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.

A re-positioning of agriculture? Kohl tells farmers: ‘Get focused in an unfocused world’

By Sherry Bunting

EAST EARL, Pa. — While he sees a storm on the horizon via high inflation, rising interest rates, global unrest, Dr. David Kohl is positive on agriculture, believing agriculture is “in position for a re-positioning” and advising farmers to “get focused in an unfocused world.”

He sees the resources provided by farms with dairy, livestock and poultry will become more critical. He sees agriculture as the next big mover, the answer — if farmers are free to be creative, manage their businesses with intensity, and drive the bus. He said transparency is becoming more important for consumers, as well as for farmers.

The Virginia Tech professor emeritus engages audiences in lively discussions of economics and financial management. He also co-owns a dairy farm and creamery in Virginia, so he sees trends on a macro and micro level. He spoke recently at the Univest Bank meeting attended by 300 farmers in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“We’re already doing a good job in agriculture. We just need to be driving the train, rather than letting it run over us. If we have a food and fertilizer shortage, the importance of a safe food and fiber source will have even greater value, and we can market that,” said Kohl.

Sizing up the uncertain times ahead, Kohl urged farmers to get focused, think creatively, be innovative, be right on top of their business numbers, plan and prioritize, set goals, and work with a team of advisors.

U.S. agriculture has strategic advantages. It’s in the lifestyle, the work ethic, the soil. Kohl noted that in China, for example, there is real concern about food in the future because 23% of China’s soils have built-up metal toxicity that is unhealthy for plants and animals.

One of the most critical advantages U.S. farmers have is “return on relationship” – or ROR.

“This is a community that gives back. Too often what we see in the world is people just taking instead of giving back. That’s your advantage. You give back,” he told farmers.

On the geopolitical front, fueled by oil, Kohl observed the U.S. has “played right into the hands of OPEC and Mr. Putin. Think about it, 21 years ago, we had 9-11. The towers went down in New York City, Somerset, Pa. and the Pentagon. We said we’re going to become energy independent in 25 years, and we did it in 10. We became the number-one energy producer in the world,” he said.

The U.S. is now divesting its fossil fuels, talking about going to ‘green energy.’

“This has created a lot of instability, and 8 out of every 10 dollars you spend on your farm is connected in some way to energy,” said Kohl, adding that consumer buying behavior is also connected to energy.

“Now it’s going to be China and India — they’re going to be getting the cheap oil while we’re paying the higher price,” he said. “You’re going to have to think innovatively about what you’re going to do with that.”

The fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is something that is not going away overnight. “It’s going to require a lot of management intensity. We can make it through, but we’re going to have to step-up our game plan,” he said.

Warning of recession on the backside of inflation through “demand destruction,” Kohl said every recession – except for one – was caused by an oil market shock.

When oil prices go up, people start questioning their trips. Consumers start questioning everything they buy. They start cutting back.

“These movies play over and over again because we don’t teach history, and so we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes,” Kohl declared, drawing parallels to the 1970s, when the Soviet Union said it needed wheat.

“Communist countries create these economic bubbles because they’re authoritarian, and then, all of a sudden, those markets disappear, and the American farmer is left hurting,” said Kohl. “The market can be given and taken away, and you have to be careful.”

In the 1970s, land values were spiking, and there was political and military uncertainty. The same thing is going on today, he asserted.  

“We had a very stagnant economy that was inflating, and wages weren’t keeping up with inflation. The same thing is happening now,” he said, noting inflation hit 8.5 on April 12th – the highest since 1981 when this similar pattern of events in the economy were precipitated by high energy costs and geopolitical factors and uncertainties.

What moved the U.S. forward then? The development of computer technology and the information age “brought us forward to years of wealth,” Kohl reflected.

What is going to be the ‘big mover’ this time? “Agriculture is one of the answers,” he said.

In the face of skyrocketing fertilizer price and tight availability (which he said will likely be as bad or worse next spring)… “Never has there been a time when manure was so valuable as it is today,” said Kohl, noting the “very real potential” for this to increase into the future as global impacts increase food insecurity.

“We have the solution right here,” said Kohl. “We can adjust to more manure, to poultry litter, to putting biologicals on the soil. We’re going to have to think outside the box, but we’ve got the resources right here to take care of it.”

On the labor front, Kohl noted that the current shortage of workers has every major company in the U.S. working on automation.

“Where we have people shortages now, we will have job shortages later because companies will automate,” he said.

Rising energy costs further complicate this picture as companies try to get back in the groove of work.

Supply chain disruptions will be dominant for the foreseeable future as 40% of China’s manufacturing is in cities that are locked down right now for the COVID variant, Kohl noted.

This is creating supply chain problems now, and when delayed shipments go out later, ports will be overcrowded again.

On the flip side, as China’s economy slows down because of being shut down, this also slows down oil price advances.

Regulations have also played into the issue. Kohl hears from truckers. They tell him they are retiring in droves due to so many additional regulations put on them by federal and state governments. This is leaving a shortage of truck drivers.

Everything stems back to the COVID pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. had charted its longest monthly economic expansion in history, according to Kohl.

“Now, consumer confidence – which had been in the low-70s – is in the high-50s, showing our consumer is losing confidence, and that is what drives 70% of the U.S. economy,” said Kohl.

Another indicator Kohl looks at – and it is tied to interest rates – is the housing market. “That’s starting to crack in certain parts of the country,” he said. “We had wealth moving, cash coming out of New York and New Jersey bringing money to other parts of the country. Eventually, the shell game stops.”

Kohl also looks at the price of copper. “It’s still strong, and China is stockpiling it because they are anticipating an economic slowdown.”

So, what should farmers get ready for?

“Get ready for the economic flip,” said Kohl, “that 12- to 24-month period where your costs went up, but the costs don’t correct as fast as your price does.”

That’s what happens when inflation gives way to recession, so be aware and prepared.

Working lines of credit are getting higher right now, so when federal and state regulators all of a sudden want banks to tighten up on credit, that creates some fallout.

Whether talking about a country, a business, or a home budget, financial liquidity and the ability to generate cash is the pressure point. “Russia and China are having that problem right now,” Kohl observed.

As for Americans, “52% are living paycheck to paycheck with an average cash reserve for 13 days,” he related. “The ability to generate cash is your perseverance. Your perseverance is the thing that is going to be very very critical.”

Kohl offered business strategies to key-in on.

Position for a quick pivot to cash

“Working capital is queen on the chessboard,” said Kohl. Working capital and the ability to pivot quickly to cash and to manage debt service will be increasingly important. Cash earns flexibility.

Do cash flows and overestimate costs

Kohl said cash flows are 80% of a business plan. “You have to think about production, marketing, finance, to know your cost of production. This helps you visualize your operation,” he said, urging farmers to overestimate by a minimum of 25% in today’s inflationary time so there are better odds of good decisions. In times like this, bad decisions can be compounded.

Planning is essential

“Manage the controllables, and manage around the uncontrollables,” said Kohl. “We can’t manage what comes out of D.C., Moscow and Beijing. We can focus on the things that we can control. That’s where patience and perseverance comes in. Spend 5 to 10% of your time on planning. It’s that important.”

Just like the basketball player planning and training to spend 95% of his game time without the ball in his hands, Kohl said: “It’s the things you’re doing when the ball is NOT in your hands that help you to do something important when you get the ball.”

Work with a team of advisers.

He urged farmers to bring together a team of advisors if they don’t already do this. “Get your crop consultant, livestock consultant, lender together. Another set of ears and eyes is very important to keep you focused,” said Kohl. “Technology gets us unfocused. This is an unfocused world. Get focused in an unfocused world.”

Set goals

“Write down your goals,” he added. “This leads to better mental health and improved earnings.”

Prioritize the priorities

Life on the farm and managing the farm business can feel like a constant state of competing priorities. Kohl urged farmers to practice the art of “prioritizing your priorities.”

In other words, avoid overscheduling, and strive to achieve a work/life balance. “The best crop you’ll ever raise will be your children and grandchildren, your interactions with young people,” he said.

Kohl also urged farmers to take care of themselves, to make time each day for prayer or meditation, pay attention to diet and exercise, get enough sleep, and have a support network. 

