delaney’s heifer earned bred and owned junior champion, all but two of the breeds had owner-breeder champions from Susquehanna County.

“They are all friends. To have that competition and friendship starting out in your home county, it really pushes you to up your game,” says Laura.

Summer was taken off pasture just 10 days before the county show, where she won her class and was reserve junior champion. Her dam Scarlet had done okay before her — winning districts and doing well in the state show against 30 other animals. 

But then she had this polled Warrior heifer.

“There’s something about when your animal that you own has her calf, it’s just more special,” says Delaney.

Summer did well as a winter calf last year. She started out small, born at 70 pounds as the offspring of a first-calf heifer, but nice and solid with show type. She had placings of 4th and 5th in her class and onlookers told Delaney she’d be one to beat the following year.

And so she was, this year winning her classes against Reds and Blacks.

“She’s the kind of heifer that the more you look at her, the more you like her, not a lot of flaws,” says Bob, knowingly.

With Scarlet’s second calf Sage, Delaney was excited to show produce of dam. The best feeling, she says, “is to win when you’re not expecting it.”

When Delaney and Summer entered the PNJS showring in Harrisburg, the judge took one look and moved right on. She recalls positioning Summer for another look, but figured she was written off. Then, halfway around the ring, “he pointed to me for the pull, and I thought he wasn’t interested.” 

That’s a thrill that is hard to describe, she recalls with a smile.

For Bill, the win was a full-circle of emotion involving Summer’s story that goes back to Bill’s longtime friend.

“We did the easy thing, breeding Scarlet to Warrior. You would have to go back to Starbuck for a bull that stamps them like that,” he says.

“But David Mattocks bred her mother. He did the hard work,” Bill recalls his good friend who lost his battle with cancer four years ago this month. Summer’s granddam was purchased from the Da-Vue dispersal.

It was Dave’s love of cows, his commitment to four decades of breeding until those last several months of his life, that also live on in this heifer, a heifer that Bill’s father has also bonded with.

Bill had intended to buy her as a bred heifer at the Da-Vue dispersal in 2018. He and Joe had picked two heifers on conformation.

“Then I looked at the pedigrees and saw one traced back to Dave’s first Excellent cow. That cow was all he talked about on our trips back and forth to Penn State,” Bill recalls their college years in the late 1980s.

“Dave had big dreams, we lost him way too soon,” says Bill. While they were in college, Dave was in partnership with his uncle, and he always talked about this cow Scenic-Vue Stewart Starr. She was Good Plus at the time and became his first Excellent cow.

When Bill got to the dispersal at Fisher’s, he ended up missing the heifer that went back six generations to that cow, but he bought three or four others, “just not the one I wanted.”

A couple weeks later Bill got a call from Dave Lentz, that a few animals were left over from the sale, and by some miracle Starr was one of them. 

“Dave (Mattocks) and I went down together to pick her up. His health was failing,” Bill recalls, explaining that the heifer represents so many ties – family, friendship, dreams, memories, past, future, all for the love of cows. 

It was definitely for the love of cows that Dave knew at age 10 he wanted to be a dairy farmer. He learned from his uncle before him and credited the dairy community around him in his welcome letter for the dispersal, writing: “There is no other industry that so abounds in people that would do anything  for you,” thanking those by name who helped when he was down. 

The sale was in February 2018 and in November that year, Dave was called to his heavenly home.

That bred heifer Bill bought — Da-Vue Reality Spirit-Red, granddam to Delaney’s Summer — now represents a blending of seven generations of Very Good and Excellent cows from Dave’s herd, his dreams and vision, now part of the owner-breeder herd at Curlydell with Summer and Sage from Spirit’s daughter Da-Vue Fusion Scarlet-Red.

“Her name was Spirit, and she was surely spirited,” Bob recalls the chase when she came off the truck the day Bill and Dave brought her to Irish Hill. Her first few weeks there in the tiestall and pasture, not quite a springer yet, were not without challenges.

“I try not to let any of her calves see an open barn door,” Bob laughs, remembering the time Spirit managed to get into the hay mow through the hay drop, and the devil of a time getting her out. He and Delaney baby the calves that have come from her. Today, Spirit is part of the flow of the freestall herd that suits her as a milking cow, making 40,000 pounds of milk at Vanderfeltz’s.

“He takes care of our milk cows like they are his own, and we consult on the breeding decisions,” says Bill, getting the calves back and returning them as milk cows. 

Making the move three years ago to Irish Hill was Delaney’s idea to be where her cows are, along with her 4-H club, her cousins and friends, her grandparents and the hunting and fishing. 

“If we were going to do it, that was the time, before she started high school,” says Bill. Leaving Mountain Top, where Laura grew up, was hard, but her parents had passed away and Bill’s parents are like her own. 

The entire family moved, first renting a place, then buying a home just down the road from the farm.

For the love of cows, Delaney is where she wanted to be, where she could double-down on her 4-H projects – her Jerseys and Holsteins, especially the Red and Whites.

“We’re glad we’re here on Irish Hill. It’s a place where life really hasn’t changed much. There is a good core of families and kids here all engaged in showing cows, a place where we can wake up and take the 4-wheeler to the barn. It’s hard to describe what that means,” Bill explains.

For the love of cows, they are home and the outdoors from the cow pastures to the mountain wilderness are what steer this Elk Lake High School senior to take her basketball skills and interest in conservation to Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks next fall.

While some cattle from the heifer meadow will be sold, Delaney wants to keep a core herd of pedigreed Jerseys and Red and Whites, to keep showing as an owner-breeder – even after 4-H.

“My grandfather did it all before we moved up here,” says Delaney.

“None of this would work without Dad. We could only do this with him. Some would call that elder-abuse,” Bill laughs, adding that living here gives him time he’s glad to have, even if it’s just 45 minutes a day doing chores with his dad and hearing stories… for the love of cows.

Laura relates how her father-in-law loves the baby calves, “even after they are weaned and two months old, he’s bringing warm water to them twice a day.”

Quietly listening, Bob puts it all into perspective.

“I’d be lost if I didn’t have it to do,” he said.

For the love of cows, adds Bill, “this is how we end up with retired cows living in a pasture.”

But more to the point, he says as the rest of the family nods in agreement: “Every single thing that we have here, or that the farm has, is owed to the cows. Period. I can’t imagine not having at least one, and so we do things that might not make sense but that we feel good about.”

If only the generations removed from farms could have this shared experience, to get in touch with this feeling… For the love of cows, they might not believe the cow blame-game regarding climate and the environment.

With her eye toward a future in the open spaces and conservation science, maybe this young lady — and others of her generation like her — can bring that love of cows to others and keep it going.

For the love of cows, family and friendships — three generations reminisce: Bob Curley and granddaughter Delaney with her undefeated homebred polled winter yearling Curleydell Warrior Summer-Red, and Delaney’s parents Bill and Laura with Summer’s dam, Da-Vue Fusion Scarlet-Red. Her dam Da-Vue Reality Spirit-Red is a productive milk cow at the nearby Vanderfeltz farm that Bill purchased as a bred heifer from the Da-Vue herd dispersal in 2018. She goes back to the first Excellent cow his longtime friend, Dave Mattocks would talk about during their college years driving back and forth to Penn State in the 1980s. Dave was called to his heavenly home in November 2018, nine months after the herd dispersal and his courageous battle with cancer. Photos by Sherry Bunting

World Dairy Expo honors trailblazers Shelly Mayer, John Ruedinger, Mark Comfort

World Dairy Expo award recipients were honored at the Dinner with the Stars, (l-r) Expo Board President Bill Hageman, Producer of the Year John Ruedinger, Industry Person of the Year Shelly Mayer, International Person of the Year Mark Comfort, and Expo General Manager Laura Herschleb.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Nov. 11, 2022

MADISON, Wis. — “The cows bring us together, but it’s always the people that make it impactful. This industry is great because we do it together,” said Shelly Mayer, executive director of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, based in Juneau as she accepted the 2022 World Dairy Expo Industry Person of the Year award at the Dinner with the Stars, October 5.

“Friendships and trust, so needed in today’s world, come in heaping portions here at World Dairy Expo. I’m just one piece of a much larger team,” said Mark Comfort, co-founder of Udder Comfort, Cardinal, Ontario, Canada, as he was awarded 2022 International Person of the Year.

Grateful for “the privilege of being able to represent dairy farmers in Wisconsin, the U.S. and around the world,” 2022 Dairy Producer of the Year, John Ruedinger of Ruedinger Dairy, Van Dyne, talked about the importance of the industry working together to move dairy forward.

The awards dinner was attended by over 200 people during the 55th World Dairy Expo last month in Madison. The annual event recognizes dairy trailblazers, mentors and those making longstanding impacts.

Shelly Mayer

In industry service, Mayer has been with PDPW since its start in 2001. The organization has grown to become the nation’s largest professional dairy group with 1700 members from 32 states and an impact on the industry primarily through education.

Citing this leadership and development among the founding principles that Mayer puts to work on her own family’s dairy farm, award presenters highlighted the mark she has left on the Wisconsin dairy industry and beyond through her “unmatched passion and servant leadership.”

Her passion for dairy began growing up on a farm in southwest Wisconsin and continued through Mayer’s education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her degrees in ag journalism and dairy science and was recognized by National Dairy Shrine as an outstanding student.

Mayer was credited with the PDPW’s early work on animal well-being standards that later were incorporated in the FARM program as well as the ‘meat matters’ program on residue avoidance that later became an antimicrobial stewardship education for the dairy and livestock industries through the Food Armor Foundation.

Award presenters also noted Mayer’s influential part in the Dairy Innovation Hub, representing a $7.8 million investment by the state of Wisconsin in cutting edge research for the future of dairy. The ‘hub’ concept was born from a drawing she made in the office of Mystic Dairy when Mitch Breunig was PDPW’s president several years ago.

Breunig called Mayer’s work “truly inspirational,” helping dairy farmers learn to more professionally run their farms. “As we have fewer farms and fewer farmers, it’s going to take leadership from all of us,” he said.

Pointing out many of PDPW’s founders and her family in attendance, Mayer credited and thanked them, and especially the team of staff she works with for the organization’s far-reaching impact. In 2021 and 2022, alone, PDPW will have provided more than 220 days of education and outreach.

“Education is a powerful force that can change the world. It brings out the best in people and grows leaders who can ask the tough questions,” she said.

Mayer touched on the regenerative and sustainable agriculture story, telling attendees that, “this is the time to stand together, not at the sidelines, to tell that story. We’re so busy feeding the world, that we haven’t taken the time to share… to get out there and tell it.”

John Ruedinger

As Dairy Producer of the Year, Ruedinger was highlighted for his domestic and global contributions as a member of the board and former chairman of Genex, leading to the creation of Cooperative Resources International, the industry’s first combination of a dairy cattle breeding company and a dairy records provider and later URUS Group, the combination of both cooperative and private entities.

Ruedinger is a sought-after speaker at home and abroad on cooperative principles and industry leadership and was a founding board member of PDPW. Today he serves as vice chairman of URUS Group and on local boards for agribusiness leadership and Holstein breeders. He thanked the past and present members of the URUS Council who were present.

“The farmer spirit was never lost in the formation of URUS,” said Ruedinger, honored to have been part of the success, part of the process and part of the collaboration and humbled to receive the World Dairy Expo honor as a dairy producer who learned from his father the pride in his family, his dairy farm and his involvement in the cooperative system.

