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.

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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Bishop family starts new chapter at Bishcroft Farm, large herd dispersal of 1500 head Sept. 1 and 2

With mixed emotions as they transition away from dairy at Bishcroft Farm are Herman and Marianne Bishop flanked on the left by Tim and Anne and their children (from left) Thomas, Esther, Jim and Elizabeth and on the right by Rich and Nikki and their children (from left) Peter, George, and Bethany (not pictured).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 19, 2022

ROARING BRANCH, Pa. — It is likely to be the largest dairy herd dispersal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when the Bishop family has their two-day auction of 1500 head on September 1st and 2nd at Bishcroft Farm here in Roaring Branch, Tioga County.

The sale is managed by Fraley Auction Company, Muncy.

The Bishops have been dairying 83 years across three generations. Herman and Marianne are in their 75th year of membership with Land O’Lakes and were recently recognized for that milestone. They operate the farm in partnership with sons Tim and his wife Anne and Rich and his wife Nikki and are transitioning toward a more flexible future, while leaving open the option that another generation may want to milk cows on a smaller scale someday.

The closed commercial herd of sire-identified, AI-bred Holsteins is attracting interest with 580 first and second lactation out of the 750 total milking and dry cows selling Thursday (Sept. 1) and the 750 heifers selling Friday (Sept. 2), ranging 4 months old to springing, with 100 heifers due from sale time through December.

The herd makes an RHA of 26,146M 1021F 797P with somatic cell count averaging 138,000 on the sale cattle.

The sale list will note whether cows are bred to beef or sexed semen Holstein.

They started with Angus beef-on-dairy three to four years ago, primarily on the cows that weren’t settling — resulting in those genetics leaving the herd, Rich explains.

They use Holstein sires on the cows that are daughters from higher net merit bulls, and all bred heifers are due to Holstein sires with 90% to sexed semen, the Bishops confirm. Two-year-olds are also bred first service to sexed semen with a high percentage due to sexed-semen.

The Bishops are keeping all crossbred cattle and all calves under four months of age to raise and sell at breeding age, as they have forage to use up.

“We’re also keeping the bottom end of the cows to continue milking 100 to 150 head for a while,” Rich explains. That is until their valuable production base with Land O’Lakes is sold. 

“Our base is listed on the Land O’Lakes website and must transfer through their system, but they don’t set the prices,” he explains. “The buyer and seller negotiate the price and quantity with a 1000-pound daily base minimum transaction.”

Bishcroft currently ships a trailer load of milk every 21 hours. They have worked hard to manage their production to their daily base of 64,352 pounds of milk, which can only be sold to existing Land O’Lakes members.

During a recent Farmshine visit, Rich’s son Peter, 13, was the one to say he’ll really miss the dairy cows.

“He’s never known anything different,” says Nikki. “He fed the calves with me since he was a toddler.”

At the time of the sale, the Bishops are milking 750 cows 3x, having peaked in January milking 820. They have always milked 3x, even experimenting with 4x, seeing 7 to 8 pounds of additional milk per cow, but finding it unsustainable in terms of labor.

The Bishops observe that smaller dairies and more diversified farms have more flexibility to navigate changes in weather patterns, markets, labor and policies.

“I don’t see ever going back to milking a large herd here,” says Rich. “Maybe a small herd. Maybe Peter will want to do something like that with direct-to-consumer sales. But I don’t see going back to what we have today.”

At Ag Progress Days last week, a panel of experts said Pennsylvania is the state with the second largest volume of direct-to-consumer sales of farm products. A relationship with consumers holds some appeal for the Bishops as they transition into cash cropping with some beef on the side and a limited amount of pork as well.

The Bishops have always strived to be near the top of the dairy pack. Progressive and forward-thinking, the brothers participated in industry conferences and geared decisions toward cow comfort, productivity, quality and efficiency.

In fact, that’s something they’ll miss most — the friends they would regularly see at dairy industry meetings. 

“Things aren’t what they used to be,” says Tim.

“We see this developing to where larger herds like ours have to be in the top 10 to 20% or we are going backward,” Rich observes. “Dad is almost 77, and he’s doing the majority of the feeding. Tim and I want to spend more time with our families off the farm, and it’s getting harder to attract and keep employees that are willing to work these hours or to make enough money in dairy here to pay the wages and overtime competing with what is happening in New York State.”

The milk price jump of 50% this year was welcome relief after six years of tight margins and uncertainty. That’s when the Bishops really took stock of their position and decided to invest differently.

When asked how it feels to see the herd being sold, Herman, the patriarch, replied: “This is no different than what I did in 1970 when I increased my dad’s herd.

“It’s the way it goes. We made a change in 2004 and 2005 for another generation, not for me. I had a registered herd of 150 cows. We did a lot of research. The boys went and looked at 60 farms. They built this and expanded the herd (from 150 to 350 and from 350 to 650 and from 650 to 800). We changed things for the times, and that’s what’s happening now, a change for another generation,” Herman explains.

Rumors have run rampant, but the simple truth is this: The families are transitioning to options they see as more flexible and less stressful. 

They began transitioning their cropping this spring, knowing they wouldn’t need the same mix of crops and forages. They had already been doing trial work for Syngenta. They started looking into utilizing the freestall facilities for beef to some extent, maybe converting to a bedded pack. They’ll still make some hay, but their investments now are in equipment for cash cropping the 1450 acres of land they own and rent.

They planted soybeans for the first time and handled the cover crops differently, harvesting some as small grains, and burning a lot of it down as ‘green manure’ fertilizer to minimize their need for purchased fertilizer.

This will also be their first year combining corn, Tim explains, noting that on-farm grain storage is something they are looking at as they planned to go to Empire Farm Days the day after our visit.

In fact, the brothers note the higher milk price this year allowed them to make some crop equipment investments from cash flow.

As the Bishops raise and feed-out their beef-on-dairy crossbreds, they realize they have a learning curve ahead of them if they move further into beef production.

“We hope to do some direct-to-consumer sales,” says Tim, “feed some of these cattle and bring in a few pigs, even look at doing a truck patch (garden).”

Nikki says the family has always taken time to educate and advocate with the community of consumers around them. Tim’s youngest daughter is a Little Miss U.S. Agriculture, and Nikki fields questions constantly from her colleagues where she works at a local hospital. They want to know where their food comes from.

“People are curious. I have explained cattle rations, comparing it to the ‘ages and stages’ diets we have for kids (at the hospital). The response I would get is ‘that sounds like complicated hard work, why don’t you just buy milk at the store like everyone else?’” Nikki relates.

“These are educated people, and they didn’t quite get it until I explained that if they went to Weis Markets, the milk they were buying might be ours!”

She also tells the story from a few years back when fellow nurses saw the rBST-free pledge on the little milk chugs in the hospital cafeteria and started asking what it was because they thought they were going to win a ‘free rBST.’

While young Peter said several times that he’ll miss the cows, others in the family said they’ll miss the fresh milk.

“We might have to keep a few to milk for ourselves and to have milk to feed to the pigs,” says Tim.

“Excited and nervous” were the two words he used to describe the transition ahead.

“It is nerve-wracking but also feels a little like seeing a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Rich adds, noting the stress that comes with price volatility and labor issues will now flip to adjusting to managing cash flow without the regularity of a milk check.

The children are still adjusting to the news, having learned of the decision just a few weeks before our visit.

Some have favorite cows they’ve grown and shown that will have to stay, but Rich also notes none of the kids were “dying to milk cows,” and if they decide they want to do that, some assets are here they can put to use on a smaller scale.

“We have ideas and thoughts about how to utilize what we have differently, but we want to walk before we run,” he says.

Toward that end, the brothers are participating in seminars and looking at beef programs that are coming along. Their main focus will be low input, feeding the current beef-on-dairy crossbreds, raising the 120 heifer calves under 4 months of age they are retaining to breeding age, seeing how the sale goes, maybe looking at buying some feeder cattle… Time will tell as they look and learn and adjust.

“When you realize what a huge world God has created and we’re out here trying to feed the world, you realize how fortunate you are to live here and to be farming,” says Tim.As Herman affirms, this is another chapter in the story:

“The farm and the family are here. As for the future, we never know what it brings.”

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Why did PMMB go after raw milk farms for Milk Dealer licenses? Small farm bottlers push back, PMMB puts further licensing ‘on hold’

When Lone Oak shared their public post to customers on facebook that their raw milk and chocolate milk would no longer be available at Back to Nature, they encouraged their customers in Indiana, Pennsylvania to come the extra 20 miles to the farm in Marion Center. The response was overwhelming. They chose to only sell their milk at the farm after being notified by PMMB about needing an intrusive Milk Dealer’s license on top of the PDA permit, inspections and testing they already do. Small processors are pushing back, and PMMB has put licensing of small processors on hold as it evaluates what to do. Facebook photo

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 19, 2022

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Calls and mailings from the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to small dairy farms processing and selling their very own milk — including those that are permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to sell raw milk — are stirring up a hornet’s nest .

