Child nutrition reauthorization sparked in D.C.

Military insights suggest backtracking, but disappointing answers given on school lunch and milk fat

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 26, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last time a childhood nutrition authorization was passed by Congress was in 2010: The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. A decade later, the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing last Wednesday (April 10) on perspectives in childhood nutrition. 

Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said this is the first step in the reauthorization of the $30 billion in mandatory and discretionary childhood nutrition programs he wants examined and passed this year.

The hearing panels included representatives of federal agencies, state and community food programs, and the national childhood health program.

Most of the discussion centered on ways to streamline programs, increase enrollment that has been declining since 2010, and provide more flexibility.

There were a few eye-opening highlights and some discussion related to milk.

Chairman Roberts said in his opening statement: “One size fits all does not work for all.

Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stated that, “Whether it’s a mother getting enough calcium to insure healthy bones for her baby, or making sure a 10-year-old isn’t fighting hunger pains in math class, child nutrition is about building a stronger future. It’s also important to our national security.”

Stabenow then revealed how and why the National School Lunch Program began 80 years ago, and what the concerns are today — two decades after the saturated fat limitations were introduced and a decade after the last reauthorization under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, when the screws were further tightened on milk choices and other aspects in 2009-10.

“Interestingly, the National School Lunch program was created in the 1940s because General Lewis Hershey came before Congress to explain that recruits were being rejected due to malnutrition,” said Stabenow. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

“Today, over 750 retired Generals, and other military leaders, are sounding alarm bells again, this time because young adults are too overweight to serve,” she stated. “With 14% of children as young as 2 showing signs of obesity, we have to address this issue early and everywhere.”

That said, Sen. Stabenow touted the “tremendous progress in the past 20 years in schools and daycares. It is vital to move forward, not backward,” she stated, while in her next breath saying that “obesity in adolescents continues to rise while over 12 million kids do not have enough to eat.”

She touted the need for greater enrollment in the National School Lunch Program so kids can have access to that “better” lunch, breakfast, after school snacks and even supper. She talked about a “veggie van” driving out into communities. She cited the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program as critical to first stages of life.

But when her opening statement was said-and-done, Sen. Stabenow again touted “the progress made in 2010” and said several times “we don’t want to backtrack while streamlining these programs.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

Toward the end of the session, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) brought up “the science of milk” and addressed his question specifically to Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a pediatrician who is director of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

It was not surprising that the most important question of the day got the most disappointing and predictable answer. 

After hearing Dr. Falusi present her comments about how early childhood diets are responsible for critical programming of lifelong metabolism, brain development, and educational outcomes, Sen. Casey addressed Dr. Falusi as follows:

“There’s been much discussion in Pennsylvania about the ability of schools to serve whole milk to students. What does ‘the science’ say about the appropriate levels of whole milk consumption?” the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania asked.


Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a pediatrician who is director of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Predictably, Dr. Falusi replied: “As a pediatrician, I recommend to my patients that they drink water or low-fat or fat-free milk. We know that milk has many benefits from protein and calcium and Vitamin D. We also know, though, that lower fat and lower sugar in diets are healthier for children.”

Dr. Falusi continued matter-of-factly: “What we would admonish, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that the standards for school nutrition programs — including the type of milk served — really be based on the science, and the science is that lower fat and lower sugar are what we should be advocating for children. And we do encourage the USDA to rely on the nutrition experts and to look at a number of studies for those guidelines.”

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked about students turning to competitive foods when the school lunch does not appeal or satisfy. She addressed her concern to USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps.

Lipps replied that the government seeks a balance between the school lunch and “competing foods” allowed on campus. He also noted they are “looking to see that kids are not leaving the school lunch line to buy competitive foods elsewhere on campus. But we’re not making the schools or states be the food police.”

Sen. Fischer asked: What are the foodservice professionals telling you? Are kids eating the school lunches?



Brandon Lipps, USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

Lipps replied that the “schools are very positive on the flexibilities in the final rule… It’s not a major change, just a comfort in long-term planning. Schools have to buy a long way out to plan their menus in the way that we require them to do. So they’re glad to have finality on the flexibility” (for example, they have flexibility to serve 1% flavored milk instead of only fat-free).

In response to the suggestion that the nutrition standards are “no good.” Lipps stated that, “We put in a calorie limit in 2009, and if the kids don’t eat half the food on their plate, and if they are getting half of the maximum calories that we provide them, if that’s happening, then that’s a problem.”

USDA is monitoring this, said Lipps: “As you know, the same is true, particularly with milk and the nutrients that it provides, so we are going to continue to listen and see if further flexibility is needed on that front.” 

Repeatedly, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was cited for making “historic changes” that led to “greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as encouraged by USDA.” But at the same time, panelists repeatedly said fewer eligible families and children use the programs today compared with before 2010, and that obesity and diabetes and hunger are rising in our youth.  

When asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) about school waste related to the 2010 changes, USDA Under Secretary Lipp said flexibility in the final rule on whole grains, sodium and 1% low-fat flavored milk went a long way toward changing that.

“I don’t think we have anyone telling us we need a major change in the nutrition meal pattern requirements for the school meal, but they do want flexibility,” said Lipp.

Sen. Ernst also noted the concerns about portion sizes being the same for a first-grader as an eighth-grader. “School foodservice professionals say they want the flexibility to vary it,” she said. “Right now, booster clubs are bringing in food for athletes who are not getting enough. And with mandated portions and mandated nutrition requirements, we are seeing a lot of food waste, what can USDA do?”

Lipp replied that USDA will continue to “look and listen.”

Josh Mathismeier, Director of Nutritional Services for Kansas City public schools and Mike Halligan, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Banks, based in Lexington, Kentucky, said participation would increase if they could take the food to the people instead of forcing the people to congregate to access the food.

Some states have actually hired market research firms to do focus groups with eligible families to learn how to increase their enrollment.

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Peeling back layers of dairy checkoff report to Congress

The 2016 report touts a $5 to $1 return, but here is a deeper look. More transparency needed, sought

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 5, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — USDA released the 2016 Dairy Checkoff Report to Congress on April 1, and it focuses on quantifying the return dairy farmers received for their 15 cents per hundredweight — over $320 million collected annually — in mandatory checkoff investment.

Well, not really.

The headliner is that farmers received a $5 to $1 return on their promotion dollars. But let’s look a little deeper.

The $5 to $1 return is an evaluation made by the independent analysis of Texas A&M based on the dollars spent on “demand enhancing” and “promotion” activities, not a return on investment calculated on all dollars mandatorily invested by dairy farmers.

Digging into the charts, this puts the evaluated dollars at around $250 million, and that includes the processor funds in the MilkPEP program. The total dairy farmer checkoff of 15 cents per hundredweight amounts to $320 million annually and the MilkPEP processor funds are close to $94 million annually, according to the report.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to bring transparency to checkoff programs for all farm commodities. The bill — Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act — was reintroduced a week ago by U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

According to an advocate of the bill — the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) — the OFF Act would put an end to the “most egregious abuses” committed by the boards and contractors of the federally mandated commodity checkoff programs.

OCM states that, “Checkoff programs have fallen under the control of commodity trade organizations representing global agribusiness interests,” noting that “farmers are struggling amidst increasing consolidation, low commodity prices, and excess supply. Net farm income is at a 19-year low. Along with recent trade disruptions and natural disasters, such as the flooding in the Midwest, the last thing farmers want or need is their tax dollars working against them.”

The OFF Act is intended to “rein-in conflicts of interest” and “stop anti-competitive activities” by forcing checkoff programs to publish their budgets and undergo periodic audits so that farmers and ranchers know where their mandatory checkoff dollars are going. It would also stop federally-mandated checkoff dollars from being transferred to parties that seek to influence government policies on ag issues and increase the transparency of the individual boards’ actions by shedding light on how these funds are spent and the purpose of the spending.

In light of this new bill, let’s look at the 2016 Dairy Checkoff Report to Congress released on April 1.

According to the 2016 Report’s executive summary, “… the combined effects of 2016 promotion activities on the consumption of fluid milk, cheese, butter, all dairy products, and dairy exports includes benefit cost ratios (BCRs) for dairy producers, dairy importers and fluid milk processors. For every dollar invested in demand-enhancing activities, the BCRs for producers were: 1) fluid milk $4.11, 2) cheese $4.81, and 3) butter $22.74, 4) exports $8.10. The BCR for fluid milk processors attributed to fluid milk promotion activities is $3.73. And the aggregate BCR on every ‘demand-enhancing’ dollar spent was calculated at $4.78.

Putting those BCR’s in perspective, the 2016 Report totaled the mandatory dairy promotion contributions at $415 million, of which $94 million was contributed by the Milk Processors Education and Promotion Program (MilkPEP), which are the funds paid by fluid milk processors for fluid milk promotion.