Also highlighted were Ruedinger’s accomplishments as the third generation at Ruedinger Dairy, which has transitioned to the fourth generation with 1500 cows milking over 90 pounds per day with somatic cell counts averaging 87,000.

A devastating fire in 1996 was a pivotal time, but the decision to move forward was made, and they’ve never looked back, with consistent growth every year since.

Mark Comfort

As International Person of the Year, Comfort’s four decades of impact in dairy genetics, market access, products and practices were recognized. Presenters highlighted his achievement of a dairy genetics-based crossborder relationship between Canada and the U.S., developing his former company Transfer Genetics in the 1980s, which later became part of Select Sires in 2000, as well as currently on the management side as co-founder of Udder Comfort and his continued work in genetics through Comfort Holsteins and Comfort Tunis sheep.

Award presenters traced Comfort’s early days showing dairy cattle and sheep with his grandfather by the time he was four, milking cows and raising livestock with his family, developing a keen interest in genetics and pursuing entrepreneurial ideas while studying at University of Guelph, where he revived the dairy cattle judging team and served as college Royal Show chairman. 

Comfort’s brother Neil and wife Margaret operate Brookturn Holsteins at the Niagara County farm that has been in the family since 1797.

Notably, Comfort was instrumental in changing Canadian law as he took on the AI regulations of the 1980s — and won. His early work also created the first process for Canadian dairy farmers to learn how to do their own AI, which helped open access to then emerging U.S. sires like Chief Mark, Blackstar, and Elevation.

Combined with the elite genetics of Canadian Holstein cow families and their owner-breeders ‘armed’ with the power to breed their own cows, proved to be a nexus for what legends are made of, including top sires and legacies of the World Dairy Expo, such as Braedale Goldwyn, and the millionaire sires of Comestar — and further impacts from the showring to the commercial cow management side today.

Award presenters thanked Comfort for Udder Comfort’s generosity, giving away pallets of product for exhibitors throughout the cattle barns, a tradition that began in 2007 and was followed in 2008 by sponsorship of the grand champion cash awards for all seven breed shows, followed by initiating in 2009 the cash awards for all seven breed grand champions in the junior show as well.

Comfort was quick to credit the people around him through the years, including his longtime friend and mentor the late George Miller of Select Sires. “Without incredible friends, people who believed in me and shared these goals, this would not be possible. I am humbled,” he said, introducing his family, friends, colleagues and the Udder Comfort team in attendance and thanking those who nominated him.

Citing World Dairy Expo as “truly the place where the global dairy industry meets, it all began here for us,” Comfort said with appreciation for the hundreds of dairy farmers who have shared their stories over the years.

“Your stories move us,” he said. “Your competitiveness and cooperation together inspire us, your friendships encourage us, and your feedback and suggestions help us raise the bar to improve how we deliver tools of progress and cow comfort.”

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Biden, Vilsack pledge “whole of government approach” in scripted White House Nutrition Conference that converged with Tufts ‘Food Compass’ and FDA’s ‘healthy labeling’ rule; Fed. Reg. comments due Dec. 28, 2022

By Sherry Bunting, updated from original publication in Farmshine, Sept. 30, 2022

WASHINGTON — Get ready for unscientific nutrition bullying. Announced more than a year ago, the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Wednesday, September 28 was cloaked in secrecy until the eve of the event, when the 44-page “Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health” was released Tuesday, September 27 around Noon. 

By 5:00 p.m., the Conference agenda appeared in the inbox of registered participants, and during the overnight hours, the Biden Administration released a fact-sheet announcing $8 billion in “new commitments” from over 100 private businesses, local governments and philanthropies for what it calls a “transformational vision.”

Taking a page from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos-style approach to food transformation, the White House solicited pledges to address the five “pillars” in its playbook. 

Of note among them are a $500 million investment by Sysco (foodservice vendor), nearly $50 million by Danone, $250 million from a collaboration of the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association on a ‘food as medicine’ initiative, and an undisclosed amount for a collaboration between Environmental Working Group, the James Beard Foundation, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition to prompt more plant-based alternative and vegan offerings in foodservice — to name a few.

Then, at 9:15 a.m., just 15 minutes before USDA Secretary Vilsack was set to open the Conference ahead of President Joe Biden’s remarks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its “proposed updated definition of a ‘Healthy’ claim on food packages to help improve diet and reduce chronic disease.”

Presto: FDA provided the ‘teeth,’ describing its proposal as aligning directly with the Dietary Guidelines. For the proposed rule, click here and to submit a comment by Dec. 28, 2022, click here

This morsel had been under development over the past four years after public hearings in 2018-19 were reported by Farmshine and then deliberations went silent – until now.

The flurry of activity appeared in scripted fashion within the 24-hours prior to the start of the White House Nutrition Conference convening stakeholders. The first such conference was over 50 years ago and had served as the launch pad for what are known today as the infamous Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).

A Senate nutrition hearing exactly one year ago in November 2021 paved the way for the September 2022 White House Nutrition Conference.

CAPTION: “We have to give families a tool to keep them healthy. People need to know what they should be eating, and the FDA is already using its authority around healthy labeling so you know what to eat,” said President Biden. White House Conference screen capture

The Conference and follow up actions, said President Biden on Sept. 28, are being devoted to “nourishing the soul of America so that no child goes to bed hungry and no parent dies of a disease that can be prevented. We can do big things,” he said about the stated 2030 goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and reducing diet-related illnesses and other nutrition-related health inequities.

“But,” Biden declared: “We have to give families a tool to keep them healthy. People need to know what they should be eating, and the FDA is already using its authority around healthy labeling so you know what to eat.”

The President continued: “We can use these advances to do more to be a stronger and healthier nation, to achieve ambitious goals. We must take advantage of these opportunities when we have these children in a whole of government, whole of society approach. We need to think in ways we never thought before.”

CAPTION: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the White House Nutrition Conference crowd of more than 500 in-person and more than 6000 logged-in virtually that the Administration is looking to extend the child tax credits, provide more funds for more free school meals, and “take nutrition in a new direction using a whole of government approach that involves the entire federal family.” White House Conference screen capture

In his remarks ahead of the President, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that government programs feed 1 in 4 children. He and Biden both talked about expanding the child credit permanently. They talked about $2 billion in funding for food banks and schools, including $100 million for ‘incentives’ to make school meals healthier. They both noted funding to make free school meals available for 9 million additional children. A laundry-list of throwing money at a problem without re-evaluating the flawed guidelines that run the school meals and other USDA food programs despite preponderance of evidence that saturated fats are not the enemy.

There was talk of going “a new direction” but this is all process-based. There was no talk of reviewing the flawed Dietary Guidelines that helped get us here and that the Biden-Harris strategy puts so much emphasis on.

Parsing through the 44-page National Strategy, the bottom line is to expect more of the same drill-down on eliminating animal fats, only worse and with stiffer process, labeling and speech boundaries through FDA and the FTC.

We can expect nutrition bullying to commence — if we step outside of the still-vague but Dietary Guidelines-centered White House playbook. In fact, in addition to the FDA ‘Healthy’ label update, a small-print detail in the 44-page Strategy promises power and funding to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize and penalize food marketing claims for being out-of-bounds on the Biden-Harris DGA-scripted nutrition field of play.

Vilsack noted the National Strategy’s approach is a “whole of government approach that involves the entire federal family.”

In preparation for the Conference, many have lamented the lack of transparency leading up to it. For months, the Conference website gave instructions on how to hold a ‘watch party,’ or a ‘satellite event,’ and how to rally support for nutrition and health ahead of time. But all of the necessary details were missing — until the day of the conference. 

Emailed invitations were sent to those who registered just three days before — requesting that they visit a web-portal and record an interview to provide input. There, people respond to White House questions and their faces are added to a streaming screen full of moving mouths — giving the appearance of broad input flowing in from Americans.

Made nervous by the lack of a published agenda or framework, over a dozen agricultural organizations had sent a letter to President Biden on September 8th asking for a “seat at the table.” Those organizations included American Farm Bureau and commodity groups for wheat, beef, sorghum, peanuts, canola, soybeans, barley, corn, sunflower, eggs and rice.

Dairy organizations were conspicuously absent from any of the pre-Conference letter-writing or other such public statements. But then, the dairy industry has its man Vilsack in play, and its DGA 3-a-day – so case-closed – can’t be bothered on the milkfat and whole milk issue.

On the agenda provided the day of the Conference, we found former DMI vice president of sustainability, Erin Fitzgerald — who now serves as CEO of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and who represented USFRA and referenced her boss at the dairy checkoff during a WEF panel in Davos earlier this year — leading a plenary session on “access to affordable foods.” Also, Chuck Conners of the National Association of Farmer Cooperatives led the plenary discussion on “empowering consumers to make healthy choices.”

(We learned after the Sept. Conference that National Milk Producers Federation and the National Dairy Council, funded by the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff, were invited to attend. They were represented, and they brought “student leaders” from GENYOUth. To read NMPF’s statement after the Conference, click here).

Key questions around “what are those healthy choices” to be compassed in tools and identified in FDA labeling went repeatedly unanswered as the discussions focused on approaches and processes, perhaps deeming the unsettled dietary science on fats to be settled science with no need for discussion.

Nutrition Coalition founder, advocate, author and investigative journalist Nina Teicholz has been writing about the Conference for weeks before it began, noting the lack of a pre-conference agenda and the refusal of the Administration to review the science on saturated fats ahead of this ‘landmark’ event.

She points out that the White House delegated Conference planning to the Dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University Professor Dariush Mozaffarian — developer of the Food Compass, which is a new method for rating and ranking foods in categories to be consumed frequently, modestly, and occasionally.

To understand what the Food Compass looks like — sugary cereals rank far ahead of the milk that goes in the bowl with them. And, nearly 70 brand-named cereals from General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Post are ranked twice as high as eggs cooked in butter! Alternative fake milk beverages, such as almond juice, rank ahead of skim milk and far ahead of whole milk. Potato chips (yes, potato chips) are an example of a food that ranks ahead of a simple hard-boiled egg and light-years ahead of whole milk, most cheeses and real beef.

In fact, the only cattle-derived product to get top sector ranking is plain non-fat yogurt. (Surprise: Danone was one of the Food Compass development sponsors). Meanwhile, most cheeses, whole milk, and beef ranked near or at the very bottom of the lowest categories.

Coincidentally, Mozaffarian’s department at Tufts also received a $10 million grant from USDA in November 2021 for a five-year project “to help develop cultivated meat” (aka lab-created meat) through assessment of consumer attitudes and development of K-12 curriculum.

Teicholz laments the lack of consideration by the White House, USDA, HHS and FDA as they ignore many reviews including the most recent state-of-the-art review on saturated fats, whose authors include five former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

“These are the people who wrote the guidelines saying: ‘We got it wrong,’” writes Teicholz.

Their paper was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiologists, whose Editor in Chief named it as one of the top 5 papers of the year. Science like this appears to be off the menu of the White House nutrition playbook.

The entire playbook hinges upon the main tenets of the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans even though the DGAs are being questioned by the scientific community… Even though the DGAs have screened out sound science on dietary animal fats and proteins for at least the past three cycles (15 years)… Even though the rates of American obesity and diet-related illnesses were mostly stable pre-DGA but have risen steadily since the DGA cycles began… And even though these consequences have risen dramatically among children and teens during the past decade since school meals, school milk and a la carte competing foods and beverages were further restricted to the low-fat levels of the DGAs.