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NYC Mayor leaves chocolate milk on school menu, ‘for now’

FARMSHINE EDITOR’S NOTE:  There is nothing simple about school milk today. Now there are three federal bills pending. One would legalize the options of whole and 2% flavored and unflavored milk in schools, one would restore just the 1% low-fat flavored milk option in schools, and now a third bill, a new one, would mandate that all schools offer at least one low-fat (1%) flavored milk option. At the state level in Pennsylvania, there’s also a whole milk in schools bill that recently passed the State House in a near-unanimous vote and is being considered by the State Senate as reported last week in Farmshine. Furthermore, a New York State Assemblyman has introduced a bill similar to the PA bill in the NY legislature. This week, however, the spotlight is on New York City schools as Mayor Eric Adams had proposed elimination of all flavored milk options.

Istock Photo (PC Yobro10)

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, April 22, 2022

NEW YORK CITY — A proposed chocolate milk ban appears to be on hold in New York City schools. The April 17 New York Post reported NYC Mayor Eric Adams has “backed off” on his system-wide chocolate milk ban, while seeking USDA’s blessing to offer non-dairy alternatives.

The article cited a letter from the mayor to USDA, noting Adams will leave the flavored milk option up to the individual NYC schools — “for now.” 

Adams, who publicly follows a ‘mostly vegan’ lifestyle, who launched Vegan-Friday in NYC schools in February, and who sought to ban flavored milk in schools during his previous tenure as Brooklyn borough president, now says he is holding off on the chocolate milk ban and is seeking more input on school food and beverage options, overall.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) applauded the news in a press release Tuesday (April 19). 

“The USDA school meal standards and the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans both support serving low-fat (1%) flavored milk in schools,” the IDFA statement reads. It also pointed out that flavored milk processed for schools today contains 50% less added sugar and fewer calories than 10 years ago, so it meets Mayor Adams’ plan for school beverages to be under 130 calories.

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also issued a statement thanking in particular U.S. Representatives Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) “for their advocacy in support of continued flexibility for schools to serve children healthy milk and dairy products that benefit their growth and development.”

Mayor Adams’ pause on the flavored milk ban came after nine of New York’s 27 members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter in March urging him not to implement the ban. The letter was initiated by U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado, a New York Democrat who is the prime cosponsor of Pennsylvania Republican Congressman G.T. Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1861. 

In the letter, the lawmakers noted that two-thirds of current school milk sales nationwide are low-fat (1%) flavored milk. In NYC, all flavored milk is currently fat-free. The lawmakers noted that the proposed flavored milk ban would go against the mayor’s stated goals of improving childhood nutrition and health.

“As members representing both rural and urban communities, we are committed to supporting the dairy farmers, producers and agriculture partners across New York, while also ensuring that children in NYC schools have access to critical, life-enhancing nutrients. Unfortunately, for many NYC families, the meals children receive in schools are their only source of many recommended nutrients,” the bipartisan letter stated.

The letter also pointed out that members of Congress from New York and across the country are supporting expanding — not restricting — the access to milk and flavored milk choices in schools. The letter mentioned the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861 with 93 cosponsors from 32 states) and the bipartisan School Milk Nutrition Act (H.R. 4635 with 44 cosponsors from 21 states). 

H.R. 1861 would end the federal prohibition of flavored and unflavored whole and 2% milk in schools. H.R. 4635 would simply restore by statute the option of low-fat 1% flavored milk so it can’t be restricted to fat-free by USDA edict.

“Both (bills) expand flavored milk options in school lunchrooms and have received support from members of the New York Congressional delegation on both sides of the aisle. We strongly urge you to continue offering children the choice of flavored milk each and every day in New York City schools,” NY members of Congress conveyed to Mayor Adams in the letter.

New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik also introduced the lastest federal school milk bill, H.R. 7070, the Protecting School Milk Choices Act. The ink isn’t even dry on this one, which has three cosponsors from Long Island, western New York State and Iowa. It would require, not simply allow, schools to offer at least one low-fat (1%) flavored milk option.

“A silent crisis is gripping our nation’s schoolchildren. In a typical school year, more than 30 million students of all ages rely on school breakfast and lunch for their daily recommended intake of critical nutrients,” wrote Keith Ayoob in an April 11 New York Daily News editorial. The associate professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx served over 30 years as director of the nutrition clinic for the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center. 

“As a clinician working with mostlylow-income, minority families for more than 30 years, I’ve taken thousands of dietary histories on children. I can tell you that for many, a school meal is by far the healthiest meal they will consume on any given day. For some kids, sadly, these are their only meals,” Ayoob stated.

He reported that more than 60% of children and teens are not meeting their needs for calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are three of four ‘nutrients of concern,’ and that eliminating flavored milk from NYC school meals would cause childhood nutrition to further deteriorate. 

Yes, children should not eat excess added sugar, wrote Ayoob, but “small amounts can be useful… to drive the consumption of nutrient-rich and under-consumed foods.” He cited flavored milk and yogurt as two examples of how to beneficially “spend the few added sugar calories.”

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 has long upheld milk’s unique nutritional package, allowing substitution only if it is “nutritionally equivalent to fluid milk and meets nutritional standards established by the Secretary, which shall, among other requirements, include fortification of calcium, protein, vitamin A and vitamin D to levels found in cow’s milk for students who cannot consume fluid milk because of a medical or other special dietary need…” 

In addition, there is a section of this law that prohibits restriction of milk sales in schools. It states: “A school that participates in the school lunch program under this Act shall not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk products by the school (or by a person approved by the school) at any time or any place — (i) on the school premises; or (ii) at any school-sponsored event.”

In its press release thanking parents, physicians, dieticians and members of Congress for speaking up, IDFA cited the results of a Morning Consult survey it had commissioned. 

The survey found 90% of New York City voters with children in public schools and 85% of parents nationwide supported offering the option of low-fat (1%) flavored milk in school meals. This means parents don’t want a ban on flavored milk, and they don’t want their children’s flavored milk choices restricted to fat-free.

As reported in the March 11 Farmshine, this survey also found that 58% of NYC parents and 78% of parents nationwide selected as most nutritious the whole milk and reduced-fat (2%) milk options that are currently prohibited in schools by the federal government, whereas only 24% of NYC parents and 18% of parents nationwide selected the low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk options that are currently allowed in schools. 

In fact, when asked what milk they “selected” as “most nutritious for them and their families,” the top pick of parents was whole milk at 34% of NYC parents and 43% nationwide; followed by reduced-fat (2%) milk at 24% and 35%; low-fat (1%) milk at 12% and 11%; and fat-free milk at 12% and 7%.

Among NYC parents, 9% selected ‘other,’ and 9% were unsure or had no opinion. Among parents, nationwide, 3% selected ‘other,’ and 1% were unsure or had no opinion.

Why do parental choices matter? Because children consume two out of three meals a day at school for a majority of the year.

How did we get here?

The Congress under a Democrat majority in 2010 passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that called for aligning government feeding programs, like school lunch, even more closely to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). 

Then, in 2012, the Obama-Vilsack USDA promulgated rules to outright ban whole and 2% reduced-fat unflavored and flavored milk as well as 1% low-fat flavored milk as “competing beverages” across all schools. USDA documents note that this move was based on information from an industry school wellness program that had touted three-a-day fat-free and low-fat dairy, reporting those schools that had voluntarily restricted the higher fat milk options were doing better in meeting the constraints of the Dietary Guidelines. 

Never mind the fact that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory committees admit their espoused fat-restrictive dietary patterns leave all age groups deficient in key nutrients of concern. 

During the first school year of the USDA whole and 2% milk prohibition (2012-13), which also saw all flavored milk restricted to fat-free status, USDA’s own study showed student selection of milk declined by 24%, and milk waste in schools increased 22% across two categories. That’s a double-whammy.

In 2017, the Trump-Perdue USDA provided regulatory flexibility to schools, allowing them to offer low-fat 1% flavored milk through a waiver process. This flexibility was reversed in 2021 by a court decision noting USDA erred by not providing adequate public comment before providing the new flexibilities on milk, sodium and whole grains. 