The context of the communications was to get these very small processors to fill out the intrusive applications for Milk Dealer’s licenses, to pay the flat fee, and to do the ongoing monthly milk accountant reporting and calculate and further pay their 6 cents per hundredweight on sales.

To most, this made no sense, given these farms do not purchase milk from other farmers. They do their own pricing based on their expenses — always well above the state-mandated retail minimum — and many are selling raw milk, which is not a general or interstate commerce item.

In the case of raw milk, these producers operate outside of the Federal Milk Marketing Orders, so why is the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) coming after them for a Milk Dealer’s license? And why now? Could it have something to do with the bill seeking to collect over-order premium and pool it and pay it to producers directly so that the big players can’t continue to strand some of that premium?

Think about it. The PMMB doesn’t license entities doing cross-border sales of packaged milk whether it was produced in-state or out-of-state to follow the money, but they want small raw milk farms to be licensed Milk Dealers? Something isn’t right.

To their credit, however, the pushback from raw milk producers and citizens has resulted in PMMB putting this licensing effort “on hold”… for now.

Lone Oak Farm, Marion Center, Pennsylvania was one of the small producers to get a voice mail from an attorney identifying himself as a “special investigator for the Milk Marketing Board” wanting to know the name and address to send a packet to fill out.

The packet came. It was the same packet they had received two years earlier — a month before the Covid pandemic — but at that time they were only selling their raw milk and chocolate milk at the farm. They had stated in 2020 that the Milk Dealer’s license did not apply to them and never heard back from the PMMB.

That was the end of it, until August 2022.

This time, the packet included the same letter, along with an intrusive form requiring them to list all of their assets, liabilities — a complete financial statement of personal information — as part of a Milk Dealer’s License application along with monthly forms for calculating their 6 cents/cwt monthly licensing fee and the lesser fee for milk sold through products on which PMMB does not fix a price.

“There was no flow chart to determine if we needed to do this (like is shown below at PMMB website: https://www.mmb.pa.gov/Licensing/Dealer/Documents/License%20Flowchart%202020.pdf). My wife emailed back wanting to know why this pertained to us,” said Aaron Simpson of Lone Oak Farm in an Aug. 17 phone interview with Farmshine. “We were told it pertains to us because we were selling a small amount of milk off site at Back to Nature,” a health store in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

“Someone tipped them off,” he guesses. “We didn’t fill anything out (in the packet), and my wife responded that we would pull our small wholesale account out of Back to Nature rather than jump through these hoops.”

For Lone Oak and other small producers voicing concern, it isn’t even the 6 cents/cwt licensing fee that is the biggest problem, though they believe it is unnecessary. The real problem is the onerous and intrusive forms and the logistics and time it takes to fill out monthly milk accounting to the PMMB. Farms like Lone Oak already applied for and were granted raw milk permits by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), which inspects them.

Furthermore, as a small producer, with several entities from produce to bakery to milk and more under one umbrella on the farm, the financial statement that the PMMB was requiring was information Lone Oak was not comfortable providing. Why should they? Why is it the PMMB’s business to know their personal business?

“They asked for our entire financial rundown of the farm — as a whole — right down to every asset we own, some of it not even related to the dairy. We are not willing to give that up for a (Milk Dealer’s license),” said Simpson. “This is not how it should be. The only reason we exist is because selling all of our milk conventionally has not been feasible. We are one of three dairy farms left in our township. We are down to the bits and pieces of who makes it and who doesn’t, and that’s been a failure of the dairy industry.”

Most farmers wouldn’t really choose to do customer service as they would rather focus just on farming and taking care of the cows, not running a store. Many have turned to this to preserve their livelihoods, their dairy farms.

“The whole reason we are doing this is because the Milk Marketing Board has failed the farmers, the dairy industry has failed the farmers. How many farms has Pennsylvania lost since 2015?” Simpson pondered aloud. “Within five miles of us, we have lost five or six farms since 2015, so we started selling our own milk with a permit from PDA in 2016.”

Simpson is part of the fourth generation at Lone Oak Farms, milking 40 cows in the same 1960s barn, and diversifying over the years instead of expanding the dairy herd. Now he gets calls from other farmers with all herd sizes wondering how they got started, including large farms wanting to scale back their herd size and get closer to consumers.

When Lone Oak shared their public post to customers on facebook that their raw milk and chocolate milk would no longer be available at Back to Nature, and encouraged their customers in Indiana, Pennsylvania to come the extra 20 miles to the farm in Marion Center, the response was overwhelming.

As the post was shared multiple times, PMMB executive secretary Carol Hardbarger commented that the PMMB staff was looking into what could be done, but that they had to “follow the law.”

The law, according to the flow chart found at the PMMB website (above), stipulates that any dairy farmer selling more than 1500 pounds of milk per month (less than 6 gallons per day) direct to consumers, would have to be a licensed Milk Dealer if they sold any of that milk at a site off the farm or if they sold more than two gallons per day to one customer.

This week, an official response from PMMB executive secretary Hardbarger notes that, “we have officially put licensing of small processors on hold until we decide what to do, sending a letter from me to each not licensed yet, to the ag committees with an explanation, and to PDA.”

But how did this come about and what will happen going forward?

If this requirement is truly part of the law, and if it requires small producers selling their very own milk privately in small amounts must be licensed as Milk Dealers, why have we not heard about it before?

In fact, a Penn State extension educator preparing for a value-added dairy seminar reached out to Farmshine for clarification after reading about the issue in Market Moos last week. She wanted to know why this was never brought to her attention when she asked state agencies for all of the things a small value-added dairy producer needed to know and do to sell milk and dairy products made on the farm. She wanted clarification.

According to Hardbarger, small producers, and those with raw milk permits have received packets and calls in the past, but that a list of raw milk permits was made available to PMMB recently through the online data-sharing that was set up this year between PDA and PMMB now that the weigh-sampler certification work PMMB used to help with has transferred exclusively to PDA. This put the list of raw milk permits directly into the PMMB’s hands.

This PDA list of raw milk permits has always been publicly available and updated online. So why was the action to get small producers to become licensed Milk Dealers started in earnest at this particular time? No clear answer has been given, except that the PMMB is now looking at the situation and putting it ‘on hold.’

Perhaps the biggest players in the industry — that have a stake in preserving the price-regulating and milk-accounting functions of the PMMB — are concerned about the increasing number of Pennsylvania producers going this route outside the system with some or all of their milk. Some dairy farmers are making and selling pasteurized milk and dairy products, others are selling raw milk.

In fact, at Ag Progress Days recently, a panel talked about farm transitions and how important value-added direct-to-consumer sales are for Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry. The Commonwealth has the second largest volume of direct-to-consumer sales of farm products in the U.S., and this is growing as farms are also becoming more diversified, the experts shared.

“As farmers, we don’t need another irritant to yield a pearl for PMMB. This (Milk Dealer’s license) is more administrative paperwork and a check we would need to send every month. It’s one more thing,” Simpson explained, listing all of the things they already do to sell milk through their permit with PDA and in general as dairy farmers.

“Fluid milk is breakeven across the spectrum,” he said. “We have enough irritants in a year’s time, and just that statement about irritants and pearls shows the disconnect between farmers and the PMMB.”

Farmers and dairy professionals around the state are questioning the very low 1500-pounds per month threshold on private sales of milk from farms that pushes these small producers into the category of a Milk Dealer — if any of that milk is sold at a store off the farm.

For example, Lone Oak milks just 40 cows and markets about one-third of that as direct-to-consumer sales of milk, chocolate milk, ice cream and yogurt. The rest goes to United Dairy. They are inspected four times a year for the raw milk permit and twice a year for the conventional bulk sales and federal inspection every 18 months as well. The milk tests are done twice every time they pull milk from the tank – once for the private sales and once for the conventional sales. There will also be new types of inspections coming as well, farmers are told.

Yes, small on-farm processors do not need ‘one more thing.’

“The limit for the number of gallons sold privately off the farm needs to be set drastically higher for this (Milk Dealer license),” said Simpson. “We are not even a blip on the radar, so there needs to be very large exemptions if we are to keep small farms in Pennsylvania.”

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Net loss to farmers now $824 mil. over 41 months as change to Class I formula costs farmers $132 mil. so far in 2022

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 26, 2022

WASHINGTON —  Against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales, declining Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) participation, coinciding with the accelerated pace of plant mergers, acquisitions and closures in the fluid milk sector, farm bill milk pricing reform discussions are bubbling up.

The two main issues are the negative impact from the Class I price formula change in the last farm bill, and how to ‘fix it,’ as well as how to handle or update processor ‘make allowances’ that are embedded within the Class III and IV price formulas. 

Other issues are also surfacing regarding the pricing, marketing, and contracting of milk within and outside of FMMOs as historical pricing relationships become more dysfunctional — in part because of the Class I change. 

The change in the Class I price mover formula was made in the 2018 farm bill and implemented in May 2019. It has cost dairy farmers an estimated $132 million in lost revenue so far in 2022 — increasing the accumulated net loss to $824 million over these 41 months that the new average-plus-74-cents method has replaced 19 years of using the vetted ‘higher of’ formula. 