What does the White House blame for this poor performance? The playbook cites the Covid pandemic food choices of Americans — stuck at home — for the deteriorated statistics. Unbelievable! These statistics have been deteriorating for decades, especially since 2012.

Looking over the playbook, it closely follows the pattern of FDA’s Multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy proceedings that have been quietly underway after public hearings in 2018-19 until the ‘Healthy’ label proposal was announced Sept. 28, 2022.

Appearing in the White House playbook is the proclamation that food and beverage packaging will move toward simpler nutrition guidance under FDA, that an easily recognizable ‘healthy symbol’ will be reserved for front-of-package labeling on those foods the government deems Americans should eat, and a potential ranking system for symbols will be developed for packaging of foods and beverages the federal government deems unhealthy.

This is all coincidentally similar to the Tufts Food Compass, and the substance behind these simplified ‘healthy’ (or not) symbols is a doubling-down on the low-fat DGAs as a primary base metric. Here is a deep dive into the Tufts Food Compass that Mozaffarian, the White House Nutrition Conference Chairman, had a critical role in developing to now be the formation of future food policy. Read the comprehensive analysis here

The National Strategy calls for even more adherence to the flawed DGAs among every sector of the economy beyond government feeding programs, schools, hospitals, and military diets to include foodservice offerings, supermarket layouts, online shopping algorithms, even licensing for all daycare or childcare providers and nutrition certification for these licensed childcare providers – not just those receiving government subsidies for food. 

This is so-called “stealth-health” at its best — or rather its worst.

The Biden Administration professes to be concerned about the 1 in 10 households experiencing food insecurity and the rise in diet-related diseases among the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. The White House cites data showing 19 states have obesity prevalence at 35% or higher with 1 in 10 citizens having diabetes, 1 in 3 with cancer in their lifetime, and nearly 5 in 10 with high blood pressure. 

Yet, there is no pause for a comprehensive review of the very dietary guidance, the DGAs, that helped get us here. 

The National Strategy reveals how the Administration is assembling executive orders, legislative prompts, calls for action among food organizations, companies, agencies, academia and state and local governments to get everyone on the same page making Davos-style pledges and to conform to the federal playbook.

In the executive summary, the President writes: “Everyone has an important role to play in addressing these challenges: local, State, territory and Tribal governments; Congress; the private sector; civil society; agricultural workers; philanthropists; academics; and of course, the Federal Government.”

(Note Biden’s only reference to farmers or food producers is as “agricultural workers.”)

The playbook’s five pillars talk about improvement, integration, empowerment, support and enhancement. It coins phrases like ‘food as medicine’ and ‘prescriptions for food.’ Reading deeper, we see a launch pad for a new method of nutrition ranking and labeling with the primary factors listed as low-sodium, low-fat and reduced added sugars.

CAPTION: This diagram on page 6 of the 44-page Biden-Harris Nutrition Strategy, the White House ‘playbook,’ clearly identifies the very real concerns, but the pillars of this strategy double-down on perpetuating the problem by giving even more influence to the low-fat / high-carb Dietary Guidelines that many in the scientific community are questioning. The ‘playbook’ also increases the reach of the federal government into the diets of children in daycare and schools. 

The playbook’s diagrams show us the concerning impact of food insecurity and diet-related diseases in poor overall health, poor mental health, increased financial stress, decreased academic achievement, reduced workforce productivity, increased health care costs and reduced military readiness – but then doubles-down on the solution being more of the same low-fat / high-carb dietary path that got us here.

The White House playbook states that, “The vast majority of Americans do not eat enough vegetables, fruits or whole grains and eat too much saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.” But at the same time, on the saturated fat question, the data show per capita consumption of red meat has declined since the start of the DGAs, and milk consumption has substantially declined.

Americans are being called upon to “unify around a transformational vision,” said Biden. 

This vision includes more federal control of diets and nutrition education after failing miserably with the control it already possesses. There is no talk of revisiting the path we are on, just doubling-down on how to get more Americans onto that DGA path, to tell them what to eat, and to put the FDA stamp on ‘approved’ foods and beverages while having the FTC investigate health and nutrition claims that fall outside of the flawed DGAs.

Translation: Let the ‘nutrition bullying’ from the White House bully-pulpit begin. Some of us are ready to rumble.

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Why I’m pulling the Republican lever Tuesday, without exception

By Sherry Bunting

America is in turmoil with so many distractions in our public discourse. By the time you read this editorial, we’ll be a few days away from what could be the most important midterm election in recent memory.

Our nation has gone through tough times of both unity and division throughout its mere 246-year history. It seems that never has it been to this point where we have trouble debating the issues, the policies, the future in a productive way without malice. Some things just can’t be said in the current political environment, and those who do, pay a steep price.

What’s missing is we don’t have healthy journalistic skepticism probing the current government mouthpiece like we did for the previous. More media sources today show an obvious disdain for their common reader, viewer, listener. Instead of bringing the news, providing analysis, asking probing questions and keeping that healthy skepticism toward government edicts, we have media sources playing the role of justifying, of taking the government talking points and coaxing everyone to tacitly believe them.

There is a staleness in the air that is difficult to pinpoint, but it is there. It is the resumption of an interrupted agenda.

In Pennsylvania, the constant barrage of negative ads about Mehmet Oz are hard to take.

The debate last week between Oz and Fetterman, the two candidates for U.S. Senate, was enlightening. I was impressed with Oz, where before I was lukewarm having supported someone else for the Republican nomination. But after hearing his responses on education, social security, medicare, foreign policy, energy, labor and immigration and looking into his background and positions on specific items such as whole milk choice in schools (he supports it), I posted on social media that my lukewarm vote would now be a proud vote for Oz for Senator.

My post was promptly seized-upon by a few ‘friends’ from other states putting me down personally in a condescending manner, instead of continuing a discussion on the actual issues and policies. A tough thing to do when Fetterman could not answer or explain his positions, and could only put words in his opponent’s mouth that contradicted the answers Oz gave to questions in a clear, concise and comprehensive manner.

It got to the point where my simple response to the social media attacks was to tell said ‘friends’ to worry about who they are voting for in their states and I’ll worry about who I vote for as a Senator that I feel represents me in my state.

Not good enough, because they are incredulous at the prospect that the Democrats may lose seats.

You see, we are at an inflection point where a global, corporate, collusion is rapidly underway, a freedom-undermining agenda — that is tied up with pretty words about planet-saving policies.

The train left the station slowly over the past few years. Some of us saw it moving, most of us didn’t worry too much about it. Now it’s careening down the track at a high rate of speed. A derailment is coming. The question is: Can the train be slowed down by a change in Congressional leadership to where the track can be evaluated for pitfalls laid in its path?

Under the current regime, it’s not possible to hold a discussion about the traps and pitfalls being laid around our nation’s food and energy sourcing without being called a climate-denier, a racist, a sexist, a fascist, or worse.

The fabric of independent farms and businesses across this land — those producing the essentials of life that allow America to remain a free country — is being ripped apart by the Economic, Social and Governance (ESG) goals of the world’s largest money managers investing in the biggest global corporations that all pledge to collude – in the name of saving the planet of course – to not only push left-wing policies without healthy debate, but also to undermine the ability of any competitor to continue operating.

At the current rate of speed that this train is traveling, it won’t be long before companies – eventually even farms and food producers – will be effectively shut out of commerce or shut out of access to capital if not meeting ESG goals, which include the contentious implementation of Scope 3 emissions-tracking downstream and upstream through entire supply chains.

Such supply chain configurations are in fact what a billion dollars in USDA spending is going toward developing in pilot programs, aimed at carving out the winners and losers not on competition for what is being produced but on an ESG scoring system that most of us don’t understand except for the few large insiders that have been planning it years before now.

If we continue down this track, consumers won’t be doing the choosing. The former DMI executive who spoke at Davos came right out and said it. Farmers are no longer marketing to consumers. Their new consumer is the investment sector, the money managers, the people behind the people who buy their commodities and secure their mortgages.

We even heard DMI CEO Barb O’Brien mention in a state of dairy report before she was promoted to CEO that the Net Zero Initiative is looking to attract investors to dairy, not so much to attract consumers to drink more milk or eat more dairy products.

At some point, as the left-leaning ‘woke’ elites have admitted publicly at Davos, ESG scoring will ultimately mean tracking individuals. Oh, it will be voluntary at first, with monetary incentives – no doubt. But at the end of the day, Big Brother wants to know everything you and I do, what we eat, where we source it, where we travel, and how we get there.

Food and energy. That’s what this is about. Under the guise of saving the planet, we are poised to give centralized global control over food and energy.

If we can gas up a car, we can go. If we are reliant on a charger or an electricity grid, a centralized control mechanism can come into play. If we are able to access diverse local and regional food sources and supply chains, we remain strong and tied to the farms taking care of the land, but if a global ESG target controls revenue and access to credit, centralized control of food is eminent.

A handful of Republican states have already issued legal challenges to the ESG investing on the basis that it runs counter to antitrust laws and creates anticompetitive behavior — holding some businesses hostage while others are flooded with investment – all to steer our paths on how we source the necessities of our economy, commerce, and life itself.

If America cannot sustain itself, we become pawns in a global game played at the highest levels by the biggest money managers. Republicans are looking at this issue. Democrats are on the train telling the rest of us, find a seat now, before it’s too late.

We see it already in education of our children — first dietary-control, followed by word-control, followed by thought-control.

There is so much competing information flying around from the extremes on the left and right, that we lose sight of the middle where the essence of logic and common sense can be found.

In fact, we’re so busy trying to figure out what is truth and what is gaslighting that we don’t see the real crisis. We can talk about crime and guns, viruses and vaccines, justice and freedom, while missing the point that the unprecedented level of turmoil clouds the transformation that is taking place and will continue to take place quietly in our food supply chain – that which we cannot live without.

From imported food sources to franken-food replacements and from centralized supply chains and foreign ownership of American farmland to policies that will impact the future viability of our nation’s farmers, the very backbone of freedom and security is at risk.

I don’t have full faith and confidence in either party — knowing what lies beneath the surface in this global transformation of food and energy and understanding the way it is being driven by money managers.

But one thing is for sure. I am voting Republican, across the board, for what might be the first time in my life that I didn’t pick and choose more independently.

Why? Because the Democrats are all-in for global transformation, telling us what they are doing, where we are going, how our dissent might be handled in the future… and for me, it appears to be a dangerous seat on a high-speed train without a clue about the real track we are on.

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NMPF’s FMMO Modernization Plan hits high note on Cl. I mover, but eliminating barrel cheese from protein formula is head-scratcher

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 28, 2022 (updated with additional information after publication)

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Board gets high marks for passing a Federal Milk Marketing Order Modernization Plan this week at its annual meeting in Denver, Colorado that includes returning the Class I mover to the previous ‘higher of’ formula — a virtually unanimous consensus item that came out of the Farm Bureau Forum in Kansas City earlier in the month.

However, the NMPF modernization plan also includes a few items that were not fully discussed, items that seem to run counter to what dairy farmers were prioritizing, and it leaves out a few items the consensus-builders were vocal about in Kansas City.

The recommendation to return to the higher of Class I mover is an important response by NMPF to dairy farmer concerns. That ball has been in USDA’s court after the first two years of implementation, according to the farm bill language that changed it to an averaging method in the first place. Four years and nearly $1 billion in cumulative Class I net value losses have passed (see chart), but Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he needed to see “consensus” before allowing a hearing to be opened.