With the Coronavirus pandemic emerging in 2020, closing schools and creating supply chain challenges, USDA had implemented emergency flexibilities for school offerings.

Recently, the Biden-Vilsack USDA announced a transitional final rule for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. In this rule, USDA recognized that post-pandemic schools “need more time to prepare” to meet the DGAs on fat (milk), sodium and whole grains. 

According to USDA, the Department is reviewing thousands of stakeholder comments received in March 2022 and expects to release updated child nutrition program standards in July 2022, which would then become effective for the 2024-25 school year and beyond.

USDA also announced on Friday (April 15) the opening of the next 5-year Dietary Guidelines cycle with a brief 30-day public comment period ending May 16 to weigh-in on proposed scientific questions that will guide the entire 2025-30 DGA process. Stay tuned.

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I am thankful for the folks who push for whole milk choice

And I am thankful, perhaps most of all, for the strong and stubborn big heart of retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Editorial, April 15, 2022

Among the dairy bills moving in the Pennsylvania House and Senate, one rising to the top is the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act

What appears to be a fast rise has really been the product of a long and exhausting process for those who have worked on and reported on the issue of school milk and school meals over the past 10 to 15 years.

Six years ago, the issue began heating up, and U.S. Congressman G.T. Thompson (R-15th) introduced his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act for the first time. Two legislative sessions later, that bill, H.R. 1861, still awaits action by the House Committee on Education and Labor, having 93 cosponsors from 32 states as of April 13.

A little over three years ago, a grassroots whole milk education movement was launched by volunteers and donations after Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman painted a round bale, which led to the formation of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC.

The painstaking process of working to pry federal bureacrats’ hands off the allowable school milk offerings for children has been ongoing and exhausting.

Now there is the Pennsylvania State bill, HB 2397 Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools, authored by State Representative John Lawrence, introduced with 36 cosponsors on March 17 and passed by the State House on April 13.

The progress would not be happening without volunteers — especially the tireless efforts of Bernie Morrissey. At 85, he doesn’t have to be doing any of this. He has shown that he cares about the future for dairy farmers in Pennsylvania, and as a grandfather and great-grandfather, he cares about school milk choices. He has continually worked to get the word out about the whole milk prohibition issue.

USDA’s own pre- and post-prohibition survey showed the significant decrease in students selecting milk and the increased throwing away of milk served — in just the very first year (2012) of the complete restriction of milk choices to be only fat-free or 1% low-fat. More recent studies show it has only gotten worse.

Dairy farmers have lost a generation of milk drinkers, and Class I fluid milk sales have declined even more dramatically since the federal ban.

In the pages of Farmshine, we’ve brought you the news each step of the way. The Dietary Guidelines debacle has been covered for over 10 years. The Congressional bills have been covered. The findings of investigative science journalist Nina Teicholz have been covered, and so much more.

Since Dec. 2018, Farmshine has covered the emerging story of Nelson’s painted round bale, how it got noticed and how that led to questions from neighbors, how more bales were painted, how Bernie took it to another level making banners and yard signs, paying to print some up and distributing them and asking other agribusiness leaders to do the same, and how folks in other states are making an impact also in the movement to get the message out of the pasture and onto buildings and by roads everywhere they can.

We’ve reported on Bernie’s efforts to do political fundraisers at the grassroots level — giving farmers and agribusiness leaders opportunities to join him in supporting lawmakers who care about these issues.

We’ve reported on the major ‘Bring Whole Milk Back to School’ petition drives (30,000 strong), visits with lawmakers, the progress of the 97 Milk education effort, and so forth.

All along the way, there have been fence-straddling skeptics parsing their words. Just one example came recently after Nelson received the Pennsylvania Dairy Innovator Award during the Dairy Summit in February. That evening, one state official said to me that he “never had a problem” with the whole milk signs, but he was quick to add that he didn’t like the way the painted bales and signs only promoted whole milk, when all milk should be promoted.

Yes, all milk should be promoted, but let’s face facts here. For the past 10 to 15 years, the mandatory dairy checkoff promotion programs have not promoted whole milk. They have repeatedly used the terminology “fat-free and low-fat milk” — in lockstep with USDA bureaucrats. They even promoted the launch of blended products where real milk and plant-based fakes were combined to make what was called a “purely perfect blend.” 

“Three-a-day low-fat and fat-free” has been the mantra. 

Some dairy princesses have even confessed being afraid to tout whole milk, others have pushed the boundaries. Some have picked up the 97 Milk vehicle magnets for their personal vehicles while towing-the-line on the fat-free / low-fat wording in their “official” capacity as princesses. 

Let’s face it, the industry has used farmers’ own mandatorily-paid checkoff funds to drill USDA’s low-fat and fat-free milk message into the minds of consumers.

Someone had to start thinking outside the box if a solution to this issue was ever going to get outside the box.

Volunteers have now taken up the slack to promote whole milk, and they are moving the needle. In fact, the whole milk movement is so successful even Danone’s new fake brand – NextMilk — is trying to capitalize by using whole milk’s signature red and white cartons and placing “whole fat” above the brand name. What does that tell us?

Now, as the Whole Milk in Schools bill gains ground in the state of Pennsylvania, we see some who are trying to pour cold water on the passion and progress by suggesting that the state bill, which uses the PA Preferred framework to assert state’s rights, could lead to retaliation by other states to try harming demand for Pennsylvania-produced milk.

This is intimidation. Bullying. We see the same argument every time efforts are made to close loopholes that keep the state-mandated Pennsylvania over-order premium from getting to Pennsylvania dairy farms as the law intended. We hear that Pennsylvania milk will be discriminated against if co-ops and processors can’t continue dipping into the premium cookie jar. 

Now, it appears the same intimidation angle is being applied to HB 2397, which defines the option of whole milk in schools as pertaining to milk that is paid for with Pennsylvania or local funds and produced by cows milked on Pennsylvania farms. The bill has no choice but to use the PA Preferred framework because it is defining a role for state action on a federal prohibition.

Remember the June 2021 Pa. Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing on ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools? At the end of that hearing, State Senators in attendance were interested in doing statewide school milk trials like the one done temporarily at two school districts in Pennsylvania two years ago “under the radar.” (In one trial offering all fat levels of milk, whole milk was preferred by students 3 to 1; student selection of milk increased 52% and the amount of discarded ‘served’ milk declined by 95%!)

Key lawmakers began to show stronger interest in finding a way to give schools this option and have them collect data about student consumption and not get penalized by USDA and the Dept. of Education in the process. HB 2397 does that!

A major reason why interest is surging for this bill is because more people are coming to the realization that this prohibition exists. Prior to the 97 Milk education effort, most parents, citizens, even lawmakers, did not realize whole milk is outright banned in schools, even banned as an a la carte beverage! That goes for 2% reduced fat milk also, by the way. 

HB 2397 is about choice. There is no mandate here. None, whatsoever. Just freedom for students to make a healthful choice that they are presently denied.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a state’s interest on two critical fronts: 1) Dairy farming is essential to our economy and 2) The health of our children and freedom of choice are of the utmost importance. Students receive two out of three meals at school during a majority of the year.

Shouldn’t states and schools and parents decide milk choices instead of federal bureaucrats? Shouldn’t children get to choose the best milk our farmers produce if that’s what they’ll drink and love and benefit from? Why should they be forced to choose only the industry’s leftover skim?

Bottom line, these are times to be bold and brave.

These bills are for the children and for the farmers.

As a mother and grandmother, and dairy enthusiast, I am thankful for all who are working to move these bills forward. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with so many people who care about this issue. I am thankful for the work of 97 Milk and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee. I am thankful for the support of the Pa. Farm Bureau, Pa. Dairymen’s Association, Pa. Farmers Union, and other organizations supporting the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act.

I am thankful for the agribusiness leaders making contributions to help farmers and other whole milk education volunteers get the message and milk facts out there. I am thankful for the 30,000 people who signed online and mailed in petitions on this issue two and three years ago. 

I am thankful for Pennsylvania lawmakers who are being bold and leading — bringing their colleagues along in a bipartisan way so that more states can be encouraged to do the same.

I am thankful for all who are standing up for our dairy farmers and our children. 