When looking at the graphs accompanying this report — since the report does not include the raw data points for 2016 — the total amount of domestic dairy demand-enhancing funds from which the BCRs (aka returns on investment) were calculated, comes out to around $250 million for the year. And a large chunk of that came from the fluid milk processors (over $80 mil).

From 1996 through 2016, the amount of money collected topped $7 billion, according to the report.

During those 20 years, the dollars spent on “demand-enhancing” activities for fluid milk have declined, and the fluid milk sales have declined also. Of the roughly $110 million spent on fluid milk demand-enhancing activities in 2016, most of those dollars came from MilkPEP generic promotion.

Also, keep in mind that the fluid milk sector is the sector held most notably to the standard of “government speech” in its “allowable” promotion i.e. the low-fat and fat-free USDA Dietary Guidelines that have precipitated the decline in fluid milk consumption.

In fact, whole milk sales rose in 2016 while the entire fluid milk category fell. But whole milk was not promoted with any of the producer or processor promotion funds overseen by USDA and evaluated in this report. Consumers chose whole milk based on external factors that are driving the discussion of fats and proteins in the diet.

The fastest growing demand-sectors in recent years include butter. The 2016 Report to Congress states that farmers received a $22 to $1 benefit cost ratio (BCR, aka return on investment) in that category.

That looks really great, right?

But again, this is based on the amount of “demand enhancing” funds actually spent on butter promotion in 2016 — right around $8 million for the year — the lowest category of all product promotion sectors to receive promotional funding, but the fastest rising in demand and value.

Put simply: Very little of the dairy farmer’s promotion funds (less than 2% of total checkoff funds) were used to promote butter, but sales have risen so fast in that category that the return on investment seems to be quite impressive. The “return” may have nothing to do with the “investment” under this scenario.

Meanwhile, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has continued consolidating the way it uses its national share of individual farms’ mandatory checkoff funds through business-to-business (B2B) partnerships where the goal is to influence the amount of dairy utilized by the top restaurant chains, pizza chains, and other foodservice companies in what they offer to consumers. This may become increasingly important as the government dietary guidelines and other factors pressure companies to use more plant-based options. But the drawback is that this B2B use of dollars feeds into further consolidation of the industry in terms of geographic winners and losers.

The key to looking at the 2016 Report’s BCR (returns on investment) calculations is the choices consumers are making where they actually have choices. Consumers are choosing whole milk and full-fat dairy at rising rates. Where they don’t have a choice, the low-fat and fat-free versions are enforced and offered. So while $110 million might have been spent by farmers and processors to enhance fluid milk demand, precious little, if any, has been used to promote the whole milk message due to USDA oversight of all advertising messages.

Part of the other half of checkoff funds not included in the “demand enhancing” and “promotion” BCR (return on investment) calculation is in dollars funneled toward the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

What is the Innovation Center, farmers wonder?

The Innovation Center is the part of DMI that is considered “pre-competitive.” This includes new product development, like fairlife.

The Innovation Center also includes the FARM program that governs animal care standards and is increasingly seen as a methodical tool to control and cull dairy farmers by management style. Dairy producer checkoff funds have paid for the FARM program through DMI’s Innovation Center even though National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) implements and administers FARM with DMI paying NMPF for certain services and NMPF paying DMI for other services.

The Innovation Center also includes the “sustainability” standards being set for FARM in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to streamline the dairy “industry” for WWF’s sustainability stamp-of-approval.

This alliance is clear when spending a little time browsing the WWF website at https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/dairy. The DMI “partnership” with WWF through the checkoff-funded Innovation Center is also at this link https://www.worldwildlife.org/partnerships/innovation-center-for-us-dairy

Both links are housed by WWF’s website and WWF is also working in alliance with the beef checkoff to set sustainability parameters for U.S. cattlemen as well.

Meanwhile, HSUS is among the proponents of the OFF legislation introduced by Senators a week ago. This is the counter we here, how farm organizations seeking competitive markets are working on the same side with HSUS.

For the record, Dairy Checkoff and Beef Checkoff are working with WWF, and WWF is barely one step away from HSUS in terms of having an anti-animal-use agenda.

Both organizations seek to greatly decrease, or end, the use of animals for food, work, etc., and they seek the re-wilding of lands where farmers and ranchers have gone out of business to accumulate massive sanctuaries for wild animal proliferation while working in close partnership with EAT Lancet-supporting companies to shift the U.S. diet away from animal products to plant-and-laboratory-based-imitations.

What is missing in the “sustainability” discussion that farmers are helping to pay for with their checkoff dollars through their dairy and beef boards is the truth that the plants need the animals and the animals need the plants and we humans need them both for healthy bodies and a healthy planet.

What is also missing is the food security and regional economics of the food industry consolidation that is occurring in the name of “sustainability” through the very checkoff-funded “sustainability” programs that are being developed to appease groups like WWF.

If companies want to consolidate and streamline this way, that’s free market enterprise. They are free to do so. But should farmer checkoff funds be helping to pay for it?

For example, dairy farmer checkoff funds were used — according to the 2016 Report to Congress — to develop a variety of programs aimed at transforming the industry. This has been going on since 2009, according to the Report.

This means a portion of the dairy farmer checkoff funds collected from all dairy farmers on all milk from 2009 through 2016 has gone into developing programs that are not considered demand-enhancing and that are — in effect — picking winners and losers within the dairy farming sector.

These funds have been used to implement aspects of FARM in animal care and environmental sustainability.

These funds have been used to launch programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the dairy supply chain, including a “fleet smart” program that touts its ability to help processors and cooperatives transform their trucking and distribution.

Read that sentence again. What does it mean?

Dairy farmers have funded — through mandatory checkoff — the development of the very programs that are streamlining and consolidating their industry in the name of so-called “sustainability.” As proprietary and co-op processors adapt the transportation and distribution ‘fleet smart’ modules, farmers are, in essence, paying for that with checkoff funds and other assessments put on them by their cooperatives, and in turn, those transformations make some farms desirable and others undesirable simply by size or location.

The invisible hand of the free market picks winners and losers. But in this case, should mandatory dairy farmer checkoff funds be the helping hand to pay for that? To pay for their own demise, in some cases?

It is interesting also to know that USDA is paid for its extensive time and costs to do all of this oversight – paid by these funds to keep the troops in line on toting government speech, among other things.

Here is how the 2016 Report to Congress describes USDA oversight:

“USDA has oversight responsibility for the dairy and fluid milk promotion programs. The oversight objectives ensure the boards and qualifying partners (QPs) properly account for all program funds and administer the programs in accordance with the respective acts and orders and USDA guidelines and policies. USDA reviewed and approved all board budgets, contracts, and advertising materials. USDA employees attended all board and committee meetings, monitored all board activities, and were responsible for obtaining an independent evaluation of the programs. Additional USDA responsibilities include nominating and appointing board members, amending the orders, conducting referenda, assisting with noncompliance cases, and conducting periodic program management reviews. The boards reimbursed the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, as required by the acts, for all of USDA’s costs of program oversight and for the independent analysis.”

To be continued.

In weather’s wake: losses, recovery and generosity continue

As flood losses mount, and recovery is slow, farmers from across the country are banding together and reaching out to send hay, fencing, other supplies and financial donations to the flood-affected rural communities of Nebraska, Iowa and surrounding areas. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 12, 2019

COLUMBUS, Neb. — As the Midwest and Great Plains braced for the unexpected April ‘winter’ storm system, the same region was still walking the long road of recovery from the March blizzard and catastrophic flooding. Four weeks after the ‘bomb cyclone’ hit the Midwest and Plains, the hardest hit areas are just beginning to see evacuation orders lifted.

I was there two weeks after the height of the flooding, and the losses and generosity were both obvious, and both are continuing as flooding remains in the potential forecast while continued convoys of hay, supplies and other donations are pouring in.

During my brief visit two weeks ago, many roads were still closed to non-emergency traffic. Other roads, bridges and infrastructure were so severely damaged that some areas were still partially or completely cut off. Railroads were still halted, and six ethanol plants were shut down.

The extent of the March storm and flooding losses are still being updated with Iowa estimating $1.6 billion in damage and Nebraska $1.3 billion. In addition, an April storm brought losses. In Nebraska, the agriculture losses, alone, are nearly $1 billion – including $400 million in crop and stored grain losses and $440 million in livestock losses. A majority of livestock losses are recently born calves that may not have been tagged or recorded, making documentation difficult. Veterinarians report additional losses ahead as surviving livestock are under stress. Additionally, the transportation infrastructure damages are costing livestock and dairy farms — that market milk and animals daily – a collective $1 million per day due to increased transportation costs in Nebraska, alone. Other concerns are losses of feed and clean water for livestock with estimates of $40 million in livestock feed supply losses in Nebraska.

Untallied bushels of corn and soybeans stockpiled on farms for future delivery were under floodwaters or damaged by them. Land that had never seen flooding previously was still under water.