In post-conference interviews, several Farm Bureau Forum attendees said this was their main priority for participating  – to show Secretary Vilsack there is consensus to “fix the mistake.”

For NMPF to include it in their plan is a win.

Another item in the NMPF plan is to develop a process to ensure make allowances are reviewed more frequently through legislation directing USDA to conduct mandatory processor cost studies every two years and to update the make allowances contained in the USDA milk pricing formulas.

There was general agreement from stakeholders in Kansas City that processor costs need to be evaluated and make allowances updated. Over half of the table-groupings identified this. There was also healthy discussion of some ways to do this to minimize the sudden impact on farmer milk checks – all good points for developing a process and for a USDA hearing process to fully evaluate it.

Of the bones to pick, one NMPF recommendation that runs counter to what more than half of the table-groupings prioritized in Kansas City concerns expansion of the pricing survey to include more products. NMPF’s task force decided not to add any products to the price survey, and in fact they are recommending dropping one. 

On the chopping block is the 500-pound barrel cheese price in the protein calculation for Class III.

Initially, NMPF’s task force committees looked at adding unsalted butter, skim milk powder (a higher value more standardized product than nonfat dry milk), and they looked at mozzarella cheese. In all three cases, the task force chose not to recommend additional products.

The fact that they are recommending elimination of a product from the pricing survey is curious.

Less than one-third of the Kansas City table-groupings listed elimination of barrel cheese pricing as a priority. Few people questioned NMPF economist Peter Vitaliano on the sensibility of this recommendation – except for yours truly.

I asked this question: “On the blocks and barrels, what do you foresee happening if the barrels are dropped? Right now we’ve got barrels doing more trading than blocks. We’re really not seeing much trading at all in blocks on the CME spot market. Also, would this mean that the cost of making those barrels will be backed out of the processing cost survey in terms of establishing new make allowances?

Vitaliano gave this answer: “That’s an interesting question. I’ve heard different interpretations of what’s going to happen to barrels if they are not used in the formula. Some folks feel they’ll just be priced at a discount to blocks, and the cash market for barrels will go away. I’m not sure I buy into that totally because barrel cheese is becoming a different product.”

The NMPF economist continued with his answer: “Under current quality standards, barrel cheese is the only major way that you can get uncolored whey, which is demanding a premium in the marketplace because all of these nutrition products, these high value nutrition products in demand by millennials and others, they don’t want to show ‘bleached whey’ on the label, they want the white uncolored whey powder that comes from barrel cheese production.” 

Apparently, yellow whey from block Cheddar production is less desirable. But we’ve known this for at least 15 years.

In other words, according to Vitaliano, there is right now a ‘subsidy’ effect from the premium paid for the higher value of the uncolored whey that creates the environment to produce more barrel cheese – regardless of what the cheese market is doing. 

Vitaliano noted that FDA is going to consider some changes that might alter how this cross-product scenario is playing out by allowing microfiltered milk to be used in plants producing standard-of-identity cheese, but the bottom line is that barrel processors making whey protein concentrate as co-products benefit from the white-whey premium whereas block cheese processors do not. 

When the two are averaged together in the Class III protein formula, they represent different markets when they historically moved together, said Vitaliano.

Interestingly, however, barrels have traded higher — not lower — than blocks on the CME for most of this year.

In the purely cheese market history, barrels and blocks moved together more closely, then in times of market shocks beginning in 2009, we would see periods of wide spreads and inversions, sometimes barrels over blocks and most of the time blocks over barrels. During intervals in 2016-17, barrels sold at 10 to 20-cent discounts to blocks. Since 2018, we’ve seen long intervals of barrels over blocks by up to 25 cents and then the flipside with blocks over barrels.

This year (2022), barrels have sold at a premium to blocks consistently since April. The barrel premium over blocks stood at 15 cents per pound last week. That’s a significant impact on farm-level milk prices — to the good.

Coincidentally, barrel prices crashed this week, losing 22 cents, where blocks lost a nickel, thereby pushing barrels under blocks by a few cents on Oct. 25, the same day that the NMPF Board voted unanimously to endorse the multi-pronged modernization plan that includes dropping 500-lb barrel cheese out of the FMMO end-product pricing formula.

For the year (2022), barrels will likely average a nickel above blocks.

There is also the question of price discovery. For the year, we have seen more barrels traded on the CME compared with the volume of blocks.

When following up in a question about what happens to price discovery if the barrels are eliminated from the pricing formula, Vitaliano responded that 15% of the cheese reported in USDA’s weekly price survey is barrel cheese. Rather than reduce the weighted average to reflect that, and rather than including mozzarella in the pricing survey (a higher volume and value item than cheddar), NMPF is simply recommending the elimination of barrels to avoid the block/barrel spread.

Vitaliano said pricing formulas are based on the USDA price survey, not on the CME spot market. However, the CME spot market is used to set pricing for the USDA-reported sales.

Vitaliano also noted that price discovery on the CME spot market is achieved even if no product changes hands because it is a marginal market-clearing trade in the first place.

“The whole industry is watching that market, so if that block price is, let’s say, overvalued, and I have extra blocks and I think that market is high, anybody can go to that market and sell; or if you think it’s undervalued, you can go to that market to buy,” he said. “Just because there’s not a lot of trading, doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily representative of the market… we just have to trade the marginal excess or shortage.”

According to Vitaliano, even the regulators have looked at this and concluded that since the whole industry watches that market — everybody has the opportunity to jump in, and they are not shy if they have a different idea about what the market should be, they can go in and make bids or offers. Those bids and offers move the market whether or not a trade is completed.

Even in light of these explanations, the NMPF recommendation to eliminate barrels from the pricing formula remains a bit of a head-scratcher and needs more discussion and evaluation.

NMPF also wants to expand the forward pricing window for whey and nonfat dry milk (NFDM) price-reporting to 45 days instead of 30 in order to “capture more of the global market in the pricing formula.”

However, when asked why NMPF is not seeking to expand the price reporting to include skim milk powder (SMP) – the globally traded powder – as a means of capturing more of the higher-value global market, Vitaliano said SMP is sold at differing standardized protein rates as a value-added product. NFDM, on the other hand, often has more protein in it, but it’s variable and a lower-priced bulk commodity. It’s a true bulk product that is made to soak up excess milk, he explained. 

Vitaliano also noted that NFDM is used by domestic cheese makers, whereas SMP is not. 

Ditto the answer for unsalted butter. While the sales of unsalted rival salted butter in volume, and it is a bulk product more consistent with higher-value global markets, the NMPF task force perspective is that the unsalted butter is also a step up as a value-added product for a specific market in foodservice, not a commodity bulk product a plant would make with excess milk.

Ditto for mozzarella, which NMPF maintains is already priced off the USDA-reported cheddar price even though the U.S. sells more mozzarella than cheddar today.

Next week, we’ll dig into the yield factor changes in the NMPF plan and the glaring absence of a recommendation on depooling issues across the country. Solving the depooling conundrum was a priority listed by over half of the consensus-building table-groupings at the Farm Bureau Forum and producers from multiple regions were vocal about it throughout the three-day meeting.

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Fluid milk’s precarious future can’t be ignored

Class I is at a tipping point, will future FMMO strategies strengthen or exploit it?

“Probably some of you have never recently met an independently owned fluid milk bottler. We are the only prisoners in the Federal Order system. Everybody else can opt in or opt out. Even now… our cooperative competitors don’t have to pay their member producers a minimum price — but we do. I just ask that you take into consideration not just what we can get from Class I … We are on a 13-year losing streak that fluid milk consumption has declined on a total basis. We are at a tipping point,” said Farm Bureau member Chuck Turner, Turner Dairy Farms, a third generation independent milk bottler near Pittsburgh, Pa.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 28, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The precarious future of Class I fluid milk was an underlying concern expressed in different ways at the AFBF Federal Milk Pricing Forum in Kansas City recently. Some have written off the future of fresh fluid milk and have turned sights elsewhere. Others recognize federal orders don’t fulfill their purpose when fresh fluid milk doesn’t get to where the people are. And then there’s the wedge product — aseptic milk — in the mix as some changes have already been made to promote investment in it.

Since the federal orders are based on regulation of Class I fluid milk, its future is most definitely at the core of the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) discussion. 

A critical point made by panelists is that more money is needed to get fresh milk to consumers in high population areas. Also mentioned was the restoration of higher over-order premiums to farmers in milk-deficit areas to keep these areas from becoming even more deficit.

But at the same time, Class I sales are declining relative to a growing dairy pie of other class products, and the flurry of fluid milk plant closures near population areas has caused further disruption. 

On day three of the forum in Kansas City, Phil Plourd of Ever.Ag attributed most of the fluid milk sales decline to the fact that “milk lost its best friend – cereal.” When asked, he did acknowledge that about one-third of the problem facing fluid milk is rooted in the low-fat school milk requirement. He also pointed out how the entire food industry is changing, and he warned about the lab-created dairy proteins made in fermentation tanks that can be ‘turned on and off.’

Bottom line is the growth markets are in other products, he said. The declining fluid milk sector can no longer shoulder all of the responsibility for the federal order system. 

He showed a bar-graph depicting the decline in the share of total U.S. production participating in federal or state revenue sharing pools. Using estimates of California’s pre-federal order mandatory state order, the percentage of U.S. milk production that was pooled exceeded 80% in 2018. In November of 2018, California became a federal order. Pooled volume vs. total production fell to just over 70% in 2019, the first year the new Class I mover formula was implemented. In 2020, during the pandemic, pooled volume fell to just over 60% and ticked a few points lower to 60% in 2021.

Several panelists, including Calvin Covington, confirmed that cooperatives, especially DFA, own the majority of the fluid milk plants in the U.S. today. This evolution has only increased with plant closures over the past 18 months, and cooperatives have payment and pooling flexibilities not enjoyed by proprietary plants.

As the Class I sector consolidates to roughly 80% owned by cooperatives and the balance owned by grocery chains and independents, there is another problem with federal orders that is easily overlooked. Who is it regulating? It does not regulate what cooperatives pay their members, therefore, it is regulating a declining number of participants in a growing global industry.

A milk bottler from Pennsylvania used the open-microphone between panels to address this 800-pound gorilla in the room full of consensus-builders doing their level-best to ignore it.

“I am sort of an ‘odd duck’ here. Probably some of you have never recently met an independently owned fluid milk bottler. We are the only prisoners in the Federal Order system,” said Chuck Turner, a long-time Farm Bureau member and third-generation milk bottler from Pittsburgh.

“Everybody else can opt in or opt out. Even now, with recent developments, our cooperative competitors don’t have to pay their member producers a minimum price — but we do,” he confirmed.

Turner asked the room of consensus-builders to “take into consideration not just what we can get from Class I — but let’s think more about what we need to do to sell it. We are on a 13-year losing streak with Class I — 13 years that fluid milk consumption has declined on a total basis. We are at a tipping point,” said Turner.

While half of the forum’s table groupings agreed Class I differentials need to be increased, others wondered how much more money can be extracted from Class I without killing it?

Joe Wright, former president of Southeast Milk Inc., laid out the problem as a “downward spiral” — making it more difficult to attract milk to populated areas in the Southeast. He said it started with the Dean and Borden bankruptcies and continues with more plant closings announced every few months.

In the Southeast, said Wright, it’s to the point where school kids won’t get fresh milk in some areas because no one will bring it.