The change was made by Congress in the last farm bill in the belief that this averaging method would allow processors, retailers and non-traditional milk beverage companies to manage their price risk through hedging while expecting the change to be revenue-neutral to farmers. No hearings or referendums were conducted for this change.

Instead of being revenue-neutral for farmers, the new method has significantly shaved off the tops of the price peaks (graph) and only minimally softened the depth of the price valleys, while returning net lower proceeds to farmers and disrupting pricing relationships to cause further farm mailbox milk check losses in reduced or negative producer price differentials (PPD), reduced FMMO participation (de-pooling) as well as disruption in the way purchased price risk management tools perform against these losses.

In 2022, we are seeing this Class I ‘averaging’ method produce even more concerning results. It is now undervaluing Class I in a way that increases the depth of the valley the milk markets have entered in the past few months (graph), and as the Class IV milk price turned substantially higher this week against a flat-to-lower Class III price, the extent of the market improvement will be shaved in the blend price by the impact on Class I from what is now a $2 to $5 gap between Class III and Class IV milk futures through at least November.

During the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, the most glaring flaw in the Class I formula change was revealed. Tracking the gains and losses over these 41 months, it’s easy to see the problem. This new formula puts a 74-cents-per-cwt ceiling on how much farmers can benefit from the change, but it fails to put a floor on how much farmers can lose from the change.

The bottomless pit was sorely tested in the second half of 2020, when the Class III and IV prices diverged by as much as $10, creating Class I value losses under the new formula as high as $5.00/cwt.

The bottomless pit is being tested again in 2022. The most recent Class I mover announcements for August and September are undervalued by $1.04 and $1.69, respectively, as Class IV and III have diverged by as much as $4 this year.

In fact, 6 of the first 9 months of 2022 have had a lower Class I milk price as compared to the previous formula. The September 2022 advance Class I mover announced at $23.82 last week would have been $25.31 under the previous ‘higher of’ formula. 

This is the largest loss in value between the two methods since December 2020, when pandemic disruptions and government cheese purchases were blamed for the poor functionality of the new Class I formula.

No such blame can be attributed for the 2022 mover price failure that will have cost farmers $132 million in the first 9 months of 2022 on Class I value, alone, as well as leading to further impacts from reduced or negative PPDs and de-pooling.

The graph tells the story. The pandemic was blamed for 2020’s largest annual formula-based loss of $733 million. This came out to an average loss of $1.68/cwt on all Class I milk shipped in 2020.

These losses continued into the first half of 2021, followed by six months of gains. In 2021, the net gain for the year was $35 million, or 8 cents/cwt., making only a small dent in recovering those prior losses.

Gains from the averaging formula were expected to continue into 2022, but instead, Class IV diverged higher than Class III in most months by more than the $1.48 threshold. Only 2 months in 2022 have shown modest Class I mover gains under the new formula, with the other 7 months racking up increasingly significant value losses – a situation that is expected to continue at least until November, based on current futures markets.

Bottomline, the months of limited gains are not capable of making up for the months of limitless loss, and now the hole is being dug deeper. 

True, USDA made pandemic volatility payments to account for some of the 2020 FMMO class price relationship losses. Those payments were calculated by AMS staff working with milk co-ops and handlers using FMMO payment data.

However, USDA only intended to cover up to $350 million of what are now $824 million in cumulative losses attributed directly to the formula change.

Furthermore, USDA capped the amount of compensation an individual farm could receive, even though there was no cap on the amount the new formula may have cost that farm, especially if it led to reduced or negative PPDs, de-pooling, and as a result, negatively impacted the performance price risk management tools the farm may have purchased.

The estimated $824 million net loss over 41 months equates to an estimated average of 58 cents/cwt loss on every hundredweight of Class I milk shipped in those 41 months.

Using the national average FMMO Class I utilization of 28%, this value loss translates to an average loss to the blend price of 16 cents/cwt for all milk shipped over the 41 months, but some FMMOs have seen steeper impacts where Class I utilization is greater.

This 16-cent average impact on blend price may not sound like much, but over a 41-month period it has hit mailbox milk prices in large chunks of losses and smaller pieces of gains, which impact cash flow and performance of risk management in a domino effect.

The 2022 divergence has been different from 2020 because this year it is Class IV that has been higher than Class III. During the pandemic, it was the other way around.

Because cheese milk is such a driver of dairy sales nationwide, the FMMO class and component pricing is set up so that protein is paid to farmers in the first advance check based on the higher method for valuation of protein in Class III. Meanwhile, other class processors pay into the pool using a lower protein valuation method, so the differences are adjusted based on utilization in the second monthly milk check.

This means when Class III is substantially higher than Class IV, as was the case in 2020-21, there is even more incentive for manufacturers to de-pool milk out of FMMOs compared to when Class IV is higher than Class III.

The PPD, in fact, is defined mathematically as Class III price minus the FMMO statistical uniform blend. Usually that number is positive. In the last half of 2020 and first half of 2021, it was negative for all 7 multiple component pricing FMMOs, while the 4 fat/skim Orders saw skim price eroded by the variance.

Now, the situation is different because Class III has been the lowest priced class in all but one month so far in 2022. The milk being de-pooled — significantly in some orders and less so in others — is the higher-priced Class II and IV milk. The Class II price has surpassed the Class I mover in every settled month of 2022 so far — January through July — and the Class IV price also surpassed the Class I mover in 2 of those 7 months. 

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Are we moving toward cow islands and milk deserts?

Opinion/Analysis

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine (combined 2 part series Aug. 12 and 19, 2022)

In Class I utilization markets, the landscape is rapidly shifting, and we should pay attention, lest we end up with ‘cow islands’ and ‘milk deserts.’

Farmshine readers may recall in November 2019, I wrote in the Market Moos column about comments made Nov. 5 by Randy Mooney, chairman of both the DFA and NMPF boards during the annual convention in New Orleans of National Milk Producers Federation together with the two checkoff boards — National Dairy Board and United Dairy Industry Association. 

Mooney gave a glimpse of the future in his speech that was podcast. (Listen here at 13:37 minutes). He said he had been “looking at a map,” seeing “plants on top of plants,” and he urged the dairy industry to “collectively consolidate,” to target limited resources “toward those plants that are capable of making the new and innovative products.”

One week later, Dean Foods (Southern Foods Group LLC) filed for bankruptcy as talks between Dean and DFA about a DFA purchase were already underway. It was the first domino right on the heels of Mooney’s comments, followed by Borden filing Chapter 11 two months later in January, and followed by three-years of fresh fluid milk plant closings and changes in ownership against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and an influx of new dairy-based beverage innovations, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable milk, as well as lookalike alternatives and blends.

The map today looks a lot different from the one described by Mooney in November 2019 when he urged the industry to “collectively consolidate.” The simultaneous investments in extended shelf-life (ESL) and aseptic packaging are also a sign of the direction of ‘innovation’ Mooney may have been referring to.

Two months prior to Mooney issuing that challenge, I was covering a September 2019 industry meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where dairy checkoff presenters made it clear that the emphasis of the future is on launching innovative new beverages and dairy-‘based’ products.

Here is an excerpt from my opinion/analysis of the discussion at that time:

“While we are told that consumers are ditching the gallon jug (although it is still by far the largest sector of sales), and we are told consumers are looking for these new products; at the same time, we are also told that it is the dairy checkoff’s innovation and revitalization strategy to ‘work with industry partners to move consumers away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward looking for these new and innovative products’ that checkoff dollars are launching.”

These strategy revelations foreshadowed where the fluid milk markets appear to be heading today, and this is also obvious from recent Farmshine articles showing the shifting landscape in cow, farm, and milk production numbers.

When viewing the picture of the map that is emerging, big questions come to mind:

Are today’s Class I milk markets under threat of becoming ‘milk deserts’ as the dairy industry consolidates into ‘cow islands’?

Would dairy farmers benefit from less regulation of Class I pricing in the future so producers outside of the “collectively consolidating” major-player-complex are freer to seek strategies and alliances of their own, to carve out market spaces with consumers desiring and rediscovering fresh and local, to put their checkoff dollars toward promotion that helps their farms remain viable and keeps their regions from becoming milk deserts? 

What role is the industry’s Net Zero Initiative playing behind the scenes, the monitoring, scoring, tracking of carbon, the way energy intensity may be viewed for transportation and refrigeration and other factors in Scope 1, 2 and 3 ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) scores? 

Shelf-stable milk may provide solutions for some emerging (or are they self-inflicted?) milk access and distribution dilemmas, and maybe one view of ESG scoring favors it? But ultimately it also means milk can come from cow islands to milk deserts — from anywhere, to anywhere.

It also becomes clearer why the whole milk bill is having so much trouble moving forward. The industry machine gives lip-service support to the notion of whole milk in schools, but the reality is, the industry is chasing other lanes on this highway to ‘improve’ the school milk ‘experience’ and ensure milk ‘access’ through innovations that at the same time pave the road from the ‘cow islands’ to the ‘milk deserts.’ 

It is now clearer — to me — why the Class I mover formula is such a hotly debated topic. 