The Nebraska governor’s office was estimating nearly $1 billion in agricultural losses — not including millions in damage to buildings, homes and equipment. Livestock losses were being estimated at over $400 million, and crop losses both in storage and by prevented plantings were estimated at over $400 million.

While USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has backed away from a figure he gave Fox News three weeks ago — about one million cattle being lost in the region due to both the blizzard in western Nebraska and surrounding areas and the catastrophic flooding in central and eastern Nebraska as well as Iowa, southern Minnesota, southeast South Dakota and into Missouri — it’s not hard to imagine a number close to that when new spring calves are reported to far surpass any livestock class in the number of losses.

Feedlots and dairies in the region talk about losing average daily gain and milk production in the wake of deep snow, floods and mud. Transportation of commodities into and out of the region is encumbered with dairy farmers, for example, reporting milk trucks taking 90-mile detours and milk being dumped.

In some areas the flood waters were so damaging even the deeply-buried fiberoptic cables have been unearthed as damaged dams and levees unleashed water and ice that in turn damaged bridges, roads and railroads.

In fact, 200 bridges in Nebraska, alone, will need to be inspected, and this has created issues for trucks and rail cars that normally traverse them, creating additional costs getting commodities out and supplies in.

“This thing has long fingers,” said Bill Thiele, a dairy producer near Clearwater, Nebraska. While he describes the losses at his family’s 1900-cow dairy to be “mostly inconveniences,” he sees what his neighboring dairy and beef producers are dealing with.

He operates the third-and-fourth-generation dairy with his three brothers, a sister-in-law and two nephews, and they have another generation coming on.

“We are three miles from Clearwater, and there is destruction along 90 miles of the Elkhorn, which had tremendous flooding, and by the Clearwater Creek, where bridges were lost. We are right beside the Clearwater Creek and are very fortunate the new bridge held,” Thiele describes how 8-inch-deep frozen creeks like the Clearwater raged 15-foot high as the water built up behind the ice like a big dam and unleashed its fury.

“We produce three tankerloads of milk per day. We have no storage on site, we just hoped to keep trucks coming and going to us,” he reflects, noting that they had to shut down for an hour, but that pales in comparison to others. He tells of a nearby dairy having to dump milk for six days straight.

“Milk was definitely dumped in this state. We don’t know how much as the milk haulers eventually established routes going an extra 90 miles per load to make it between farms and plants,” Thiele recounted. “We don’t know of plant closures, but there were points where people may not have gotten to work. One of the first things our Governor did was to lift the weight restrictions, and he worked with the Departments of Transportation and Highway Patrol in other states to synchronize that.”

Thiele tells how one dairy four times his size on two sites just south of Columbus near hard-hit Rising City and Surprise, Nebraska, hired planes to fly employees to locations where they could then pick them up in vehicles to get to the dairies as it was more than one week before the main highway 81 was opened up.

He’s heard about the losses of ranchers and family members – people he knows – who tried coaxing cattle out of fields but had to get themselves to higher ground when the emergency warnings went out as the Spencer Dam broke.

“Cattle are mixed everywhere with bridges out,” said Thiele. “It will take some time to tabulate where cattle are, what was lost, and what’s misplaced. It’s hard to fathom these images of guys loading 40 or so dead calves.”

To fathom it, one must understand that many of these miles of creeks and rivers leading to catastrophic flooding are normally wide and shallow streams that can be crossed easily, but as the floodwaters came up rapidly and dams and levees were breeched by icebergs the size of cars, beef cattle herds in protected areas near streams during calving season, became stranded.

He said the damage to infrastructure in Nebraska even affected the dairies in California “because grain and soymeal and distillers (DDGs) go from here in Nebraska by rail to California.”

With railroads knocked out and ethanol plants shut down, those dairies had to find feed and trucks to get feed out there. “It quickly makes you realize all these things have long fingers reaching out very quickly,” said Thiele.

Without the railroad to bring corn to the ethanol plants and transport the ethanol and DDGs out, at least six ethanol plants were forced to shut down. This has widened the basis for producers in Nebraska and affected usage and pricing, not to mention actual losses of stored commodity.

Thiele notes that while the news reports indicate much cropland under water for seven or more days, some of this land has not seen waters fully recede to begin cleanup or even think of getting ready to plant.

Dairies, he said, would be affected by alfalfa losses. While hay stocks are damaged on many farms and ranches, the alfalfa fields and grasslands also sustained damage from both flood waters and the huge chunks of ice propelled by the rapid snowmelt and precipitation that turned those little streams into raging rivers.

In the midst of it all just two days after Highway 81 re-opened, debris piles were a combination of equipment, hay and even cattle carcasses carried miles on raging waters even two weeks after the worst of the flood had passed Columbus.

While driving through Columbus, a stop in town found the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Pork Producers all coming together to provide a grilled meal of pork loin, burgers and hot dogs for volunteers, farmers and town folk on March 24 – a scene oft repeated in other towns in the following days and weeks.

“We wanted to thank the volunteers and help the people suffering with flood damage,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen. He noted that USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach, a former Nebraska Ag Secretary, would also be on hand to talk about the damages that can only be fully appreciated from the air.

Suffice it to say that federal assistance won’t do much, and a special disaster aid package for 2018 and 2019 damage across the country failed to pass the Senate last week.

Existing programs like USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) have caps that many farmers’ losses will far exceed. Programs like Crop Insurance won’t cover grain lost in storage. Few have sufficient private insurance for these losses, and many areas affected are not in flood plains, so flood insurance is not available.

Jay Ferris with Nebraska Farm Bureau lives near Seward, Nebraska and had some damage from the Loup River. But it was the Niaroba, Elkhorn and Missouri River convergences that saw the worst of the flooding miles from their respective shores as levees were breeched, dams destroyed pushing the floodwaters and icebergs into these lesser shallow creeks that became deep rivers.

A little-known fact from sixth generation farmer and radio personality Trent Loos, is that Nebraska has more miles of river than any other state. Of course, these rivers are not what most of us think. They are miles of wide and shallow streams – maybe 8 inches to a foot deep as historical channels for melting snow.

As reported earlier in Farmshine, it was the combination of Storm Ulmer’s ‘bomb cyclone’ in early March and the abundant accumulation of snow and ice pack driven by the heavy precipitation that wreaked havoc on systems as icebergs the size of automobiles and several feet thick were propelled over banks by the fast moving runoff, hitting Platte County especially hard and putting over 60 Nebraska counties and over 40 Iowa counties under emergency declaration by state and federal authorities.

“The biggest tragedy was in the calving beef herds wintered close to water where there are big trees that keep them out of the wind,” said Ferris.

“The feedlots lost efficiencies, but our cow-calf operations lost a lot of their babies. That’s the saddest part,” his wife Tammy echoed as they prepared the grills for the meal offering to flood victims and volunteers.

Bill Luckey, a Columbus, Nebraska pork producer and cattleman, talks about the hay operation as the Air National Guard chopper takes off in the early-evening drizzle with round bales to feed stranded cattle and two more semi’s roll in with more needed hay and corn fodder.

“It is incredible the amount of generous donations of hay, fencing and other supplies, as well as money and work crews to clean up and rebuild,” said Bill Luckey, a member of the National and Nebraska Pork Producers boards when we caught up with him at the Columbus, Nebraska hay drop location. “The generosity from all over the country has been amazing.”

As we watched the Nebraska Air National Guard load four round bales to feed stranded cattle owned by Drew Wolf of Richland, Nebraska, we met Jay and Kim Schilling from the southwest corner of the state. They had just brought in 23 round bales, and while some of it was being loaded for airlift, two more semi’s showed up with needed hay and corn fodder from Iowa.

“We are one of the few counties not declared an emergency in our state, and we wanted to help because we know they would do the same for us,” said Kim Schilling. “We know how much those cattle eat.”

Brian Palmer of Columbus, Nebraska, loads the last of four round bales brought in by Jay and Kim Schilling (pictured). They are ranchers from the unaffected southwest corner of the state. Bales are airdropped by Nebraska Air National Guard to cattle still stranded by standing water weeks after the early March storm.

As it turned out, the rancher whose cattle were being fed by that particular airlift belonged to a friend of Jay’s college roommate at the University of Nebraska. They had called that friend as soon as they heard how bad the situation was to the east.

Luckey talked about the flooding around Columbus. He farms six miles east of town and described his operation as “lucky.” The floodwaters came within inches of his hog barn. Active in both the Nebraska Pork Producers and Nebraska Cattlemen Associations, he was busy helping wherever needed after the floods.

“They asked if I could help do this hay drop, so I’m helping Brian Palmer who is running this thing,” said Luckey, who in addition to raising hogs, has a cow-calf herd and did lose a few calves in the stress of it all.