He noted that the over-order premiums in Florida have decreased by $1.50 per hundredweight. Some 30 years ago, it was $3.00. “We don’t have that now,” said Wright, noting this makes it difficult for farms to continue producing milk for the Class I market in the face of encroaching subdivisions and other pressures to sell.

“There are 9 million people just from Miami to Orlando,” said Wright. “But if we don’t do something soon, we’ll have no dairy farms left in Florida. Do we want the answer to be a push to aseptic milk? Total milk consumption was stable until 2010. That’s when the government gave us low-fat, low-taste milk in schools. Now, we’re going to start them with low-fat, low-taste, aseptic milk? That is going to kill fluid milk.”

He also noted that fluid milk sales are not helped when dairy shelves are empty, showing slide after slide of empty Walmart dairy cases in the same town in Florida in December – three years straight (pre-Covid, during Covid, and post-Covid). When he asked attendees if they have seen this in their own areas, many hands were raised.

He pointed out that when the fresh milk is completely missing on store shelves, it is the aseptic or ESL milk – and plant-based alternatives – that are available. This has a cumulative effect on fresh fluid milk sales.

Again, the topic of aseptic, shelf stable, warehoused milk was brought up with feelings of ambivalence as milk producers are both drawn to it as a hedging mechanism to even-out the supply and demand swings in areas like the Southeast, but on the other hand offended by the prospect that this product can be considered by bottling retailers like Kroger as an innovative “value added” growth category, while the original fresh fluid milk is treated like the Cinderella sister – a low-margin commodity non-growth category.

As more aseptic packaging comes on line, and as schools go without milk and stores short customers on the availability of fresh milk, a transition is being signaled toward packaged milk that is capable of moving farther without refrigeration cost — from anywhere to anywhere – right along with Coke or Pepsi for that matter.

“How do we fix the empty case syndrome that has gotten worse over the years? It’s all about being accountable,” said Wright, giving some history on how this was handled in the past and voicing his hope that having the Dean plants under DFA and Prairie Farms ownership could help.

“Can they push back on Walmart on stocking? I don’t know. There has to be margin in that relationship, but these are correctable problems that affect milk sales,” he said.

For its part, Kroger also closed a plant last year that was running half-full, according to Mike Brown, senior VP of Kroger’s dairy supply chain. 

Milk bottling is consolidating rapidly to run the remaining plants at or above capacity to capitalize on throughput and improve margin.

“The reality,” says Wright, “is we are seeing a downward spiral, and milk is not always available where the people are. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

Brown noted that the Class I mover formula change, which was an agreement by IDFA and NMPF in the 2018 farm bill, was intended to make fluid milk pricing “more predictable.” This was deemed necessary to attract investment to make fluid milk “more durable and transportable.”

In short, the Class I change was done to attract investment in expensive aseptic packaging to make shelf-stable milk and milk-based high protein beverages. 

Going forward, said Brown: “Risk management is important and especially for specialty products such as extended shelf-life and aseptic milk, which are growing more than the plant-based beverages for Kroger. We have to be sure we nurture these new products because they are value-added growth markets for fluid milk.”

On the other hand, farmers in Kansas City voiced their concern for what happens to fresh fluid milk, that it matters for consumers and it matters for their dairy farms, and it also matters for the continuation of the federal orders. 

Aseptic milk is experiencing growth, but why? Is necessity the mother of invention or is the investment driving the necessity. 

After all, it is the regional and perishable nature of fresh fluid milk that led to the development of the federal orders in the 1930s. Aseptically-packaged and warehoused milk is not fresh enough — and may not be local enough — to be the product that helps extend the viability of the federal orders. 

AFBF milk pricing forum draws 200 stakeholders to KC, some consensus gained, high priority given to return Class I ‘mover’ to ‘higher of’ formula

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 21, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was intense, productive, enlightening, and at times a bit emotional. And, yes, there was consensus on some key points during the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) Forum in Kansas City last weekend (Oct. 14-16).

The event was a first of its kind meeting of the minds from across the dairy landscape, involving mostly dairy farmers, but also other industry stakeholders. It was planned by a 12-member committee representing state Farm Bureaus from coast-to-coast, working with AFBF economist Danny Munch.

Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall kicked things off Friday afternoon, urging attendees to get something done for the future of the dairy industry, to stay cool, leave friendly, and set a pattern for continuing conversations.

“We have the people in this room who I hope can come up with guiding principles,” said Duvall, noting that a meeting like this is something he has dreamed about for years, even prayed for. He talked about his background as a former dairy farmer and assured attendees that milk pricing is a topic he is very interested in.

He challenged the group to come at it with “an open mind. The answers are sitting in this room, not on Capitol Hill. There are some geniuses in this room, people who really understand this system,” said Duvall.

“We all have ideas, and we can lend an ear to other ideas. We learn a lot if we listen to each other,” he said, noting a few of the existing Farm Bureau dairy policy principles: that FMMOs should be market oriented, with better price discovery. They should be fair and transparent, and farmers should be able to understand and compare milk checks.

Hearings not legislation

Duvall noted AFBF agrees with NMPF that future FMMO changes should go through the normal USDA hearing process, not through Congressional legislation. By Sunday, this seemed to be a point of consensus, along with the recognition that FMMOs need updating, but they are still vital for farmers and the industry. 

On the Class I ‘mover,’ specifically, Munch noted Farm Bureau already adopted the recommendation through its county, state and national grassroots process to return to the ‘higher of’ — plus 74 cents. The addition of the 74 cents is to make up for the unlimited losses incurred over the past four years.

For NMPF’s part, chief economist Peter Vitaliano and consultant Jim Sleper laid out a series of updates the economic committee’s task force is recommending to the NMPF board, which will vote at the annual meeting at the end of October.

These recommendations include going back to the simple ‘higher of’ for the Class I ‘mover,’ updating make allowances and yield factors, doing a pricing-surface study to update Class I differentials, making changes in the end-product pricing survey to allow dry whey price reporting of sales up to 45 days earlier, not 30 days, and eliminating the 500-pound barrel cheese sales from the Class III cheese price formula to base it only on the block cheese.

Intense, informative, valuable

The three days were intense, covering a lot of information, and were shepherded by expert panels and ‘cat herder in chief’ Roger Cryan, AFBF’s chief economist since October 2021.

Munch served as the emcee — akin to the ghost of milk pricing Past (Friday), Present (Saturday) and Future (Sunday). He introduced the various panels and provided economic snapshots and questions for the 25 breakout tables to discuss, decide and deliver.

Meeting organizers reshuffled the deck of 200 attendees from 36 states and representing nearly 150 state and national producer organizations, Farm Bureau chapters, regulatory agencies, farms, co-ops, processors, financial and risk management firms, and university extension educators.

Attendees were assigned tables with a number on the back of each name tag. The goal was to mix the table-groupings for varied geographic and industry perspectives. Each table was equipped with its own large flip tablet mounted on an easel. 

According to Munch, Farm Bureau will scan and collate the information from all of the large tablets and issue a preliminary report to attendees followed by a public report later this year.

On Sunday, the open microphone was lively and most tables reported from their flip tablets. Overwhelmingly, attendees said they found value in the meeting and appreciated the platform. They reported a desire to keep the conversations going, to do this again, not just every 20 years, and not just in response to a problem, but to be forward-looking with the many challenges on the dairy horizon.

Platform for next big issue

For example, Gretl Schlatter, an Ohio dairy producer on the board of American Dairy Coalition (ADC) noted that only Class I milk is mandated to participate in FMMOs, and that today, the FMMOs are weakened with only 60% of U.S. milk production participating in the revenue-sharing pools.

“Where will we be in five years? We do not want to give up on fluid milk – our nutrition powerhouse,” she said. “The issue now is federal milk pricing but the next one coming — fast — is the sustainability benchmarks, the climate scores. We need to keep meeting like this as an industry, keep talking to each other, and get ready for the next big thing affecting our farms and family businesses.”

This was touched upon by Duvall and others, but Cryan reminded everyone that, “Federal Orders are complicated enough without adding the sustainability discussion to it.”

Duvall reminded attendees that this meeting was Farm Bureau’s response to the words of Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack last year, when he said there would be no USDA hearing until the dairy industry reaches some “consensus” on solutions.

This set into motion an already dairy-active Farm Bureau that had formed its own task force, responding to grassroots dairy policy coming up from the county and state levels to national through AFBF’s grassroots process.

In fact, NMPF’s Vitaliano, noted that, “having Roger Cryan at Farm Bureau makes it easier to do this,” to partner on formulating dairy policy because of his background. Prior to coming to Farm Bureau a year ago, Cryan was an economist for NMPF and then for USDA AMS Dairy Programs.

The first hour of the first day included a recorded message from Secretary Vilsack and an in-person presentation by Gloria Montano Green, USDA deputy undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation.

They encouraged attendees to work together and told them what the Biden-Harris administration has done and is doing for dairy. Primarily, they went through a list of funding and assistance, including the improved Dairy Margin Coverage, the PMVAP payments, Dairy Revenue Protection, Livestock Gross Margin, dairy innovation hub grants and the recent funding for conservation and climate projects that includes 17 funded pilots involving dairy. 

They told attendees that the dairy industry is “far ahead” on climate and conservation because it has been involved in these discussions and is already mapping that landscape.

Dana Coale, deputy administrator of USDA AMS Dairy Programs, took attendees through the FMMO parameters. She engaged with the largely dairy farmer crowd in a frank discussion of what Federal Orders can and cannot do. The headline here is that this current time period before a hearing is a time when she and her staff can talk freely and give opinions. Once a hearing process begins, she and her staff are subject to restrictions on ex parte communications.

Consensus to go back to ‘higher of’ formula

If there was one FMMO “fix” that achieved a clear consensus and was given priority, it was support for going back to the Class I ‘mover’ formula using the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV skim price instead of the current average plus 74 cents method that was changed in the 2018 farm bill.

Since implementation in May 2019 through October 2022, the new method will have cost dairy farmers $868 million in net reduced Class I revenue, which further erodes the mandatory Class I contribution to the uniform pricing among the 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO), setting off a domino effect that has led to massive de-pooling of milk from FMMOs and decreased Federal Order participation.

Pa. Farm Bureau presiden Rick Ebert (left), moderated the first panel Friday afternoon (l-r) Dana Coale, deputy administrator USDA AMS Dairy Programs; Calvin Covington, CEO emeritus, Southeast Milk; Anja Raudabaugh, CEO Western United Dairies. After this panel, during the first open-microphone and roundtable breakout, attendees were urged not to leave their flip tablets blank. “Groups with blank boards will have to drink the almond juice in the back,” said AFBF economist Danny Munch, taking note of the hotel offering and to have real milk on-site — provided Saturday and Sunday by Hiland Dairy.

During his presentation Friday, retired Southeast Milk CEO, Calvin Covington, said dairy farmers lost $69 million in revenue for the first 8 months of post-Covid 2022, alone. That figure will rise to an estimated $200 million when September and October Class I milk pounds are tallied. 

Noting NMPF’s task force recommends the board approve petitioning USDA to go back to the ‘higher of,’ Vitaliano cited “asymmetric risk” as the reason.

This risk scenario was also explained by others. ADC’s Schlatter, for example, noted the current averaging formula “caps the upside at 74 cents, but the downside is unlimited.”

Vitaliano noted that whenever there is a ‘black swan’ event or new and different market factors, this downside risk becomes unacceptable for farmers, and he indicated these market events that create wide spreads in manufacturing classes are likely to continue into the future.