If major industry-driving consolidators are looking to transition away from turning over cow to consumer fresh, local/regional milk supplies by turning toward beverage stockpiles that can sit in a warehouse ‘Coca-Cola-style’ at ambient temperatures for six to 12 months, it’s no wonder the consolidators want the ‘higher of’ formula to stay buried. What a subversion that was in the 2018 Farm Bill.

In fact, if the industry is pursuing a transition from fresh, fluid milk to a more emphasis on shelf-stable aseptic milk, such a transition would, in effect, turn the federal milk marketing orders’ purpose and structure — that is tied to Class I fresh fluid milk — completely upside down.

Landscape change has been in motion for years, but let’s look at the past 6 years — Dean had already closed multiple plants and cut producers in the face of Walmart opening it’s own milk bottling plant in Spring 2018. The Class I ‘mover’ formula for pricing fluid milk — the only milk class required to participate in Federal Milk Marketing Orders — was changed in the 2018 Farm Bill that went into effect Sept. 2018. The new Class I mover formula was implemented by USDA in May 2019, resulting in net losses to dairy farmers on their payments for Class I of well over $750 million across 43 months since then.

(Side note: Under the formula change, $436 million of Class I value stayed in processor pockets from May 2019 through October 2019, alone. DFA purchased 44 Dean Foods plants in May 2019 and became by far the largest Class I processor at that time.)

These and other landscape changes were already in motion when Mooney spoke on Nov. 5, 2019 at the convention of NMPF, NDB and UDIA describing the milk map and seeing plants on top of plants and issuing the challenge to “collectively consolidate” to target resources to those plants that can make the innovative new products. 

One week later, Nov. 12, 2019, Dean Foods filed for bankruptcy protection to reorganize and sell assets (mainly to DFA).

Since 2019, this and other major changes have occurred as consolidation of Class I milk markets tightens substantially around high population swaths, leaving in wake the new concerns about milk access that spur the movement toward ESL and aseptic milk. A chain reaction.

What does Mooney’s map look like today after his 2019 call for “collective consolidation” and the targeting of investments to plants that can make the innovative products, the plants that DMI fluid milk revitalization head Paul Ziemnisky told farmers in a 2021 conference call were going to need to be “dual-purpose” — taking in all sorts of ingredients, making all sorts of beverages and products, blending, ultrafiltering, and, we see it now, aseptically packaging?

In addition to the base of Class I processing it already owned a decade ago, the string of DFA mergers has been massive. The most recent acquisitions, along with exits by competitors, essentially funnel even more of the market around key population centers to DFA with its collective consolidation strategy and investments in ESL and aseptic packaging.

The South —

The 14 Southeast states (Maryland to Florida and west to Arkansas) have 29% of the U.S. population. If you include Texas and Missouri crossover milk flows, we are talking about 37% of the U.S. population. 

The major players in the greater Southeast fluid milk market include DFA enlarged by its Dean purchases, Kroger supplied by Select and DFA, Prairie Farms with its own plants, DFA and Prairie Farms with joint ownership of Hiland Dairy plants, Publix supermarkets with its own plants, an uncertain future for four remaining Borden plants in the region as Borden has exited even the retail market in some of these states, and a handful of other fluid milk processors. 

In Texas, alone, DFA now owns or jointly owns a huge swath of the fluid milk processing plants, having purchased all Dean assets in the Lone Star State in the May 2020 bankruptcy sale and now positioned to gain joint ownership of all Borden Texas holdings through the announced sale to Hiland Dairy

The Midwest — 

Just looking at the greater Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay metropolis, the population totals are a lake-clustered 6% of U.S. population. Given the recent closure by Borden of the former Dean plants in Chemung, Illinois and De Pere, Wisconsin, this market is in flux with DFA owning various supply plants including a former Dean plant in Illinois and one in Iowa with Prairie Farms having purchased several of the Dean plants serving the region.

In the Mideast, there is Coca Cola with fairlife, Walmart and Kroger among the supermarkets with their own processing, and DFA owning two former Dean plants in Ohio, two in Indiana, two in Michigan, and a handful of other bottlers. 

In the West: DFA owns a former Dean plant in New Mexico, two in Colorado, two in Montana, one in Idaho, two in Utah, one in Nevada and one in California, as well as other plants, of course. 

The Northeast —

This brings us to the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine, where 18% of the U.S. population lives, and where consolidation of Class I markets, especially around the major Boston-NYC-Philadelphia metropolis have consolidated rapidly against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and a big push by non-dairy alternative beverage launches from former and current dairy processors.

DFA owns two former Dean plants in Massachusetts, one in New York, all four in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey. The 2019 merger with St. Alban’s solidified additional New England fluid milk market under DFA. In 2013, DFA had purchased the Dairy Maid plant from the Rona family in Maryland; in 2014, the prominent Oakhurst plant in Maine; and in 2017, the Cumberland Dairy plant in South Jersey.

More recently, DFA struck a 2021 deal with Wakefern Foods to supply their Bowl and Basket and other milk, dairy, and non-dairy brands for the various supermarket chains and convenience stores under the Wakefern umbrella covering the greater New York City metropolis into New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. This milk had previously been supplied by independent farms, processed at Wakefern’s own iconic Readington Farms plant in North Jersey, which Wakefern subsequently closed in January 2022.

The long and twisted tale begs additional questions:

As Borden has dwindled in short order from 14 plants to five serving the most populous region of the U.S. – the Southland — what will happen with the remaining five plants in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida? What will become of Elsie the Cow and Borden’s iconic brands and new products?

What percentage of the “collectively consolidated” U.S. fluid milk market does DFA now completely or partially own and/or control?

Will the “collective consolidation” in the form of closures, sales and mergers continue to push shelf-stable ESL and aseptic milk into Class I retail markets and especially schools… and will consumers, especially kids, like this milk and drink it?

What role are rising energy prices, climate ESG-scoring and net-zero pledges and proclamations playing in the plant closures and shifts toward fewer school and retail milk deliveries, less refrigeration, more forward thrust for shelf-stable and lactose-free milk, as well as innovations into evermore non-dairy launches and so-called flexitarian blending and pairing?

Looking ahead at how not only governments around the world, but also corporations, creditors and investors are positioning for climate/carbon tracking, ESG scoring and the so-called Great Reset, the Net Zero economy, there’s little doubt that these factors are driving the direction of fluid milk “innovation” over the 12 years that DMI’s Innovation Center has coordinated the so-called ‘fluid milk revitalization’ initiative — at the same time developing the FARM program and the Net Zero Initiative.

The unloading of nine Borden plants in five months under Gregg Engles, the CEO of “New Borden” and former CEO of “Old Dean” is also not surprising. Engles is referred to in chronicles of dairy history not only as “the great consolidator” but also as “industry transformer.”

In addition to being CEO of Borden, Engles is chairman and managing partner of one of the two private equity investment firms that purchased the Borden assets in bankruptcy in June 2020. Investment firms fancy themselves at the forefront of ESG scoring.

Engles is also one of only two U.S. members of the Danone board of directors. Danone, owner of former Dean’s WhiteWave, including Silk plant-based and Horizon Organic milk, has positioned itself in the forefront on 2030 ESG goals, according to its 2019 ‘one planet, one health’ template that has also driven consolidation and market loss in the Northeast. 

Not only is Danone dumping clusters of its Horizon milk-supplying organic family dairy farms, it continues to heavily invest in non-dairy processing, branding, launching and marketing of alternative lookalike dairy products and beverages, including Next Milk, Not Milk and Wondermilk. 

There is plenty of food-for-thought to chew on here from the positives to the negatives of innovation, consolidation, and climate ESGs hitting full-throttle in tandem. These issues require forward-looking discussion so dairy farmers in areas with substantial reliance on Class I fluid milk sales can navigate the road ahead and examine all lanes on this highway that appears to be leading to cow islands and milk deserts.

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More Borden plants close under ‘great consolidator’ Gregg Engles

Checkoff cites ‘uncontrollable circumstances’  bringing shelf-stable milk to schools

With an uncertain future for five remaining Borden plants after five plant closures, one partial closure (Class I) and three sell-offs since April, what does the future hold for fluid milk markets in the South and the iconic Elsie? Screen capture, bordendairy.com

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Aug. 12, 2022

DALLAS, Tex. — Last week, yet another round of plant closures was announced by Borden, well-timed as a factor said to be driving shelf-stable milk into schools and other venues in affected regions like the Southeast; however, an industry “innovation” shift to the convenience, “experience ” and reduced deliveries (carbon/energy cost and intensity) said to be associated with lactose-free extended shelf-life and aseptically-packaged milk has been gradually in the making for months, if not years.

The Dallas-based Borden, owned by two private equity firms, will close fluid milk plants in Dothan, Alabama and Hattiesburg, Mississippi “no later than Sept. 30, 2022, and will no longer produce in these states,” the company said.

The Aug. 3 announcement represents Borden’s fifth and sixth plant closures in as many months.

A string of sell-offs and closings since April have occurred under “the great consolidator” — former Dean Foods CEO Gregg Engles. Engles has been CEO of ‘new Borden’ since June 2020, when his Capital Peak Partners, along with Borden bankruptcy creditor KKR & Co., together purchased substantially all assets to form New Dairy OpCo, doing business as Borden Dairy.