“Even though we don’t know the numbers, everyone in this area has some cattle and hog losses,” said Luckey, noting that the Fremont area, especially had some hog losses. “Roads are covered with water, mud and debris. There’s an awful lot of mud. We’ve seen an awful lot of livestock stress that will continue in this mud. Every 10 to 20 years, we see flooding. In the early 1990s, there was severe damage in some of these parts, but most of us have never seen anything like this.”

What we really need, said one observer, is bridge builders. Transportation is critical here.

As Luckey finished his sentence about the toll the floods have taken on transportation, a train whistle in the distance grew louder. As it passed us by, standing there at the Columbus hay drop watching the chopper lift hay for stranded cattle, Luckey said: “That’s the first train whistle we’ve heard in over 10 days. That is surely a nice thing to see. That looks like a load of coal coming in from Wyoming.”

He talked about the damage to railroads, and I soon learned that the SiDump trucks I had seen going up and down the roads I had traveled the afternoon and evening before were working in earnest for the railroad hauling rock to place under the tracks to fill holes left by the raging waters.

“They say that the closing of the railroad cost Union Pacific $1 million per hour,” Luckey remarked. “Some of our roads were closed just so the equipment and dump trucks could move freely to get the railroad up and running again. It’s our lifeline.”

Southeast of Columbus closer to Sioux City, Iowa, things were bad. Even the I-29 corridor from Sioux City to Sioux Falls was shut down in places 10 to 14 days after the flood. Thiele told of a dairy south of Sioux City with one-fourth of its land under water, and the alfalfa all under the transported ice – not to mention the same conditions for grass that would be grazed or hayed for beef cattle. Hay will be an ongoing need.

This rainbow appeared after a light rain ended near sundown two weeks ago  as the author drove through the rural town of Columbus, Nebraska in hard-hit Platte County, where recovery is still an inch-by-inch deal four weeks after the storm. Photo by Sherry Bunting

“Standing water and ice will ruin that multi-year investment in alfalfa, which is absolutely the background ingredient and feedstuff for dairies here,” said Thiele. “Add to this the direct and indirect losses in planting delays and prevented plantings this spring, and that means less feed.”

To gain perspective of the levels of water 11 to 15 feet off the ground, seeing the arial photos of standing water just under the tops of center pivot irrigation systems tells the story.

“There is an incredible amount of snow in South Dakota and we’re still getting snow in Sioux Falls and west. That all has to melt yet,” Thiele observed. “I’m no meteorologist, but that water, that moisture, all has to have somewhere to go.”

Whatever the circumstances that created the perfect storm for catastrophic floods, one thing can’t be denied — the amazing force of water and the destruction and debris it leaves in its wake. Riverbottom pasture and hay ground is filled with sand bars, fields even above a normal flood line are not getting spring or normal warm temperatures. By April 15 to 20, farmers here want to be in the field, Thiele explained.

“But with this much saturation, standing water and debris, some land will go unplanted this year,” he said, adding that a normal first cutting of hay occurs a couple weeks before Memorial Day. “That’s not likely to happen either. If all else goes okay, we’ll be lucky to get by with just one less cutting and less tonnage while some areas will have to replant.”

He talks again about the “long fingers” of this thing, as Nebraska alfalfa grown near him goes to dairies in Michigan.

The response from the agricultural community has been overwhelming. Truckloads — actual convoys of trucks loaded with hay, fencing and other supplies — have been heading to the flooded regions from Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Delmarva area, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, Florida, etc.

Tale after tale is told on various facebook pages, like Ag Community Relief, of the generosity brought to the region.

“It’s a tough deal,” said Thiele, recounting stories of families that have lost everything on farms and in towns. This is a total farm economy here, and the farm economy for the last four years running has already been bad. We are already in a long-term downcycle. There hasn’t been a lot to be optimistic about. What we need is for the trade agreements and other underlying problems to be finalized. For long term recovery, our markets have to improve so farm families have a chance.”

“For those who are against our cattle and dairy operations, take a look at our faces. You’ll see very tired faces. These farmers and ranchers are caring and doing absolutely everything they know to do, even risking their own lives on a tractor to try to get cows out of a field before a flood takes them away. All we want as farmers and ranchers is to have a real chance.”

Yes, Mother Nature will do what she will do, but it is agriculture policy that needs attention and it is the generosity of fellow farmers and ranchers across the country that helps those in the thick of a really tough deal.

No matter what Mother Nature dishes out, Rural America responds with a can-do spirit. Farmers and ranchers nationwide are stepping in to help those affected by the storms and floods in the Midwest with prayers, hay, feed, supplies and financial donations. The appreciation is great.

Here are some contacts for those wanting to help:

Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief, 4611 Cattle Dr, Lincoln, NE 68521. Donation forms are available online at https://nebraskacattlemen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/donation-form.pdf

Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s Disaster Relief, PO Box 80299, Lincoln, NE 68501-0299 or visit nefb.org/disaster. Also, the Farm Bureau’s Ag Disaster Exchange matches hay/supply donations with need https://www.nefb.org/ag-disaster-exchange.  

Nebraska Dept. of Ag Hay and Forage Hotline at 402.471.4876 and http://www.nda.nebraska.gov/promotion/hay/index.

Ag Community Relief at agcommunityrelief.com

In Iowa, this website connects those who need with those who have available hay or grazing land: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/online-services/haynet-tipnet/index

Read about some of the generosity here
https://www.facebook.com/groups/894013340738541/ and here
https://www.afarmwife.com/www.afarmwife.com/2019/4/20/nebraska-bound-installation-3

Hay moves along the Ohio Turnpike this week, Nebraska bound, from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. In fact Maryland’s Oakdale FFA Chapter (along with donations at the recent Frederick County 4-H meeting) has an “Operation Nebraska” fund-raising effort going full-throttle raising funds for transporting hay to Nebraska. That effort began when Becky Long Chaney of Nebraska and Kathy LaScala of Kansas were contacted by Kathy Stowers and given one task: find a ride for 110 round bales of hay donated from Middletown, Maryland. Similar hay convoys have transported loads of hay and supplies from central and western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Florida as well as from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Those bringing hay are encouraged to have a contact in the region, to be self-sufficient, and to know they are appreciated. Hygiene and cleaning items, gloves, masks, tools, animal health supplies are also appreciated. Facebook photo provided

Is mandatory dairy checkoff funding real milk’s demise?

Through futuristic lens: Is it time to end USDA control of dairy promotion?

No matter what innovations they come up with in the future, real dairy milk will always be the completely natural, minimally-processed, clean-label product with the superior combination of complete protein, healthy fat, and long list of essential natural nutrients, not additives. Treating real dairy milk like a cheap commodity must end. Innovative marketing may be more important in today’s times than innovative manufacturing processes. Government rules make it difficult to truly promote real dairy milk. It’s time to re-think the government oversight of the mandatorily farmer-funded milk promotion business so that truly competitive promotion can happen. (Istock photo).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 29, 2019

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do. Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry. Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s where we need to be.”

These were the words of Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) to his dairy checkoff board recently as shared here, and in the March 20, 2019 edition of Farmshine from a video of his comments.

A glimpse into what that might mean was revealed at the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) convention in January, where DMI’s vice president of global innovation partnerships, Paul Ziemnisky told attendees that 95% of households have milk and buy milk, but that these households engage in “fewer consumption occasions”, according to a recent convention report in Dairy Foods magazine.

To increase ‘consumption occasions’, DMI has been investing checkoff dollars toward innovations in “milk-based” beverage growth, he said.

Through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, DMI has invested checkoff dollars in these types of “pre-competitive” innovations in the past — an example being fairlife.

It is interesting that in both Gallagher’s comments to the DMI board and in the presentation by DMI’s Ziemnisky’s to processors, the term dairy-based or milk-based is used.

As we’ve reported previously, the direction of dairy innovation over the past 10 to 20 years has not been lacking in its drive to pull out the components of milk for inclusion in a variety of products — taking milk apart and putting it back together again — in a way that is new and different or in a way that presents milk and dairy as a new product.

Expect to see this type of innovation increase via these investments of dairy checkoff dollars into developing combination beverages that include pieces of milk in entirely new beverages.

This is what is meant by innovation.

At the IDFA convention, DMI gave processors a glimpse into some of the innovations they are working on to address four consumer targets that DMI has identified:

1)      A milk- and nut-based combination beverage,

2)      A milk with lavender and melatonin to promote sleep,

3)      A yo-fir product (kefir plus yogurt) beverage,

4)      A milk beverage that provides just a hint of flavor,

5)      More concepts in high-protein milk-based beverages,

6)      A ‘plosh’ blend of tea, coffee and milk, and

7)      An all-natural concept of milk blended with fruit.

As the overall beverage sector is exploding with new beverages of all kinds every year — some winners and some losers — DMI is looking to do more in the re-creation of dairy in the beverage space with new combination beverages that include milk, or components of milk, but are not identified as milk. These beverages will compete with non-dairy beverages, but in a sense, this track would further compress real dairy milk into its age-old commodity posture. Of course, those who are engaged in promotion of real dairy milk can position it as the wholly natural choice in a beverage sector of further processed combinations and concoctions.

