‘Got milk, PA? Ag Sec awards $400,000 Farm-to-School, but where’s the milk?

PA Farm Bill Farm-to-School education grants aim to bridge the gap between children and the food system by connecting them to the fresh, healthy food available from Pennsylvania agricultural producers in their community and the surrounding areas. The 39 grants announced April 30th, totaling $400,000 for 2020-21, and they are thin on real dairy even though real dairy is 37% of Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy. Composite image by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 14, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Increasing childhood nutrition and agricultural awareness is the stated purpose of $400,000 in grant awards made recently as part of the Pennsylvania Farm Bill.

On April 30th, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding announced 39 Farm to School grants of up to $15,000 each “to improve access to healthy, local foods and increase agricultural awareness opportunities for children pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.”

The trouble is, among the 39 projects receiving the total of $400,000, dairy is not mentioned, even though the Secretary recently confirmed when asked by state senators that dairy accounts for 37% of the Commonwealth’s agricultural backbone.

(As reported in Farmshine April 23, the Secretary also evaded Senate questions about legalizing whole milk as a simple choice for children in Pennsylvania schools, citing instead that the Dietary Guidelines maintain three servings of dairy a day and that the industry should focus on all the dairy products in school meals.)

“The children of today are the future of Pennsylvania agriculture,” said Redding in a press release announcing the $400,000 in Farm to School grants that are part of the PA Farm Bill’s 2020-21 budget cycle.

“Reviewing these 39 projects, and their goals to invest in programming that not only improves childhood nutrition but gives them opportunities for first-hand agricultural experiences to grow their knowledge and awareness, I see a bright future for the industry that feeds Pennsylvania,” Redding stated.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture statements, this grant program “aims to enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing food purchasing and education at schools and early childhood education sites.”

Any school district, charter school or private school with pre-kindergarten classes, kindergarten, or elementary through fifth grade was eligible to apply.

This week, Farmshine questioned the Pa. Department of Agriculture about the glaring absence of milk in the list of 39 grants awarded. Most of the grants involved school gardens and were tied to local produce grown in Pennsylvania. Some were projects linking to local poultry and eggs.

Dairy and beef were not mentioned at all. The only (not really) dairy reference in the Department’s press release was a grant to the Dubois Area School District in conjunction with Danone North America.

Before thinking Danone represents dairy in this case, think again.

Dubois is home to Danone’s flagship plant-based dairy-free alternative ‘yogurt’, ‘cheese’ and powdered ‘nutritional’ beverage plant.

In fact, Danone’s 180,000 square foot facility on 24 acres of the former airport in Clearfield County is the largest plant-based dairy-alternative plant in the United States.

At the 2019 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Danone’s multi-million-dollar plant-based expansion, the facility’s director, Chad Stone, highlighted “flexitarian” eating patterns as “people are interested in lessening their impact on the environment through diet.”

This plant-based “environmental” theme is already being pushed into school curricula and school foodservice at the national level (see related article in this edition of Farmshine).

In the Pa. Department of Agriculture’s response to our questions about the Farm to School grants lacking dairy, spokesperson Shannon Powers replied to identify five of the 39 grants as “including a dairy component in their application.”

One of the five she highlighted is the Clearfield County grant of $14,985 to the Dubois Area School District for “experiential learning and curricula” that includes “life on a dairy farm” via a field trip to a dairy farm (Kennis Farm was identified in the application). Powers also identified Danone as “a major dairy producer” but indicated that this grant provides experiential learning and curricula through the Danone facility in Dubois “that produces plant-based foods and beverages.”

Instead of using real local milk to make real yogurt, cheese and nutritional beverage powders, this Danone plant specializes in bringing in almonds, coconuts and cashews to make dairy substitutes as a so-called means of reducing “environmental impact” with new “choices” on grocery shelves.

(It’s hard to imagine how the almonds, cashews and coconuts listed in the Vega Protein, So Delicious and Silk brand yogurt, cheese and powder made at the Dubois plants could be locally-grown in Pennsylvania, a top-10 real dairy milk-producing state that is admittedly in ‘search’ of more dairy processing capability).

As for the other four Farm to School grants the Department identified in an email response as containing a dairy component, they are as follows:

In Erie County, a grant for $15,000 to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will do an experiential learning project that includes a dairy field trip.

In Lawrence County, the LCSS Healthy Start Micro Farm Project received $10,000 for a project that includes the purchase of local cheeses and other foods along with a school garden to supply the school kitchen.

In Lackawanna County, a grant of $3,356 to the Bright Future Learning Center was awarded to distribute Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes to preschool children and includes farm field trips. The application noted that fresh local milk would be included in the CSA produce boxes.

In Tioga and Bradford counties, a $15,000 grant was awarded to Stepping Stones Preschool and includes a field trip to a dairy farm to learn about the cheese-making process.

“The PA Farm Bill’s Farm to School grants are awarded to schools and other educational entities to foster early interest in and exposure to agriculture careers and to encourage students to consume fresh, locally-produced foods and develop healthy eating habits,” writes Powers in her Pa. Department of Agriculture response to Farmshine’s questions.

She notes that while dairy is not specifically mentioned in applicants’ proposals, “dairy destinations and themes are included among field trips, and dairy is part of curricula schools develop with grant funds.”

Dairy products are already “virtually always among PA-produced foods served in schools but getting locally-sourced produce into school lunch programs is a greater challenge,” Powers as Pa. Dept. of Agriculture spokesperson stated.

While dairy has been a predominantly ‘local’ product in schools over the years, today, local dairy’s position in Pennsylvania schools is waning. A good example is the removal of the choice of whole milk from schools in 2010 when the federal government tied school lunches more closely to USDA’s flawed Dietary Guidelines.

The most local dairy product available to any school is whole milk. Instead, today, with only fat-free and 1% low-fat milks permitted in schools, and a complex set of rules for meals to mandatorily conform to Dietary Guidelines, large foodservice companies – including PepsiCo – promise ‘guaranteed compliant’ meals and beverages, and schools are moving toward this type of sourcing.

In fact, the beverages students purchase after discarding fat-free and 1% low-fat milk are anything but local or nutritious, but they meet USDA government guidelines because they contain no fat and are formulated with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener combinations to meet calorie thresholds.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture, there were 57 applicants for this second round of Farm to School grants. The Farm to School grants were created under the 2019 PA Farm Bill and were funded again in 2020 and proposed for re-funding in the Governor’s 2021-22 budget.

When asked about grant applications that were denied, Powers replied: “Applicants not awarded grants did not meet the criteria or submitted incomplete applications. None of those applications included a dairy element.”

Our questions to the Center for Dairy Excellence, asking if they were aware of any Farm to School grants applications that involved curricula to highlight dairy or connect schools with local dairy, were not immediately answered; however, the Pa. Department of Agriculture in its response was quick to point out its other programs for dairy, as follows:

“The PA Dairy Investment Program in 2019 and Dairy Indemnity Program in 2020 are examples of state funding that has been available exclusively for dairy producers,” writes Powers. “In addition, the PA Farm Bill and Ag research grants include research dollars devoted to developing healthy, economical feed and bedding and controlling disease; conservation dollars to help improve soil and water quality and ensure future productivity; an Agricultural Business Development Center to help connect farmers with funding, grant resources, transition planning and a host of other support that benefits all Pennsylvania producers, including dairy.”

Powers also mentioned “Preferential tax programs like Clean & Green, REAP, Beginning Farmer Tax Credits, and a number of grants from other departments, including the departments of Environmental Protection and Community & Economic Development are available to dairy farmers” and reminds dairy producers seeking financial and planning resources from the state and private partners to “contact the PA Agricultural Business Development Center or the Center for Dairy Excellence, another state-funded entity created specifically to support the needs of PA dairy farmers.”

In a nutshell, the Department of Agriculture views dairy products in schools as already being local and is focusing Farm to School grants on getting other local products, especially produce, into schools. The Department was quick to identify a handful of the 39 Farm to School grants that will include a dairy farm field trip component. One grant the Department highlighted includes experiential learning by visiting a dairy farm and then visiting a plant-based alternative dairy replacement processing facility. And, the Department believes it is providing considerable financial and resource help to dairy farmers to improve their sustainability and to diversify or “transition.”

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Milk Market Moos, June 25, 2021

By Sherry Bunting, published weekly in Farmshine Newspaper

Cutting through consumer confusion

Consumers and producers of food and beverages — anything in the protein market — are going to see a disruptor explosion of new products. As I look through the food-related publications coming across my desk and into my email inbox — Culinology, Progressive Grocer, Food Navigator, Meat + Poultry, Dairy Foods, Food and Beverage, and the list goes on — the sudden onslaught of animal-free cellular agriculture, portrayed as dairy and meat without the animals, is stunning.

Even Facebook pop-up ads push Nick’s ice cream every day in my Facebook ‘newsfeed’ — with the tagline ‘dairy without the cow’ courtesy of Perfect Day Foods.

They use ‘climate’ to generate interest from companies wanting to reduce a carbon footprint by incorporating the excrement of genetically-altered yeast to replace a portion of real dairy protein in the dairy manufacturing space. It’s an easy swap, Perfect Day founders say, and according to the USDA Bio-engineered labeling regulations that became official last January, the stuff doesn’t have to be labeled BE because the genetically-altered yeast are not being consumed — just their excrement harvested from the fermentation vats.

“We ran the numbers, and if we partnered with the dairy industry to use Perfect Day protein in just 5% of their products, we’d save 12.3 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions – equivalent to the carbon emitted from every single car registered in the city of Los Angeles,” says Nicki Briggs, Perfect Day’s vice president of corporate communications in a Berkeleyside online interview on the third day of June 2021. Ms. Briggs was formerly an employee of Chobani.

There are other dairy turncoats and straddlers moving between real and fake and seeking to blend them to some sort of climate / carbon standard. But data like that of Ms. Briggs doesn’t tell the whole cow story. Just like the data Impossible Foods is using to coax schools to replace 50% of their beef with Impossible Burger — now that it has the coveted USDA Child Nutrition Label — are figures that do not consider the entire cycle of cattle for a net figure on GHG.

It is maddening. This onslaught of bright packaging with new and clever names and claims populating the meat, dairy and seafood offerings — starting with plant-based concentrates and chemical combinations and leading to cells growing in bioreactors and yeast excreting protein in fermentation vats. Big Tech is the new wannabe farmer, and Big Ag, Big Food, Big Finance, and Big ole Uncle Sam are in for the deal.

Consumers will begin to feel like they are stuck inside a pinball machine, or to be more current with my analogy, a warp-speed version of a video game bombarded by bangs, pops and whistles.

That’s what Gen Z wants, they all say. And yet, a survey by the Hartman Group recently showed Gen Z — just like the Millennials before them — are most comfortable with the food choices they grew up with, but unlike Millennials who still had a preference for local, seasonal and farm-to-table, Gen Z-ers have a preference for fast food and foods with familiar tastes.

We’ve got some work to do to navigate all of this with a straight forward message that cuts through the climate half-truths and outright lies about cows, that penetrates the government dietary restrictions based on outdated and incomplete reviews of the scientific literature on dietary fat.

We’ve got our work cut out for us to keep educating others, giving them the facts that are being ignored and bullied out of the national, even global, conversation about food as the industry grows its margins for investors through consumer confusion at the expense of consumer’s knowing what’s real.