“While the decision was difficult, the company has determined that it could no longer support continued production at those locations,” Borden said in the Aug. 3 statement that was virtually identical to the statement released April 4 announcing previous closures of its Miami, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina plants by May 31, including a stated withdrawal from the South Carolina retail market as well.

In addition to ending fluid milk processing at six of its 14 plants — four in the Southeast, two in the Midwest — Borden announced in late June its plans to sell all Texas holdings to Hiland Dairy, including three plants in Austin, Conroe and Dallas, associated branches and other assets.

Hiland Dairy, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is jointly owned by the nation’s largest milk cooperative Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, and Prairie Farms Dairy, a milk cooperative headquartered in Edwardsville, Illinois that includes the former Wisconsin-based Swiss Valley co-op.

DFA already separately owns the Borden brand license for cheese.

Also in June, Borden announced an end to fluid milk operations in Illinois and Wisconsin at two former Dean plants the company purchased jointly with Select Milk Producers in June 2021 after a U.S. District Court required DFA to divest them.

Borden closed the Harvard (Chemung Township), Illinois plant in July, and local newspaper accounts note the community is hopeful a food processing company other than dairy will purchase the FDA-approved facilities. Borden also ceased bottling at De Pere, Wisconsin on July 9, but continues to make sour cream products at that location.

The combined plant closures and sales by Borden now stand at nine of the 14 plants, leaving an uncertain future for the remaining five plants in Cleveland, Ohio; London, Kentucky; Decatur, Georgia; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Winter Haven, Florida. The sales and closures, including announced withdrawals from some markets, having combined effects of funneling more market share to DFA and to some degree Prairie Farms and others against a backdrop of additional Class I milk plant closures and reorganizations during the 24 months since assets from number one Dean and number two Borden were sold in separate bankruptcy filings.

“Borden products have a distribution area which covers a wide swath of the lower Southeast, including the Gulf’s coastal tourist areas. The Dutch Chocolate is a favorite of milk connoisseurs, and their recent introductions of flavored milks have received great reviews,” an Aug. 6 Milksheds Blog post by AgriVoice stated. A number of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi farms may be affected by the most recent closures.

Meanwhile, the closures are affecting milk access for schools and at retail. According to its website, Borden serves 9,000 schools in the U.S.  

A random sampling of the many Facebook-posted photos by individuals from northern Illinois to Green Bay, Wisconsin from July 15 to the present after Borden and Select closed two former Dean plants in Illinois and Wisconsin that they jointly purchased from DFA in June 2021. Screen capture, Facebook

In recent weeks, photos have been circulating of empty dairy cases in the Green Bay, Milwaukee and greater Chicago region with signs stating: “Due to milk plant closures, we are currently out of stock on one gallon and half gallons of milk.”

School milk contracts in that region are also reportedly impacted.

However, most notable is the impact on school milk contracts in the Southeast as students begin returning to classrooms.

According to the Aug. 5 online Dairy Alliance newsletter to Southeast dairy farmers, the regional checkoff organization confirmed the latest round of Borden closures are plants that “currently provide milk to 494 school districts… and use around 95 million units a school year.”

The Dairy Alliance reported it is working with schools “to keep milk the top choice for students… We do not want schools to apply for an emergency waiver that would exempt them from USDA requirements of serving milk until they find a supplier.

“These uncontrollable circumstances will lead to more aseptic milk in the region, but this is better than losing milk completely in school districts that have little or no options,” the newsletter stated.

Southeast dairy farmers report their mailed copy of a Dairy Alliance newsletter in July had already forecast more shelf-stable milk coming to schools as part of the strategic plan to protect and grow milk sales by ensuring milk accessibility and improving the school milk experience. In addition to the Borden plant closures, the report cited school milk “hurdles” such as inadequate refrigerated space requiring multiple frequent deliveries amid rising fuel and energy costs and labor shortages.

Southeast dairy farmers were informed that the Dairy Alliance School Wellness Team was already working to mitigate bidding issues with shelf-stable milk for school districts in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.

Diversified Foods Inc. (DFI), headquartered in New Orleans, was identified as the main supplier of this shelf-stable milk to schools in the region, reportedly sourcing milk through Maryland-Virginia, DFA and Borden.

In addition, DFI is a main sponsor of the Feeding America conference taking place in Philadelphia this week (Aug 9-11), where it is previewing for nutrition program attendees their new lactose-free shelf-stable chocolate milk. DFI also sponsored the School Nutrition Association national conference in Orlando earlier this summer, and social media photos of the booth show the shelf-stable, aseptically packaged versions of brands like DairyPure, TruMoo, Borden and Prairie Farms, along with DFI’s own ‘Pantry Fresh’ shelf-stable milk in supermarket and school sizes.

Coinciding with the flurry of Borden closings and shelf-stable milk hookups for schools, DFA announced last week (Aug. 1) that it will acquire two extended shelf-life (ESL) plants from the Orrville, Ohio based Smith Dairy. The SmithFoods plants will operate under DFA Dairy Brands as Richmond Beverage Solutions, Richmond, Indiana and Pacific Dairy Solutions, Pacific, Missouri. A SmithFoods statement noted the transfer would not affect the farms or employees associated with these plants.

This acquisition aligns with DFA’s similar strategy to “increase investment and expand ownership in this (shelf-stable) space… and create synergies between our other extended shelf-life and aseptic facilities,” the DFA statement noted.

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Lancaster County ranked 11th as dairy industry consolidates to 54 counties shipping 50% of FMMO milk

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 2022

LENEXA, Kan. — Milk marketings through Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) accounted for 60.5% of total U.S. milk production in 2021, according to USDA FMMO statistics.

Last week, the Market Administrator for the Central FMMO 32 released its semi-annual report painting a picture of these marketings in the form of milk totals and FMMO-marketed percentages at the county-level across the U.S. — using the month of December 2021 as the “snapshot.”

Ranked 11th in the nation, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania remains the only county east of the Mississippi River that is among the top 13 counties accounting for 25% of the milk marketed through FMMOs. Seven of those top 13 counties are in California, two in Arizona, and one each in Texas, Washington and Colorado.

Of the top 54 counties accounting for 50% of the milk marketed through the FMMO system in December, Franklin County, Pennsylvania is included, along with four counties in New York (St. Lawrence, Genessee, Wyoming and Cayuga counties), four in Michigan, 12 in Wisconsin, two in Minnesota, six in Texas, four in New Mexico, two in California, and one each in Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Washington and Oregon.

According to the Central FMMO Market Administrator’s report, “the origin of milk marketings (through FMMOs) remains highly concentrated.”

In fact, it became more concentrated as the 54 counties that accounted for 50% of FMMO milk marketings in December 2021 was 59 counties in December 2016.

Those 54 counties represent just 3.9% of the total 1395 counties that had any FMMO milk marketings.

The report tallied more than 67 million pounds of milk marketed in the month of December 2021 by each of those 54 largest FMMO counties. By contrast, 624 of the 1395 counties marketed less than one million pounds each in December 2021.

Of the 1395 counties marketing milk through FMMOs, 57 increased their FMMO-marketed milk pounds while 1139 counties decreased in December 2021.

Twice a year, the Central FMMO 32 collects this data from all FMMOs to create these maps depicting milk production by county across the U.S. These maps illustrate the concentration of milk marketed through FMMOs within the 11 FMMOs for December 2021. 

Thus the accompanying charts and maps are monthly totals based on December 2021 FMMO milk marketings and are a ‘snapshot’ of milk production based on one month and based on milk marketed through FMMOs, not including the 39.5% of total U.S. milk production that was marketed outside of the FMMO system in 2021.

A protest everyone should care about — Dutch government: ‘Not all farmers can continue’; Dutch farmers: ‘We Stay’

Ad Baltus milks 130 cows on roughly 170 acres in North Holland, where the government announced a new nitrogen (emissions) policy in June that has farmers rising up in protest.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 22, 2022

SCHERMERHORN, Netherlands — “The honest message is not all farmers can continue their business.” These brutal words were part of the Dutch government’s announcement in June to cut in half the emissions of nitrous oxide and ammonia in a detailed farm nitrogen map of the Netherlands. They’ve given provincial authorities one year to figure out how they will meet their aggressive provincial targets by 2027 as depicted in mapped zones.

This means both livestock numbers and use of fertilizers will be slashed, with the most drastic reductions of 70 to 90% on farms that are close to nature areas, especially those deemed part of Natura 2000, the legally protected habitats across EU member nations.

Ad Baltus is just one of the 40,000 Dutch farmers protesting the plan since mid-June with tractor formations, blockades and other activities in The Hague (capitol) and in towns and rural lands beyond. 

They are concerned for their futures, for their farms, families, communities and country. 

Baltus and his tractor have been to countless protests throughout the country, accompanied by his faithful dog Knoester. Sharing aerial photos of a formation he helped organize in his own neighborhood, he explains the hashtag in Dutch means #WeStay.

“We are letting our government know we are not going anywhere.”