Something to watch and be aware of is that PepsiCo – a company the dairy checkoff organizations are forming stronger bonds with — is on the frontier of turning drink dispensing machines into a hybrid of 3-D printing and multi-source create-your-own beverage dispensers. On the CNBC’s early-morning Squawk Box business news a few months ago, this concept was discussed showing a prototype where consumers can create their own unique beverage by pushing buttons for a little of this and a little of that. Millennials look for unique and “personalized” foods and beverages — we are told. And we see this trend in the “craft beer” category, for example.

A caveat to follow in this trend is the importance of labeling by USDA and FDA as the new gene-edited cell-cultured animal-based proteins and genetically-altered vat-grown yeast-produced dairy-based proteins move from the lab to the market in the next 12 to 24 months via partnerships between the billionaire-funded food technology startup companies and the world’s largest agricultural supply-chain companies. 

While everyone is watching what happens in the cell-cultured fake-meat category and the partnerships there with Cargill, most of us do not realize how close the dairy versions are to scaling-for-market — since Perfect Day company partnered last fall with ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). That partnership is predicated on ADM providing the facilities and mechanisms to ramp up the production of ‘cow-less’ so-called dairy proteins, and USDA research labs do the gene-altering to provide the seed-source of yeast for the process.

As these other proteins are introduced into the food supply, it is yet unclear how – exactly – they will be identified and differentiated in the marketplace. While the dairy and livestock sectors pushed hard to soften the distinctions of proteins in food from animals that have been fed GMO crops, the downside of USDA’s new Bio-Engineered (BE) food labels is that these fake proteins that are on the horizon may not be labeled or differentiated when they are a part of the final food or beverage product.

On the bio-engineering side of animal-based cell-cultured fake-meat protein production (cell-blobs grown in bioreactors), USDA and FDA are still working out the details of their combined food safety requirements.

But on the bio-engineering side of the yeast that have been genetically-altered to possess bovine DNA snips to exude ‘milk’ protein and perhaps other components (grown to exude dairy protein and components in fermentation vats), there is far less discussion of inspection or oversight.

As for the labeling of both types of bio-engineered protein, there is little discussion of how foods containing them will be labeled.

Just three months ago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the new National Bio-Engineered Food Disclosure Standard that will be implemented in January of 2020. It is the result of the July 2016 law passed by Congress that directed USDA to establish one national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are – or may be – bio-engineered.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has developed the List of Bio-Engineered Foods to identify the crops – and foods – that are available in a bio-engineered form throughout the world and for which regulated entities must maintain records that inform whether or not they must make this bio-engineered food disclosure.

Some are voluntarily complying already, as I have seen this BE statement in very small print on small containers of some Kraft ‘cheese’ spreads.

The bottom line in this mandatory BE labeling requirement is that it only pertains to the main ingredient of the further-processed food or beverage and only if there is “detectable” genetically-altered material in that food. This means that the BE labeling may not apply to fake meat or fake dairy. In the case of the fake meat, the bio-engineering is the editing of DNA to grow muscle (boneless beef for example). In the case of fake dairy, the bio-engineering is yeast altered to include specific bovine DNA, but the resulting cow-less ‘dairy’ protein would have no detectable difference, its creators say.  

All animal protein checkoff programs have a tough road ahead. If farmers and ranchers continue to fund promotion of the foods and beverages that come from dairy and livestock farms, these fake iterations of the real thing will benefit unless promotion can be targeted to the real thing and consumers see the difference on a label in order to make a choice for the real thing.

This all sounds so futuristic and like science-fiction, but in foods today, this is where we are headed and our checkoff programs should be aware and should be able to stand up for the real thing. They should be allowed to lobby regulators for fair treatment and distinct labeling because the government requires farmers to pay these checkoff deductions to promote their products. Thus, if the government does not provide a clear path to distinguish fake from real, then the fairness of requiring a checkoff should no longer be considered valid.

As for dairy farmer checkoff funds, specifically, the future is here and DMI is already moving down that road to innovate dairy-based or milk-based products that dilute the meaning of dairy and milk in the marketplace – in effect paving the way to new innovations and products in which real dairy-farm-produced milk components can be replaced by fake-dairy components from genetically-altered yeast grown in ADM fermentation vats.

Perhaps checkoff funding should be directed in these difficult and changing times toward true promotion of what is real. We see that starting to happen with the “love what’s real” campaign, launched by the Milk Processors Promotion and Education Program (MilkPEP) and supported by DMI’s Undeniably Dairy social media campaign.

More than ever, the future of our dairy farms will rely upon promotion of what is REAL – moreso than using dairy farmer checkoff funds to find ways to put pieces of milk into other products or into 3-D Printers. Profile those components. Provide the benefits of real dairy components for the manufacturers that are moving into 3-D printing of personalized foods and beverages, but keep the powder dry for a full-out real dairy campaign. If USDA does not allow real dairy farmer checkoff funds to talk about why they are so much better than the fake stuff that is here and that is coming… then it is time to get the government out of the promotion business and return these funds to dairy farmers so they can voluntarily use them to promote their real products, their true dairy brands.

In a future of murky food sources – farmers must be able to stand up for what they produce. They must be able to promote Real Milk that is unfooled-around-with, that is from the cow they have fed and cared for.

With the food revolution here, dairy promotion will need a marketing revolution to welcome people back to what’s Real — especially as more household decisions are made by people growing up without knowing what Real Whole Milk tastes like.There’s an idea. Real Whole Milk is tastier, healthier, with a truly cleaner label than about anything else that is here or that is coming to compete with it in the beverage sector.

Ditto for Real Yogurt and Real Cheese, etc. in the food sector. Undeniably Dairy – the dairy checkoff program – has a nice ring to it. Love what’s Real has a great message to it. But if dairy farmers can’t use their mandatory funds to take the fake stuff head-on, then it’s time to stop taking mandatory checkoffs and allow farmers to use their money to promote their product – no holds barred.

When the competition is funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, has the backing of major food and agriculture supply-chain companies, is sourcing genetically-altered material from USDA, and does not have government requiring distinctive labeling – then dairy farmers need a level playing field to use their hard earned $350 million plus to put a stake in the ground to promote why Real is better. Checkoff staff often say the competition is doing brand advertising and “we can’t.”

That being the case, perhaps give the money back to the farmers so they can form voluntary promotion groups or voluntarily give the funds to the brand that receives their milk to get in the game of head-to-head advertising instead of, in essence, funding a path to their own substitution and demise.

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DMI CEO on fluid milk

‘Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next.’

Schools represent more consumer touch-points for milk than all other sectors, combined

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 22, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The fluid milk category is receiving much attention after a decade of rapid declines in sales. What does the CEO of the national dairy checkoff organization DMI have to say on the topic?

For starters, he says the dairy industry should stop blaming the alternative beverages and start looking at its own failures.

In his CEO’s Report, delivered at the February DMI board meeting, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher addressed the fluid milk question. While no press release or public statement or copy of the CEO’s Report was provided to Farmshine, a video was posted to the private Dairy Checkoff facebook page and was subsequently provided to Farmshine by a dairy farmer participant.

Since Gallagher states while giving his “CEO’s Report” that this information is ‘public’ and that “we want you to take pictures of it and share it, do what you want with it, it’s yours.” So we are sharing with Farmshine readers what was shared with us by dairy farmers what was shared with dairy farmers via the closed facebook group.

Gallagher began his report talking about farmer engagement. 

“The power of the industry is within the industry, it’s the farmer,” he said. “We can commit to activating the dairy farmer at the local and national levels, then we can have a big voice, especially, on what it is that your checkoff really does.”

He talked about the changing world of consumer influence, saying that, “When you think about the things we need to do, more and more they are moving away from the things we are familiar with.”

From there, he referenced a presenter for the following day who would be talking about the future, about 3-D printing of food.

“Well, it’s not the future because you can go on Amazon today, and for $2000, buy a 3-D printer that will print dessert for you,” said Gallagher. “We think, why would people eat that? They don’t like processed foods. But the people who make those and the food production people — and hopefully dairy protein will be in that, not plant protein — they don’t need the 90% of people consuming your product. They just need 5 or 10 or 4% to have a very successful business. If that’s what people are going to be doing, we need to be there.”

Gallagher announced that DMI will be buying a 3-D printer, a few of them. “We’ll buy one, and we’re going to figure it out and we’ll figure out how to approach these 3-D printing companies with dairy-based proteins in foods to be used in them,” he said. “We can’t afford to be nickeled and dimed with 4% of consumers here and 5% there.”

He went on to observe that just 4% of consumers identify as vegan and that vegetarians are also a small number. “What is really driving plant-based foods and beverages is not predominantly the vegan movement, it’s because these companies are investing  hundreds of millions of dollars and are getting really good at taste, are phenomenal at marketing and great at innovation.”

