Farmers forced to dump milk while stores limit consumer purchases

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There is no single “reason” why farmers are being forced to dump their milk and why stores are largely still limiting the amount that consumers can purchase this week. The situation is complex, and two rumors are confirmed to be untrue. First, there is no health problem or health-related plant closure, nor is there a shortage of gallon jugs, according to Department of Agriculture sources. And no, milk jugs are NOT made in China. Most milk processing plants have their own plastic blow-molds and U.S. companies produce them as well.

Now that a few rumors are out of the way…  Here is the industry narrative for plunging farm-level milk prices and farms being forced to dump their milk. It goes something like this: “Schools are closed, foodservice demand is stalled and exports are drying up. The first two weeks of so-called “panic buying” at supermarkets settled into a third week into the COVID-19 national emergency finding consumers continuing to ‘buy’ more milk and dairy products, but “not buying enough to overcome” the aforementioned sales losses…”

It’s difficult to buy something that is not available or has store-level restrictions enforced on how much to buy. Schools account for 8% of fluid milk sales under normal conditions, and children are still served milk with grab-and-go meals offered, which keeps a portion of that 8% going. It is not a ‘panic buy’ when a family of four wants to buy 8 gallons of milk a week because all family members are home due to COVID-19. Interestingly, one week earlier, before store purchase limits were set, USDA reported Class I beverage milk usage quite differently and Nielson Global insights showed sales up exponentially (See more here and here)

While a full report is still in process, here’s my take below as filed for the midnight April 1 press deadline for Farmshine after exhaustive calls, emails, texts, messages, reports, and analysis of letters and forms that I am still pouring over for a more complete report for next week’s edition… One late breaking detail not found below, is that some farms were able to find private food pantries such as Blessings of Hope to take milk that was destined for dumping. In order to go to food banks, the milk needs a processor to pasteurize and bottle it or turn it into something like cheese. Another late-breaking detail not found below is the unofficial tally of milk dumped in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region north of 200 loads, and the Southeast could approach 150, meanwhile sources indicate large national footprint cooperatives handling nationwide farm milk supplies met a weekly demand increase in the East of twice that amount. The math isn’t adding up.

 

Younker_dump_milk

Stephanie Younker of Mohrsville, Berks County, Pa. watches as her family, along other farms shipping to Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, dump two days worth of milk early this week. According to the Northeast Market Administrator’s office, six to eight different milk ‘handlers’, many of them cooperatives, reported dumping milk at the end of March and that more reports are expected into the first week of April as stores continued limiting purchases with varying availability.

March ends with dairy supply chain bottlenecks, utilization management; Farmers forced to dump milk while stores limit dairy purchases

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, April 3 edition (updated)

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — While most supermarkets placed limits on consumer purchases of milk, butter and other dairy products — with the majority still enforcing those limits through April 1 at this writing — dairy farmers were forced to dump unprecedented amounts of milk throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Southeastern states. Reports late Wednesday indicate some dumping also began in Wisconsin this week.

On Wednesday, the Northeast Market Administrator’s office confirmed six to eight different handlers, principally cooperatives, had reported dumping milk at the end of March in the Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order. (Payment, pricing and utilization of Class I beverage milk is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under 11 Federal Milk Marketing Order regions across the country. Prices paid to farmers are based in part on the receipts and utilization reports that are filed by milk “handlers” at the end of each month — dividing the milk by how it was used into four classes of which Class I beverage milk is the highest priced, Class II is frozen and soft products, Class III is cheese, and Class IV is butter and powder and is typically the lowest class.)

USDA Dairy Programs in Washington had received numerous phone calls and inquiries from milk handlers (processing plants and cooperatives) last week and issued a notice late last Wednesday, March 25, stating that, “In response to questions from the dairy industry, USDA will be implementing allowable flexibilities … to meet the changing consumer demand within the Federal milk marketing order program. The flexibilities will meet changing needs of both the dairy farmer and dairy processor and manufacturing communities to ensure efficient milk movements from farm to table. USDA wants the public to feel reassured that retail outlets will have milk available.”