A tractor-formation spelling out Dutch farmers’ message to The Hague: ‘NH #WijBlijven!’ It means “We Stay. We are not going anywhere,” says Ad Baltus, a dairy farmer who co-organized the June protest near his farm in Schermerhorn before the group traveled to Stroe the next day where an estimated 30,000 farmers protested the Dutch government’s nitrogen policy. 

Baltus farms 70 hectares (170 acres) in the North Holland village of Schermerhorn with his wife and 7-year-old daughter, milking 130 dairy cows. In summers the cows graze, and he also grows corn and collects both fresh grass and dry hay from fields.

“On our farm, we have to reduce the amount of nitrogen or sell cows. That’s a possibility. Or we have to do something with technology to reduce the nitrogen. We have been given only five years from now,” Baltus explains in a Farmshine phone interview Wednesday.

His farm is among the ‘luckier’ ones, in a zone to reduce 10 to 15%. 

No future for some

“It depends where they are situated, whether farms are near to nature terrain. Some must reduce between 50 and 70%, and some have to reduce 90%,” Baltus confirms. “In a zone between 70 and 90%, there is no possibility to have an income from your farm. That has a big impact in our farming industry.”

The calculation of nitrogen emissions is made “from what the cows produce inside the stable, and what is being produced when manure is spread over fields and then (from that calculation) is what farms have to reduce,” he says. The use of chemical fertilizers is also part of the calculation.

This is in addition to what the EU is trying to impose in the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork agenda that includes many other manure regulations.

Furthermore, every farm in the Netherlands must have a permit and every farm animal on that farm must be accounted for on that permit, including the horses.

The Dutch government backed up the nitrogen policy with an additional 24.3 billion euro ($25 billion USD) for the transition. 

One Dutch news source says the environmental planning agency is recommending payment of 130% of the land and asset value of farmers who stop farming, while other sources point out the base valuation will plummet where the ability to earn income on the assets is now virtually eliminated.

Expecting 30% to sell

By the government’s own estimates, 30% of farmers are expected to sell out or cease livestock and dairy operations, but others see a greater loss coming. Farmers who retire by selling to the government do make space for other farms in their zones to continue with slightly smaller reductions.

For perspective, the Netherlands encompasses a land base a bit larger than the state of Maryland, with 54% of this land reported as agricultural land. There are more than 17 million people with around 40,000 farmers, 3.8 million total cattle, including 1.5 million dairy cows, 11.4 million pigs, 850,000 sheep, 480,000 dairy goats and just about 100 million chickens.

In touting the plan, officials point to the country’s dense population of livestock and its ability to produce more food than is needed within its borders, suggesting that farm exits are not a food security concern. The Netherlands ranks second in the world in agricultural exports worth 94.5 billion euro ($96.8 billion USD) in 2019.

Dutch farmers, however, see this as short-sighted at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other global disruptions are putting pressure on global food supplies. They are vowing to continue their protests. 

Bale art in the Netherlands has a message also. Displays like this are a ‘public-friendly’ way to protest the nitrogen policy without undue impact on the public. The red handkerchief has become the sign of support.

After weeks of tractor parades obstructing traffic and supermarket food deliveries, Baltus reports ‘public-friendly’ methods are being used to keep the farmers’ concerns visible. For example, wrapped round bales are painted with sad and angry faces with the red handkerchief, the sign of solidarity for the farmer resistance.

He shares a local newscast where another dairy farmer, Sophie Ruiter, 29, from Grootschermer explains the drastic consequences for her farm — that only 60 of her 200 cows could remain.

Turned upside down

“We think it’s really crazy that we are being punished, but a company like Tata (Steel) is given all the time to meet the targets. For us, it means that we have no future,” she says, speaking to the newscaster from behind the wheel of a mobile platform while her friend Robin Groot, holding a bag of Dutch flags, hangs them upside down on lamp posts along a provincial roadway.

Groot describes this as a “public-friendly action. We want to show that all those nitrogen measures have turned the Netherlands upside down.”

“The inverted flag used to be used in shipping as a distress signal, and we now also do that as farmers, because something is really going on,” adds Ruiter.

Removing farms doesn’t solve the problem of pollution, as other industrial complexes produce nitrous and other emissions, and those industries are not being targeted the same way. At the root is concern that “green nitrogen will be replaced by grey nitrogen,” another farmer explains during a tractor formation near a business park where unfair treatment of farmers vs. other industries was highlighted.

Solutions vs. sell-outs

Farm groups say that even though an intermediary has been named for “negotiations,” there are no real negotiations occurring. They say the rapid timeline and high level of reductions signal the government’s unwillingness to look at other solutions, that they just want to cut livestock numbers and buy farms.

“They believe that farms near nature are harming it, but we don’t see it,” says Baltus, sharing comparative photos and discussion.

What kind of nature?

“In Holland there is no nature like in Alaska or Siberia. All of the nature we have is nature that is made by people. The question we ask is what kind of nature do you want? Nature as it was in Holland from 10 years ago, or 100 years ago or 1000 years ago? They don’t give a good explanation for what they want,” he relates. 

“In some areas, they want plants and animals that never lived here – not even 10,000 years ago,” he reports. “In Holland, there are nature areas where they got rid of the topsoil to create a kind of nature (or semi-natural ungrazed grassland).”

The NGOs (non-governmental organizations) want to create it with their goal that is very different from the nature that exists, he explains.

Grasslands without grazing?

“The nature near my farm is a nature where cows and grasslands have been for 500 years, and now they say ‘no cows are needed in that area?’ We don’t understand that. Cows and farmers make that terrain, and it is because of farmers and cows that the nature is in there.”

Emissions have been discussed for 10 years. In fact, when milk quotas were lifted and dairy herds grew modestly, phosphate limits were used in 2016 to force herd reductions (see chart). Dairy cow numbers have been relatively stable over the past decade, and on the downswing since 2017. At the same time Dutch agriculture is progressive in technology and farming practices. Many farmers have already made investments in their management of nitrogen.

“We reduced in the past 40 years already 70%, but every time, the government wants more. We have a goal, and they always want more. It is never enough,” Baltus observes.

Like other Dutch farmers, he is proud of the environmental record and productivity of his country’s farms, and the substantial economic benefits they generate for their communities.

A different road

“The farmers are on a different road from the government. On the farmer side, we are thinking solutions, but on the government side, they don’t want to do anything with that. We think in the long run we can reduce more than what’s ahead now, but we need technical solutions, and there are companies in Holland developing technology to separate urine from feces so the nitrogen can be managed even better,” he explains.

A few farms are piloting such innovations, “but it is 2 to 3 years from being ready for practices,” he adds. “We need more time, and the amount of the reduction is much too high, but the government is not taking the innovation as a solution. They want to reduce livestock.”

For its part, the Dutch government maintains it has been “forced” to take this action as court rulings — brought on by activist NGOs — cite the country’s pledges on emissions, and those rulings now block infrastructure and construction projects with no future reductions to offset the emissions these projects would generate. The offsets now come first.

This train has been on the track for a while now, with many countries (as well as cities, corporations and investors) on board.

Cutting nitrogen emissions in half by 2030 is on the targets of at least 30 UN member nations with policy bubbling up in other EU nations. In keeping with the 2019 intergovernmental adoption of a UN resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management (Columbo Declaration), such legally binding pledges are now part of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that also affect a nation’s ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) score. 

Meanwhile, farmers fear Holland will be the next test-country. They point to what is happening in the first test — Sri Lanka, a small nation off the coast of India that set itself up to be global nitrogen management leader with policies ending use of chemical fertilizers and other measures to meet targets and achieve its high 98.1 ESG score.

This high score mattered little when the reality hit the people in crop failures, farm economic collapse, new levels of food insecurity, which along with economic policies have thrown the country into its worst economic crisis in decades. In recent weeks, Sri Lanken citizens stormed the capitol, the current president fled, and the country is in chaos.

Holland’s plan, according to government documents, is described by officials to bring order and clarity about “whether and how farmers can continue with their business. The (nitrogen) minister sees three options for farmers: become (more) sustainable, relocate or stop.”

This reasoning fuels tensions with farmers who say they are being told to achieve what is unattainable in a short time with few options and no future for their children. In the case of retiring farmers without a next generation, the pathway is clearer, even as the larger concerns remain.

Asked if this feels like a ‘land grab’, if it’s more about land than nitrogen, Baltus was fair-minded and clear.

“Is this about getting the land? Possibly. But we need evidence for that. Thinking in theories or plots is difficult for me as a farmer. Yes, they need land for housing and building, and they want to do nature areas. When the government comes to a farmer, it is like a farmer buying a piece of land from another farmer, you negotiate, but the government is doing it now in a way to get it for a cheaper price,” he relates.

“Yes, the government wants to buy farms to reduce livestock,” he adds. “That is why farmers are angry. The government wants to spend about 25 billion euro to buy-out farmers, while the farmers are asking them to spend 5 billion euro to reduce the same amount of nitrogen with the technology that is coming.’”

Baltus is quick to point out that when farming stops, others are also affected.