USDA joins global school lunch deal

USDA can’t even get U.S. school lunch right, but now plans to lead America’s joining into a “global coalition” called the “School Meals: Nutrition, Health and Education for Every Child.”
There’s also a bill before Congress seeking to make three meals and a snack universal for all children through school.

As for the global coalition, this is right up Secretary Vilsack’s alley. In a press release Wed., June 23 about USDA’s leadership in joining the global deal, Vilsack talked about “powerful incentives” and “building resilience to future shocks” by focusing on improving the nutrition, health, and education of vulnerable children and adolescents worldwide. Sounds good, right? Who can argue with words like that? But like everything else out of USDA these days, where’s the details? And what’s it really mean?

The global coalition is centered around education and school meals and will launch at the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit in September. Like the 30 x 30, the Net Zero initiatives, and everything else coming through the pipeline from World Economic Forum, the goal line for this, too, is 2030 — making nutritious meals available for all children by 2030, with other benchmarks set for 2022.

Who can argue with nutritious meals for all children? There’s not a single person who doesn’t want all children to have nutritious meals. The problem is this: Who defines what is nutritious? How will the systemization child-feeding change the future of food and agriculture?

Details, please, because the track record so far where USDA is concerned is marred by lack of logic and reduced application of current nutrition science via institutions like the Dietary Guidelines and restrictive policies for feeding children.

“We look forward to bringing our expertise to bear, expanding our reach, and benefiting millions more vulnerable children by partnering with the World Food Program and other like-minded countries as part of this important coalition,” said Vilsack in Wednesday’s press release.

Okay, let’s hear those details.

Will USDA do dairy?

In a June 15 press release about previously authorized aid for dairy, USDA announced $580 million for Dairy Margin Coverage base changes and $400 million for Dairy Donation Program would be implemented within the next 60 days, but we’ve yet to see the details.

As part of that news release, USDA also noted that, “Additional Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) payments would be targeted to dairy farmers who have demonstrated losses not covered by previous payments.” No details on that either.

However, on the same day of that press release — June 15 — Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack about delivering urgently needed relief to dairy farmers. Vilsack replied to say that USDA was announcing that day (again without details).

In the exchange between Vilsack and Leahy during a Senate hearing, Vilsack said: “We are creating a program to help reduce the differential that occurred between Class I and Class III milk pricing because of the disproportionate number of purchases of cheese during the Food Box effort. That distorted the market, and it caused a lot of harm to smaller producers. We’re putting resources in to reimburse those producers for some of the loss they incurred.”

Those ‘differential’ discrepancies have not been outlined yet by USDA, but here are several manifestations Farmshine and other publications have been documenting:

  1. Due to the new Class I base calculation that uses a III / IV averaging method instead of the prior ‘higher of’, which was implemented by USDA in May 2019, over $750 million in cumulative Class I value was lost from May 2019 through May 2021.
  2. As much as $3.5 billion was potentially withheld or represented as inequitable transmission of milk value when massive volumes of Class III milk were withdrawn from FMMOs, as further reflected in severely negative PPDs. This would be a net loss after months of positive PPDs are applied; however, even positive PPDs in some months were smaller than normal.
  3. Both 1 and 2 contributed to the inequitable transmission of Class III value to many producer milk checks
  4. These losses affected the performance of purchased risk management tools, meaning that a change in Class I pricing that was supposed to help dairy processors manage their risk, had the resulting effect of making it more difficult or impossible for dairy farmers to manage their risk — during a time when they needed it most.

Conundrum: U.S. milk production up 4.6% in May

But here is the conundrum in regard to USDA dragging its feet on details for ‘dairy aid’: May milk production nationwide was up a whopping 4.6% over year ago — so says the USDA report released June 22. April production was up over 3% vs. year ago.

USDA looks at this as though dairy producers are doing so well that they are expanding their herds. In fact, in May, there were 145,000 more milk cows in the U.S. than a year ago. Could this be another sign of the inequitable transfer of value in the milk pricing formulas?

More insight on the production report next week’s Market Moos.

July Class I advance $17.42

The July advance Class I base price, or ‘mover,’ was announced Wednesday (June 23) at $17.42. This is 87 cents lower than June’s Class I base price and 86 cents higher than a year ago. The July 2021 Class I base price at $17.42 — using the current formula of average plus 74 cents — is 34 cents higher than it would have been if figured using the previous ‘higher of’ method at $17.08.

July 2021 marks the first time in 12 straight months that the new calculation method resulted in a higher Class I base price than the old method. However, there’s a lot of ground to make up, considering that for 16 of the 27 months since the new method was implemented, the difference between the new ‘average plus’ and the old ‘higher of’ was lower and only 11 months were higher.

In fact, the Class I base value losses for 16 months averages to $3.28 per hundredweight while the value gains (including upcoming July 2021) for 11 months averages to just 39 cents.

Class III/IV milk futures plunge

Class III and IV milk futures were all lower across the board this week. The only green in the sea of red, was the Class III current month gained a dime heading into the last week of June contract trading, but the Class III July contract lost 15 cents and August plunged by $1.00 below week ago, with the rest of the board on Class III milk ranging 10 to 50 cents lower. On the Class IV board, the losses were more evenly spread ranging 20 to 50 cents lower across all 12 months.

As all four dairy commodities trended lower on the CME spot market this week, the 12-month futures average lost 29 cents on both classes, equally, by midweek, so the spread between Class III and IV 12-month future contract averages remained exactly at 67 cents on Wednesday, June 23 — right where it was a week ago and still well below the $1.48 mark.

On Wed., June 23, Class III milk futures for the next 12 months averaged $17.67, down 29 cents from the previous Wednesday’s average, the 7th straight week the 12-month Class III futures price average was lower than the prior week. Class IV contracts averaged $17.00 — down 29 cents from the 12-month average on the previous Wednesday.

Dairy commodities all lower

Butter slid lower almost daily, on the CME daily spot market. By Wed., June 23, the price was pegged at $1.73/lb — down 7 cents from the previous Wednesday with 6 loads trading.

Grade A nonfat dry milk (NFDM) also slipped this week. On Wed., June 23, the CME spot market price was pegged at $1.2575/lb, a penny lower than a week ago with a single load trading.

Cheddar trade plunged lower on the CME, then firmed up a penny or two at midweek. Barrels took the brunt of the decline and by Wed., June 23, both the 40-lb block Cheddar and 500-lb barrel cheese were pegged at $1.49/lb on the spot market with 2 loads of blocks and a single load of barrels changing hands. This was a net 3-cent loss for the week on blocks and a 15-cent loss on barrels.

Whey price was firm on the CME spot market, pegged at 59 1/2 cents with zero loads trading.

USDA to invest over $5 bil. in food supply chain, focus is transformation, not relief; Public comments due June 21

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 11, 2021

WASHINGTON — Long on transformation framework and short on meaningful details, USDA announced this week (June 8) that it will invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains. This follows the June 4 announcement of over $1 billion for ‘healthy food’ and security infrastructure.

What these words mean is still the subject of USDA gathering input through public comments due June 21 and a series of stakeholder meetings. The first one was a 30-minute webinar attended virtually by over 3000 people representing food and agriculture organizations the day after the funding announcement (June 9).

These announcements are billed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as part of the “Build Back Better” initiative to be funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (passed by the 116th Congress and signed by President Trump in January) and the American Rescue Plan Act (passed by the 117th Congress and signed by President Biden in March.)

Vilsack will co-chair, along with Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, the Biden administration’s new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force for a “whole of government response.”

According to USDA, its investment announcements will include a mix of grants, loans and “innovative financing mechanisms” for the food production, processing, distribution and market access priorities that will “tackle the climate crisis and help communities that have been left behind.”

It has been six months since CAA funds were appropriated and three months since ARPA funding was authorized. These relief and support funds passed by two sessions of Congress and signed by two Presidents are now sitting in wait of a task force establishing supply chain transformation priorities after public comments and industry stakeholder meetings.

Meanwhile, dairy producers and other sectors of agriculture are still waiting for details about relief that was to some degree spelled out in the prior congressional language of these Acts. 

This includes waiting for USDA’s implementation of what was supposed to be an expanded base option for dairy producers in the Dairy Margin Coverage program; waiting for participation details for the Dairy Donation Program that is supposed to be retroactive; and waiting for a response from USDA to the bipartisan request by Senators seeking relief payments for dairy farmers for the first half of 2021 retroactive to January 1.

In the detailed request for public comment, USDA is making it clear that the CAA and ARPA funds will be spent on transformation, not relief. Guiding the transformation is President Biden’s February Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chain.

USDA says it is interested in comments spanning everything from animal, soil, plant and climate health, traceability, monitoring and technologies to agricultural inputs, energy, markets, storage, distribution, and digital security.

“We always knew this, but the pandemic really highlighted it for the rest of the country: Our food system is brittle, and any shock to it can have devastating effects down the chain. Now is the time — not to go back to normal — but to build a new normal,” said Mae Wu, Deputy Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs during the first stakeholder webinar this week.

“Before we dealt with the pandemic, we had a food system in which nearly 90% of our farms did not generate the majority of the income for the farm families operating those farms. We had a food and farm system in which soil erosion was occurring at 10 times the rate that soil was being replenished,” said Vilsack as the first stakeholder webinar kicked off.

“We all know we have a substantial number of waterways that are currently impaired, and we also appreciate the fact that we had a food system that was prepared to address climate change but not yet fully embracing the opportunity side of that claim,” Vilsack continued. “So we had a system that needed help. We had a system that also was seeing rapid consolidation and a lack of competition. Then Covid hit and by virtue of Covid we learned that what we thought was a resilient system, really wasn’t resilient at all and had a difficult time shifting from food going into foodservice to going into food assistance.”

Citing the President’s February Executive Order, Vilsack said the focus of the new task force, he co-chairs, is to strengthen supply chains by “beginning the process of transformation.”

In the Federal Register document, USDA states: “(Our) initial thinking includes, but is not limited to, funding, through a combination of grants or loans, for needs such as: supply chain retooling to address multiple needs at once (i.e., achieving both climate benefits and addressing supply gaps or vulnerabilities concurrently), expansion of local and regional food capacity and distribution (e.g., hubs, cooperative development, cold chain improvements, infrastructure), development of local and regional meat and poultry processing and seafood processing and distribution, and food supply chain capacity, building for socially disadvantaged communities.”

In one subsection, USDA notes that it is interested in comments on “the availability of substitutes or alternative sources for critical goods and materials…” For example, USDA says it “encourages commenters to consider agricultural products that could be domestically grown but are not practically available today for various reasons, and to describe whether and how such products (or their alternatives) could be made available through supply chain resilience efforts.”

To-date, there are 297 public comments on the docket. A quick look through 55 that are viewable presently includes many food banks and feeding programs, some mentioning dairy, but few comments are logged from dairy organizations to-date.

For its part, the National Farmers Organization attached a document and stated: “The farmer dumping milk needs a market today, not in the long run. The person standing in a food line needs something to eat today, not in the long run. We need to look more carefully at what is going on if we are to understand, and effectively address, the dilemma of too much milk on one end of the supply chain and not enough dairy products on the other.”

Vilsack (who worked as a dairy checkoff executive for the four years between being Ag Secretary in the Obama and Biden administrations) also referenced milk dumping, saying the dairy industry had bottlenecks as foodservice demand shut down while retail demand for consumer-packaged goods skyrocketed.