He referenced diets that promote being vegan or vegetarian before 6:00 and other consumer trends.

“I think our goal is it is not either-or, it can be both… We have to be honest with ourselves, there will be plant-based beverages out there, and people will buy them, and they will gain share, not because people are vegan or concerned about sustainability… it’s because the food and beverage companies are doing a great job at what they do,” Gallagher said.

“If we do the same job in the dairy industry, we will be just fine. But if we sit back like we did with fluid milk, we will be where we are with fluid milk,” he added.

Referencing a report in the 1980s before the checkoff was authorized by Congress, Gallagher said: “That report laid out everything that needed to be done for fluid milk, and that same report would be valid today because none of it was done — not until fairlife and a few other things.”

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do,” said Gallagher from a marketing, not policy, standpoint. “Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry.

“Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s were we need to be,” said Gallagher. When it comes to policy, nutritional values and sustainability discussions, that’s another discussion we need to enter into.” 

In the breakdown on sales, he said foodservice milk is up slightly even though retail and other sectors are down. The data was by servings, and he explained how sales figures are pieced together and how program evaluations fit into those.

He also talked about a meeting DMI had with the top persons from the five top coops for packaged fluid milk salesn — DFA, Select, Prairie Farms, Darigold and Maryland-Virginia — along with Jim Mulhern of NMPF, Tom Vilsack of USDEC, Rick Naczi of ADANE, Marilyn Hershey, president of DMI, along with a former CEO of fairlife with some insights. 

“We came out of that meeting as positive about fluid milk as ever on how the industry can work together to change the trajectory,” said Gallagher, explaining that they looked at how much of fluid consumption is really pushed down into Class II, and to see if getting and including that number, what that would do to the per-capita fluid milk consumption numbers. 

“The group focused on kids. Kids is the deal — at 6 billion containers a year, when everything else is 5.3 billion,” said Gallagher. “So while schools only represent 7.7% of consumption, it represents more touch-points with consumers than everything else combined. So, they, on their own, quickly came to the conclusion that we have got to deal with the kids for a variety of reasons — sales and trust. And they asked DMI to put together a portfolio of products for kids inside of schools and outside of schools. What are the niches that need to be filled? What’s the right packaging? What needs to be in the bottle? And we can do that,” he said.

Depending on the results of the next meeting, the circle could be expanded. And regulatory, legislative and standards of identity issues were brought up that DMI can’t be involved in, but NMPF can. 

Author’s note: Meanwhile, all of those kids in school, those 6 billion touch-points for milk every year that surpass all other touch-points for milk, combined, are forced to consume (or discard) fat-free or 1% milk. The simple answer would be to give them whole milk that tastes good so they know what milk is vs. trying to re-invent the wheel. As an industry, we can’t know what the per-capita fluid milk consumption figures would look like today if the 60 billion touch-points over the past 10 years had been permitted by the government to consume whole milk. Before reinventing some pre-competitive proprietary wheel, shouldn’t those touch-points (schoolkids) have an opportunity to try real whole milk?

To be continued

Catastrophic losses in wake of blizzard, flooding in Midwest

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 22, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. — The losses are heartbreaking and the devastation staggering from the violent March blizzard meteorologists described as a “hurricane over the Plains” on March 13 and 14. It brought rain, then heavy snow, high winds and low temperatures from Colorado to Wyoming and western South Dakota, wreaking havoc with flooding throughout the state of Nebraska and the region.

Superstorm Ulmer arrived on the heels of warmer temperatures that had begun melting significant snow and ice pack from the series of snow storms and low temperatures that had preceded it. Part of the problem was there were few periodic melts of this accumulation over the course of the winter.

The result of the storm and the snowmelt has been historic flooding of catastrophic proportions throughout central and eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, as well as portions of Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While those to the west were digging cattle out of 7- to 10- foot drifts of heavy wet snow, those to the east were trying to find ways to get feed to cattle stranded by floodwaters or to give them a route to safety as some of the ranchers themselves were forced to evacuate the high waters.

In fact, Becky Long Chaney, who grew up on a Maryland dairy farm and now lives on a cattle ranch near Elwood, Nebraska with her husband and their twin daughters, reports that they are okay, but around them is much devastation.

“The more I hear, the more shocked and saddened I become,” she said telling of a ranch 30 minutes from them losing 45 calves and another trying to cut fence to save a group, but seeing the wall of water take over 40 pairs away.

Ice chunks several feet thick and as large as cars and trucks were propelled by the heavy rain and snowmelt-fed waters — smashing through homes and barns, breeching and damaging dams and levees. Damage to dams resulted in unexpected levels and areas of flooding. Becky notes that five-generation farms in the region have seen property and livelihoods destroyed with little notice.

Like in the Storm Atlas tragedy in South Dakota in 2013, it is difficult for producers to talk of these losses. The guilt they feel, though not deserving of such guilt, is that they could not save them all. Some reports indicate losses of one-quarter to one-half of affected herds. Some lost nearly all. No official numbers of cattle losses are yet released, but the financial cost of all livestock losses was estimated at $400 million in Nebraska, alone, according to the Governor’s office.

“It takes a great deal of faith to be involved in agriculture. It takes a great deal of faith to deal with Mother Nature,” said sixth generation farmer and radio host Trent Loos, talking about the blow his home state of Nebraska was dealt this past week.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau pegs agricultural economic losses approaching $1 billion, with their estimate of livestock losses at $500 million and crop losses at $440 million. Crop loss estimates include the losses to stored grain as well as fields that will likely be left unplanted this spring due to the severity of the flood damage and debris. The state’s emergency management officials say public infrastructure impact in damaged and washed-away bridges and roads will exceed $200 million, and that does not include bridges that must be inspected due to being still intact but perhaps compromised by the force of the flood.

Trent’s March 19 Loos Tales added heartfelt perspective to these losses, as he remembered the farmer many are calling a hero. James Wilke of Columbus, Nebraska was one of four to lose their lives in the flood. James was called home this week when a bridge gave way as he was rescuing a stranded motorist with his tractor during the brunt of the historic flooding.

It had already been a brutal winter in the Midwest and West before Ulmer came to town, and now the warmer temperatures and more moisture this week are aggravating the situations.

Three weeks earlier, Washington state dairy farms reported losses of over 2000 cattle from a late winter storm. In the Upper Midwest, the unending snowfall and frigid temperatures led to over 100 dairy barn roofs caving-in, with structural damage, cattle losses, and milk dumping reported in the two weeks ahead of Ulmer.

Last week, as Ulmer developed its cyclone pattern in the Southwest, straight-line winds above 70 mph spawned tornadoes south of Roswell, New Mexico producing severe damage to some dairy operations. One dairy reported having to euthanize 150 dairy cows.

In eastern New Mexico, Ulmer’s straight-line winds over 80 mph blew a train from a bridge into a ravine, according to commercial cattle manager and livestock analyst Corbitt Wall. A former USDA market reporter in Lancaster County, Pa. before returning to his roots now in the Texas Panhandle, Wall said Monday that the locomotive made it across the bridge but the dozen railcars in tow did not.

On the situation in Nebraska, Wall said it is a “real bad deal” and will impact the cattle industry there for months and years to come.

The term “bombogenesis” is used by meteorologists to describe the phenomenon of Ulmer’s hurricane-like rotation that had intensified as the warm and cold air masses collided over land, with dropping pressures that produced what they call a “bomb cyclone” over the Plains — bringing two inches of driving rain and sleet that turned to 12 to 24 inches of blizzard snow.

But it was the unrelenting hurricane-force winds of up to 70, even 80 mph, that created the 7- to 10-foot drifts, trapping cattle and other livestock. Those trying to tend cattle during the blizzard report becoming disoriented and unable to do much more than wait it out and rely on any preparations they were able to make in the short time beforehand.

As the winds began to let up after 24 to 48 hours, ranchers got out to find cows, calves, pairs and other livestock, alive and dead, beneath the pristine white prairie.

What’s worse is the timing. Most cow/calf operations in the region are in midst of calving season.

As for the flooding, reports from TriState Livestock News indicate that the rising water pushed large icebergs into dams in north central and northeast Nebraska that were then breached with water overtopping the ice to create the widespread flooding moving south into unprepared areas with damage to infrastructure making evacuations difficult.

In fact, the town of Fremont, Nebraska, just west of Omaha, was completely cut off by destruction of bridges and roads, and it was several days before evacuations could happen or convoys could be routed in with supplies.

In a press release, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency to deal with both the blizzard in the west and the flooding throughout the state. On Monday (March 18), he said FEMA would be in the state to work on expediting federal disaster declaration paperwork, and the White House reported that Vice President Pence would visit Tuesday (March 19) to survey the damage.

“We are going to be far over what is needed to declare a federal disaster,” said Gov. Ricketts in a statement. “We’ve got bridges out and levies broken, lots of roads, utilities, everything.”