And I am thankful, perhaps most of all, for the strong and stubborn big heart of retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey. He continually looks for every possible avenue to help dairy farmers be at the table to speak up about the policies that affect their futures. He knows what it means to them, and to children, to someday — hopefully soon — have the choice of whole milk in schools.

 -30-

Constitutionality defended as HB 2397 Whole Milk in PA Schools Act passes House 196-2

Rep. John Lawrence defends constitutionality of HB 2397 before near-unanimous House passage https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/pagopvideo/825289108.mp4

Dairy bills, including whole milk in schools, pass overwhelmingly in Pa. State House — all eyes to Senate now

By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, April 15, 2022

HARRISBURG, Pa. —  It was a good day in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Wednesday (Apr. 13) when a series of dairy bills, including the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act, were overwhelmingly voted for final passage, now heading to the State Senate for concurrence.

In final passage of HB 2397 (The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act), the vote was nearly unanimous 196 to 2. The bill was circulated in February via cosponsors memo to colleagues and was formally introduced March 17 by Reps. John Lawrence and Clint Owlett with 36 cosponsors in March.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s identical version, SB 1181, was introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Greenville) with 16 cosponsors on March 30, the day the House bill passed the Ag Committee. The Senate version also received unanimous support in the Senate Ag Committee as in the House and the SB 1181 received second consideration and was re-referred to Appropriations Tuesday (April 12) just before spring recess. A vote is expected when the Senate reconvenes in May.

The bill’s author Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester County) spoke eloquently to defend the constitutionality of HB 2397 before the vote on the House floor. He cited extensive case law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions showing HB 2397 “passes mustard” and does not run afoul of the supremacy clause, the interstate commerce clause, the 10th amendment of the Constitution or the 1946 Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.

The wording of the enabling Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act clearly puts the federal government in the position of “assisting” states, not overtaking them in providing a nutritious school lunch, said Lawrence.

Lawrence chose to make these remarks, citing many relevant Supreme Court decisions on different aspects, to be sure the record reflected this information even though the bill had overwhelming support from colleagues in the House. He said he did so because of the criticism on constitutional grounds coming from outside of the chamber and wanted the verbal record to reflect this information for the press to hear, because they likely wouldn’t read it all if he submitted it for the journal of record.

Lawrence thoroughly and methodically defended its constitutionality, even though the bill already had broad bipartisan support for near-unanimous passage.

“Some in the press contend that this law will run into problems with the Court on the interstate commerce clause,” said Lawrence. On this point, he cited Court decisions that apply in instances where it is based on economic protectionism, whereas HB 2397 is based on a factor completely unrelated to economic protectionism.

“Does this bill burden out of state milk producers? Pennsylvania is not creating a prohibition on milk produced out of the state. One can argue that the federal government has done that,” he explained. “HB 2397 does not discriminate against out-of-state milk. It is adding options, not limiting them. It is giving Pennsylvania schools assurance that they can spend Pennsylvania or local funds for Pennsylvania whole milk. It is the federal government — not Pennsylvania — that has drawn this whole milk line. And the bill makes provisions that if the federal measures again fully smile upon whole milk, then the statute created by House Bill 2397 will sunset.”

Even if 2397 did discriminate, Lawrence cited decisions of the Court that it is valid if for a purpose that cannot be adequately served by reasonable non-discriminatory alternatives. “In this case we do have a valid factor that is totally unrelated to economic protectionism,” said Lawrence, noting that there are at least four valid factors. They are:

1) The primary intent here is to provide nutrient-rich whole milk to the young minds of Pennsylvania school children.

2) It’s the longstanding intent of this body that maintaining our small herd dairy farms is good for the general welfare of the state, said Lawrence: “Many draw a straight line between milk consumption over the last 10 years and the removal of whole milk from schools. There is evidence to back up this claim. The loss of Pennsylvania dairy farms is not solely economic”

3) Parents should have options when it comes to the care of their children, and nothing is more basic to that, than food. “It is indisputable that many reliable studies from top-tier research institutions show the value of whole milk for children who choose to consume it,” said Lawrence.

4) There is a movement toward sourcing consummables closer to their end use. Milk produced and processed in Pennsylvania and sold to a Pennsylvania school is almost always going to have less environmental impact.

A vote in the State Senate is not expected until May when the Senate reconvenes. Back in June 2021, the Senate Majority Policy Committee held a hearing on the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. I was honored to be among those testifying. (Click here to view hearing here)

Two additional bills introduced by Rep. Lawrence — HB 223 and 224 — received unanimous final passage votes also on Wednesday and were committed to the Senate for concurrence.

HB 223 provides for the creation of keystone opportunity dairy zones to facilitate the economic development of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry through tax credits and incentives for new and expanded dairy processing.

HB 224 provides additional authority to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to collect and distribute board-established premiums through a milk marketing fund, including other provisions such as auditing.

Also passing the Pa. State House by an overwhelming margin Wednesday were HB 1847, introduced by Rep. Christina Sappey (D-Kennett Square), HB 2456, introduced by Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler), and HB 2457, introduced by Rep. Joe Kerwin (R-Schuylkill Haven). HB 1847 would change the name of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to simply the Pennsylvania Milk Board. HB 2456 provides for expansion of penalties in lieu of suspension, and HB 2457 expands PMMB authority to set testing certification fees.

To be continued in Farmshine next week

Rep. John Lawrence supported, thanked for his ideas, action, humility

By Sherry Bunting, republished from FARMSHINE NEWSPAPER, April 8, 2022

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — Dairy farmers, agribusiness leaders, current and former legislators and friends came out to Yoder’s Restaurant here Monday (April 4) to support Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence of Chester County. He was lauded by his peers as a respected and knowledgeable leader on ag and dairy issues, someone who understands what farmers and other small businesses face, someone who continually brings good ideas to the table.

The fundraising gala was attended by around 50 people and raised more than $30,000 for Friends of John Lawrence, according to retired agribusinessman and dairy advocate Bernie Morrissey. He and Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, known for his painted round bales that launched the whole milk movement, along with other members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, helped raise some of these funds from individuals in the community.

Efforts to end the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools was very much front-and-center in the luncheon discussion with enthusiasm shared by state and federal lawmakers on the progress of Rep. Lawrence’s bill seeking to deal with the issue at the state level – a powerful model for getting action at the federal level.

“We are all here because of how much we love John Lawrence,” said Kerry Golden, who took a personal day from her work with the House Ag Committee to support a leader she and others respect as much for his knowledge and hard work as for his humility.

Lawrence, himself, could not attend his own gala as he was recovering in the hospital from a medical issue. His father led the group in prayer for John, and local agribusiness leader Don Hoover led the group in prayer for elected leaders at local, state, and national levels.

Rep. Lawrence is the author of three important dairy bills that passed out of the House Ag Committee last week (March 30) — the most popular being the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397.

“John told me he got the idea for the bill while he was riding on his tractor,” said State House Ag Committee Chairman Dan Moul. Lawrence has said he does some of his best thinking while mowing.

“He sits down with us and goes over his ideas, before putting them into words… he brought us these bills a couple months ago, and last week, we had what I call ‘Dairy Day’ in Pennsylvania and passed them out of our committee with bipartisan support to the House floor,” said Chairman Moul.

In addition to the whole milk bill (H.B. 2397), the other two bills include H.B. 223, which provides for Keystone Dairy Opportunity Zones, where new and existing processors can receive tax credits for processing expansion, and H.B. 224, which provides the Pa. Milk Marketing Board with additional authority to collect and distribute the state-mandated over-order premium.

“Too many times, that premium does not find its way back to farmers,” said Moul. “We are losing way too many dairy farms in Pennsylvania. We have a great industry here, and we need to save it.”

When Moul got to the whole milk bill, specifically, the room erupted in applause.

“While John was on his tractor, he came up with this idea. He finally figured it out. We’ve been wanting to do something on this ever since whole milk was taken out of schools under the Obama administration,” he said.

Congressman G.T. Thompson lauded the PA-Preferred framework of the bill in his remarks as well.

Bottomline, if the entire transaction from farm to school is intra-state, then the federal jurisdiction does not apply because the U.S. Constitution is silent on education and agriculture except where interstate commerce (sales between states) are concerned. That’s the basis of the bill, reported in detail in previous editions of Farmshine.