In fact, in a recent Fortune magazine interview, Vilsack said the cost of $1.50 per gallon to put milk in a jug created a disincentive to donate excess milk instead of dumping it.

However, in reality, there was more to it than that in parts of the country where Governors brought the curtain down on the economy to strict degrees of people ordered to stay home, while also scolding them in public service announcements for buying too much food. Retailers hit the brakes by putting purchase limits on milk, butter and other dairy products, just as processors loaded up the silos with milk for the retail surge, only to find their retail orders came to a screeching halt as the purchase limits contributed to backing milk up from plant storage into farm pipelines faster than donation efforts could get organized or find facilities to bottle or process.

Facility issues were also cited at the time, in terms of separated cream filling storage silos with nowhere to go as butter capacity was busy switching to pull bulk butter from storage and convert it to print butter, and butter imports skyrocketed. It took a while to unwind the institutional governance of low-fat milk into making more whole milk available as consumers could choose. And it took a while for governments to allow institutions (like schools) to temporarily give whole milk. The result, in the Northeast especially, was a huge volume of dumped milk.

Among the viewable comments to USDA at the Federal Register, so far, are groups citing industry concentration and consolidation.

In its comments, the Montana Cattlemen’s Association pointed out that Secretary Vilsack, along with then Attorney General Eric Holder, held concentration and antitrust listening sessions across the U.S. during the Obama administration, and nothing ever came of it. One of those USDA / DOJ national listening sessions was on dairy, specifically, in Madison, Wisconsin in 2009.

The National Grocers Association echoed these concerns, detailing the way a few global companies already control food retail, foodservice, food processing and distribution, and how this affects farmers and ranchers, independent retailers and restaurants, and thereby affects regional food supply chains, and ultimately consumers and America’s security.

Both the cattlemen and grocers call for specific actions that would increase competition, regional processing and market access and thereby make the U.S. food system more secure and critical supply chains more resilient.

During the stakeholder webinar, Vilsack addressed a question on market competition by saying USDA will “first make sure the markets that do exist are as open and transparent as possible” by looking at the current rules along with other federal agencies and taking any steps to rectify. But he also pointed to developing new markets.

At the other end of the public comment spectrum, groups like the Good Food Institute, a lobbying organization for plant-based and cell-cultured replacements for animal-sourced foods, paint a picture of how their streamlined lab-style production through pop-up bioreactors and fermentation vats in rural, suburban and urban areas can be built to provide supply chain resiliency and food security. GFI also claims that their models would be a climate mitigation strategy.

GFI addressed each of the USDA bullet points on supply chain resilience, climate action and new market opportunities to describe why the CAA and ARPA funds should be used for research and infrastructure that shifts away from animal agriculture to plant-based and cell-cultured through digital and genetic technologies that are already within the USDA Agricultural Research Service wheelhouse.

GFI lays out their description of how recombinant proteins and GMOs, along with the storability of frozen cells and dry plant-based powders, can be turned into food quickly, and in exact amounts needed, and can be grown and manufactured anywhere — without waiting for animals to grow — leaving land available for so-called ‘climate strategies’ and biodiversity. 

But, they say, research and infrastructure are needed to make their science-fiction novel come true. This, despite the huge investments of tech industry billionaires in these replacement technologies, and the way the largest meat and dairy processors are diversifying, to brand – and blend – such alternatives to look, taste, and feel like the real thing.

Interestingly, the food economy is, right now, dealing with supply chain disruptions and inflationary price hikes on animal-sourced products from eggs and milk to bacon, beef, and chicken wings. The price squeeze is having a big impact on independent grocers, independent restaurants, and consumers. At the same time, prices paid to dairy and livestock producers are turning lower just as farmers and ranchers were hoping to get back on their collective feet.

That paradox is not sustainable nor resilient for producers or consumers, but growing cells in bioreactors or harvesting yeast-excrement from fermentation vats — instead of animals on farms —simply gives even more control of food to even fewer entities that would control the genetic alterations that make it scientifically possible.

USDA states in its press release that it wants to address competition and small and medium sized processing capacity and that it wants fairness, competition, equity, and access for producers and consumers, while accomplishing climate mitigation at the same time. 

The question is: What do these buzz words actually mean? The June 9 stakeholder webinar gave a glimpse.

Vilsack explained that USDA is putting the series of funding announcements into a series of four supply chain ‘buckets’: production, processing, distribution / aggregation and markets / consumers.

He said USDA will begin by providing assistance for beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, including the debt relief for farmers of color.

“We’ll look for ways to provide assistance for those who work on the farms and those who work in the processing facilities. We’ll look for how we can encourage those transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture if they choose to do so,” said Vilsack. “All of this will be designed to create greater resilience in terms of the number of people available to farm and the types of farming systems that we have. You’ll also see investments in urban agriculture.”

Vilsack said on the food processing side, USDA is “very focused” on ways to create more options for farmers by “shoring up and expanding” existing small and medium size processing to create more markets for farmers.

He highlighted “food hubs” in the distribution bucket and “access to healthy foods” in the consumer bucket.

Answering a question later about how government grant-writing is beyond the scope of most farms, especially small farms, Vilsack said: “One way for folks to get expertise and capacity is to join with others who are similarly situated to form a food hub to aggregate products. There is money for food hubs in this.”

Calling the Dairy Donation Program an investment in the production / producer bucket, and referencing it four times in the webinar, Vilsack said the DDP “will enable producers to more quickly shift in the event of a disruption from foodservice or retail that might not be available for whatever reason into food assistance mode.”

He identified the need to “significantly invest in storage and refrigeration infrastructure to accept significant quantities of food to be stored for a period of time and distributed over a period of time. Right now, we are not equipped to handle a great influx of meat, and produce all at one time, and as a result, animals were destroyed and milk was dumped,” he said.

Vilsack said another way to look at USDA’s incremental roll out of the CAA and ARPA funds is that it reflects “how we are going about the transformation of our food and farm system. We need to continue to invest to make sure there are multiple ways for people to get into the farming business and to stay in business.”

To be profitable, he said, “means we need to develop more new and better markets to be invested in. We want to make sure it is sustainable, circular, regenerative in its approach. We want to make sure it is equitable in its application so that people of all races, ethnicities, gender and so forth are able to access the programs completely at USDA,” said Vilsack.

For producers, allied industry, consumers and organizations, now is the time to visit the USDA Federal Register Docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document/AMS-TM-21-0034-0001 to read the guidelines for commenting and submit a “Supply Chain Comment” referencing Docket AMS-TM-21-0034-001 by June 21, 2021.

Comments may also be sent to Dr. Melissa R. Bailey, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, Room 2055-S, STOP 0201, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250-0201. For further information about how to comment and the guidelines for commenting, contact Dr. Bailey by phone at 202-205-9356 or email melissa.bailey@usda.gov

(Author’s Note: The pandemic revealed that the institutional feeding models replete with anti-fat rules based on un-scientific Dietary Guidelines are part of the supply chain disruption problem. Governmental and non-governmental organizations continue to try to systemize food distribution into dietary lanes that don’t reflect the science or consumer attitudes about healthy fat and animal protein. Now ‘climate’ is being used as a potential animal-dilution driver. When someone wants to give families a gallon of whole milk (instead of fat-free or low-fat) when they pick up the school lunches for their children during a pandemic, the last thing any governmental or non-governmental organization should be telling them is “you can’t do that, it’s against the rules,” or pushing them into an adjacent parking lot so they aren’t “next to” the institutionally rule-inundated food. That is just one aspect I plan to write about in commenting to the USDALoosen those dietary restraints that give all the power to the global consolidators in foodservice, processing and distribution. Let free-enterprise and good will work for good.)

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NY dairy farmer fights eminent domain as county moves to take best fields for cheese plant relocation, expansion

“If the state — under the auspices of the Industrial Development Agency — can decide how these properties can be used, I think as farmers, we need to realize we can lose our land through eminent domain takings,” says Charlie Bares. He is fighting to save fertile farmland that is key to feeding cows and managing manure nutrients at Mallards Dairy. Photo provided

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 21, 2021

ANGELICA, N.Y. — It feels like a no-win situation for Charlie Bares ever since Great Lakes Cheese set its sights on fertile Genesee River Valley land that is integral to growing forage and hauling manure for the 3000-cow Mallards Dairy.

The Allegany County (New York) Industrial Development Agency (ACIDA) has moved forward with eminent domain proceedings to condemn 321 acres of Bares’ land, identified in county documents as Marshland LLC, so the county can use the land to build a 480,000 square foot cheese manufacturing facility for Great Lakes Cheese.

The county has a deal with the Hiram, Ohio-based cheese company to give $220 million in tax savings and incentives to build the $500 million plant on Bares’ land. 

The new plant would double the company’s current production at its Empire Cheese plant in nearby Cuba, New York.

According to documents in the public record, Great Lakes Cheese intends to close the Cuba plant after production would begin at the plant it seeks to build on Bares’ land. 

ACIDA and the cheese company began working on this project in October 2019 and have set a timetable for groundbreaking later this year and operations to begin in January 2025.

The public record also indicates that 200 jobs at the Cuba plant, and additional jobs with the expansion, as well as milk markets, are “in jeopardy” if Great Lakes can’t build on this particular land.

Cows have been milked in this operation since 1860, according to Bares, who joined Joe Strzelec as a partner in the 1990s. As the ownership and business changed over the years — with Bares becoming the principle partner and expanding the operation — the Genesee River Valley land the county wants to take has become a key to the dairy business 20 miles away.

“IDA has begun the eminent domain process, and we are fighting it,” said Bares in a Farmshine phone interview. “We are arguing that this is not an overwhelming public benefit, but that it is an overwhelming private benefit.”

A few weeks ago, attorneys representing Bares and Marshacres LLC filed a petition challenging the county’s actions. The legal case is currently in the New York State Appellate Court.

Bares was approached a year ago about selling more than half of the 400 acres for the cheese plant.

“We didn’t want to sell, and we gave a price that reflected that. This land is the biggest and best field for us, and it is an integral part of our business. Selling it would weaken our dairy business,” he explained.

In addition, Bares is concerned about the environmental impact of losing land like this to concrete. While his operations are just outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he is a supporter of the clean water blueprint for the Bay, and has invested over the years in technologies and best management practices profiled in 2015 in a Chesapeake Bay Foundation blog. Tree plantings and riparian buffers for water quality in the Genesee River Basin were also highlighted, among other things, in 2018. 

The ‘market value’ of this land is irrelevant under these conditions. What is relevant is the value of the land to Mallards Dairy and its owners.

In fact, in a letter reported by the Olean Times-Herald, Bares’ attorney John Cappellini observes:  “You are taking property from one company and giving it to another? You have decided that one commercial use, the farm, is somehow less important than a cheese factory.”

Explaining in the letter that the threats from Great Lakes Cheese to close all area facilities and leave the area have motivated officials against his client, Cappellini stated further that, “They are extorting from the taxpayers of Allegany County, and the County Legislature is complicit. They threaten to leave ‘unless you give us what we want.’”

The ACIDA notes that 80 sites were evaluated as Great Lakes Cheese had specific criteria to build a plant that would double its production after the Cuba plant is closed.

Of those 80 sites, the county says this is the only property that meets the company’s criteria.

Reports indicate the land meets three criteria: flat land, proximity to the river and being just off a major highway, I-86. The greenfield approach is the company and county’s least expensive build option with access to cheaper highway transportation.