While scenes of the blizzard and flooding have circulated widely via social media, some even making it to various news stations, most of the devastation in America’s heartland is just beginning to reach mainstream media six days after the storm.

In a Brownfield Ag report Monday, Pete McClymont with Nebraska Cattlemen said the flooding has hit the state’s livestock industry hard, noting “horrific stories where some cow/calf pairs have gotten caught up in the rising flood waters and been washed away.”

Columbus, Nebraska is one of the hard hit areas. This photo was taken a week after the flooding during cleanup. Low lying areas, including many grazing areas and farm fields will have standing water for quite some time. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Social media posts, photos and accounts from those affected depict towns, farm buildings, grain elevators and other structures under water, and as the waters begin to recede, the primary issues are getting feed out to the surviving stranded cattle, locating feed resources, and digging surviving cattle out of debilitating mud.

In the west where wind and snow were the issue, producers told of having barns and calf shelters buried. Photos and videos showed people using backhoes or shoveling teams from the top of the heavy wet snow to get down to the shelter openings. Finding live cattle was the reason to gratefully rejoice, while wary of what future impact the ordeal may have on the calf crop.

“That moment when your calf shelter is buried deep. You shovel and shovel and can hear some calves bawling, their mothers are going crazy. You finally get down to the opening and everything in there looks back at you and they are all alive. Made this ol’ girl bawl like a baby, thank you Jesus,” posted Jodi O’Bryan of Belvidere, South Dakota on the farm’s facebook page.

One rancher reported loading newborns into trailers, trucks, anything, to weather out the storm. Another told of canoeing calves across a river with the cows in tow.

But where the flooding has struck, there was little ability to prepare. These areas received little precipitation from Ulmer, but the snow melt and ice jams moving along the various rivers from the west brought disaster.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) map shows how widespread the flooding is. Agency photo

The magnitude is best realized this way: When a tragedy hits, neighbors help neighbors and communities rescue each other, but when three quarters of a state are hit and 31 communities are under water, with bridges gone, roads wiped out and utilities affected, rescue and recovery are challenging.

President Trump approved a Major Emergency Declaration for Nebraska and Iowa, where a majority of counties are affected by floods and other natural disaster associated with Storm Ulmer and the excess snowmelt from the series of storms before Ulmer. This has helped mobilize government disaster aid and assistance more rapidly. However, there are so many needs on the ground that these programs can’t possibly cover. (In fact, as I drove through portions of Nebraska impacted by the flood, I passed countless trucks hauling large equipment and large dump trailers going both ways in-and-out of flood-stricken areas as the cleanup and restoration is beyond comprehension.)

  • Both the Nebraska and Iowa Department of Agriculture are assisting farmers and ranchers, as well as extension and USDA Farm Service and Natural Resource Agencies. A list of disaster relief resources is also available online. This website includes links to the USDA FSA programs including the Livestock Indemnity Program and information from the state university extension.

HAY NEEDS AND DONATIONS

Operation Prairie Hay Drop was underway this week by the Nebraska Air National Guard. And the outpouring of offers and help is coming in from around the nation.
Last Sunday (March 17), Chuck Fleeman of Columbus, Nebraska thanked those from Presho, South Dakota who donated and hauled almost 200 bales to the Columbus drop-off center, and the youth who came out to unload. This Sunday (March 24), a trucking firm in Utah is working with a group of producers in Kentucky to bring hundreds of bales of hay to the areas of Nebraska and Iowa in need. And on all the days in between, convoys of hay have come into the region from midwestern states all around them, as well as from Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the east.

— The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is asking those in need of hay, feedstuffs, fencing materials and other assistance and those who are willing and able to donate these items to call the department at 1.800.831.0550. They’ve also set up a Hay and Forage Hotline at 402.471.4876.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau has created an Agriculture Disaster Exchange (ADE), which is an online clearinghouse to connect producers in need with those offering help, hay, hauling, equipment and other supplies at https://www.nefb.org/ag-disaster-exchange.

Photo of hay headed to Nebraska, from the Nebraska Governor’s facebook page. See more about hay drop off locations and other ways to help below.

HAY Drop Off Locations

Initial hay drop-off locations were set up at the Columbus Sales Pavilion and the southwest end of the Lancaster Event Center fairgrounds’ exhibit hall parking lot east of Lincoln, off I-80 exit 409 on North 84th street. (If bringing hay to the Lincoln drop-off location, please call or text Amy at 402.429.1950 about type and quantity of hay coming, round or small square; grass or alfalfa. She says they have secured a trucking offer and will determine best locations that can be reached from Lincoln as waters recede.)

The Lancaster Event Center fairgrounds in Lincoln is also temporarily stabling animals. Go here and scroll to the second page to find out how to help with livestock shelter needs.

** More hay drop points were set up since this Farmshine report ** The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has a list of additional Hay Drop Off Points, here. Also a Veterinary Supply Drop-Off Point has been set up at Tyson Dinslage Clinic, West Point, Nebraska for Veterinary supplies only, call 402-450-8007 for details.

In Iowa, Hay Net and Grazing Net is helping to connect farmers who either need hay or have hay available, or need grazing land or have grazing land available.

Here are some other important ways people can help:

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations to provide emergency aid to Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and rural communities affected by recent storms and flooding. They state that 100% of the donations will be distributed to those affected by the disasters. There is a donation tab at nefb.org/disaster or checks can be made to Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation and mailed to: Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation Attn: Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 80299, Lincoln, NE 68501-0299.

Nebraska Cattlemen Association established the Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund, receiving donations at 4611 Cattle Drive, Lincoln, NE 68521. Donation forms are available online at https://nebraskacattlemen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/donation-form.pdf

The Salvation Army, Mennonite Disaster Service and Samaritan’s Purse are already in action in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, along with the American Red Cross. Churches, Community Foundations and Chambers of Commerce have set up disaster relief funds as well.

At the Nebraska state government’s website, information is available for donating specifically needed personal items and cleanup supplies at http://www.nebraska.gov/nebraska-strong/

Ag Community Relief has continued its efforts and are compiling feed, fencing supplies and other needs in a truck-run that left Michigan Thursday evening and arrived here Friday. They have a facebook page @agcommunityrelief and website agcommunityrelief.com

— Another facebook page keeps a running record of efforts to participate in from auctions and fundraisers to work crew and supply convoys. That page is Nebraska Strong Disaster Relief (@NEStrongforPilger)

— The facebook posts that led to hashtags #NebraskaStrong have become T-shirt sales through online stores. Examples include this one donating proceeds to Salvation Army and Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Fund https://www.customink.com/fundraising/nebraska-flood-relief.

Look for future updates here and in Farmshine.

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Dairy data show shifting sands

Pa. production, cow numbers plunge into 2019

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 15, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. produced 1% more milk in 2018 compared with 2017 and did so with roughly the same “average” number of cows for the year. But there were 2,731 fewer U.S. dairy farms (-6.8%) selling milk during 2018 as the average number for the year fell to 37,468 according to USDA.

USDA is still catching up on its delayed milk production reporting after the government shut down earlier this year, the January 2019 figures were released Tuesday (March 12) along with the 2018 annual totals for production, cow numbers and licensed dairies. The data show shifting sands in the dairy industry even as producers, states and regions fight for their place in a consolidating pipeline.

The January portion of the report did show milk production up 1.3% over year ago after being only 0.8% higher in December. January cow numbers were down by 52,000 head, nationally, from a year ago, but up 2000 head from December.

Like a shot between the eyes, Pennsylvania came into 2019 with a whopping 25,000 fewer milk cows (-4.8%) producing 5.5% less milk in January compared with a year ago.

Licensed dairies, other 2018 data

In the 2018 portion of Tuesday’s report, it’s important to note that USDA describes its licensed dairy numbers as the “average number of dairy farms licensed to sell milk during the year, based on counts collected from State and other regulatory agencies.” This means the number of 2018 dairy farms nationally and by state is more along the lines of a rolling average for the year, not a tally of farms in operation at the end of the year for a tracking comparison.

Changes in cow numbers and production for fourth quarter 2018 vs. fourth quarter 2017 is more telling in terms of what it suggests about the rate of exits, consolidation and geographic shifts in the dairy industry. The figures continue to reflect big milk production and cow number gains with a stable number of farms in growing western states, stable production in the face of dairy farm exits and cow losses in some midwestern states, and falling milk production that directly mirrors farm and cow losses in most eastern states.

PA numbers concerning

For Pennsylvania, the figures are quite concerning as the state falls into this last category – right along with the Southeast. In fact, New York was the exception in the East, as the Empire State had stable production in the face of significant farm and cow losses.

Just 11 years ago, Pennsylvania was the fourth largest dairy production state. It then hung on to fifth place until 2016-17 when Michigan — and then Texas — pushed Pennsylvania to seventh.