“When he shared his idea, we knew he was on to something,” said Moul. “The federal government can’t withhold funding from schools if this (whole milk) is intra-state. I give John the credit. He really thought it through. There is a time and place for government… but when it comes to nurturing, raising and what we feed our children, that’s no business of the federal government.”

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County thanked the event attendees for supporting John, and he described John’s “servant’s heart.”

He said John is someone who wants to get the job done rather than concerning himself with who gets the credit for it.

“Sometimes government is what gets in the way,” said Cutler, noting the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools as a prime example of getting in the way of parents and schools with “their definition” of what’s healthy.

“John is someone who consistently rises to that challenge. I hope you are all as proud of him as I am,” said Speaker Cutler.

“We’re blessed in Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Thompson. “We are coming up on a challenging year, an election year. We need a strong State House and Senate.”

At the federal level, the stakes are equally high. In fact, if Republicans take back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, Congressman Thompson, representing the largest geographic district in Pennsylvania and serving as Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee, could make history as the first Ag Committee Chairman from the Keystone State since 1859.

Thompson shared a bit of his vision for the Ag Committee, noting how important agriculture is, everywhere, representing one in every seven jobs in Pennsylvania, for example.

“We have to make sure we are doing the right policies to restore robust rural economies, to create the conditions to rebuild, repopulate, and regrow our rural communities,” said Thompson. “Agriculture is really a bipartisan issue. With inflation at 42-year highs, we are seeing high prices for commodities, but things are not so peachy. It’s the margin that makes the difference.”

He expressed concern about EPA regulations, the return of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), and other areas of impact to agriculture where politicians make decisions that don’t often make sense and cost farmers plenty.

“The world needs American farmers to increase yields when we look at what is happening in Ukraine,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to love these people standing up for freedom. They are the breadbasket of Europe with 40 million people but growing food for 400 million. We are hearing the grim news that by fall, we may see massive hunger and famine, starting in the Middle East.”

Thompson reflected on the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, when food scarcity played a large role in a series of anti-government protests in the Middle East after international food prices shot up, unemployment rose, and frustration with political systems peaked.

He cited predictions right now that people will flee these countries facing famine and arrive at the U.S. southern border. He said farm productivity in the U.S. will be essential.

“Food security is national security,” said Thompson, thanking ‘the Pennsylvania farm team’ of legislators and agriculturalists. “Everything we rely on is provided by our hard-working farmers, who deserve to earn a good living.”

As prime sponsor of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861) in the United States Congress, Thompson also lifted up what Rep. Lawrence has done at the state level in Pennsylvania with H.B. 2397.

“It’s brilliant,” said Thompson. “It’s a formula for PA-Preferred. Now we need to see New York, Ohio, California — all the dairy states — lead and model what Rep. Lawrence has started.”

He explained that if other key dairy states would put forward similar legislation for whole milk in schools, it would be powerful in getting Congress to act on his legislation at the federal level and for the federal government to “undo the insult” it dealt to children when removing flavor and health from school milk options over a decade ago.

“Everyone blames Michelle Obama, but it was really the Congress under Speaker Pelosi who demonized milkfat. That 3 to 3.5% milkfat is what their bodies need. We’re standing with the children,” he said.

Thompson sees this as becoming a truly bipartisan issue, including bipartisan support for his bill at the federal level and the bipartisan action on it in the Ag Committees of the State House and State Senate. He said Lawrence’s bill “sets a great precedent and a model to help us go forward.”

As of April 6, 2022, Congressman Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1861) at the federal level has 93 cosponsors from 32 states but has not yet been taken up by the House Education and Labor Committee.

In the Pennsylvania State Assembly, Rep. Lawrence’s Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act (H.B. 2397) was passed unanimously out of the House Ag Committee on March 30th and is expected to be voted on by the full House after April 11 when they return to session.

Meanwhile, the State Senate Ag Committee unanimously passed S.B. 1181 on April 5th. This bill was put forward rapidly by Sen. Michele Brooks, representing Northwest Pennsylvania counties, and it precisely mirrors Lawrence’s House Bill. It could be voted on by the full Senate as early as this week.

(Author’s Note: Stay tuned on these whole milk bills and join me in prayers of gratefulness for the efforts of leaders like Rep. John Lawrence and for his healing and continued strength for the important work ahead.)

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PA Lawmakers ready to fight federal government, House Ag passes HB 2397, which would allow whole milk option in schools

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 1, 2022

HARRISBURG, Pa. – “Today became whole milk day in Harrisburg, and we hope to see these bills on the Governor’s desk soon,” said Chairman Dan Moul of the Pennsylvania State House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Wednesday, March 30 about three pieces of legislation authored by Rep. John Lawrence.

The three dairy bills were part of a six-bill package that passed the Ag Committee and are now headed to the House floor and presumably to the Senate chamber. Several State Senators also attended Wednesday’s press conference in support of the dairy bills.

Attracting the most attention, of course, was House Bill 2397 — The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act — which was added to the package most recently with 31 cosponsors right out of the gate.

“Government has its place… but one place we do not need the government is in our daily lives in how we raise and nurture our children. Whole milk is healthy. It is proven. There is no disputing that children need this option in their lives to help grow strong. I am proud as chairman to get these bills out of my committee and on to the House floor with bipartisan support. I’m especially excited about House Bill 2397,” said Moul, joining Reps. Lawrence and Owlett, along with other cosponsors and Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert on the steps of the Atrium at the Capitol.

House Bill 2397 provides for Pennsylvania schools to buy Pennsylvania milk produced on Pennsylvania farms with Pennsylvania funds to serve to Pennsylvania children. As long as all of that happens within Pennsylvania, that’s really not an issue that is under the purview of the federal government,” said Rep. Lawrence, representing Chester County and parts of Lancaster County.

“There’s also a provision in this bill that if the federal government tries to pull funds (from a school) or tries to interfere, there will be legal action taken against the federal government so we can ensure this opportunity exists,” Lawrence explained.

Stressing that this bill would make the whole milk option voluntary for schools, Lawrence was quick to point out that, “No school would have to do this, but we know there are schools that are very interested in providing whole milk and whole chocolate milk to their students. This bill would allow them to do that.”

Lawrence went on to explain the background of the bill.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we have a robust dairy industry. We have a tradition that’s really second to none. But due to federal regulations that came down during the Obama administration, for over a decade now, school children in Pennsylvania and across the nation have been unable to enjoy whole milk or my favorite, whole chocolate milk, in school,” he said.

“More than just enjoyment, we know it is important. Leading research shows that whole milk is very beneficial for children in developing the mind,” said Lawrence.

Since the change in 2010, “we have really lost a generation of kids who actually know what milk is supposed to taste like, and oh, by the way, they have missed out on the nutrition from it as well,” said Rep. Owlett, the bill’s prime cosponsor. He represents northern tier counties of Tioga and Bradford. “This (federal regulation) took a huge part of Pennsylvania’s fluid milk market away from our farmers. Pennsylvania is a fluid milk market state.”

Owlett cited statistics showing that since 2010, Pennsylvania has lost 2,140 dairy farms, including 230 lost last year, and has slipped from seventh to eighth, being fifth before these school milk regulations were put in place at the federal level.

“When a single dairy farm sells out, the ripple effect of that is felt throughout the entire community,” said Owlett, noting that in his district, “a tremendous number of farms have been selling out in the last 10 years.”

Citing Penn State numbers from extension agent Craig Williams, Owlett noted that since 2012, Tioga County has lost at least 57 dairy farms and Bradford County at least 142.

“Without a doubt this is in part because of this failed policy that came down from D.C.,” said Owlett. “I really love House Bill 2397, and it is a great honor to work with Rep. Lawrence on this. It is a PA issue, alone, that is the beauty of this bill. If a PA school wants to offer PA whole milk with PA dollars… Guess what federal government? We’re going to do it! If you try to stop us, our attorney general is going to sue you on behalf of a school district.”

Owlett and others noted that this bill is how state lawmakers can “stand up for our farmers, our kids and our schools in Pennsylvania.”

“We want to make sure those kids get the nutrition from milk, and that it actually tastes good, instead of throwing it in the trash can,” said Owlett.