Bares believes the company has not negotiated in good faith.

Answering questions about milk supply, Bares notes there has been no ‘provincial talk’ guaranteeing this project must use any percentage of its milk from New York State farms. No such stipulations are noted in the public record, except the ACIDA record includes a mention and link to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).

Over the years, this region of New York has received milk from Michigan, Ohio and northern Indiana as it sits in a part of the state that falls just outside of Federal Milk Marketing Order maps — sitting as a bridge between the Northeast FMMO 1 and the Mideast FMMO 33.

The public record does show conditions that the over 200 employees at the existing Cuba plant would be offered jobs at the new plant.

Meanwhile, Mallards Dairy employs 35 to 40 people and feeds and milks 2500 cows with a total herd of 2900 mature animals. The land the county wants to take is key to that business.

This Allegany County Industrial Development Agency drawing shows the Great Lakes Cheese project, including 480,000 square foot cheese plant, 50,000 square foot wastewater treatment plant, access roads and infrastructure planned for land now belonging to a New York dairy farmer. According to county meeting transcripts, “Building out the Crossroads area that is planned for I-86, Route 19 and CR-20 is the number one immediate priority.” Screenshot under projects at acida.org

At the March ACIDA meeting, officials noted publicly that they hope to break ground in the third quarter of 2021 and be fully operational by Jan. 1, 2025. If the ACIDA is successful in the eminent domain process it has begun, the county would own Bares’ land and lease it to Great Lakes Cheese.

At one point, early on, Bares notes that not only did the selling price he offered reflect the importance of the land to the dairy business, but also the idea of securing a milk market was mentioned to the company. He says Great Lakes Cheese declined, noting simply that they purchase their milk from cooperatives. 

A prime supplier of Great Lakes Cheese is DFA, as the public record reflects. Bares markets his milk through a small independent cooperative.

Having been unable to reach an agreement that would reflect the impact to his dairy business, Bares hired a lawyer.

“This area is very hilly with narrow valleys. There’s not a lot of farmland. This Genesee River Valley land is very good, very fertile, non-erosive land,” said Bares of the land around the main dairy operation outside of Cuba, and the land the county wants to take 20 miles away. “We want to hang on to this land because it’s hard to replace. Every farmer has land that is their best land, that they aren’t going to let go unless they are done farming.”

He says going through this process over the past year has only strengthened his resolve to keep the land and fight the eminent domain process. He notes that his wife Elizabeth has helped him tremendously.

New York’s history of interpretation for ‘public use’ in eminent domain cases is a broader notion than for most states. Bares knows it will be an uphill battle to fight the county’s taking, but he is hoping that his battle will ultimately help others in the future facing a taking of their land.

“Our dairy jobs — and the cows — depend on this collection of land resources we have grown,” says Bares. “This whole thing is wrong for the profitability of our dairy to chip away at the best land. It’s wrong for the environment because this is a beautiful riparian river valley and land like this is disappearing fast. It’s wrong from the social aspect the way the government is using eminent domain to help one private enterprise while harming another.”

He says his attorney is confident and always believes he can win every case until he loses, so Bares is trying to stay positive.

Their petition was filed recently in New York State Appellate Court. The Allegany County IDA has reportedly petitioned the court to expedite proceedings. Bares had expected both sides to be writing briefs through the summer with oral arguments in October, but that could be expedited to August or September.

This land near Angelica, New York is farmed by Charlie Bares to primarily grow alfalfa and receive manure as a key part of nutrient management and forage production for the 3000-cow Mallards Dairy owned by Bares and his partner. The county wants to condemn it through eminent domain for a cheese plant.

“I think everyone should take a dim view of this. Every farmer — everyone — has a property that is head and heels above their other land, their best fields,” Bares suggests. “If the state — under the auspices of the Industrial Development Agency — can decide how these properties can be used, I think as farmers, we need to realize we can lose our land through eminent domain takings. My case is just an example.”

This case is an example because the ‘taking’ is not for a public use. It is for a private business use that the county is using economics to declare as a public use.

Bares has had some support from the community. Some rallies with some turnout, especially in April. There has been support online, and he has received a few phone calls. 

But largely, outside of the southern tier New York and northern tier Pennsylvania region, the story is not known.

A petition by Marshacres and citizens of Allegany County has been started, which has nearly 5500 signatures to-date at https://www.change.org/p/acida-stop-eminent-domain-seizure-of-working-farmland

“No one’s lining up (manure spreaders) at the county courthouse and threatening to open the valves, if that’s what you mean,” he answered.

After a long and quiet pause, he communicates just how difficult this situation has become for everyone.

“The farmers around me, my peers, they want this cheese plant and a stronger market. I believe that’s a big carrot, so it’s not easy. It seems there is little chance that I can come out ahead, either way. Either we chop off part of our business or the cheese plant will not expand here so everyone will view us as economic martyrs,” he explains.

“I feel like I cannot win.”

Even though each of two outcomes at the moment represent a different kind of difficult for Bares, he believes fighting the county’s eminent domain proceedings could help someone else — as untouched land like this that is important to agriculture and the environment is disappearing. 

“Once it’s paved over in concrete, ” he says, “it’s not coming back.”

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Grassroots efforts continue seeking solution to Class I formula change losses

While the buck is being passed, dairy producers are talking with lawmakers about the unintended consequences from the Class I mover change Congress enacted in the 2018 Farm Bill.

This illustrates the Class I mover formula since May 2019. Prior to that, the ‘higher of’ Class III or Class IV advance skim pricing factors was plugged into the first item under step 1 without the +74-cent adjuster to automatically be used as the Base Class I Skim Milk Price in the rest of the formula. Image Source: USDA

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Class I ‘mover’ is the subject of much discussion — two years after the averaging method plus 74 cents replaced the ‘higher of’ method to determine the base producer price of Class I beverage milk in May 2019.

A letter drafted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is gathering signatures from Senators and will be sent to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding financial assistance to cover direct and indirect losses borne by dairy farmers due to the formula change exacerbated by the pandemic.

“By allocating more direct payments through CFAP, USDA could take action to reduce the strain that dairy farmers are facing. Specifically, the agency should continue issuing payments to dairy farmers under CFAP, or through any further assistance programs that USDA conceives, including the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, for the first six months of 2021 and make these payments retroactive to January 1st,” the Senator’s letter states.

The American Dairy Coalition is urging producers to contact their Senators about signing onto the letter by end of day Monday, May 17. Senators should contact Dominic Sanchez at Senator Gillibrand’s office by email at Dominic_Sanchez@gillibrand.senate.gov

A transparent USDA hearing process was used 20 years ago to originally set the ‘higher of’ as the method when USDA rejected proposals for averaging Class III and IV due to depooling and negative differentials. However, in the 2018 Farm Bill, the Class I mover was changed from ‘higher of’ to an averaging method legislatively without hearings, without comment, without the producer referendum — without vetting.

Dairy groups are working to raise awareness among key lawmakers and USDA about the 24-month net loss of over $750 million in the Class I mover price from May 2019 through April 2021. In addition, these losses impacted orderly marketing and other factors, contributing to net losses exceeding $3 billion nationwide from inverted class price relationships that produced negative PPDs and led to depooling. In addition, dairy farmers had risk management losses when their milk was devalued, but they paid for risk management that failed because it was aligned with a “market value” they did not receive.

Sen. Gillibrand’s letter highlights the concern about the unintended consequences of the Class I formula change to averaging and away from ‘higher of’.

In the Northeast FMMO 1, for example, the Class I change, alone, accounted for a net loss of over $160 million in Class I devaluation over 24 months, and there were broader impacts of basis losses from reduced and negative producer price differentials (PPD) and depooling.

Northeast producer blend price losses are estimated to be $1.10/cwt, net, from May 2019 through April 2021. (Calculations are being done for other FMMO regions so stay tuned.)

Similar loss estimations can be made for broader impacts across the U.S., depending upon how cheese plants determined pay prices for farmers when the FMMO uniform blend prices were suppressed by $1 to $10 across 7 of the 11 FMMOs that report producer price differentials. These PPDs were severely negative from October through December 2019 and from June 2020 through April 2021.

These formula-related losses are expected to continue through most of 2021 due to current market factors affecting how the class pricing formulas, with the change to Class I, relate to each other and how this impacts depooling.

Producers from the Southeast U.S. also began circulating a letter to Secretary Vilsack this week highlighting the steep losses in the three Southeast FMMOs and seeking direct payments through Coronavirus stimulus funds.

The Southeast letter asserts that milk producers in FMMO 5, 6, and 7 (Appalachian, Florida and Southeast) disproportionately bore 21% ($155 million) of the lost revenue directly attributable to the Class I mover change, because the 21% of Class I value loss fell on dairy farmers shipping just 5.5% of total milk pooled across all orders in the U.S.

Southeast producer blend price losses are pegged at $1.25/cwt.

The Southeast letter states that the loss was not shared equitably among all dairy farmers, due to depooling, which the letter indicates made it possible for dairy farmers marketing milk to cheese plants (Class III) to receive the shortfall.

However, many producers whose milk was depooled from FMMOs did not receive that shortfall from milk buyers, unless they had milk contracts based directly on cheese prices. Many manufacturing class handlers use the FMMO blend price as the benchmark for paying producers outside of pooling.

Several industry sources observe that this change turned out to be a big benefit to processors at great expense to producers. The problem surfaced under market conditions before the pandemic and was made worse by market conditions since the pandemic.

Even National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has admitted as much, stating that the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) wanted this change in the first place. NMPF indicates they went along with it after studying some historical trends thinking the 74-cent adjuster to the average would produce a result that was “revenue-neutral” for dairy farmers.

It was anything but ‘revenue-neutral’ for dairy farmers, even before the pandemic. The pandemic impact simply magnified the severity of loss.

Proposals continue surfacing since NMPF announced its intention to seek a USDA emergency hearing with a proposal to tweak the adjuster to the average every two years.

Minnesota Milk Producers, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Edge Cooperative and the Nebraska State Dairy Association joined together with a concept to change the Class I mover to a Class III-Plus that would be based on Class III announced prices instead of advance prices.

FarmFirst Cooperative based in Madison, Wisconsin, announced it would put forward a proposal to return to the ‘higher of’ calculation — if USDA holds a hearing. However, to-date, no official FMMO hearing requests have been received by USDA.

The first few months of the new Class I mover formula in 2019 were net-positive to the Class I price, but this dissolved by July, almost a year before the pandemic, when the gap between the rising Class III price and the averaging method for the Class I mover narrowed because the spread between Class III and IV widened.

Government food box dairy purchases through the pandemic included more Class III products (cheese) than Class IV (butter/powder) or Class II (soft products that are priced by Class IV).

But food boxes included plenty of Class I (fluid milk). Trouble is, fluid milk is not ‘market valued’ except for the value of its components in manufacturing. Fluid milk is discounted as a ‘loss-leader’ by large supermarkets, especially those that process milk.

Another factor that contributed to the wide spread between Class III and IV pricing has been the difference in product inventory as a factor of production, exports and imports.

In 2020, butter inventory reached a 20-year high, while cheese inventory declined. Butter production increased, especially in the first half of 2020, to exceed the record-breaking production of 2018, making less cream available for cheese production. Meanwhile, cheese exports rose 16% while butter exports declined 5%.