Dr. Marin Bozic, University of Minnesota assistant professor of applied economics, observed the way this downside ‘basis’ risk becomes unmanageable via new and traditional risk management tools. In his futuristic talk on Sunday, producers asked questions, to which he responded that, “Yes, farmers show me that they can’t use the Dairy Revenue Protection because of this basis risk.”

Bozic is also founder and CEO of Bozic LLC developing and maintaining the intellectual property for risk management programs like DRP. 

He also spoke about the concerns of the Midwest as FMMO participation declines. 

Presenting his own ideas and separately the ideas of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperativ, Bozic said Edge is seeking a consensus to support two or three lines in the upcoming farm bill to simply “enable” FMMO hearings to introduce flexibility on an Order by Order basis, so that uniform benefits can be shared instead of a uniform price. Flexibility, they believe, would enable new ‘uniform benefits’ discussion that can help maintain or encourage FMMO participation in marketing areas with low Class I utilization.

Early in the Class I formula loss scenario of 2020-21, Edge had suggested a new Class III-plus formula to determine the ‘mover.’ Bozic said that “the idea of returning to the ‘higher of’ is not a deal breaker for Edge in the short-term.”

Even Mike Brown, senior supply chain manager for Kroger, unofficially indicated IDFA “could be open to the idea” of reverting back to that previous ‘higher of’ formula. As dairy supply chain manager on everything from Kroger’s milk plants to its new dairy beverages, cheese procurement, and so forth, Brown was asked if the averaging formula allowed him to ‘hedge’ fluid milk to manage risk as a processor.

The answer? Not really. Brown said there are ways for processors to manage risk under the ‘higher of’ formula also, but that they haven’t done any hedging under the averaging formula with fresh fluid milk – and very little risk management with their new aseptically packaged, shelf-stable milks and high protein drinks.

Incidentally, he said, the aseptic, ultrafiltered, shelf-stable dairy beverage category “is growing faster than plant-based” in their retail sales.

This exchange and other discussions suggested the averaging formula may have been geared more toward price stability that would encourage processors to invest in expensive aseptic, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable milk-based beverage technologies that result in a storable product needing risk management. 

Fresh fluid milk is already advance-priced and quite perishable with a fast turnaround. Aseptic, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable products, on the other hand, can be packaged under one set of raw milk pricing conditions and sold to retail or consumers up to nine months later under another set of raw milk pricing conditions.

Frankly, it appears that the consumer-packaged goods companies (CPGs) may be driving such shifts, just as we heard from Phil Plourde of Blimling/Ever.Ag that CPGs are “all-in” on the climate scoring — the next big thing on the dairy challenge list.

Tacking de-pooling – regional or national?

Attendees came back to the specific concern about de-pooling, which Vitaliano and Cryan both described as an issue to be handled regionally and not through a national hearing.

This did not seem to satisfy some who raised the concern. Toward the conclusion Sunday, Cryan explained it this way: 

“De-pooling is a national issue in principle but a regional issue in detail. Every region will have different ideas, needs and situations. If there is consensus (on pooling rules) in a region, then changes could move forward quickly,” he said.

Make allowances are sticky wicket

Attendees appeared to agree that make allowances should be addressed or evaluated through a hearing, but ideas on how to handle this sticky-wicket varied.

Attendees questioned panelists, pointing out that if a farmer’s profit margin on milk is only around $1.00 per hundredweight, then raising make allowances an estimated $1.00 per hundredweight is going to be a tough pill to swallow.

Vitaliano said NMPF is commissioning an economic study with their go-to third-party economist Scott Brown at University of Missouri to show the actual milk check impact of raising make allowances that are embedded into the end-product pricing formulas for the four main products: cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey. 

He said the discussions about make allowances as a cost to farmers are “purely arithmetic” but that the “true impact” is not a straight math calculation. Instead, he said, when make allowances are set appropriately, dairy producers ultimately benefit, so in his opinion, it’s not a penny for penny subtraction.

Several other panelists and attendees observed that processors and cooperatives have been creating their own ‘make allowances’ through assessments, loss of premiums, and other milk check adjustments.

The Saturday afternoon panel of (l-r) Kevin Krentz, Peter Vitaliano, Chris Herlache, and Roger Cryan dove into Class III and IV pricing topics including make allowance formulations and structures.

Vitaliano stressed that when make allowances are set properly, the industry is stronger and better able to compensate producers. Initially, he said, raising make allowances would have a negative impact on expansion, which in turn would have a positive impact on producer prices.

When asked if raising make allowances would mean lost premiums would return to farmer milk checks, he responded by saying “that depends, and it won’t happen right away.”

In other words, raising make allowances will be painful in the short term, but in the long-term (to paraphrase) that pain leads to gain. 

Some panelists and attendees referenced an idea of “phasing in” a future raise in make allowances.

Others wondered why it is necessary with the amount of innovation happening in the 15 years since they were last raised as processors make a wider variety of dairy products – not just those bulk items that are surveyed for end-product pricing formulas.

One idea suggested by a Wisconsin dairy producer was to tie make allowance increases to plant size — much the same way that dairy farmers are only assisted up to a production cap of 5 million annual milk pounds. Cryan said he heard a similar proposal previously to use a graduated scale for make allowance increases according to plant size and presumably age.

This is the crux of the make allowance issue because the new state of the art plants produce many types of products, both commodity and value-added; whereas some of the smaller and older plants that are still vital to the dairy industry are more apt to specialize in producing a bulk commodity with a more limited foray into value-added non-surveyed products.

Modified bloc voting?

While there appeared to be consensus that changes to the FMMOs should be done by USDA petition through the administrative hearing process, not through Congressional legislation, some of the discussion at tables and the open-microphone noted the importance of a producer vote after hearings and USDA final decisions. Many felt farmers should have an individual vote on FMMO changes. 

Currently, cooperatives bloc vote for their members to assure that FMMOs are not ended inadvertently by lack of producer interest in following-through on a vote. 

One compromise suggested by Bozic was to have a preliminary non-binding vote by individual producers, followed by the binding vote done in its usual way.

This, he said, would at least increase accountability and transparency in the FMMO voting process and bring producer engagement into the FMMO hearing process. To be continued

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Dairy checkoff is ‘negotiating’ your future: Train wreck ahead. Stop the train. Correct the track. (DMI Net Zero – Part One)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 16, 2022

Dairy farmers are being used without regard. Their future ability to operate is right now being negotiated, and they are paying those negotiators through their 15-cents-per-hundredweight mandatory checkoff with no idea how the negotiations will ultimately affect their businesses and way of life.

Inflated baselines and an inflated methane CO2 equivalent assigned to cows is setting the stage for a head-on collision, a train wreck on the misaligned track laid by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

In fact, the Net Zero Initiative has been designed to help everyone but the dairy farmer. It sets up a methane money game for carbon traders at the expense of those dairy farms that have long been environmentally conscious with no-till, cover crops, grazing, and other practices already on their farms.

Such farms will be of no use in what is shaping up to be a focus on harvesting reductions, not attaining neutrality, in DMI’s Net Zero Initiative (NZI).

Small and mid-sized dairy farms that are already at or near carbon-neutral could show smaller reductions for the industry to harvest. 

Conversely, the largest dairies installing the newest biogas systems are realizing even this route could become a dead-end because the credits are signed over and sold for big bucks, a few bucks get kicked back to the dairy, but the methane capture becomes the property of other industries outside of the dairy supply chain.

If the industry does not act now to stop the NZI train for a period of re-examination, adjustment and correction, then the current trajectory may actually move food companies clamoring for reductions ever closer to alternatives and analogs that boast their climate claims solely on the fact that they are produced without cows.

This is a big money game that is operating off the backs of our cows, and the checkoff has been at best complicit as a driver.

RNG (renewable natural gas) operators are signing up large (3000+ cows) dairies left and right for digesters and covered lagoons to capture methane piped to clustered scrubbing facilities to be turned into renewable fuel for vehicles or electricity generation. Meanwhile dairy protein analogs are being created without cows by ‘precision fermentation’ startups partnering with the largest global dairy companies.

In turn, millions if not billions of dollars in carbon credits are generated while farmers and their milk buyers will be left figuring out how to show their reductions when they are left holding the inflated methane bag.

Six organizations, four of them non-profits under the DMI umbrella, officially launched the Net Zero Intitiative (NZI) in the fall of 2019, five months after Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made headlines talking about it in a Senate hearing while he was pulling down a million-dollar salary as a DMI executive in 2018.

NZI is the proclaimed vehicle for negotiating the terms for U.S. Dairy to continue, terms based on showing carbon reductions that many family farms may find difficult to meet — especially if the farm is already at or close to carbon neutral.

As DMI’s sustainability negotiators data-collect all previous reductions into farm-by-farm comprehensive baseline estimates, where will those farms find new reductions? 

According to DMI staff, over 2000 dairy farms have already gone through their environmental stewardship review via the FARM program to establish their “comprehensive estimates.”

The six organizations, four of them filing IRS 990s under the national dairy checkoff, that launched NZI are: Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and Newtrient, along with the other two organizations being National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

They have collectively bought-into the global definition that inflates the CO2 equivalent used for methane, effectively committing the cow to perpetual GHG purgatory. 

Because the NZI structure is based on continually showing GHG reductions, no farm is insulated with a get-out-of-jail-free-key — not even the largest farms with the most advanced biogas systems.

Why haven’t checkoff funds been used to defend the cow – to get the numbers right, to get the current practices farmers have invested in counted toward reductions not baselines, and to get the methane CO2 equivalent correct — instead of giving in to this notion that feels an awful lot like ‘cows are bad and we are committed to making them better?’

Perhaps it was ignored or embraced because this inflated methane CO2 equivalent gives the suite of tech tools being assembled by DMI’s Newtrient a bigger runway to show reductions — a money maker for the RNG biogas companies and others that will in many cases end up owning the carbon credits after paying the farmer a nominal fee. 

Carbon trading rose 164% last year to $851 billion, according to a Reuters January 2022 report. A big chunk of this is coming from the methane capture and fossil fuel replacement of RNG biogas projects, mostly in California but popping up elsewhere at a rapid rate and mostly traded on the California exchange.

Farmers are getting some money for these projects, but they don’t own the carbon credits once they are sold or signed over. When they are sold outside of the dairy supply chain, this reduction becomes someone else’s property, so it is no longer part of the dairy farm’s footprint nor the footprint of their milk buyer. 

Likewise, this inflated methane equivalent — along with the emphasis on reductions, not neutrality — has some processors wondering if they’ll be able to come up with the Scope 3 reductions they need in ESG scoring.

They are facing upstream pressure from retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies as well as asset managers to show reductions, and they have counted on big numbers from their Scope 3 suppliers, the dairy farms.

The problem for dairy processors and dairy farmers comes down to the central definitions of methane equivalent and carbon asset ownership — the rights of farmers to own their past, present and future reductions, whether or not they’ve signed them over as offsets to a milk buyer or a project investor and whether or not they’ve sold the resulting credits on a carbon exchange, and whether or not they’ve installed new practices that are now part of a baseline but represent a new investment every year as they operate their businesses.

Back in June, the American Dairy Coalition added this concern to their list of federal milk pricing priorities because of the impact this climate and carbon tracking will have on milk buying and selling relationships and contracts — and the lack of clarity or fairness in this deal for essential food producers at the origination point that is closest to nature, the farm. 