USDA reports the average number of licensed dairy herds in Pennsylvania fell from 6,570 in 2017 to 6,200 in 2018. Again, this is an average number of dairy farms selling reported milk during the year, not an end-of-year number of remaining operations.

In July (2018), we asked the Center for Dairy Excellence for a handle on the number of licensed herds operating in Pennsylvania at that point in time. What we learned was that the state does not have a good tracking system for licensed herd numbers and that the state is working with the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to get a better handle on these numbers.

The number we were given by the Center in July 2018 was 5,787 licensed dairy farms, but we were told that we “cannot compare this number to the USDA numbers because it is not the same data set.”

Still, the USDA notes in its report that it relies on state agencies for the numbers it uses to find the “average” number of licensed dairy farms state by state, for the year.

The difference between the number of dairy farms that exited the business in 2018 and the net number of dairies selling milk throughout the year is unknown in Pennsylvania.

Did Pennsylvania lose 370 dairy farms as the year over year “average” reported by USDA suggests? Or is that number closer to 700 if the state could provide end-of-year numbers for comparison?

End-of-year comparisons would be more helpful for policymakers to track the health of the dairy industry, whereas the average numbers reflect the type of information the industry wants to use in “sustainability” or “carbon footprint” claims because a certain level of milk production for the year would be produced by an average number of farms and cows during the year — not by just the number remaining at the end of the year.

Even using the USDA average for the year, Pennsylvania dairy farm numbers were down by 370 (-5.6%) and the average number of cows for the year was down by 6,000 head (-1%). Total annual milk production was 10.6 bil lbs (-2.1%) for 2018.

However, fourth quarter production in Pennsylvania was 4.6% lower than Q4 2017. This shows a deeper rate of decline, which was confirmed by the steep loss in cow numbers and production recorded for January 2019 in which USDA reported 25,000 fewer cows were milked in Pennsylvania, making 5.5% less total milk production for the state.

To put this into perspective, Wisconsin state officials estimate that over 700 dairy farms were lost in 2018, but the USDA report pegs the average number of dairy farms in the Dairyland State at 8500, down 590 (-6.5%) from 2017.

Production in Wisconsin, on the other hand, moved higher, reaching 30.5 billion pounds (+0.8%) for the year. The average number of milk cows in Wisconsin fell by 4,000 head (-0.3%).

With Wisconsin and Pennsylvania being the number one and two states for the number of dairy farms, the data differences are illustrative. While communities sustained high dairy farm exits in Wisconsin affecting community-wide dairy infrastructure, the state is still maintaining national average milk production growth and smaller losses in the number of cows relative to the losses in the number of farms.

This suggests that as farms exit the dairy business in Wisconsin, others have growth making up for it. In fact, January’s production in Wisconsin was up 2.9%, according to USDA, despite 5,000 fewer cows reported. That one is a bit of a head-scratcher.

In Pennsylvania, the situation is much different. As the Keystone State loses farms, the cows and production are leaving also. Those losses are not being replaced with in-state growth.

This means Pennsylvania’s entire dairy infrastructure is at risk, and we are seeing more dairy herd liquidations slated for this spring – just like last spring – both nationally and in Pennsylvania. The question is, will Pennsylvania’s ranking in the top 23 milk-producing states continue to decline or can it be stabilized?

Case in point, 2018 annual milk production for Texas was 12.8 bil lbs (+6.1%). That’s 21% more milk than the 10.6 bil lbs produced by Pennsylvania in 2018. Not quite two years ago, Pennsylvania was producing more milk than Texas.

Another comparison to be made here is with Minnesota. Ranked eighth and nipping at the heels of Pennsylvania. Minnesota saw the average number of licensed dairy farms fall by 230 to 2,980 (-7.16%) in 2018, and cow numbers fell by 5,000 (-1.1%). However, Minnesota’s annual milk production in 2018 was unchanged from 2017 at 9.87 bil lbs. Minnesota came into January with 1.6% more production, still down by 5,000 cows.

Northeast milkshed mixed

Back to the Northeast Milkshed, the USDA figures for New York show a similar pattern to Wisconsin and Minnesota as the average number of farms selling milk in 2018 was down by 280 (-6.3%) at 4,190 while cow numbers were down just 2000-head (-0.3%) and production for the year was stable at 14.88 bil lbs (-0.3%). Milk production in New York came into 2019 at levels 3.4% higher in January with 2000 added milk cows compared with a year ago.

Vermont followed a pattern more like Pennsylvania, with the average number of dairy farms selling milk in 2018 down by 90 farms (-10%) while the average number of cows was down by 2000 head (-1.6%), and annual milk production was 2.68 bil lbs (-1.8%). Vermont’s production stabilized a bit into the new year, with January’s production just 0.8% below year ago.

In Virginia, USDA reported 565 dairy farms (-3.1%) sold milk during 2018 with annual milk production down by 5.4% from 4,000 fewer cows (-4.5%). Virginia came into 2019 with a whopping 9,000 fewer cows producing 11.5% less milk in January compared with a year ago.

These data illustrate a couple of things. First, some cooperatives, including national footprint cooperatives like Land O’Lakes and DFA, are enforcing some type of base/excess or seasonal base penalties. In the case of Land O’Lakes, farmers in the East, namely Pennsylvania, have had three to four months out of each of the last three years where milk was penalized for being over base, and the base the company gives the entire eastern region as its individual base trigger has been reduced over those three years. Meanwhile, the members in Minnesota report they have not been penalized to-date.

The data also illustrate that as fluid milk sales decline in the East where Class I sales have been historically more relevant to milk handling, pooling and pricing, the “balancing” costs are reportedly increasing, and those costs are passed back to the farm level through more milk check deductions.

In some ways, the fluid milk market is diminishing to the point where it could be seen as a balancer for manufactured dairy products — even though that’s not the way the USDA Federal Order pricing works.

Coinciding with these market shifts is the rise in documented incidence of supermarkets being randomly short or depleted of available whole milk and cream products throughout the East and Mideast at intervals during all of the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, tolling agreements with cream separation facilities in the East, especially through Land O’Lakes, bring milk from as far away as west Texas to states like Pennsylvania, where the cream can go into butter and the skim is often what pushes the Federal Order One skim dumping requests. There are a number of methane digesters dotting the Northeast and Midatlantic landscape, and this dumped skim milk can put another drag on the Class I sales pool for the region.

Mideast dynamics interesting

Interesting dynamics are also occurring in the Mideast states of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, where farm losses as a percentage of total farms were also steep in 2018, but milk production was comparatively stable.

Michigan had grown rapidly in 2014 through 2017. For 2018, however, USDA reported 230 fewer farms (-13%) selling milk while annual production was off by just a fraction of one percent (-0.6%) at 11.17 bil lbs. Michigan milked an average number of cows that was down by 3000-head (-0.7%) in 2018. And yet, Michigan came into 2019 with 6,000 fewer cows but 1.1% more milk in January compared with a year ago. Another head-scratcher.

Ohio lost 180 dairy farms on average in 2018, according to USDA, declining to 2200 dairy farms (-7.5%) while average cow numbers for the year fell by 6,000 head (-1.9%) and production fell to 5.5 bil lbs. (-1.5%). When comparing fourth quarter cow numbers in Ohio, 2018’s total was 10,000 head less than Q-4 2017. January 2019 production in Ohio was 3.8% below year ago.

Indiana’s production was 4.16 bil lbs in 2018 (-2.2%) with 95 (-10%) fewer dairy farms selling milk during the year and 3,000 (-1.6%) fewer cows. Indiana came into 2019 with 6,000 fewer cows and 3% less milk production in Jan. 2019 compared with a year ago.

Southeast slide continues

In the Southeast, Florida had 15 fewer dairy farms in 2018 and Georgia was down by 20. Annual production was down 4.6% and 4%, respectively, in 2018 with an average of 4,000 fewer cows milked in Florida and 2,000 fewer cows in Georgia during the year.

Kentucky had 60 fewer dairy farms selling milk (-10%), an average of 1,000 fewer cows being milked (-1.8%), and annual production fell by 3.2% in 2018, according to USDA.

In Tennessee, the picture was especially tough, but consistent across all categories of figures. Annual milk production in the Volunteer State was down by a whopping 8.5% in 2018, while the average number of cows was off by 3,000 head (-7.5%) and 20 fewer farms sold milk (-7.5%) during the year, according to USDA.

Western gainers gain big

On the growth side of the ledger, Colorado stayed unchanged in the number of dairy farms at 100, milked 14,000 more cows and produced 8.8% more milk during 2018. By January 2019, production was up by 6.7% over year ago. Kansas lost 10 farms but produced 6% more milk with 10,000 more cows in 2018. Kansas also came into 2019 with 6.2% more milk in January.

Texas came into 2019 with 18,000 more cows than a year ago in January, producing 7.3% more milk and South Dakota had 4,000 more cows producing 6.3% more milk.

Look for more milkshed milk math analysis when pricing and other data become available in April and May.

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