On the flip side, cheese imports declined 10% while butter imports were the second largest on record, up 15% over the previous year for the first 7 months of 2020. The U.S. ended 2020 with butter imports 6% above 2019.

The Class I formula change made FMMOs even more vulnerable to massive depooling against this volatile and divergent backdrop of Class III vs. IV. As averaging reduced Class I pricing, and the Class III milk was depooled, the net result was blend prices that reflected a larger portion of the much lower Class IV (and II). Dairy farmers have been educated to produce milk with higher component levels of fat and protein as a method to improve profitability, but negative PPDs snub this value at the farm level.

Looking through USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order statistical bulletins, this reporter calculates over 70 billion pounds of milk were depooled across all FMMOs from July 2019 through March 2021 due to inverted class pricing.

PPDs reflect the difference between the Class III market value of components minus the blend price of all classes in the pool. When PPDs are negative, it reflects insufficient pool funds to pay that value).

The depooling of Class III milk and the negative PPDs (above) began on the West Coast in July 2019. By September through December 2019, all multiple component FMMOs had negative PPDs, that became more negative as volumes of depooled milk were noted in the central part of the country, moving east.

The four skim/fat pricing FMMOs in the Southeast and Arizona were quite negatively affected by lower Class I minimums in the fall of 2019 and for many of the months thereafter. Topsy-turvy All-Milk and Mailbox Milk prices reported by USDA are further proof of shrinking basis in producer milk checks affecting the performance of purchased risk management tools. Even those USDA-reported All-Milk and Mailbox prices do not tell the whole story because USDA states that “the value is in the marketplace” even if it is not equitably shared with producers.

In essence, the Class I mover change was made to give large global companies buying large volumes of milk a means of ‘hedging’ their risk through forward-contracting on the futures markets. But this ‘benefit’ has resulted in taking real money out of dairy farm milk checks and has made it difficult, in some cases impossible, for producers to manage their risk with tools they purchase in the marketplace and through USDA.

Interestingly, the nation’s largest Class I fluid milk company — Dean Foods — filed for bankruptcy sale and reorganization in November 2019 in the midst of the first appearance of negative PPDs and depooling pre-pandemic.

By January 2020, PPDs turned positive but narrow in comparison to prior history, so that’s still a loss. Then, in February, a month before the Coronavirus shutdown, negative PPDs and depooling again showed up in the Central, Pacific and California FMMOs.

By June 2020 — in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and one month after the bankruptcy sale of most of the Dean Foods Class I fluid milk plants to DFA — severely negative PPDs of -$1 to -$10, exacerbated by depooling, were prevalent across all FMMOs, most every month from June 2020 through the present.

Even in the Northeast FMMO, where statistics show positive PPDs in some months when other FMMOs were negative, the basis loss to Northeast producers is real because even the positive PPDs in FMMO 1 over the past 24 months are $1 or more below where they were just two years earlier.

As reported in Farmshine last week, Secretary Vilsack says it’s “complicated” and the industry is “divided” so no “significant” changes can be made “quickly.”

NMPF says it intends to request an FMMO hearing of its proposal to adjust the adjuster to improve equitable treatment of producers.

IDFA is publicly silent.

Other groups are floating a proposal that, if officially proposed in an emergency hearing, would turn the deal into a full and lengthy FMMO hearing.

During a Hoards Dairy Livestream session May 5 with Erin Taylor from USDA AMS Dairy Division, a little more was learned about how USDA handles ‘emergency’ FMMO hearings. Taylor said proposals can be put forward with arguments as part of the package, explaining the emergency to make a case for why the USDA should move quickly. USDA then typically responds and gives the industry a 30 day notice if a hearing is granted, but the statute only requires 15 days, and 3 days at a minimum — depending on the emergency conditions.

Like other FMMO hearings, testimony is taken, and if USDA agrees with the proposal based on the evidence, the department could do a recommended decision, receive public comment and then publish a final decision and conduct the producer vote. Or, the Secretary can do a tentative final decision for immediate producer vote while taking testimony concurrently. In such a scenario, USDA would come back and consider that testimony, and if a change to the tentative final decision is made — based on testimony and comment — then a second producer vote would be conducted.

Generally speaking, according to Taylor, a move to use a tentative final decision cuts about 4 to 5 months out of the hearing process, but this is not done without proponents showing good cause and when there is no opposition to the proposal.

And the Congress? They made the change from ‘higher of’ to ‘average-plus’ at the request of IDFA with agreement by NMPF in the last Farm Bill.

Many members of Congress don’t know what they did. Others are “blowing it off” as “pandemic-related,” when in reality the issues began in 2019.

Lawmakers are also being told the 2018 ‘average-plus’ deal was an historic agreement between “producers” (NMPF) and “processors” (IDFA), when in reality the grassroots in either of those categories had no opportunity to be heard, to testify, to comment, and producers were denied a referendum on the change. In addition, there was little industrywide discussion.

National and state dairy organizations have been collaborating on weekly calls facilitated by American Dairy Coalition to thoughtfully approach a solution from both the short- and long-term perspectives.

While most would agree hearings on long-term FMMO reforms are needed, the short-term fix for the unvetted Class I formula change by Congress could be undone with legislation reverting to the previous formula, or through an expedited FMMO hearing as the flaws of the new formula have been revealed in both the pre- and post-pandemic markets by this average-plus change that was not vetted.

Grassroots efforts seek to raise awareness in Congress to move something forward legislatively.

While the Congress has always said it does not want to set precedent for making milk price formula changes outside of the vetting process of an FMMO hearing, and while the Congress rebuffed numerous requests for a national FMMO hearing in every Farm Bill since 2008, the Congress did go ahead and set that formula-changing precedent in 2018 by passing language in the Farm Bill to change the method for determining the Class I mover from the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV to ‘average-plus’… and here we are.

Producers can point this out when talking with lawmakers, to let them know that the current situation is unsustainable. Producers can explain to their legislators how this impacted them, to help them understand there is more to this story than “it’s the pandemic and you’ll be fine.”

If nothing is done, several industry observers see dairy farm exits rising at a faster rate in the coming year.

In short, the Class I mover change in the 2018 Farm Bill:

— was not vetted through a transparent hearing process,

— disrupted orderly marketing,

— undermined Federal Order purpose,

— created NET losses for producers of $751 million in Class I value (May 2019 through April 2021), and contributed to a net loss of over $3 billion in negative PPDs and depooling,

— created additional losses for producers in the failure of risk management tools not designed for inverted pricing, and

— undermined performance of the DMC safety net due to basis loss.

While the American Dairy Coalition continues to facilitate grassroots producer discussion and seeks a seat at the table for producers with NMPF and IDFA, ADC has also sent an email to dairy producers and organizations with a letter they can provide to lawmakers.

The most important thing is for lawmakers to understand how the pricing change, and the domino effect of negative PPDs and depooling have affected their already struggling dairy farm constituents over the past two years.

To locate the Senators and Representatives for your state, visit https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members

NY Senate Ag hearing: Ag law attorney (and farmer) shares her concerns for family dairy farms

Session 2 of the February New York Senate Ag Committee listening tour via zoom found Lorraine Lewandrowski sharing her concerns for family farms and face-to-face, virtually, with Senator Jabari Brisport, who sits on the Ag Committee. “Rural New York has been viciously neglected,” she said. “Senator, I heard your words as you led a rally in New York City calling for New York’s dairy farms to die. Your exact words: ‘Let dairy die the death it needs to die’… I will not forget your cruel words directed to the working farmers of this state whom I know and love.”

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 12, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. — “Danger knocked on New York’s doors when the World Trade Centers went down. Hunger knocked hard on our doors during Covid,” said Lorraine Lewandrowski, agricultural law attorney and dairy producer near Herkimer, N.Y., during one of New York State Senate Ag Committee’s recent hearings organized by Senator Michelle Hinchey, chairwoman.

Lorraine Lewandrowski at a dairy summit in Albany in 2018 before Covid relegated such events to the virtual zone.

Lewandrowski has been a tireless advocate and activist for dairy and livestock agriculture, making connections in all sorts of ways for the people of her beloved farmscapes of New York and the greater Northeast.

“Our food model is based on faraway sources while we throw our rural communities away,” Lewandrowski told the New York senators. “Farmers here are asking for crumbs. The big money is in the port capacity being ramped up for imports.”

In her testimony, Lewandrowski detailed several key issues facing dairy farmers and rural communities in the Northeast. Other farmers and dairy producers, along with representatives of farm organizations, farm markets, Farm Credit, FFA, urban food programs, and academia, were also on the hearing docket.

Describing dairy farmers as ‘price takers’ without real bargaining power, Lewandrowski called the milk pricing formula “broken and antiquated and in need of investigation.”

One of the biggest surprises for New York State Senators was Lewandrowski’s request that the state legislature legalize whole milk in schools.

“Make it legal for a New York State student to have a glass of fresh whole milk – a beautiful food from a beautiful land,” she said.

During questions, senators expressed their surprise about this and indicated a real desire to do something about it at the state level, despite the federal government’s heavy-handed USDA National School Lunch rules. If more states took action, perhaps the tide could turn.

On the milk pricing system, Lewandrowski pointed out that since May of 2020, the current pricing formula “has extracted billions of dollars” from dairy farmers’ milk checks, and she urged the committee to investigate how this is impacting New York State dairy farmers. She urged them to look at Farm Bureau’s work on this topic.

With ongoing concerns about market transparency and competitiveness, she referenced a 2019 GAO report requested by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, looking at dairy cooperative consolidation and what this means for New York.

Referencing a ‘cow islands’ map produced a few years ago by Dr. Mark Stephenson, Lewandrowski said milk production is rapidly consolidating with more cows located on fewer and ever-larger farms in fewer regions.

“Thirty-thousand and 100,000 cow operations have arisen, some in dry regions. Contrast ‘cow islands’ with the emptied-out New York farmscapes,” she said, lamenting a Cornell report “Green Grass, Green Money” citing over 3 million acres of abandoned farms and former grazing lands in New York even though “New York equals powerful rainfed landscapes.”

Lewandrowski stressed that farmers need more lending and financing options and resources to understand new “ecosystem markets.” She indicated state legislatures can take the lead in helping prepare farmers for the future with allocation of informational and financial resources to navigate new ideas and income streams. Her fear, she indicated, is that a centralized approach will create winners and losers across regions and farm sizes.

In making her most impassioned point of the day on communications with New York City, Lewandrowski said: “We want to speak, as farmers, with the New York City Council and urban leaders. Why can’t we have a Jacob Javits Center Farm Show, a farm show like they have in Paris, or an office for New York’s farm groups in New York City or an online hub to connect farmers with urban groups looking for speakers?”

She talked about the screening of the dairy-focused Forgotten Farms film a year ago, just before the Covid pandemic. So many rural urban connections were made, but the linkages between rural New York and urban NYC need to continue and be constant.

Rural trauma was her final thought for the committee. As an agricultural law attorney, Lewandrowski sees so many concerning and desperate cases.

She bluntly addressed Senator Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, who is a new member of the NY Senate Ag Committee, about his own comments as a vegan activist, and the damage such comments do to New York’s own rural farmers.

“Rural New York has been viciously neglected. When farmers come to my office and tell me they feel dead, I worry,” said Lewandrowski. “This is directed to Senator Brisport: Senator, I heard your words as you led a rally in New York City calling for New York’s dairy farms to die. Your exact words: ‘Let dairy die the death it needs to die.’ Two hundred miles away, I was dealing with a woman who found her son hanging dead in the barn, too ashamed to speak of his death.