ADC worded their “carbon asset ownership” priority this way: “No matter where a dairy farm’s milk is processed, that farm should be able to retain 100% ownership at all times of its earned and achieved carbon assets, even if this information is shared with milk buyers to describe the resulting products that are made from the milk.”

For its part, IDFA took a swing last Friday, going one step farther to recommend global accounting methods that would allow the dairy supply chain (farmers and processors) to retain carbon credits even if they are sold on a carbon exchange or signed over to an asset company that invested in an on-farm technology. 

IDFA executives penned the Sept. 9 opinion piece in Agri-Pulse laying out the concerns of their members who are starting to realize the future consequences of the rapid and inflated monetization of methane — and the race to sell carbon credits — leaving dairy processors unable to get those credits they were counting on from the farms that supply them with milk, while at the same time being stuck facing the cow’s inflated methane CO2 equivalent in their downstream Scope 3 even while they try to get reductions in their own controlled areas of Scopes 1 and 2.

When dairy farms no longer own their reduction or cannot show a large reduction because they are already virtually neutral, processors become concerned about how they will gain the Scope 3 reductions that are part of the ESG scoring the large retailers and global food companies are pushing. 

All of this has come down through the non-governmental organizations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF), investment and asset management sector via the World Economic Forum (WEF), the global corporate structures through the Sustainability Roundtable and through government entities via the United Nations Agenda 2030. DMI has been at those tables for at least 14 years.

“It is becoming clearer every day that the global accounting standards underpinning GHG measurement and reporting are biased against the very people making the (GHG) reductions,” the IDFA executives wrote in their opinion.

In other words, while some farmers are beginning to profit from GHG-reducing practices that are turned into offsets and traded on the carbon markets, the system is tilted against them because it leaves them without the offsets they traded and leaves them in a position of having to continually reduce in order to secure a position in the value chain.

IDFA points out that under the current rules, once the offset is sold outside of the value chain as a carbon credit – it is gone. The current GHG accounting system says only the buyer of that reduction can claim ownership.

Those farms can no longer claim their own reduction, and it means the company buying milk or other commodities from a producer cannot integrate the reduction into the description of their final product.

This weakens U.S. Dairy, the IDFA opinion states, and it makes dairy farmers less competitive sources of pledge-meeting carbon reductions for retailers and manufacturers – setting real dairy up for fake dairy dilution with the inclusion of whey proteins and other pieces of milk that are being produced in fermentation vats by genetically modified yeast, fungi and bacteria, as well as other analogs.

A bigger problem not mentioned in the IDFA opinion may be the inflated baselines that leave farms that have implemented best practices years ago positioned to show smaller reductions.

While the American Farm Bureau earlier this year lobbied against proposed SEC accounting intrusions for quantifying ESG scoring, it has been silent on the issue of carbon asset ownership for food producers. AFBF has also said little about the recently signed climate bill (Inflation Reduction Act).

National Milk Producers Federation, on the other hand, as reported last week, sang its praises for being right in line with where the industry’s Net Zero Initiative is going.

DMI voices its pride to have been leading the way, positioning its Innovation Center as founded by dairy farmers. They have conceded that dairy farms impact the environment and launched NZI as a collective pledge to reduce that impact.

In other words, DMI submitted to the idea that cows impact the environment, but never fear, through NZI, the Innovation Center and Newtrient, farmers will make them better, and turn them into a climate solution.

This is a fool’s errand given the inflated methane equivalent and the movement of carbon reductions to entities outside of the dairy supply chain such as paper mills, bitcoin miners, and the fossil fuel industry.

Did dairy farmers have a say in any of this? Not really. They were kept in the dark as this was developed over the past decade or more, and the boards representing them on the six organizations that launched NZI (four of them under the checkoff umbrella) have been duped.

Farmers are largely unaware of the NZI train, and their silence as it runs down the track becomes a further signal to the industry and to the government that they approve of the track they are on.

As the industry sits at this crossing, the Net Zero train full of dairy farmer passengers is barreling high speed down the track DMI has laid.

This train must be stopped because the future-bound track needs to be re-examined, adjusted and re-aligned so that the passengers are not ejected by the train wreck – the accelerated consolidator — that lies ahead.

Fundamentals must be vigorously revisited. Every passenger on that train, every dairy farm, must be recognized as an essential food producer, get credit for their prior investment in current practices, and be able to retain ownership of their carbon assets as part of their farm’s footprint — even if these assets have been provided, sold or signed over as offsets to milk buyers or project investors or traders on an exchange.

Furthermore, this train – built with farmer dollars – should protect the so-called founding farmers from being denied a market based on the size of their GHG reductions. If a carbon neutral farm can’t show reductions to its milk buyer, will that buyer look for other downstream vendors who can fulfill their Scope 3 reduction needs?

Will those vendors be other farms with larger perceived GHG reductions or will they be alternative analogs created without cows?

Nestle announced this week it is partnering with Perfect Day toward that end. In fact, the proliferation of plant-based, cell cultured, DNA-altered microbe excrement analogs for dairy protein and other elements are entering the market on big GHG reduction claims based on being made without the cow and the inflated methane CO2 equivalent she has been assigned!

The current standard for methane CO2 equivalency is inflated by orders of magnitude. Dr. Frank Mitloehner has addressed this repeatedly and other researchers back his view with efforts to change it.

As Mitloehner and others point out, climate neutrality should be the goal, not net-zero. Furthermore, the current methane CO2 equivalent is calculated based only on the much greater warming effect of methane vs. CO2. However, the current calculation does not account for the fact that methane is short-lived in Earth’s atmosphere — about 10 years compared with 100 to 100 years for CO2 and other GHG. It also does not account for the cow’s role in the biogenic carbon cycle.

Remember, DMI and company have ignored or embraced this definition. At the same time, the Innovation Center’s data collection of progressive accomplishments are included in the baselines from which new reductions (opportunities) must be found.

These two trains run in opposite directions for a future head-on collision on a mis-aligned track. 

The bigger the perceived GHG problem, the bigger the reduction through technology, and the bigger the monetization of that reduction outside of the dairy supply chain. At the same time, this creates an even bigger problem for farms that are unable to participate in biogas projects, farms that don’t fit the Innovation Center’s 3500-cow-dairy-as-solution template, farms that may be carbon neutral or close to it already.

DMI and company have played fast and loose with the truth. 

Farmshine readers will recall the glaring error reported more than a year ago in the white paper written by WWF for DMI. It showcased these biogas projects and the 3500-cow dairy template it proclaimed could be Net Zero in five years, not 30. 

That paper inflated U.S. Dairy’s total GHG footprint by an order of magnitude! A Pennsylvania dairy farmer brought the error to Farmshine’s attention. In turn, the magnitude of the error was confirmed by Dr. Mitloehner who then contacted DMI. A corrected copy of the white paper magically replaced all internet files with no discussion from DMI or WWF. That number was changed, but all of the assumptions in the paper were left as-is.

Put simply: DMI does not appear to be concerned about inflating the size of dairy’s perceived GHG problem. The bigger the perceived problem, the bigger the reduction that can be monetized, but that is now happening outside of the dairy supply chain. 

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Vilsack is de facto architect as Climate Bill dovetails with DMI Net Zero

Methane tax exempts agriculture, for now… Meanwhile the energy sector impact will affect farm cost of production

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 9, 2022

WASHINGTON — Make no mistake about it, the dairy industry via DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — is and has been moving toward a future that rank-and-file dairy farmers have had no real voice in and in many cases are just waking up to.

From the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings at Davos to the UN COP26, high-ranking DMI staff have been at the table

In fact, the current U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who President Biden credited for writing the agricultural piece of his Build Back Better campaign platform (same tagline used by the WEF), was the first to announce a Net Zero Initiative during a Senate climate hearing in June of 2019 while he was at the time the highest paid dairy checkoff executive at DMI before round-two as Ag Secretary.

When news of DMI’s Net Zero Initiative spread, farmers were told this would be voluntary, and that DMI was making sure companies understood that it has to be profitable for the farms.

But it is rapidly becoming apparent that requests for on-farm data from milk buyers and co-ops, guidelines for environmental practices under the FARM program are voluntarily mandatory through the member co-ops of National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the privately owned plants that join the alliance and pledge get on board the Net Zero train.

All of this dovetails neatly with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in August. Loosely referred to as ‘the climate bill’, NMPF is “thumbs up” on the deal, calling it “a milestone for dairy” as the industry “moves forward.”

(Others in-the-know who wish to remain anonymous call these billions a ‘slush fund’ for Secretary Vilsack.)

During the past 12 to 14 years, DMI has portrayed itself as representing U.S. dairy farmers (because after all, every U.S. dairy farmer pays into DMI, mandatorily by law of course). All the while plotting, planning, partnering and aligning with World Wildlife Fund using the middle of the supply chain as the leverage point to move consumers and farmers to where they want them to go.

They are proud to be working to “get you money” for what you are doing for the environment.

What we hear now is the manure technology and sustainability that checkoff dollars are used to promote brings new income streams to the dairy farm so they are less reliant on the volatile milk price. 

We are told that dairy farmers will make money from manure, from farming the carbon markets, perhaps even farming new climate-related USDA programs some of the $20 billion “for agriculture” will be spent on. 

According to NMPF, this is right in line with where the dairy industry is moving and “supports” the industry’s Net Zero Initiative and “other pledges.”

What pledges?

Did you, Mr. and Mrs. Dairy Producer pledge to do something or agree on the value and cost?

The government is making these pledges in global treaties. The industry as a collective whole through this DMI Innovation Center is making pledges to the investment bankers and global companies who are driving the monetization of climate through ESG — Environmental, Social and Governmental benchmarks.

This all has a very “contractual” feel to it – something that must be measured and recorded and monitored and reported, something that includes various scopes from the center point of one’s business to all of its downstream vendors.

There has been little if any open discussion of parameters, of value, of costs and of consequences. 

There has been little if any democratic process to determine pledge participation. This ESG-driven change is happening at a quickening pace all while most of us don’t know what the acronym stands for, what it means, what it entails, how it is measured, what is its value, who will profit from it, what it will truly accomplish, and how much consolidation it will create of the already consolidating market power in food and energy.

Control of carbon is what we are talking about here, and that means control of life itself.

University of Minnesota economist Marin Bozic mentioned this concern when questioned by members of the House Ag Committee at the farm bill dairy hearing in June.

Processors talked about the ESGs and the downstream impacts of businesses dealing with “Scope 3”. Members of Congress wanted to understand the impact on family farms, and Bozic was asked for his observations.

“In solving the climate, we should not allow the pace of consolidation to pick up in the dairy industry,” he responded.

“Congress should look to the industry for advice on how to make sure smaller family farms are not left behind in implementing the (sustainability) requirements they will need to meet to remain in business. Some of these technologies work better when you have more animals to spread fixed costs over more (cattle),” Bozic observed.

When this question came up a third time in Bozic’s direction, he took another swing, encouraging the House Ag Committee to “help the smaller farms meet these standards that the processors will require over the next 5 to 7 years as far as sustainability. It may be more difficult for some of them to meet that, and I would hate to see increased consolidation pace because of the sustainability standards.”

Does the IRA package do that? A deeper dive is required to fully answer that question. So far, there hasn’t been much open discussion about how these ‘standards’ will affect the farms and how much of these funds go to support vs. monitoring.

Industry insiders from processing to marketing have complained anonymously that they are concerned about what the retailers are expecting, what the largest processors are moving toward.

Some of it seems illogical and counter-productive, they say. All of it is being decided in boardrooms and back hallways – not in an open forum, not in a democracy.