“The whole rural area depends on all the farmers, and when there is 20, 30 or 50% of farmers stopping farming, this has an effect on the dairy industry, the feeding industry, all of the rural people who do work on farms, electrician, plumber, contractor… the whole system has big effects.”

Sun sets on a mid-July tractor formation as Dutch farmers continue to protest the nitrogen policy announced in mid-June, two weeks before the parliament’s 6-week summer recess began. 

Public generally supportive

In general, Baltus sees the public as supportive of the farmers, but he observes a “thin line” of weariness.

“When we protest and people have trouble with that, by waiting in traffic or there is no food distribution, it is difficult to hold the support of the population,” he explains. “We see that the protest is now softening a bit with ‘public-friendly’ actions. But I don’t think protests will stop until the government hears the farmers. If the government doesn’t hear the farmers, then the protests will go on, and not always in a friendly way.”

He sees this issue attracting voters to a relatively new political party, the BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmers and Citizens Movement), which has some representation in parliament.

Expressing little hope for negotiation at this point, farmers say their hope may be a future election landslide depending on how this problem turns out, especially in light of the government’s statements that it has not ruled out the possibility of “expropriating land (forcibly) from farmers who don’t comply.”

Dutch farmers have already complied with many environmental regulations and changes. Farmers want to continue to do more on environmental issues, Baltus affirms: “We have done that for hundreds of years.

My father 50 years ago fed cows differently than I do now, but we need time for changing more, and we need some support to change. Selling out doesn’t help us. It’s the wrong way for the money to flow. We say spend that money for innovation – for more effect with less money.”

Cows on this North Holland dairy farm graze in the summer, with fresh grass and dry hay collected from fields for feeding in the barn. Dutch farms face a new policy requiring 10 to 90% reductions in nitrogen compound emissions as the government prepares to buy farms and assets.

Worldwide problem

“I think the problem in Holland with the farmers and the government, you will see this worldwide,” he suggests. “Just see what is happening in Sri Lanka right now, and in India last year there were big farmer protests.”

He observes farmers in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Italy are protesting in solidarity, with signs “no farmers, no food”, and banners reading “Stop the Great Reset.

“It is a worldwide problem that we think food is something that is growing in the supermarket. The government, they take it for (granted), but it is a lot of work to make food, and farmers are at the end of the rope when it comes to getting a price for their product. Farming is not so profitable at the moment, but at the same time,” says Baltus, identifying with farmers around the world:

“Many consumers cannot pay more for their food. Between the farmer and the consumer, there are many steps for money to stay in. The very big problem we forget is we live on planet earth with billions of people more than 50 years ago, and every mouth has to have food. We can’t feed everyone with just biological farming or by losing farms.”

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Our farmers are the thin green line between us and a ‘Holodomor’ – Let’s not forget it!

Bale art in Holland has a message. Displays like this are a ‘public-friendly’ way to protest the nitrogen (emissions) policy, and the red handkerchief has become the sign of support for farmer resistance.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 22, 2022

The pain is necessary. The transition is unavoidable. The climate pledges are urgent. Race to zero. Net Zero Economy. Sustainable Nitrogen Management. Climate Champions, and on and on. 

These are just some of the pages and phrases at the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) website where resolutions are adopted, targets are pledged, sustainable development goals (SDGs) are constructed and updated, and Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) scoring is discussed for countries, cities, corporations, lenders, investors, institutions, states, provinces, networks, alliances, even individuals.

Dairy farmers are being asked to provide more and more of their business operations data, field agronomy, feed and energy purchases, inputs, output, upstream, downstream — a virtual farm blueprint.

While it is important that farmers have a baseline to know where they are and gauge where they are going, it is also critical that such details do not provide a centralizing entity the ability to map them into zones where requirements are passed down by milk buyers, government agencies, industry programs, or lenders deciding farmers in Zone A will be held to one standard while farmers in Zone B are held to another. 

Meanwhile, even the most aggressive standard is so trivial in the big picture that it is offset virtually overnight by unrestrained pollution in countries like China where no one is minding the store.

Sound familiar? Look at The Netherlands.

Activist NGOs have struck deals with everyone from the billionaire globalists, activist politicians, industry organizations, corporations and investors to create the world they envision and have invested in for a future return.

They use marketing platforms, global PR firms, thought-leadership networks, pre-competitive alliances, pseudo-foundations and even align with government agencies to flesh out the details and drive the bus.

As producers and consumers, it feels like we are along for the ride.

For example, Changing Markets Foundation, an offshoot of World Wildlife Fund, partners with NGOs to “leverage market forces to drive rapid and self-reinforcing change towards a more sustainable economy.”

It was formed to accelerate this transition.

Just this week Changing Markets published a study taking aim at dairy – warning investors to take a more active role in improving the dairy and meat sector’s “climate impact” by asking these companies, the processors, to disclose their emissions and investments and cut methane and other pollutants.

In other words, the NGOs, through a ‘marketing’ foundation, prods investors to push your milk buyers, lenders and vendors to obtain and track for them your information.

These NGOs and foundations are driving this bus a little too fast, and it needs to slow down. They take countries (like Holland) to court to hold up infrastructure projects, using their own pledged targets against them and forcing a faster timetable to gain the offsets needed for the stalled projects.

They publish self-fulfilling studies, surveys and warnings prodding investors to reach back into the dairy and meat sector and take a more active role in getting more reporting of downstream methane emissions (your farm).

They warn dairy and meat processors that if they don’t get this information and cough it up, investor confidence will be harmed and their assets could be stranded, resulting in large economic losses.

They salivate with anticipation, waiting for land purchase packages that they, as NGOs, can poorly manage as contractors alongside the purchasing government entities.

Let this sink in. The investor class is being deemed the farmer’s new customer – not the consumers whom our farmers are proud to feed and proud to show the truly valuable practices they use in caring for the land, practices that are often not very well monetized – like cover crops, for example.

If a country like the Netherlands with a progressive agriculture industry finds itself in the position that it can’t build or do infrastructure projects without first decreasing nitrogen emissions on the backs of farmers, where do we go from here with the fuzzy math being done on all greenhouse gases in the sidebars of highly-capitalized alternative meat and dairy lookalikes that are lining up — ready to burst on the scene to grab a foothold for investor returns?

The Changing Markets report, in fact, makes the claim that 37% of global GHG comes from food production and attributes most of this to meat and dairy — certainly embellishing the issue in this disingenuous phrasing and fuzzy math.

If farmers can’t be paid for the simplest of constructive practices that produce food for people — while at the same time being restorative to the land, why should billionaires and governments be able to come in and buy their land, plant trees, re-wild to scrub brush or half-hearted grassland status and get an offset?

None of what is happening makes sense unless we step back and recall what we know about the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset, Food Transformation, Net Zero Economy and the realities of so-called ESGs. This has been a process and most of us have only had glimpses of it to connect the dots.

I recall conversations over the years of my journalism career with a most respected ag economics professor, the late Lou Moore at Penn State. He worked with farmers and his peers in former Soviet countries after the breakup of the Soviet Union. He would tell the stories from Ukraine, described to him as handed down through generations of the period of terror and famine known as the Holodomor when the Soviets collectivized the farms of the Ukraine under communism – resulting in the starvation and death of 10 million or more in a transition.

Bottomline: Agenda 2030 has been under construction for some time now, and ‘climate urgency’ is being used today to target farming and food production, not just energy and fuel.

Our industry organizations keep telling us the public, consumers, are driving where this is going, that it is science based, and yet key questions at the farm level still can’t be answered.

At the regional levels, we see authentic models of conservation groups partnering with dairy farms and cooperatives to access grants for meaningful improvements that make financial and environmental sense but may not show up just so on a global NGO’s master sheet. 

There are ideas being generated to give companies of all sizes a way to be ‘climate champions’ by investing in Farm Bill conservation programs that really work. Congressman G.T. Thompson mentioned this recently at a farm meeting.

Let’s do the work that accomplishes what’s real and equitable for our farmers and hold off just yet providing too much detailed information.

We know NGOs and governments have set targets to protect 30% of the earth’s surface as non-working lands by 2030 and 50% by 2050. This boils down in the targets at the U.S. level as well.

Let’s be sure we don’t give away the farm.

The strength and diversity of our farmers is so important. You, our farmers worldwide, are the thin green line between us and a Holodomor.

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School lunch money scare tactics are holding up PA whole milk bill

Cousins Grace and Bella are my youngest granddaughters, pictured here in 2020 obviously enjoying their milk — mustache and all. They both started kindergarten in 2021, where for the next 12 years, their meals at school will not allow their choice of whole milk or even 2% milk — unless state and/or federal lawmakers act. Children consume 2 meals a day, 5 days a week, 75% of the year at school where they are denied the simple choice, even a la carte. A saddening and maddening state of affairs.

As adults, we should be ashamed of ourselves

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 8, 2022

I guess it’s true, good dairy bills – for more than a decade now – continue to be introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, only to pass in the House but then die in the Senate. We’ve seen it with the many bills over the years aimed at amending the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Law, and now we are seeing it with the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act.