“Senator Brisport, I will not forget your cruel words directed to the working farmers of this state whom I know and love,” Lewandrowski said candidly. Dairywoman Tammy Gendron of Willet also referenced concerns about Sen. Brisport’s activism against dairy and livestock production in her comments later in the session.

During questions, Senator Brisport apologized for his word choice of “death” when speaking about dairy at the vegan rally, but he stated that as a sitting Senator on the New York Senate Ag Committee: “I don’t believe dairy should exist, just as I don’t believe any animal agriculture should exist, so you can count me as a ‘no’ vote on any whole milk in schools…”

He also noted one of his focuses is farm workers and asked for more details on collective bargaining from Lewandrowski’s testimony. He was keying-in on worker bargaining and totally missing the point that farmer-owner-operators have little bargaining power as cooperatives they own are consolidating and joint-venturing as processing entities.

Lewandrowski provided information about antitrust interpretations and consolidation in the industry to massive corporations that prevent farmers from collectively setting a good price for their milk.

Basically, she said, “we should be looking at revitalization and re-regionalization of our food production and processing facilities, so we have smaller cheese plants or vegetable processing or meat processing, where the farmers have a choice with competition for their product. We have lost so much of the food processing in New York. This committee could really help with that by making financing available to revitalize regional processing and brands to serve our Big Apple and our other cities.”

Senator George Borrello thanked Lewandrowski for her comments and passion. “Dairy in NYS is a very different business… 90% or more of our farms are family run businesses. Therefore, you will see these animals treated much more humanely. If we lose our dairy farms that are handling animals in New York State, we are going to be relying on farms elsewhere. The demand is not going to go away, so why don’t we ensure it’s from our farms in New York State,” said Borrello.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi took hold of the issues of whole milk in schools and communication between rural and urban New York. Much back and forth brainstorming ensued.

“There’s a lot to action in what you have shared,” Biaggi pointed out, citing first the unbelievable fact that whole milk is prohibited in schools.

“I thought you were joking,” the Senator said.

Lewandrowski talked about the 30,000-signature petition (over 24,000 online and over 6,000 by mail) that had been submitted to USDA and members of Congress, and she gave some of the background in regard to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

“Whole milk is a really tremendous product, and it is our most local product, fresh and produced 365 days a year,” she said.

When asked about the fat, Lewandrowski noted that the DGAs don’t reflect the current science on milkfat and saturated fat, in general, and especially for children.

“The fat is not very high. In reality, it’s standardized to 3.25% fat. Skim milk and 1% and 2% are not much behind that, but dairy as a whole product provides better satiety… so children may eat less junk food, and it may be easier to digest,” Lewandrowski noted. “As farmers in the Northeast, our best aspect is that we are local and produce fresh whole milk.”

Biaggi also stressed that one of the best things about New York is the Upstate being “full of possibilities, if we invested in it.”

She asked: “How did we get to a place where we’ve essentially abandoned the farms, the Upstate?”

Identifying the issue as cultural, pointing out how the cities in France are so proud of their rural areas, Lewandrowski asked the NY Senate Ag Committee to help facilitate connections between rural farms and urban leaders.

“I think there’s a real desire in our urban areas to learn more, so we ask for the committee to help us tap into that,” said Lewandrowski, citing many of the farm-city events she has taken part in, but looking for structural connections that continue and have meaning at the policy level.

Biaggi said this is one of the most important areas for the future of New York State, bridging the Upstate / Downstate, especially where food and agriculture are concerned.

Regulatory issues, workforce and lending resources, as well as gaps in the food system and examples of how locally produced food was diverted to nonprofits for giving during Covid were other major topics highlighted during the hearing.

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U.S. 2020 milk production up 2.2%, but average number of dairies decline 7.5%

click to enlarge map

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 5, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. produced 2.2% more milk in 2020 compared with 2019 and did so with 51,000 more cows and 2550 fewer farms nationwide. The average number of milk cows for the year increased 0.6% over year ago and the average number of licensed dairies decreased 7.5% compared with 2019. 

While the number of dairy farms lost in 2018 and 2019 were larger, the percentage of decline in dairy farms for 2020 is the largest single year decline because the total number of farms from which to figure the percentage is smaller. 

The number of licensed dairies in the U.S. averaged barely above 30,000 in 2020 at 31,657. The rate of attrition has averaged 5% annually over the past decade with 2018 being 6.5%.

Some data of the data shown in last week’s USDA report raise questions about how milk production is counted and reliance on Federal Order pool information given all the massive depooling of milk we saw in 2020 (and continuing). When additional 2020 data come in, we’ll do some additional analysis.

To be clear, USDA’s annual milk production report, released last week, computes the average number of cows and the average number of licensed dairies for 2020 vs. 2019, so it is more like a rolling average for the year. These are not end-of-year numbers.

In looking over the data, it is interesting to see states in New England, like Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, gain production while losing cows and farms even though the larger dairy producing New England state of Vermont saw production slip by 3.5% in 2020, cow numbers down 3.2% and farm numbers fell by 5.9% to 640. 

It is also intriguing to see production gains in the Mississippi data from USDA, despite cow and farm losses there, and despite being next to USDA-reported production declines throughout the rest of the Southeastern states, except for Georgia, where production was about steady, cow numbers were off by less than 1%, and dairy farm numbers were down 7.1% at 130. Florida’s production, cow numbers and dairy numbers all declined by 2.4, 2.6 and 5.6%, respectively.

Some of the states with the largest gains in milk production also had the highest percentage-loss of dairy farms.

Minnesota, for example, grew production by 2.3% despite the number of cows declining by 1000 head and the number of licensed dairies declining a whopping 14%. But the gain in milk production for Minnesota, at 10.15 billion pounds for 2020 has the state’s producers nipping at Pennsylvania’s heels for the 7th place ranking.

Pennsylvania’s 2020 milk production at 10.27 billion pounds was up 1.7% over year ago, although cow numbers were down 8,000 head (off 1.7%), and there were 300 fewer licensed dairies – a 5.3% decline from 2019. The average number of licensed dairies in the Keystone State during 2020 was 5430.

Just north, New York’s production grew 1.4% with roughly the same number of cows but 6.2% fewer dairy farms as the number of New York dairies fell by 240 (6.2%) to 3450 in 2020. Just south, production reportedly grew by 4.5% in Maryland (despite 2.4% fewer cows?). Production also grew 2.1% in Virginia with no change in cow numbers. The number of licensed dairies in Maryland fell by 2.9% to 340, while the number in Virginia fell by 6% to 475.

The Appalachian / Southeast states of Kentucky and Tennessee saw production ebb by 0.4 to 1.4% despite losing 4% and 6.3% of their cows, respectively. Tennessee had 10% fewer licensed dairies at 180, while Kentucky’s dairy numbers fell 6.2% to 450.

However, just north of those states, the Mideast states of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan added a lot more cows in 2020, especially in the third and fourth quarter ahead of the massive new cheese and ingredient plant getting into production at the end of 2020 in St. Johns, Michigan. Indiana grew production 6.2% with 2.8% more cows and 7% fewer dairy farms. Michigan had already been in growth phase for years, stabilized through 2018-19, and grew production 2.6% in 2020 with 1% more cows. However, Michigan lost almost 10% of its dairies in 2020. Ohio also lost 10% of its licensed dairies last year, but grew production 3.6% with 1.2% more cows.

Across to Iowa and Illinois, production grew 1.6 and 2.2%, respectively, but the number of dairy farms fell 5.0 and 8.7%, respectively.

Throughout the growth area of the Central Plains, South Dakota produced 11% more milk with 7% more cows but nearly 8% fewer dairies. Next door, Wyoming’s 10 dairy farms grew the state’s production by almost 29%. Colorado’s dairy numbers stayed the same, but with 5.6% more cows, they made 7.1% more milk. 

Rounding the bend in Kansas and Nebraska, the number of dairies fell 11.1 and 14.3%, while cow numbers grew 4.2 and 1.2% and production grew 5.5 and 3.6%, respectively.

Sandwiched between the rapid growth in the Plains and the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan triumvirate is Wisconsin – the Dairyland State – where 2020 production was just half of one percent (0.5%) above year ago. Cow numbers in Wisconsin fell by almost 1% and the number of dairy farms declined 8% to 7110, a loss of 610 dairies.

In the Southwest and West, Texas continued its multi-year rapid growth pattern as production increased 7.1% with 5% more cows, although the number of dairies fell 5.3%. In fact, Texas is nipping at New York’s heels for the 4th place ranking in milk output volume. In New Mexico, production was about steady, with 1% more cows, and the number of dairies was unchanged. Idaho grew production 3.9% with 1% more cows and 4.3% fewer dairies while Arizona grew production 2.2% with the same number of dairies and a few more cows.

California grew production 1.7% but lost over 3% of its dairies while the Pacific Northwest was generally steady on production and cow numbers but lost roughly 8% of the dairies.

The annual production report can be found here.

op 23 milk production rankings for 2020 milk production are as follows:

  1. California (41.3 bil lbs),
  2. Wisconsin (30.7 bil lbs),
  3. Idaho (16.2 bil lbs),
  4. New York (15.3 bil lbs),
  5. Texas (14.8 bil lbs),
  6. Michigan (11.7 bil lbs),
  7. Pennsylvania (10.3 bil lbs),
  8. Minnesota (10.1 bil lbs),
  9. New Mexico (8.2 bil lbs),
  10. Washington (6.8 bil lbs),
  11. Ohio (5.6 bil lbs),
  12. Iowa (5.4 bil lbs),
  13. Colorado (5.1 bil lbs),
  14. Arizona (4.9 bil lbs),
  15. Indiana (4.3 bil lbs),
  16. Kansas (4.0 bil lbs),
  17. South Dakota (3.1 bil lbs),
  18. Oregon (2.6 bil lbs),
  19. Vermont (2.6 bil lbs)
  20. Florida (2.3 bil lbs)
  21. Utah (2.2 bil lbs)
  22. Illinois (1.8 bil lbs)
  23. Georgia (1.8 bil lbs)

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Gates et. al. peddle fake food, climate propaganda; Guarding real food ID will be critical

Bill Gates is pictured here in a Jan. 27, 2021 screenshot talking about carbon markets during the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 21 livestream. A massive land grab is underway at the same time as this push toward ‘synthetic animal protein’ and as the WEF and UN goals of 30 x 30 are implemented. Big tech billionaires, like Gates the single largest owner of  U.S. farmland, are heavily invested in ‘synthetic animal protein’ (otherwise known as ‘lab-garbage’). WEF screenshot by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 26, 2021

EAST EARL, Pa. — Bill Gates gave hair-raising interviews last week with the Feb. 16th release of his new book: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. In it, Gates lays out what he says it will take to eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to ‘save the planet’.

Grabbing headlines is the Microsoft founder and software developer’s proclamation that ‘rich’ nations should move to 100% synthetic animal protein, while ‘poor’ nations, like Africa, can keep consuming animal-sourced proteins — if they reduce animal GHGs and environmental footprint by “merging-in” the meat and milk genetics and other technologies that have made U.S. cattle herds so productive.

Specifically, in a published interview with MIT Technology Review, Gates was asked: “Do you believe plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally?”