Like Lawrence, Owlett noted there are schools in his district that are looking forward to this option and need this protection to exercise that choice.

Lawmakers thanked the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau for their leadership in promoting the bill in Harrisburg. Speaking for PFB, Rick Ebert said HB 2397 will help foster a new generation of kids who like milk again.

“I have been a dairy farmer for 40 years, and we ship to Turner in Penn Hills,” said Ebert. “They put a lot of products into schools. It is nice to see this support from lawmakers to keep our Pennsylvania dairy industry strong and viable.”

When asked how much money the federal government pays in milk reimbursement right now, Lawrence noted that the overall picture of education funds shows the vast majority, 98 to 99%, comes from state and local funds.

While it is true that schools would not get reimbursed for whole milk they buy to offer students, the larger issue is their fear over education funds being pulled for federal mandates because of “disobeying” federal dietary guidelines with the offering of whole milk as a choice.

“As long as schools use state and local funds to make the whole milk available, this bill gives them protection from those actions,” said Lawrence. “This is optional. If a school wants to go down this road, they would be able to. But if they want to continue down the current path, they can do that too. We know some schools are ready for this, but the long arm of the federal government and that regulatory thrust gives them pause. For those schools that are interested in pursuing this option, the bill provides the protection to make it happen.”

Lawmakers attending the press conference made it clear that this package of bills, especially H.B. 2397, will have a positive impact on Pennsylvania dairy farmers.

When asked how much of an impact, Ebert said simply: “We’ve all seen the steady decline in milk consumption. When we lose farmers, they are not coming back. With every loss of a dairy cow (in PA), we lose $14,000 to $15,000 of economic activity in Pennsylvania. If we sell more product in Pennsylvania, then that boosts the economy for our farmers and the economy for the infrastructure that supports them.”

When asked by a reporter where the Senate stands and the leadership, State Senator Camera Bartolotta, representing Beaver, Greene and Washington counties, spoke up.

“We’ve already been talking about it,” said Senator Barolotta. “We are going to be pushing it along in the Senate as soon as it gets to our chamber. This is going to be good for our farmers, but more importantly, it helps get kids back to (being able) to drink whole milk again that is good for them. It’s time to protect our kids and our dairy farmers and our number one industry.”

Passing the Ag Committee along with H.B. 2397 are two other bills Rep. Lawrence has been working on for many years as reported on recently in Farmshine.

“House Bill 223 provides tax incentives to bring new and additional dairy processing to Pennsylvania that commit to using Pennsylvania milk to provide opportunity for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers,” said Lawrence about the other bills heading to the House floor. “House Bill 224 would provide the Milk Marketing Board with the opportunity to provide more transparency and accountability around the state-mandated over-order milk premium.”

Lawrence stated that he sees the most enthusiasm in the House for H.B. 2397 the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, but all three bills are important for Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers.

Tackling school milk at state level: Rep Lawrence introduces whole milk bill, HB 2397, in PA House with 31 cosponsors

John Lawrence speaking to farmers at a winter meeting two weeks before he introduced HB 2397 Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools with 31 cosponsors.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 25, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, has been officially introduced in the State House by author and prime sponsor State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th). 

Introduced with 31 cosponsors on March 17, the bill is now “pending” in the House Agriculture Committee. This is one of three dairy bills Lawrence has introduced this year.

The provisions of H.B. 2397 would become effective 30 days after passage and would include state notification of all Pennsylvania schools to alert them to the state’s provisions for the purchase and offering of whole milk and reduced fat milk to students, so long as this milk is produced by cows on Pennsylvania farms, bottled in Pennsylvania processing facilities and paid for with state or local funds.

According to Lawrence, there is broad support for the bill in the State House, and he has received favorable responses from members of the State Senate. He has heard from schools, organizations and individuals applauding the tenets of this bill over the past several weeks since circulating his cosponsor letter to colleagues.

When asked recently about the bill, Rep. Lawrence said he was tired of waiting for the federal government to act on this issue of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. 

After thinking about the dilemma for some time, he had what he described as divine inspiration a couple months ago to structure the bill as an “intra-state” jurisdiction under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration to approach the bill as one that enables schools to voluntarily make choices and structure the voluntary provisions as being a wholly Pennsylvania deal.

“We have jurisdiction on this,” he states.

When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students, Lawrence explains.

Specifically, the bill would allow Pennsylvania school boards to utilize funds from state or local sources to obtain whole Pennsylvania milk or reduced fat Pennsylvania milk to provide or sell at a Pennsylvania school. 

In the bill, Pennsylvania whole milk is defined as at least 3% fat and Pennsylvania reduced fat milk is defined as 2% fat. They are further defined as “produced by the milking of cows physically located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, transported to a dairy processing facility located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, and processed as fluid milk into containers intended for distribution to consumers.”

The bill would also require the Secretary of Education to notify the superintendent or chief administrator of each Pennsylvania school to inform them of the provisions of the Act within 30 days of passage.

Further, the bill sets forth in Section 6 the right of civil action if any federal agency interferes by withholding or revoking school funds.

Specifically, this section would require the Office of Attorney General, on behalf of a Pennsylvania school, to bring a civil action against the federal government or any other entity to recover funds withheld or revoked as a result of an action taken by the school board to make Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% reduced fat milk available as choices under the “intra-state” — not interstate — provisions of the Act.

The bill also seeks a status report to the chairpersons of the House and Senate Ag Committees – no later than two years after passage. The report would be given by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB).

This report would provide a list of Pennsylvania schools that have elected to provide or sell Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% milk, the approximate increase or decrease in the overall consumption of fluid milk at Pennsylvania schools after the effective date, and the actions taken by the Commonwealth to promote whole milk and 2% milk availability in Pennsylvania schools.

The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, includes an expiration section that would require the Secretary of Education to submit notice if/when Congress repeals sections of law pertaining to the National School Lunch Act that currently prohibit these milk offerings in schools or at such time that an update to the Dietary Guidelines has been published — that in either case would effectively end the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools and make these choices available nationally again.

Joining Pennsylvania State Rep. Lawrence as cosponsors of the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act are Representatives Clinton Owlett (R-68th), Martin Causer (R-67th), Donald Cook (R-49th), Jim Cox (R-129th), Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108th), Eric Davanzo (R-58th), Russ Diamond (R-102nd), Torren Ecker (R-193rd), Melinda Fee (R-37th), Nancy Guenst (D-152nd), Joe Hamm (R-84th), David Hickernell (R-98th), Doyle Heffley (R-122nd), Robert James (R-64th), Barry Jozwiak (R-5th), Robert Kauffman (R-89th), Ryan Mackenzie (R-134th), Steven Mentzer (R-97th), David Millard (R-109th), Brett Miller, (R-41st), Eddie Pashinski (D-121st), Tina Pickett (R-110th), Greg Rothman (R-87th), David Rowe (R-85th), Louis Schmitt (R-79th), Brian Smith (R-66th), Perry Stambaugh (R-86th), James Struzzi (R-62nd), Ryan Warner (R-52nd), and David Zimmerman (R-99th).

Lawrence said H.B. 2397 was intentionally numbered so that ‘97’ would be part of the bill number, reflecting the whole milk education efforts of the 97 Milk movement.

“I feel like we are going to see this bill get to the finish line for our Pennsylvania school children and our dairy farmers,” says Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee which organized petition drives with large numbers of  Pennsylvanians signing to support similar legislation at the federal level — Congressman G.T. Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act.

“We can try to save everyone — and have been trying to do that for several years on this issue. But now, it’s time to focus on Pennsylvania. We can get this done in Pennsylvania and be a leader. This bill is brilliant, and a lot of people are grateful to John Lawrence for writing it,” Morrissey added.

“This is more confirmation of how important whole milk education is,” said 97 Milk chairman Gn Hursh, noting that as consumers have become aware of the benefits of whole milk and the federal prohibition in schools, they are joining farmers to seek these options for their children in schools.

In fact, two recent surveys show more parents choose whole milk and 2% milk for their families. A national Morning Consult survey for IDFA showed 78% of parents of school aged children believed whole milk or 2% milk to be most nutritious for their families. A national food preference survey for YouGov showed 53% of parents prefer whole milk for their children and only 23% preferred fat-free and 1%. 