Microsoft Word - GEN-#522324-v1-Covid-19_Response_Letter-March_2This was followed by a letter (above) from the Northeast Milk Market Administrator, allowing flexibility for milk to move from unregulated non-pool dairy product plants into regulated Class I beverage or pool plants and between Milk Marketing Order areas to serve “increasing demand” for fluid milk. The same document states that milk disposal on farms that are “historically associated” with the Order can be dumped, pooled and priced on the Order as “other use” at the lowest Class value. (Clarification: Outside milk from other Orders going into Class I use would be pooled and priced on the Order from which the milk came.)

For March 2020, Class IV is the lowest value, with the price announced for all Federal Orders Wednesday, April 1 at $14.87 per hundredweight (100 pounds) or $1.27/gal. compared with the Class I beverage milk price in the Northeast for March at $20.71 ($1.78/gal). The more Class IV or dumped ‘other use’ milk priced on the order for March, the lower the blend price paid to all farmers for all uses combined. It is already looking like prices paid to farmers for the next three months could fall into the $13 to $14 / hundredweight ($1.16/gal) range or lower. Average breakeven price for farms to produce milk is $17/hundredweight or $1.45-$1.50/gal.)

What started with the news that Mount Joy Farmers Cooperative and the greater DFA cooperative would be forced to dump eastern Lancaster County milk into manure pits for lack of a plant to process it over the weekend (March 28-29), grew to include confirmation of farmers in Berks, Lebanon, Cumberland, Franklin and Perry Counties being forced to dump milk into early this week. And reports from western Pennsylvania indicate the same.

By Monday, all independent dairy farm producers for Clover Farms Dairy in nearby Reading, Pa. were receiving notices that they would have to dump 48 hours worth of month-end milk between Monday and Wednesday (March 30-Apr. 1).

Add to this, confirmation that DFA members were having to dump milk in New York and Vermont, and that small independent cooperatives in New York were either having to dump some of their milk or were being shut out of the ‘spot’ market and having to dump all of their milk. Farms in the Southeast states began reporting they, too, were being notified they would have to dump milk with no where for it to go.

Furthermore, Land O’Lakes member farms in Pennsylvania’s mid-state reported dumping significant milk loads Tuesday, after shipments to the Weis Markets bottling plant in Sunbury, Pa. were turned away despite the Weis Markets stores throughout the region having scant supplies of milk and still enforcing 2-gallon per shopper limits as of Wednesday, April 1.

Walmart

Walmart’s milk cooler in Hamburg, Berks County, Pa. on April 1, 2020

As Walmart, Weis, Aldi’s, Target, some Giant stores, and others were confirmed to have sparse or empty dairy coolers — and a few chains and small town stores reported good stocks of milk and some dairy products — farmers continued to be forced to dump their milk, being told the dairy plants were full, the stores were not ordering, and consumer demand had shrunk after being described by USDA the previous week as “exponentially higher” than a year ago and “extraordinary”, “haywire” and “overcoming inventories” the week before that.

target_butter

Signs like this one at Target were the rule, not the exception among many store chains this week, while nearby dairy farmers were forced to dump milk.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is milk silos and tanks full of cream that could not be moved as candy makers and bakeries closed or cut back, and foodservice and institutional trade came to a standstill.

As the industry supply chain adjusts product lines from schools, restaurants and other foodservice products to retail-packaged products, some plants reported not being able to process milk fast enough for two weeks of surging demand, bringing outside milk in — only to find the stores had started limiting consumer purchases or were spreading their risk of running out by stocking other brands. Difficulties unloading milk to stores in New York City was also cited.

In store dairy cases where milk was most scarce this week, store managers indicated issues with getting supplemental milk from other processors in other areas due to regulatory pricing “zones”, which they interpreted to mean that milk was being rationed so a more uniform distribution of available supplies would occur.

In terms of retail manufactured products, butter continues to be mostly unavailable at stores checked throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and reports coming in from other areas indicate similar scant supplies and restricted purchases.

By Wednesday, April 1, some stores were re-stocked with milk and dairy products, and a few chains were lifting restrictions on gallons of milk, but they were the exception, not the rule. Almost universally, however, butter was absent or limited at retail outlets despite a cold storage bulk inventory report by USDA last week stating there was 25% more butter in storage than a year ago. Still, last week, processors made more bulk butter for foodservice that ended up in inventory, doing ‘print’ butter for retail on more of a hand-to-mouth basis, and the result is obvious in the lack of butter available to consumers seeking it at retail.