Gates replied: “No, I don’t think the poorest 80 countries will be eating synthetic meat. I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef. You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that ‘green premium’ is modest enough that you can sort of change the (behavior of) people or use regulation to totally shift demand.”

That’s a mouthful.

Gates laments the “politics” of animal-sourced foods being a challenge for his fake-food-based climate goals and investments. “There are all these bills that say it’s got to be called, basically, ‘lab garbage’ to be sold,” Gates said. “They don’t want us to use the beef label.”

He goes on in the interview to explain why poor countries will continue to animal-source protein.

“For Africa and other poor countries, we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly,” says Gates in the MIT interview, “the U.S. livestock, because they’re so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the (Bill and Melinda Gates) Foundation’s work, we’re taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing-in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite U.S. lines.”

Here’s the thing. A month before his book release, Gates made headlines as “the man who is about to change the way America farms.” In January, the 2020 Land Report 100 featured Gates as “America’s leading farmland owner with 242,000 acres of productive farmland in more than a dozen states.”

According to the Land Report map, Gates’ swaths of farmland, amassed through front-company Cascade Investments, are located mainly near water and ports across 19 states.

Gates is also a founding member of an investor group (Leading Harvest), setting a sustainability standard for over 2 million farming acres in 22 states and another 2 million in 7 countries, according to the Land Report.

Furthermore, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (separate from Cascade Investments and Breakthrough Ventures) has a farmland initiative called Gates Ag One, based in St. Louis. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, its focus is research to help farms in low- and middle-income countries adapt to climate change by becoming “more productive, resilient and sustainable.”

The Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) investment fund recently changed its website, but the strategies for agriculture and food production are still clear when clicking through tabs. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg. BEV website screenshot by Sherry Bunting

Gates also chairs the investment fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), mentioned in various ‘fake-meat’ and ‘fake-dairy’ articles published in Farmshine over the past three years.

The BEV fund is mentioned throughout Gates’ new book as a ‘philanthropic’ fund with a climate strategy. Digging into the website, one sees the fund’s climate investments described as “patient, risk-tolerant capital” that will recoup return on investment years down the road once the global supply chains, government policies, and other strategies move consumers toward the various sector outcomes the BEV billionaires are investing in.

The BEV investor list includes significant interests based in China; Democratic party candidates and/or donors like George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg; big tech billionaires like Gates, along with Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.

The two-pronged approach to animal protein in Gates’ book reflects the two-pronged investments of Gates, BEV, Leading Harvest and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On the personal and fund investment side, Gates and friends have put billions of dollars into ‘replacement ag systems’ featuring fake-animal-protein for ‘rich’ countries, while on the foundation side, the focus is on research for efficient animal ag systems in poor countries.

In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – which has endeared itself to Big Ag by supporting biotech research for developing countries — was among 11 top-level sponsors in the $100,000-plus donation category for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual convention in January.

During the 2021 convention, Farm Bureau president Skippy Duvall and Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford — together — provided a joint keynote discussion under the ‘stronger together’ 2021. Ford spoke of Land O’Lakes’ 2020 partnership with Microsoft to build an “artificial intelligence” ag-tech platform to automatically gather data from farms and trade carbon credits. The discussion ended with a focus on climate-smart technology and a more “inclusive” advocacy platform less cluttered by production identity labels.

For his part, Duvall stated that, “There’s room in the marketplace for everyone, every type of production — organic, conventional, plant-based meat, whatever it might be — there’s enough room in the market for all of us,” he said. “We have to stop throwing ourselves under the bus and work together as one united family.”

This sentiment dovetails with the global food transformation agenda of companies and investors wanting to mix-match-and-blend in a way that melts-away protein identities in favor of planetary diet standards, labels and symbols. Walmart’s director of sustainability talked about this during a World Economic Forum virtual event reported in Farmshine in January, and it is showing up in Walmarts today with big name frozen entrées in lookalike packaging, featuring BE’F, CHICK’N and DAI’Y. How clever.

On the fake-animal-protein investments, Gates and friends are working with global mainline agriculture companies like Cargill, Tyson, ConAgra and ADM, as well as global food supply chains like PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, and Coca Cola, along with ‘replacement’ plant-based and cell-cultured fake-meat and fake-dairy manufacturers like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, BioPrint, and Perfect Day.

All of this ‘replacement’ or ‘alternative’ ag push is setting the stage for a massive land grab to meet the 30 by 30 executive order of President Biden that dovetails with United Nations goals to have 30% of U.S. and global lands in conservation protection by 2030. That would double the current 15%.

With billions in ‘patient capital’ invested, Gates and friends want to see U.S. consumers ‘herded’ toward the ‘herdless’ imposter-foods they’ve invested in.

The USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines have the facilitating low-fat diets positioned and ready. The FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy is a multi-year effort underway to modernize standards of identity and develop a universal ‘healthy’ symbol for ‘approved’ foods.

Meanwhile, Gates and friends are pushing for polices and pricing that shift diets more quickly from the ‘climate’ side. For example, wholesale boneless wing and tender prices, as well as beef, are rising rapidly (but not to producers). This effectively narrows the gap between real and fake to help with the transition. Even the dairy industry is moving to ‘dual purpose’ processing.

Digesting Gates’ book interviews, hearing him talk about carbon markets during a World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 21 livestream, and seeing the ‘who’s who’ board of the BEV investment fund – it is clear Gates and friends are politically well-positioned to push policies that can shift diets based on their investments.

They are also getting help from within the animal-sourced food industries to corral Gen Z as ‘agents of change’ that will embrace these China-sourced pea-protein concentrates and lab-created franken-foods as they scale up across household name brands. In its recent joint-venture announcement with Beyond Meat, PepsiCo admitted their alternative snack and beverage rollouts must be “effortless” so consumers don’t have to think about making the “right choices for the planet.”

Food transformation is unfolding rapidly as Big Ag, Big Food, Big Tech, Big Money players align with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and globalized supply chains.

To affirm the identity of real, local, U.S.-produced animal-sourced foods from farms will require a direct appeal to consumers and accountability for industry leaders and policymakers.

Overblown climate propaganda about dairy and livestock fuel policies that gradually undermine food production identity. Gates is not a food fortune-teller, but rather he is fixing to be a food fortune-maker believing he and his billionaire big tech cronies can ‘software program’ food and behavior to enrich their own outcomes.

We need to follow the money and wake up the public to see the garbage the elites are selling for what it really is. Some of us are ready to pick this food identity hill to die on.

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Dairy milk: The rest of the story on milk fat and fraud

Dairy milk consumption has two faces: nutrition and sustainability. Aside from a small percentage of healthy fat and more protein than the knock-offs, dairy milk is fresher than soy, almond, coconut, oat and other counterfeit ‘milks.’ In fact, it is so locally produced and bottled that it is also much better for the health of local economies and environment. Have you seen any almond, coconut or cashew trees on the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S.? As for oat beverage, most of the oats are harvested in Canada and processed in Asia. Here in the Northeast U.S., there are millions of acres of grasslands and croplands that provide habitat for wildlife, filter rainwater, hold soil in place, maintain open spaces, photosynthesize carbon from the air, keep something growing on the land year-round as cover crop and forage, and create jobs and economic stimulus that all begin with land being managed by dairy farmers. A dairy cow can eat grass, hay, whole corn plant silage, and other roughage grown on marginal lands. These forage crops are 50 to 70 percent of the dairy cow’s diet, and she will turn them into nutrients we can use in the form of nutrient-dense milk and dairy products we love. How cool is that?

By Sherry Bunting

We read about and see the growing number of choices in the dairy aisle that make a simple trip to the store for milk, one that can be quite confusing. There’s the thing about fat (all those different percentages) and the thing about fraud (all those plant, nut, and bean drink products calling themselves ‘milk.’)

First, the different “percentage milks” we know as skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole milk. The latter is confusing, is it 100 percent milk? Do some people think it is 100% fat?

Well, all dairy milk is 100 percent milk, no mater what the fat percentage… But, No: Whole milk is not 100 percent fat. It is not even 10 percent fat. It is standardized to 3.25 percent fat, and if you drank it straight from the cow it would be anywhere from 3 to 5 percent fat depending on breed of cow, time of year, and type of roughage fed.

And then there is protein. Did you know dairy milk provides a little over 8 grams of protein per 8 oz. serving? It packs quite a bit more protein-punch than almond ‘milk’ at a little over 1 gram of protein per 8 oz. serving.

Made like coffee, the crushed almonds are filtered with water. In fact, an 8 oz. serving of almond milk may be more like eating an almond and drinking a glass of water with sugar and thickeners added and a handful of other ingredients.

A common almondmilk brand label lists these ingredients the first being almondmilk defined as almond-filtered water: Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamine E Acetate, Zinc Gloconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2.

A typical dairy milk label lists these ingredients: Milk, Vitamin D3. Pretty simple to see that the calcium and vitamins on the milk label are already in the milk and that zero sugar is added and zero thickeners.

The freshness of REAL dairy milk can’t be beat going from farm to table in 24 to 48 hours. It comes naturally from the cow providing the natural proteins and calcium and small amounts of healthy fat that our bodies readily absorb and utilize.

In fact, the carb-to-protein ratio of chocolate milk is now shown to be one of the best sports-recovery drinks on the market today. Yes, plain ‘ole chocolate milk. Maybe if farmers call it by another name, consumers will take notice to what has been in front of them all along.

Still, for many consumers, the perception persists that whole milk is a high-fat beverage, when in reality it is practically 97 percent fat free!

At the bottling plant, milk is pasteurized and standardized. Cream is skimmed to package whole milk at 3.25 precent fat. The skimmed cream—along with additional cream skimmed to bottle the 1% and 2% and non-fat milks—is then used to make other products like butter, ice cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and dips.

The “standard of identity” for yogurt states it also contain a minimum of 3.25% fat—just like whole milk.

Even ice cream is not 100 percent fat. The FDA standard of identity is that it contain a minimum of 10 percent fat. Some of the richer, higher-end ice creams contain up to 14 percent fat. But along with that fat, comes some nutritional benefits. These are not empty calories.

Butter is high in fat because it is, after all, a fat. Even it ranges 82 to 84 percent fat. A tablespoon of butter in the pan or on your veggies is a smaller quantity serving than an 8 oz. glass of milk; so even though the fat content is much more concentrated at a higher percentage, no one sits down and eats a cup of butter (2 sticks)!

Furthermore, we have learned that the saturated fat in milk and meat are not bad for us and that when part of a healthy integrated diet may actually provide heart healthy ‘good’ cholesterol.

The fears ingrained over 50 years of low-fat dogma are being abandoned as a nutritional experiment that has failed miserably, even though the federal government continues to hang on to the failed lowfat experiment in the recent 202-25 Dietary Guidelines.

What a growing number of scientists have found is that we need not have blamed whole milk, butter—or beef for that matter—all of these years. In fact, the recent rise in obesity and diabetes is linked more to overconsumption of carbohydrates that have filled the energy-void after we collectively sucked healthy fat out of our diets.

Saturated fats are not the enemy, the “new” science shows. However, the science is really not new. Long-time observers, investigative reporters, and scientists note that the very science supporting the health benefits of saturated fats found in milk and meat has been around for decades, but was ignored — even buried.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer demand for butter has been expanding, and worldwide demand for U.S.-produced ice cream and yogurt has grown as well. Dairy foods and snacks that offer an energy boost with a healthy protein-to-energy ratio—such as yogurt, whole milk, and even ice cream—will be particularly in demand in nations where busy, on-the-go consumers look for reviving options.