USDA’s own data show a 24% decline in students selecting milk in the first year after the whole milk ban went into effect in 2012 and a 22% increase in discarded milk on top of that! It has only become worse since then. A recent school trial in Pennsylvania revealed a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had an expanded choice that included whole milk. In that trial, students preferred whole milk 3 to 1 over the skimmed varieties.

Bottomline, milk’s unsurpassed nutritional benefits are only realized by students if they choose milk and actually consume it. 

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is supporting H.B. 2397, according to Rep. Lawrence. “They called within an hour of seeing the cosponsor letter and said this has their full support,” he said.

PFB, along with members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, also testified in support of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools during a Senate policy hearing in June 2021

Previously, the Pennsylvania Milk Dealers, Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and various other industry organizations have been on record supporting Congressman Glenn Thompson’s bill at the federal level, so the same should hold true for this bill at the state-level.

Stay tuned as the State of Pennsylvania buckles down to tackle the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools… let’s keep the momentum going.

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The WHOLE story on IDFA’s school milk poll

The March 24 deadline is fast approaching to comment on future school lunch rules on milkfat and sodium. The dairy industry is focused on making sure 1% low-fat flavored milk is allowed after the next two years of ‘transitional’ flexibility. In fact, an IDFA poll of parents nationally and in New York City showed 85% of parents support the inclusion of 1% low-fat flavored milk as a school option. But here’s the WHOLE story from the poll — 78% of parents deem either whole milk or 2% as “most nutritious” for them and their families! But these were both dropped in 2008-10 as part of the meal and outright prohibited as an a la carte beverage in 2012. A 2020 paper in the Journal of Dairy Science reported just 66% of students chose milk in the 2014-15 school year compared with 75% in 2005. Low-fat 1% and fat-free milk were the rock-bottom vote getters among parents nationally and in New York City. So why in the world does USDA insist on maintaining its prohibition of whole milk and 2% milk? IDFA states that if all students were offered the type of milk they prefer, milk consumption might stop declining or increase. For a majority of Americans, the choice must include the whole milk option as well. Send your comment to USDA by https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 11, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) announced “overwhelming support” by parents in New York City and nationally for the inclusion of 1% flavored milk in schools. But let’s look a bit deeper.

“Voters in New York City and across the country widely support offering low-fat (1%) flavored milk in public school meals,” the IDFA press release proclaimed about the new Morning Consult national tracking poll they commissioned.

“When asked about including low-fat flavored milk in school meals, parents with kids in public schools were supportive,” the IDFA press release states. “In New York, 90% of voters with kids in public school support including low-fat flavored milk in public school meals. Nationally, 85% of parents feel the same.”

But wait. Here’s the rest of the story… In the 5-part poll, parents in New York City and nationally nearly unanimously agreed that making sure meals are healthy and nutritious for children is a top or important priority.

Reading the full poll results at the link — https://www.idfa.org/resources/voter-polling-on-milk-in-school-meals-conducted-by-morning-consult, we find that nationally and in NYC, parents identified Whole and 2% milk as top choices for nutrition by a wide margin!

Nationally, a majority of parents with kids in school (78%) selected either Whole Milk or 2% reduced-fat milk as the most nutritious options for them and their families. Currently, USDA prohibits both of these choices — Whole (3.25%) and reduced fat (2%) milks — in schools.

Among the New York City school parents polled, 58% chose either Whole milk or 2% milk as most nutritious for them and their families.

Breaking this down, the national poll showed 43% believed Whole milk options to be the most nutritious for them and their families, while 34% of NYC parents chose Whole milk as most nutritious.

Nationally, 35% of parents believe 2% milk to be most nutritious, while among NYC parents that figure was 24%.

This means Whole and 2%, together, got the majority votes for NYC parents, and parents nationally.

How did fat-free and 1% low-fat milk rate above parents in the question about “most nutritious options”?

Of the parents polled nationally, 11% selected 1% low-fat milk and that figure was 12% in NYC.

The percentage of polled parents believing fat-free milk options were most nutritious was 7% nationally and 12% in NYC.

Author’s Note:

Schools should be allowed to offer children the preferred choices of parents by expanding offerings to include whole milk and 2% milk options!

Parents and other health advocates for children and teens know the powerhouse package that REAL WHOLE MILK delivers, and the benefits of milkfat in a healthy diet. But most parents still don’t know the federal government prohibits their kids from having this choice at school.

Bottomline: students (and their parents) should be able to CHOOSE whole milk for childhood nutrition at school. Read some of the big reasons why here: https://www.97milk.com/wp-content/uploads/Why-Whole-Milk.pdf

Send your comments asking USDA to end the whole milk prohibition by deadline of March 24, 2022 at this Federal Register rulemaking docket. https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936

Just keep it simple: Write who you are, why you care, and simply ask USDA to end the prohibition of whole milk in schools so children can choose the milk they love and that way consume it instead of discarding it, therefore receiving the 13 essential nutrients of concern, high quality protein, and other benefits we assume they are getting to be healthy, satisfied, and ready to learn.

Also, contact your Representative in Congress and ask him or her to cosponsor HR 1861, The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which is up slightly at 89 cosponsors from 31 states. This bill still has zero representation from the New England States as well as no Representatives yet from Delaware, South Carolina, West Virginia, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.

No matter where you are located, ask your member of Congress to sign on as a cosponsor! This is a bipartisan bill for a bipartisan issue that benefits children and farmers — Win. Win.

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PA State Rep. John Lawrence champions three dairy bills

“We have to get real. I want to drink fresh Pennsylvania milk. It’s long past time to stand up for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are producing it,” said Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence. He told the 300 dairy farmers attending Sensenig’s Feed Mill’s dairy conference about his package of three bills, including HB 2397, the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act.

‘It’s time to take a stand for our dairy farmers’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 11, 2022

EAST EARL, Pa. – Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th) has been working on behalf of dairy farmers in what has

seemed like the wilderness in the past decade — representing Chester County and part of Lancaster County. He’s glad to see, in recent years, more of his colleagues are recognizing the situation.

“Pennsylvania dairy farmers are struggling, and we have a decision to make if we want to drink milk produced on Pennsylvania farms,” he said, speaking to farmers attending the customer appreciation dairy conference and luncheon of Sensenig’s Feed Mill. The event drew around 300 to Shady Maple in eastern Lancaster County in early March.

Lawrence has a slate of three bills in the State House — HB 223 would provide tax incentives for dairy processing in the Commonwealth; HB 224 would provide authority to the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) to make changes to account for where all of the state-mandated over-order premium goes, which is paid by Pennsylvania consumers on every gallon of milk they buy; and HB 2397 is the new bill he is introducing to be intentional about allowing whole milk in Pennsylvania schools.

The latter is numbered 2397 for a reason, he said. The last two digits of the bill number, 97, coincide with the popular and progressive grassroots 97 Milk education effort, sharing the benefits and facts about whole milk and dairy, virtually 97% fat free.

“Whole milk was outlawed 10 years ago by the federal government. This is towards the top of what I would call the ‘ludicrous list,’” Lawrence said.

Tired of waiting for the federal government to act to correct this situation for schoolchildren and for farmers, Lawrence says the idea for how to approach it at the state level came to him two months ago. It just occurred to him as he thought about the dilemma. 

In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration — the inspiration to approach the bill from the state’s rights aspect of the U.S. Constitution.

“We have jurisdiction on this,” Lawrence explained. 

When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students.

That’s the gist of it. 

The federal government lays claim to interstate commerce, but if a school’s milk is supplied strictly through intrastate commerce (within-state commerce), then the milk offered to students comes under state jurisdiction, and the state can allow whole milk, according to Lawrence.

He said the bill is enjoying broad bipartisan support in the House and will be introduced officially very soon.

“We have a robust dairy industry in our Commonwealth. Pennsylvania milk delivered to Pennsylvania plants and offered for sale to Pennsylvania students paid for by state or local funds is intrastate commerce. Who regulates that? We do. The state does. So, the federal government has no say,” Lawrence related.