Jennifer Huson, senior director of communications for DFA Northeast reports that anyone having to dispose of milk should take measurements.

According to USDA Dairy Programs, producers should also collect an agitated sample. If not available, it is possible that missing samples can be quantified using previous and next samples in order to calculate protein and butterfat levels for the volumes of discarded milk that in most cases officials say will still be pooled and priced on the Federal Orders.

It is also apparent — according to Federal Order rules and the announced flexibilities — that Class I handlers have a clear financial incentive to price and pool this dumped milk on the Order because it will be priced at the lowest class value ($14.87 instead of $20.71), allowing them to draw from the pool while diluting the previously exponentially higher Class I utilization percentage experienced across the entire Northeast Federal Order the previous two weeks in terms of reducing the USDA blended price based on the milk handlers’ reports of receipts and utilization for March due around April 10 to the Market Administrator’s office.

While there are conflicting reports from some plants and handlers about whether farmers will be paid for the milk they are forced to dump, DFA says dumped milk will be pooled and paid, but they are tracking and looking at it from a comprehensive standpoint to see how to handle and aggregate it going forward.

“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to fully understand our best opportunities moving forward through dynamics that are changing day by day and hour by hour,” said Huson. “Most importantly, in these uncertain times, we are working to make sure milk continues to be picked up, plants continue to operate, and wholesome dairy products continue to be available to consumers. We are not sure what is coming at us, and we want to make sure as this is evolving that we are doing all of those things.”

Look for a full and ongoing report next week in Farmshine.

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Market Moos: COVID-19 impacts how consumers are supplied with food

By Sherry Bunting, excerpt updated from Market Moos in Farmshine, March 27, 2020

Ten days into the 15-day COVID-19 “flatten the curve” mitigation strategy, supermarkets are still scrambling to remain supplied with in-demand food items — including milk, especially whole milk, dairy products, especially butter, eggs and beef.

Nielson data show nationwide fluid milk sales were up 32% last week, dairy products like butter (up 85%), cheese and yogurt up over 50%, egg sales up 44%, and beef sales, including ground beef, up 77%!

Walmart and other supermarkets have started setting limits on how many gallons of milk or cartons of eggs or packages of butter can be purchased per customer, meaning shoppers will be making more frequent trips to feed their families and supply their older loved ones.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding sent a message out on various television news programs Wednesday evening, asking the state’s consumers to “stop hoarding food” and to “think of others who may need the food.”

Unlike toilet paper (and there’s more to that story too in terms of paper product imports), what we are seeing with food essentials is not “hoarding.”

What may not be clear to state and national ag and government leaders is that consumers are not hoarding food, they are buying what they need for a week at a time (to avoid multiple trips exposing them to multiple people). Their grocery lists are more full because for most of them, their whole families are home all day and evening with schools closed and all non-essential businesses shut down.

In addition, many shoppers are buying provisions for elderly parents or neighbors to leave on their porches for them.

This is not “food hoarding”, this is providing for one’s family now that families are not being institutionally-fed according to the government’s rules restricting calories derived from animal products at least one or two meals at least five days a week.

This is a major shift in where the supply chain needs to focus its distribution of the abundant milk and beef that farmers are producing, but is meeting a severe tamp-down in terms of base pricing, production penalties being deducted from milk checks, and over this past weekend even the dumping of milk due to what industry leaders say is “processing disruption” or “loss of foodservice and hospitality trade” despite huge increases in retail purchasing indicating supply chain shifts. (See more on that here.)

A dilemma for some farms that have transitioned into direct sales to get closer to end-users, is that their businesses often rely on people assembling through agro-tourism, farmer’s markets, events, and casual dining restaurants that are more geared to dining-in than taking-out.

Some of these diversified and direct-to-consumer dairy, beef and farmsteading operations have large and fairly recent processing equipment and marketing investments and now must limit access to the consumers their businesses served.

A provision in the $2 Trillion COVID-19 federal aid package is $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers that are part of “local food systems” where their marketing is impacted by COVID-19.

Farms that have developed consumer-facing businesses may also qualify for “bridge” loans to small businesses that are also part of the package.