Healthy, natural fat and protein from milk and meat keep food cravings at bay to prevent binge-eating on empty-carb snacks. Enjoyed as part of a healthy integrated diet, dairy products—even ice cream—are satisfying, nutrient-dense, carb-moderating foods that can even be the dieter’s best friend.

Go real, go natural. There’s no reason to fear real milk, dairy and beef products from cattle. Contrary to what the activists say and contrary to government ‘guidelines’ that refused again to consider all the science, nutrient-dense full-fat dairy foods and meat are good for us, and yes, good for the planet.

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Pandemic economics, concerns on the radar, and valuable business insights shared as Dr. Kohl kicks off PA Dairy Summit

Dr. Kohl covered the gamut of what’s on his dairy and agriculture radar at home and abroad. Then he encouraged producers to separate the controllables from the uncontrollables to focus on the business. One tool he highlighted evaluates business management IQ using 15 critical questions for crucial conversations because it gets people thinking.

China, fake meat and dairy, propaganda seeking to eliminate the dairy cow, and much more concern him. But Dr. Kohl encourages farmers to seek opportunities, be flexible, innovative and adaptive, and to follow a process for their business and sharpen their business focus. Be sure to check out the navigation points on Dr. Kohl’s compass at the end of this article.

By Sherry Bunting

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The disruptions and challenges of the past year also create opportunities, said Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus and co-owner of Homestead Creamery for the past 20 years.

He was the keynote speaker kicking off the 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit held virtually this week through an online convention format that had much of the signature Summit feel.

In his characteristic style, Dr. Kohl stepped the virtual audience through a broad global and domestic view of events and evolution down to the impacts at the dairy farm level with motivational thoughts on how to navigate.

He urged farmers to navigate rocky roads of change by adopting two key management elements. First, be flexible, innovative and adaptable. Second, follow a process for the business with a business focus.

Kohl also encouraged producers to manage around the things they can’t control like election results, pandemics and the strategies of China’s Xi Jinping.

 “A good marketing and risk management plan is critical. In this environment, we have to separate the controllables and uncontrollables… and look for the opportunities,” he said.

As he has in past seminars since the pandemic, Kohl highlighted the ‘buy local’ movement is picking up steam post-Covid. “Many of you are in that footprint. One-third of the U.S. population is in your area, so this movement might be sustainable,” he said.

That’s good news. The bad news is the acceleration of economic divide, said Kohl. He sees this affecting agriculture, other businesses and households, which will add to the economic volatility and extremes in the big three: milk prices, feed costs and interest rates.

Market supercycle

“We are in another supercycle that is really impacting the grain sector,” said Kohl. He cited the stimulus checks as “dangerous one-off income” leading to printing more money, which devalues the dollar. This fuels more exports, especially when coupled with the ‘China-effect’ as they rebuild their protein sector and livestock industry.

This, along with weather concerns in South America and investor speculation have “shot those grain prices higher, especially on corn, beans, and we see it in cotton, all up.”

He sees this grain market supercycle abating through 2021 and 2022. The grain price rally is not sustainable, in his view, unless weather problems in South America persist and unless weather affects North American crops this coming season.

Globalization

Kohl noted that globalization started six decades ago, and he marked 1995 through 2015 as the period of “hyper-globalization, but in recent years, we’ve moved away from this. Dairy is right in the crosshairs of this shift because exports have become a much bigger share of milk production,” he said. “If de-globalization continues, this will impact agriculture in the U.S.”

He warned that the dairy industry would be well advised to not shape itself with China’s market in mind.

“Don’t bet your dairy expansion on trade with China,” said Kohl. He gave the example that 300 million people in China were without power a month ago because China would not allow Australian coal in to fuel plants.

Kohl observes that while the U.S. and Europe are bickering about everything, China has been pursuing world power. China has invested a trillion dollars in 68 countries – the agriculture ‘hot-spots’ around the world.

“Their initiatives will impact our competitiveness,” said Kohl, noting that China is also moving ahead on building a world supply chain for vaccines made at sites they have cultivated in developing countries.

“China could be the leading power by 2040, even 2027. They are going to move forward very fast if we don’t get our act together,” he said, explaining the recent “regional” trade pact China made that makes China the central focus in Asia.

Market Concentration

The flipside of globalization is the domestic U.S. food supply and marketing chain.

“That’s our Achilles heel,” said Kohl. “We have too much concentration with too few firms, and I’m being very blunt about this. We saw what happened when plants shut down. Now we see more nations saying they want to become more self-reliant. This is something to watch closely over the next five years.”

Kohl said the industries that are linked to dairy are in 50 to 75% recovery while at the same time Amazon, Walmart, Target are operating at 125%.

“They are getting too much power here in the U.S. and around the world,” he said, noting that on one hand the buy-local movement is accelerating, but on the other hand, the pandemic environment has moved even more market power to these large global entities.

Expressing agricultural ‘serfdom’ concerns, Kohl responded to a question about China purchasing agricultural land and assets in the U.S. This also hit upon the recent news in business journals that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been buying up farmland and is now the single largest owner of U.S. farmland (not total land but good arable farmland).

“I am worried about this one,” said Kohl. “Some of this big investment money creates serfdom. We need to do some due diligence, and we don’t have enough political forces looking at this. Canada put the kabash on China buying their land.” He noted that his research shows the land purchased by Gates through Cascade Investments is fertile land next to rivers and near international ports, as well as land with mineral rights.

’They want to eliminate the dairy cow’

Kohl’s Summit keynote discussion came the morning after the Super Bowl. And yes, he noticed the Oatly (oat beverage) ad that ran before halftime.

“Did you see the guy last night singing in the field talking about eliminating the dairy cow?” he asked, quoting other CEOs of brands like Beyond Meat also stating their goals to replace cows entirely.

On fake dairy and meat alternatives, Kohl was emphatic about how closely this needs to be watched.

“They’ve got the money. They’ve got the power. And they think they are saving the environment,” he said, explaining that these products are going to become more competitive with real dairy and meat as large investors and large companies in the traditional dairy and meat supply chain ecosystem get involved to drive the alternative product prices down and change the packaging. He gave the example that Beyond Meat is already closing that gap at $6.79 to $6.99 per pound compared with ground beef at $5.49 per pound.

“They are coming after traditional agriculture. That much is loud and clear,” said Kohl. “Big Ag has to look themselves in the face — that they allowed this to happen — with too much market power. This is me speaking, and I’m being blunt.”

During the chat session that followed, Kohl noted that even their Homestead Creamery based in Blacksburg, Virginia is seeing competition from non-dairy alternatives where they sell their fresh local dairy products.

“It is interesting that we are getting more questions on the non-meat and non-dairy products out there. Our customers are asking our sales team,” said Kohl. “We try to go into it with more education, and we are going A2A2 as a differentiator for our milk and ice cream.”

Minimum wage impact

Current legislation being considered in Congress includes a four-year phase-in to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That’s more than double the current federal minimum wage.

“This will be bad for small business. The big guys can handle it,” Kohl observes. “This creates more business consolidation. We’re seeing a little push back on this now, but there needs to be a lot of push back. America was built on small business and entrepreneurs. We don’t want to create a serfdom where we just work for big business.”

Stimulus, taxes, regulation

With $2 billion a day in stimulus checks being written by governments worldwide, Kohl said this ‘black swan (pandemic event) can turn into an angry bird.

When government writes check, what comes next is encroachment, said Kohl. He sees federal, state and local taxes increasing and “regulators are going to have more swagger. This makes it imperative, to surround the farm business with your best advisors and have a good tax accountant who understands agriculture.”

Regulations in the environmental, labor, banking and financial service sectors are likely to increase, said Kohl. “Regulators have a lot of pent up energy from the past four to five years, and they’ll likely be coming out with a full-court press.”

Energy independence

Noting that the U.S. had its longest economic expansion until February of last year (pandemic), Kohl said a key reason is that the U.S. became the number-one energy-supplier in the world.

The effort to become energy independent began after the tragic attack of 9-11 in 2001. Today, the U.S. is number one energy producer, Canada is number four and Mexico is number eight. This means three of the top 10 energy producers are in North America.

“Now we are seeing a rollback of this playing right into the hands of Opec,” said Kohl, noting that the advertising and policy points about moving to electric vehicles can all sound good. “But we’re not thinking of the unintended consequences, where 74% of the components (for EV vehicles) are produced in China.”

How energy plays out policy-wise is important for agriculture, according to Kohl, because “$8 out of every $10 we spend is linked to energy.”

Kohl sees a “fine balance” to be had on sustainability and climate action.

“Some things we are doing for water, air and soil health are important, but there are contributors other than fossil fuels. I see a need to think about unintended consequences. If components for new sources come all out of China, and we get locked down, that creates a problem. Also, a lot of people seem to forget: when gas goes to $5 to $7 per gallon, it shuts a consumer and a farm down very quickly.”

Navigation points on Dr. Kohl’s compass:

— Surround yourself with good advisors and a good tax accountant.

— Be careful with one-off income from government support. Are you using that money to build efficiencies or pay down debt? Don’t make long-term expansion decisions based on this one-off income.

— Watch the value of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies, but land value should hold.

— Expect to see acceleration of ‘carbon payments’ replacing direct farm program payments.

— Keep the non-dairy and meat alternatives on the radar screen, especially if you are involved in dairy leadership.

— Healthy soil, water and air quality are important focuses as agriculture deals with weather extremes.

— See the positives that have come out of the pandemic: farms labeled essential, local food movement acceleration, time with family, time to re-evaluate priorities.

— Be flexible, innovative and adaptive.

— Have a risk management plan and realize you are going to leave money on the table when you follow a plan that works for you 8 out of 10 years.

— Keep working capital available as your shock absorber and so you will be ready for emergent circumstances and unexpected opportunities. The recommended ‘war chest’ is to have greater than 25% of the farm’s expenses (not including interest and depreciation) as working capital reserve.

— Have a written farm budget and compare periodically (monthly) to actual expenses.

— Have a separate family living budget and compare periodically to actual expenses.

— Use advisory teams. They are the fastest growing trend, and they work.

— Be proactive on a plan to transition the business and to merge older and younger views of the future.

— Evaluate your business management IQ with 15 questions to ask yourself about your business and have each member of the family in management fill it out separately. This is a great way to measure business management progress, “and it gets you to think,” said Kohl. (See chart.)

— Do your baseline cash flow projections for the farm business, but also do financial sensitivity analysis. Work through the numbers in a best-case scenario to the aspiring goals of the business, but also run worst case scenarios. Look at the analysis if interest rates go up 1 to 2% — or with changes in the input and output values — to see how those changes affect the bottom line. “This gives you the parameters to keep you out of the ditches as you move forward,” said Kohl. “If those values experience extreme change, you can fall back on that working capital reserve.”

— Monitor those cash flows monthly against projections.

— Work with ag lenders to lock in interest rates where you can.

— Re-examine your vision and your goals and make sure expansion or investments line up with these goals; keep your working capital cushion. 

— Look for your “three’s” – 3 things you want to continue, 3 things you want to improve. When isolating goals and actions, limit to three to intensify your focus.

Published in Farmshine, February 12, 2021