Under those conditions, “if a school wants to buy Pennsylvania whole milk, then they would have every right to do that and offer it to students,” Lawrence said. “If the federal government would try to withhold other funding from those schools because of it, then we go after them.”

Lawrence is counting on broad support in the State Assembly for the measure. By the amount of feedback he is getting from colleagues, organizations, schools and others, he believes it will pass.

“It’s time to take a stand for our dairy farmers,” he said. “We have lost a generation of milk drinkers getting skim milk and throwing it in the trash.” This bill — HB 2397 — would give Pennsylvania schools the opportunity to offer whole milk and it would support Pennsylvania’s dairy farms and processors at the same time.

As for HB 224 dealing with the PMMB over-order premium, Lawrence said it addresses transparency and accountability. 

“Right now, every gallon of milk sold in Pennsylvania is assessed the over-order premium,” he said. “Pennsylvania consumers are paying this in the price of their milk. That money should all be coming back to you, the Pennsylvania farmers. This bill would account for that.”

He noted that this bill is also finding broad bipartisan support.

HB 223 is the third bill, and straightforward. Lawrence patterned it off the Keystone Opportunity Zones, using the tax credit idea for attracting new businesses and jobs to the Commonwealth. 

“In this case it’s focused on dairy,” he said.

This bill would make those tax credits available to new processing on a large or small scale, including expansion of existing facilities and even on-farm processing.

The stipulation is the entity receiving the tax credits must source 75% of their milk supply to Pennsylvania farms.

“This way we create markets for dairy farms in the Commonwealth. We have to keep our farmers alive because we also have to eat,” Lawrence stated matter-of-factly. “We have to stop taking it for granted.

“We have a choice to make about where we will lay our priorities. We have to get real. I want to drink fresh Pennsylvania milk,” he said. “It’s long past time to stand up for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are producing it.” -30-

Advocating strongly for the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act are (l-r) Bernie Morrissey, Ken Sensenig, Representative John Lawrence, Mike Sensenig, Devin Shirk and Kyle Sensenig. 

‘Going for the Gold’ – Dairy farmer and Olympian shares values that carry over to both

Joining over 300 attendees virtually from her home on the dairy farm in Vermont, Olympic mid-distance runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre brought an energizing, uplifting and practical message to the 2022 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in Lancaster, where the theme was “Going for the Gold.” 

By Sherry Bunting

LANCASTER, Pa. — Being a dairy farmer with a nutrition degree from the University of New Hampshire — and a Team USA mid-distance Olympic runner — Elle Purrier St. Pierre sees the similarities in the two passions of her young life.

“In both, you’re so involved in it. It’s a lifestyle. It’s what you do — you’re completely obsessed with it — it’s who you are,” she said. “It’s crazy to win a race one day and be home working with cattle in my barn boots the next. The two are completely different but those values carry over to both. It’s the passion you have.l for it. I’m just lucky to have the opportunity to do both.”

Elle kicked off the 2022 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit on Feb. 2 at the Marriott Convention Center in downtown Lancaster. The theme of the two-day event was “Going for the Gold.” The leadoff with Elle — joining the over 300 attendees virtually from her home in Vermont, where she and her husband Jamie are part of his family’s 2000-cow dairy farm – was energizing, uplifting and so practical.

Elle shared with Summit attendees how growing up on a small dairy farm near Montgomery Center, Vermont, gave her the physical and mental training for her calling today as an Olympic athlete.

“Those hay bales helped get me here,” she said. “And there’s something to be said for genetics, for heritage, your background and how you train. I come from a long line of dairy farmers who worked hard all of their lives.”

Describing her grandfather hoisting milk pails in the days before pipeline, she said she figures the strength is in her DNA, and what the farm life has encouraged her to do with it.

Running 80 miles a week and training off site at different times of the year, Elle’s schedule can be crazy, but she’s been home enough before the season begins again to get on the farm payroll with regular jobs at the dairy. One day she can be found sorting dry cows, another helping preg-check heifers, moving heifers, helping with herd checks – filling in wherever she is needed.

On the larger dairy with her husband’s family, just like the small farm she grew up on, Elle finds structure in her day. She says structure, routine, strength, passion — these are all farming traits that have served her well as an athlete.

The routine of chores, growing up, is something that fostered her dedication, but she says her parents also made sure she had balance in her life, not to feel pressured, that there is more to life, to explore it.

Today, on the larger farm, Elle said “there is so much opportunity for me to be involved.”

While they milk mainly Holsteins and some Jerseys, it’s her Brown Swiss, Rita, due very soon with her first calf, that’s pretty special.

Rita is a pretty special cow for Olympian Elle Purrier St. Pierre. Her husband Jamie proposed marriage with a ring and Rita, the Brown Swiss calf. Today, Rita is due to calve soon. Instagram photo @Elleruns_4_her_life 

“Jamie proposed (marriage) with a ring and that Brown Swiss calf,” she said as the audience laughed knowingly.

Competing for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics last summer was also pretty special.

“It’s something I have dreamed about for so long, to represent my country is one of the highest honors of my life,” Elle said. Her journey to that point really began when a high school coach ‘discovered’ her, and she went on to compete in college.

Elle has over 72,000 followers on instagram at @elleruns_4_her_life. The 2020 1500-meter finalist at the Tokyo Olympics was also the trials champion and currently holds the American indoor mile and two mile records. A member of Olympic Team USA, Elle is also a member of the New Balance Boston team and a member of the home farm team with husband Jamie on the dairy in Vermont. Photo courtesy Flynn Sports

On Feb. 8, 2020, she set the American record for the indoor mile, with a time of 4:16.85 at the Millrose Games. A year later on Feb. 13, 2021, she ran a time of 9:10.28 to break the American indoor 2-mile record, a time that was also lower than the outdoor 2-mile record.

She said the mid-distance races are her niche, where she feels most comfortable and does her best.

Many attendees had questions for her about what she encounters among trainers, peers and fans in terms of milk and dairy products. What does she hear? What pressure does she get?

It’s all good. Elle said her team and coaches, trainers, even fans, for the most part, understand why milk and dairy are so important.

“Our coach understands the body and the science, the importance of animal protein,” she said, noting that she did get an offer to try a plant-based product, but turned it down — of course. “I told them I’m an animal protein girl. It’s more bioavailable nutrition from the animal source. You can’t really argue with my results, right?”

All of her teammates also drink milk.

“At this level, people realize the importance. In the running world, you’re bringing that nutrition with you for right after your work out. Milk, chocolate milk, it’s got that nutrition, everything you need. It’s hydration. It’s electrolytes. It’s the perfect carb to protein ratio,” Elle explained, although she admitted that sometimes she’ll opt to put extra milk protein in the milk. “We call that the more-milky-milk.”

She also likes to try different brands of milk when she’s traveling. Training in Arizona recently, she discovered Shamrock, and is obsessed with their strawberry milk.

Bottom line, she said, when you run 80 miles a week, it’s essential to always be refueling.

“Dairy is that resource we look to, naturally,” said Elle. “As I get older, I realize even more what a great resource dairy really is.”

On social media, her main platform is Instagram @Elleruns_4_her_life. She gets a few critics on the anti-animal side, but never in person.

“I try to pick my battles,” she said. “I only see the extremists on the internet, but I feel they don’t have a sense of reality, so it’s easy to ignore the crazy comments. I look more for the opportunities in the middle, to talk about farming, to have a productive conversation.”

With ‘Going for the Gold’ being the theme of the Summit, Elle touched on what it takes to turn passion and values into goals through competition. How do you make it happen?

Whether preparing for a race or looking at something on the farm — like milk quality or SCC levels, Elle has found what works is to set weekly goals to get to the bigger goals.

“That translates to the farm also, to take it day-by-day, step-by-step. What do I need to do this week to get to where I want to be next month,” she said.

Elle loves being part of the team, training with other athletes who are her competitors, but also her friends.

“It’s about respect,” she said. “We work toward our own goals, but at the same time each of us brings something to the table that makes us better together.”

“In the same way, Jamie and I talk about it all the time, how there are fewer and fewer farms, so we need to work together,” Elle related. “I have gained so much respect for our neighbors, for other farms, just like my teammates. We need to compete to do better, but we also need to unite on some things and share that passion, together.”

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