Meanwhile, dairy, beef and ag organizations are beginning to also raise a concern to USDA to be alert to price manipulation as sales and value to processors is rising rapidly with the surge in demand for dairy and beef, while the prices paid to dairy and beef producers is falling rapidly in the other direction as both milk futures and live cattle futures plunged.

American Farm Bureau Federation even raised this concern, along with transportation and labor as three points of vulnerability on farmers’ minds.

A spokesperson for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed NCBA’s concerns in a CNBC business news interview indicating that farmers and ranchers selling cattle once a year as their income for the whole year, felt the huge drop in live cattle on the futures market for fats and feeders. This can break an operation selling cattle at this juncture, after the tough year last year.

Meanwhile, boxed beef prices are rising rapidly, to where processor margins are $600 profit per head, whereas farm losses are more than $100 per head. This also happened a year ago when the relationship between farm pricing and wholesale to retail pricing was equally inverse, showing massive profit-taking at the processing level and big losses for cattle producers for many months after a fire at one beef processing plant in Kansas.

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When freed from institutional food-police, what are consumers choosing?

_DSC0830Bad news meets dairy good news as industry navigates COVID-19 pandemic

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 27, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — We will get to the good news, but first, the bad news…

These are tough times for Americans, and dairy farmers are hearing from their cooperatives and industry in such a way as to put a black cloud of doom over 2020.

Farmers are getting letters and phone calls stating milk base penalties will be strictly enforced beginning this week, in the case of Land O’Lakes, MDVA, DFA — for example — which ask for “voluntary milk reductions” and make plans for dumping milk on farms and at plants as “potential plant closures” meet spring flush.

They indicate that the ability of plants to process milk could “worsen,” giving folks the sense that the ability to process all the milk is already bad. And the dairy industry is preparing its farmers for the possibility of no compensation for displaced / dumped milk.

National Milk Producers Federation’s bulletin and press releases this week state they are seeking three things from the federal government — asking to reopen 2020 Dairy Margin Coverage enrollment, to purchase additional dairy products for humanitarian feeding programs, and to compensate them for “milk disposal” they deem to be “a real possibility as logistical challenges on the farm and at manufacturing plants may create severe disruptions.”

In fact, just 11 days into the COVID-19 national emergency declaration, NMPF came out with an estimate that the dairy industry’s losses “may exceed $2.85 billion”. Analyst after analyst is coming out with new forecasts — projecting milk prices paid to farmers could fall well below pre-COVID-19 forecasts and conjuring up images of 2008-09.

While the pessimistic psychology in these letters, phone calls and industry proclamations is peppered with platitudes such as “we’re in this together” and “we’ll rise to the challenge”…  dairy farmers are already rising to the challenge all day every day producing the milk that consumers are turning to in their time of grave health concern.

The psychology in the letters and phone calls received by farmers stands in stark contrast to the good news.

Now for the good news…

A silver lining became obvious last week and is continuing this week. Consumers are reaching for the jug! In fact, they are reaching for so many jugs that some stores are reportedly limiting milk purchases to one gallon per shopper.

They are also reaching for cheese, butter, yogurt and other dairy products as stores and plants scramble to restock.

While the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is poised to further clamp-down on the allowable percentage of calories from saturated fat (sources say new guidelines might drop to 7% instead of the current 10%!), what are consumers doing?

Consumers are currently free from the government’s flawed and unhealthy “food police” nonsense that the Dietary Guidelines foist upon us by dictating our nation’s institutional feeding and foodservice in schools, daycares, workplaces — even restaurants.

Those dairy farmers attending the dairy checkoff question and answer session in Chester County, Pa. on March 5 heard firsthand from DMI leaders that dairy checkoff foodservice “partners” — like McDonalds – “want to meet the dietary guidelines on saturated fat and calories,” which is why their meals, especially for children, only offer fat free or 1% milk and it’s why the cheeseburger is not on the Happy Meal board. (But you can get a slice of cheese on that kid’s burger if you ask for it, and you can get whole milk in your hot chocolate, they say, if you ask for it.)

In our collective American lives — pre-COVID-19 —  stealth-health according to government rules has been in effect more than we realized.