Take for example NMPF’s proclamation that the IRA (climate bill) now signed into law is good for the industry, that the methane tax it includes is harmless and will not affect farmers.

Really? What parallel universe are industry executives living in?

Farms – especially dairy farms – are some of the biggest downstream users of fuel and fertilizer producing nutrient-dense food. If those companies are taxed for methane emissions, with graduated scales based on meeting pledges, farmers downstream from that will be incorporated into these pledged targets.

Who among us believes this won’t affect fuel and energy costs on the dairy farm? How will this impact decisions made about milk transportation, even though farmers pay for the hauling of their milk, ultimately. What are the downstream impacts of this tax? 

Congressional staffers admit the downstream impacts have yet to be calculated, but it has been passed into law.

There’s an even bigger question lurking in the smoke from that backroom where deals are made.

Reading through the Congressional Research Service explanation of the IRA package it’s clear that whether the methane tax does or does not pertain to agriculture is – well – unclear, and highly subjective.

There is zero language to ‘carve out’ an exemption for agriculture and food production. What the language does say is that the methane tax applies to fuel and energy sourced methane emissions because these industries are already required to be monitored for these emissions, and to report them.

Surprise.

Some of the $20 billion in the IRA “for agriculture” will go to EPA and USDA to ‘support’ methane reducing practices – but also to monitor them and develop reporting consistency.

Once measuring, monitoring and reporting of methane emissions occurs consistently in agriculture, it is a small step by a future President or EPA head to slip agricultural methane emissions into the scope of the now passed-into-law methane tax.

Again, no carve-out language in that bill, no specifically mentioned exemption for agriculture or for cattle.

However, interest is growing as a hearing in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Sept. 7 dug into this a bit.

Scott VanderHal, American Farm Bureau Federation vice president was among those testifying Wednesday. The hearing pertained to a series of ‘protective’ bills for everything from livestock to motorsports in terms of the Clean Air Act through which emissions monitoring and reporting falls.

Interest is now even higher for bills like S. 1475 to protect livestock operations from permits being granted based on emissions. This now takes on a whole new meaning when contemplating a methane tax in the IRA package that is – for now – limited to industries that are monitored and required to report.

Expect to see stepped up interest from Farm Bureau as the methane tax falls into EPA’s warm embrace.

In conversations with congressional staffers, it’s also clear that new leadership in Washington, a new Congress, a new President, can make some changes to executive orders that have come to pass under the current administration, but changing the laws that have passed in this Congress will be more difficult.

However, the scope of the implementation process for the IRA funding (2023-26) will be greatly influenced by the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization. Those funds will not have been spent yet, and can be rescinded or reallocated by Congress to other areas within the 2023 Farm Bill.

These laws are open to interpretation, so the executive branch has the power to take things in a positive or negative direction where agriculture is concerned.

What does all of this mean for dairy farmers?

First, it is possible that a portion of the $20 billion for agriculture and the environment will fund good programs that are positive for farmers and the environment. But at the same time, look at where the emphasis has been on the part of NMPF and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy under DMI’s umbrella. 

The emphasis is on revenue streams for dairy farms from something other than milk. The emphasis is on digesters and renewable energy. The emphasis can also be on regenerative agriculture, but this is an area that doesn’t produce much profit for others, so will it gain traction?

What happens when these government billions and industry / checkoff pledges become embedded at the farm level? What happens to the farms of the small to mid-sized scale under 3000 cows that are not going to be able to capitalize on the California goldrush to RNG fuels from methane digesters?

As good as digester technology can be in the situations where it provides positives – it is not the panacea, and it leaves most of today’s dairy producers on the sidelines from a revenue standpoint, while setting a standards bar that they may or may not be able to reached by other means – and should they have to honor these pledges they did not make?

In many cases, obtaining a milk market may rely upon participation in these pledges, which means small to mid-sized processors outside of the 800-lb gorilla are beginning to sit up and take notice too.

Yes. This most definitely impacts dairy. The industry via DMI and NMPF and their partners say dairy is moving forward to embrace the Vilsack ‘slush fund’ the Congress and President Biden have made available. They call it a partnership.

Instead of government rules, you, Mr. and Mrs. Dairy Producer are getting government help, support and partnership. You are getting a government that sees the value in what you are doing and will pay you for it. 

That’s what we are being told, but we aren’t being told about the monitoring and reporting and the consequences thereafter.

NMPF says the $20 billion for agriculture in the IRA will assist and support and partner with farmers to value their sustainability. That is all well and good until the carrot transforms into a stick. It all depends on where the drivers of the pledges are going.

Can we please have an open discussion of the pledges before making them?

My advice for farmers? Do what is good and right for your farm, for your community, your animals, the environment around you, within your means, and yes, government programs that help cost-share a beneficial practice are a good thing, a win-win.

But when the talk turns into pledges and deadlines and terms that sound contractual, beware. 

When asked for proprietary information about your farm, ask the asker how it will be used and what its value is. Ask for this in writing. Don’t sign anything without taking time to understand it or have an attorney perhaps review it.

When you are asked tough questions about your farm, ask the questioner tough questions about why they want to know.

Be polite, engage in a discussion, and make them explain it. Then tell them you’ll want to think it over. 

President Ronald Reagan said it best. “The top nine most terrifying words in the English Language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

As much as we may want to believe the collective “they” are here to help, take nothing for granted.

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Despite frustrations, G.T. is not giving up on ending federal prohibition of whole milk in schools

After his whole milk in schools amendment failed on a committee-level party-line vote in August, G.T. Thompson said he’s not giving up, but that a change in leadership is needed to get this done. “Current leadership has an anti-kid, anti-dairy bias. This has become all politics with no logic,” he said.
Bills that would end federal prohibition of whole milk in schools are before the United States Congress and in the Pennsylvania and New York state legislatures. In the U.S. House there are 95 cosponsors. In the Pennsylvania House, it was passed almost unanimously, but the PA Senate refuses to run it because of lunch money scare tactics. Proponents of the various whole milk bills say Democrat party leaders oppose this common sense measure. Some Democrat lawmakers have signed on along with the Republicans as cosponsors; however, as the fight to include it as an amendment in childhood nutrition reauthorization proved — the Democratic leadership has another agenda for America’s foods and beverages and has therefore halted any movement of this measure to end federal prohibition of whole milk in schools and in daycares and in WIC. This bill is simply about allowing a choice that would be healthy for America’s children and rural economy. The evidence is overwhelming that the Dietary Guidelines and Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act got it wrong. Our children and farmers are paying the price for this mistake. Those in charge don’t seem to care about science, freedom of choice, nor petitions signed by tens of thousands of people.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 5, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An attempt by Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.) to get his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids bill attached as part of an amendment to the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization package failed last week despite the bill having nearly 100 cosponsors, including both Republicans and Democrats.

Joining him in introducing the amendment during the Committee’s markup of the Democrat’s child nutrition reauthorization were Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Fred Keller (R-Pa.) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho).

“Unfortunately, the Democrats folded on us, and the amendment was defeated,” said Thompson in a Farmshine phone interview Tuesday (Aug. 2). The amendment also included language that would have allowed whole milk for mothers and children over age 2 enrolled in the WIC program.

“The current leadership has an anti-kid, anti-dairy bias, that’s my interpretation,” Thompson said. “Our whole milk provisions are good for youth and their physical and cognitive well-being. It’s also good for rural America.”

Thompson said his effort as a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor was to include the substance of two bills related to whole milk in the huge reauthorization package. Child nutrition reauthorization is normally a five-year cycle, but it has not been updated in over a decade since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act passed under a Democrat majority in 2010 to double-down on anti-fat policies in all government feeding programs, including schools.

“We wanted moms and children to get access to the best milk, but this has become all politics with no logic,” he said.

The Committee moved the child nutrition package forward last week without the whole milk provisions. That package will now go to the full House for a vote.

Thompson said its fate is uncertain, that it is likely to pass the House, although the margins are tighter there, he explained. 

However, he believes the child nutrition package will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate where it likely will not receive the 60 votes needed to pass.

If that happens, then the task of writing it would begin again in the next legislative session (2023-24).

“Our best hope (of getting the whole milk provisions for schools and WIC) is for Republicans to take back the majority in November,” said Thompson, explaining that he is already working with Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina. “She understands the issue and knows this is one of my top priorities.”

If Republicans gain a House majority in the midterm elections, Foxx is a likely candidate for chair of Education and Workforce, and Thompson would be a senior member of that committee as well as being a likely candidate for chair of the House Agriculture Committee, where he is currently the Ranking Member.

In fact, he said he is “very positive” about being successful getting Whole Milk for Healthy Kids out of committee under Republican leadership and is already working hard to ensure its success out of the full House, pending who is in leadership after the midterms.

Thompson said he is also working on allies in the Senate.

Up until now, it has been the outgoing Senator from Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey – who has “carried the milk” on this issue with companion legislation in the Senate.

“His bill impressed me in how he and his team thought through the issue on fat limits that are imposed on our nutrition professionals in schools,” said Thompson, taking note for future reintroductions of his bill.

On the House side, the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization originates in the Education and Workforce Committee, but in the Senate the package originates in the Agriculture Committee.

Thompson notes that if the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, the current Ranking Member of the Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, is a likely candidate for chair. Boozman, who previously served in the U.S. House and was a mentor to Thompson. Today, they are the Ag Ranking Members in the two chambers and work closely on issues important to farmers and ranchers.

Back in 2018, when Thompson was asked at a farm meeting why his first introduction of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids did not pass when Republicans did have a majority in the House and Senate in the 2017-18 legislative session, Thompson noted that National Milk Producers Federation, at that particular time, supported a more gradual shift to first codify the permission for 1% flavored milk then work up to the whole milk provision. 

When asked the question again after his amendment failed, he reflected, noting that in the 2017-18 legislative session, the school milk issue was not well-understood in either chamber of Congress. Then Secretary of Agriculture had made an executive decision to provide flexibility for schools to serve 1% flavored milk instead of limiting it to fat-free. But a bill to codify that change into law has also failed to pass in its three attempts as well. 

It’s not hard to believe that members of Congress do not understand this issue — given the fact that it has taken many years and much grassroots education effort to open even the eyes of parents to the school milk issue. Today, many parents are still unaware that their children over age two at 75% of daycares and 95% of schools (any that receive any federal dollars) do not have the option of drinking whole and 2% milk. Their only milk options by federal prohibition are 1% and fat-free. People just don’t believe it to be true and figure the problem kids have with milk at school is because it’s not chilled enough or comes in a hard to open carton.

In the current effort to get whole milk provisions into the child nutrition reauthorization, however, Thompson confirmed that in addition to the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk effort —  “all major dairy organizations were working on this.”

Put simply, said Thompson, if the Republicans gain a majority in November, they are likely to be the ones who will write the next child nutrition package. As the one written recently by the Democrats is headed to the full House and has a tough-go in the Senate, Thompson said even if it does pass, targeted legislative fixes could be achieved in the next legislative session, pending a change in leadership.

“My goal is to work hard. The package that is going to the House now under the Democrats not only does not include whole milk provisions, it continues to micromanage school nutrition professionals who are the ones who know the kids the best and are in the best position to know how to help them eat in a healthy way,” said Thompson.

“Under the current (Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010) and this update — if it passes — kids aren’t eating the lunches. If they are not eating the meals (or drinking the milk), then it is not nutritious,” he added.-30-

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