HB 2397 was introduced by Representative John Lawrence, and it passed the State House almost unanimously (196 to 2) in April. It then passed the State Senate Agriculture Committee and was re-referred to the State Senate Appropriations Committee, where it sits today digesting the “scare tactics” of its opponents – causing some heartburn for lawmakers thinking USDA could withhold all free and reduced school lunch reimbursements in Pennsylvania.

USDA is the bully waving children’s lunch money like a mighty sword demanding submissive obedience, even suggesting in May that schools lacking appropriate LGBTQ+ policies for “gender affirming” use of locker rooms, rest rooms and sports participation could be denied their free and reduced school lunch reimbursements. USDA has since recanted this notion — saying they meant only to address discrimination associated with the provision of the food. That’s more like it. But that redirection of the Department’s prior statement did not happen until more than 20 states’ Governors and Attorneys General threatened to sue the Biden Administration for using the lunch money of economically disadvantaged children to implement federalized bathroom gender policies.

On whole milk in schools, similar scare tactics are being used to prevent the Pennsylvania state bill from being voted on in the Senate chamber.

Bow thee, oh Pennsylvanians, to King Vilsack and the Dietary Police.

Even a certain farm paper published in Lancaster County has made it their business to take every point of whole milk choice supporters, the evidence, the law, and tear it apart – piece by piece. A head-scratcher, for sure.

I have been digging into the original Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the subsequent amendments through the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), as well as various memos from USDA to state nutrition program directors when the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules were implemented to govern a la carte beverages in 2012. I have also read through Pennsylvania Department of Education audits of schools, which are all publicly available. I can find no tie between a state law offering a self-select choice of whole milk (paid for with state or local or parental funds) to students as grounds for withholding free and reduced school meal reimbursements from schools. In fact, quite the contrary. 

Even the individual schools that would choose to provide the choice of whole and/or 2% milk to students could not be threatened with loss of their free and reduced lunch subsidy — as long as the meal pattern for the ‘served’ lunch is met; however, more importantly, it is clear that the only audit feature tied specifically to this reimbursement is that the financial eligibility of the recipients is properly qualified.

Here’s the key: Even if a school is deemed out of compliance on meal pattern or does not have a strong enough ‘wellness policy’ on ‘competing foods’ — as would be the case if whole milk was offered as a choice, USDA does not have the authority to yank the free and reduced school meal subsidy on that basis. This authority is linked to eligibility, financial eligibility.

Research into the 2010 HHFKA shows that the loss of this reimbursement is directly tied to how the students/families are qualified as financially eligible. There are extensive details on this in the law, and the auditing schools go through, the paper trail for eligibility, is extensive. This is a separate audit section from the meal pattern performance.

In fact, in passing the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the U.S. Congress clearly stated — separately — that schools can receive a 6-cents per eligible meal ‘performance increase’ as an incentive to meet the new HHFKA-prescribed meal patterns and in addressing competing foods and beverages in school wellness policies per USDA. This ‘bonus’ is tied to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences, not the Dietary Guidelines. (A 2018 National Academy of Sciences review was highly critical of the Dietary Guidelines process.)

In setting a 6-cent performance increase per eligible meal in the 2010 HHFKA, Congress also capped the total to be spent for this meal-pattern incentive at $50 million annually nationwide. This is over and above the separate free and reduced meal reimbursement, itself, which dwarfs the performance bonus at $14 billion annually nationwide. 

These are separate portions of the 2010 HHFKA. In Section E of the law, Failure to Comply spells out precisely what is at risk if a school is not in meal pattern compliance — the 6 cents increase per eligible meal, not the reimbursement for qualified free and reduced meals.

As for the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules promulgated by USDA and implemented fully in 2012, which govern the a la carte beverages and snacks that can be “available” on school premises during school hours? It is important to note that USDA’s own memos to state directors in 2014 clarified that the Department will “provide exemptions for certain foods that are nutrient dense, even if they may not meet all of the specific nutrient requirements.”

Whole milk is a nutrient dense food.

However, in playing ‘dictator’ with our children’s health, USDA chose its exemptions and ignored the nutrient density of whole milk. What did they use as an example in a memo to schools? “Peanut butter and other nut butters are exempt from the total fat and saturated fat standards since these foods are also nutrient dense… and we want students to consume more of these foods,” a memo to state directors stated.

Perhaps Impossible Burger is another ‘exemption’ given its calories, fat and sodium far exceed USDA rules, but it was so-impossibly approved by USDA in May 2021 for actual federal meal reimbursement. Impossible Burger is not particularly nutrient dense – but real beef is, and real beef is greatly limited in school meal pattern compliance, along with the ban on whole milk.

Bottomline, the USDA under Secretary Vilsack in 2012 took aim at beverages. In 2018, while working for DMI as one of dairy checkoff’s highest paid executives serving as President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Tom Vilsack was cheered and awarded during the dairy checkoff founded and funded GENYOUth Gala that year for his “success” in “finally” addressing the beverage situation in schools. 

Those were the words of former President Bill Clinton, a vegan, who spoke at length during the Gala about the beverage problem in the obesity crisis and how his friend Tom is the person who finally “got it done.”

What did he get done? He booted out the whole milk and paved the path for all of PepsiCo’s artificially sweetened and partially artificially sweetened beverages in school cafeterias – the Gatorade Zero, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Diet Coolers, Diet Cola’s, flavored waters – with that blend of high fructose corn syrup and sucralose that keeps them under 60 calories (the USDA threshold for an a la carte beverage per the Smart Snacks rules) and of course fat free – but also nutrition free. (PepsiCo got the GENYOUth Gala award the following year)

Sadly, the U.S. Congress also let dairy farmers down in 2010 by including the reference to the Dietary Guidelines in the one and only sentence on school milk in the HHFKA. All other nutritional references for the meal pattern are linked to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences. 

Here’s what the HHFKA states under Nutrition Requirements for Fluid Milk Section 9(a)(2)(A) is amended to say: “shall offer students a variety of fluid milk. Such milk shall be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 

Even that milk sentence is ‘loose,’ and open to interpretation. Is the DGA recommendation of consuming ‘less than 10% calories from saturated fat’ a per-food, per-beverage, or per-meal ordinance or a whole-day allotment? 

We are told over and over that the DGAs are recommendations. Somehow USDA didn’t get that memo and decided to use DGAs to bully milk choices of children.

Never mind how counterproductive this is for children. When removing satiating nutrient dense fat from whole nutrient dense foods, kids compensate and replace this with nutritionally empty carbohydrates. 

Such were the early warnings of school foodservice personnel I interviewed over a decade ago as they piloted the draconian rules  before they were implemented. 

Such is also among the recent findings of the Milky Way controlled study by Australian researchers involving two sets of children — one having their milkfat consumption increased and the other having their milkfat consumption decreased. 

Care to guess which group saw a reduction in Body Mass Index percentile? Or which group had higher blood sodium levels? Or what the differences were in other biomarkers related to cardiovascular and metabolic health? (An article about this study appeared in the May 20 edition of Farmshine. It was the group of children who increased milkfat consumption that saw decreased BMI percentile and it was the group of children who decreased milkfat consumption that saw increased blood sodium levels! All other biomarkers for health were the same between the two groups.)

There are so many tentacles behind the scenes of how this whole school meal and school milk thing really work, that it boggles the mind – so much so that vested interests can come in and scare well-intentioned state lawmakers into thinking if they dare pass this bill and make nutrient dense flavorful whole milk available to schoolchildren as a CHOICE, that somehow the economically disadvantaged children of the Commonwealth could go hungry because USDA will take their lunch money. School foodservice directors are undoubtedly scared as well because the free/reduced reimbursements are a huge part of their budgets.

I’ve got news for the opponents of this bill, the State Senate Appropriations Committee, the Governor and the USDA: Our children are already suffering from hunger pangs in math class, and the absence of nutrient density in their school meals – on your watch right now, today. Do you care? Do the opponents of the whole milk bill spewing their scare tactics care?

The federal prohibition of whole milk in schools is the tip of a mighty iceberg that is failing our children while paving the path to an even less healthful future for America and a less economically healthful status for Pennsylvania dairy farms, the backbone of our state’s ag economy into the future.

We just celebrated our nation’s Independence Day, and yet our children cannot choose whole milk at school — even if their locally elected school boards want to offer it and even if their parents pay for it.

No one supporting this bill believes USDA will reimburse the actual whole milk, itself. Supporters just want the choice to be fully recognized as legal so that as parents, grandparents, farmers, citizens we can get about the business of next finding a way to provide this nutrient dense, satiating, delicious option to the children in our communities who consume two meals a day, five days a week, three-quarters of the year at school.

The issue spills out from the schools into other foodservice meals. It is heartwrenching for this reporter to listen to adults involved in dairy checkoff boast to farmers about how they are getting whole milk and cream into McDonald’s coffee drinks, into foodservice hot chocolate, into all of these trendy adult venues – while our children get a tiny fat-free chocolate milk in their happy meal because this school edict spills over into foodservice chains being bullied to do the same outside of school ‘for the kids’.

As adults, we should be ashamed of ourselves and reflect on our pathetic disregard for our children.

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