The point here is this: Supermarkets are where consumers get to choose what they want to feed their families when the menu is theirs to create. And consumers are learning that saturated fat is not to be so-feared, that Whole milk has less fat than they thought, and that Whole milk and dairy products provide more healthy benefits than they ever thought — including immune-building benefits.

Yes, milk education works. As soon as consumers get to choose freely, what are they choosing? They are choosing milk and dairy, and they are choosing whole milk over all other forms — when it is available.

While DMI leaders talk about “consumer insights” and “moving to where the consumers are” and “moving them away from the habit of reaching for the jug to try innovative new products”… what are we seeing when all the stealth-health controls are lifted and people are home choosing what they will feed their families during COVID-19 “social distancing” and “sheltering in place”?

We see them choosing the truly healthy comfort foods. They are choosing whole milk and 2% gallons and half-gallons, butter, full-fat cheeses and red meat for their families.

These items are quite literally “flying off the shelves.” This phrase is used in report after report this week about the demand pattern that is unfolding.

This supply-chain shift is something the dairy industry is wholly unprepared for, as the path charted for dairy processing and promotion has been so heavily linked to flawed dietary guidelines, institutional feeding, foodservice chain partners and new, more expensive, innovative products — that the concept of filling so many jugs with healthy, affordable, delicious milk is a bit off the charted path.

Even USDA Dairy Market News observed in its weekly report on Friday, March 20th what we also reported to you from our sources in Farmshine last week — that the surging demand at the retail level is more than overcoming reductions in sales to schools and foodservice. In fact, USDA DMN reports that retail milk demand is “overtaking inventories” and that retail orders are “heading into new territory.”

Pictures of empty dairy cases populate social media posts. And yes, USDA DMN confirms that Class I milk demand is ranging mostly from “strong” and “surging” in the West and Midwest, to “extraordinary” in the Northeast, to going “haywire” in the Southeast.

Given that the spring flush has begun, the current surge in fluid milk demand means less of this extra milk will go into manufacturing — as long as consumers continue the current level of fluid milk buying and as long as the milk is in the stores for them to buy.

This pattern should help the surplus butter situation, which was revealed again in last week’s February Cold Storage Report. Last year ended with inventories of butter up 18% compared with the end of 2018. The February report showed butter storage was still bursting at the seams.

But earlier this week, at a local grocery store, only a very local brand of butter was available. Zero Land O’Lakes butter could be found in the case.

USDA DMN in its March 20 weekly report stated that cream is widely available, which seemed to contradict the agency’s description of whole milk sales and its notation in the report that butter churns have strong orders from retailers for what they call “print” butter – butter for retail sale, not bulk inventory.

So what do the numbers look like?

It’s more difficult than ever to get timely information from USDA AMS about packaged fluid milk sales, but here’s what virtually every dairy analyst is reporting this week. They cite the Nielson supermarket data showing fluid milk sales were up 32% last week, that sales of whole and 2% are dominating, when available, and that retail sales of other dairy product classes were up double digits.

Milk and dairy products are a centerpiece of “comfort food” and in-home meals. Families are enjoying milk again. Will they keep enjoying it after they return to school and work? Or will they be back in rush zone of packaged carbs instead of cereal and milk, and back in the government’s “stealth-health” or “fake health” zone where fat is restricted and carbs are unlimited?

It will take some time to sort out the buying patterns that linger after the initial surge in dairy demand currently experienced at retail, but here’s some additional positive news to think about.

When consumers are educated and get the opportunity to seriously whet their appetite. When they tune-out the frivolous ‘sustainability’ banter about cows and climate and can ignore the rules about saturated fat… When they focus-in on their families, turn to milk for health, flavor and comfort, and remember or realize for the first time what they were missing… Who knows what they will choose going forward – when they are allowed to choose?

Even when families return to work and school, they may remember coming to dairy for immune-building properties, for comfort, for health.

Nielson has a chart at its public website tracking key consumer behavior thresholds in six quadrants: Reactive health management, pantry preparation, quarantine preparation, restricted living, and living a new normal. It shows their consumer insights on how buying patterns evolve during a health emergency of the scale of COVID-19, and how this peels away some of the frivolous drivel and constraints that influence consumer behavior in ordinary times.

In the sixth phase, “living a new normal,” Nielson describes how “people return to daily routines of work and school, but operate with a renewed cautiousness about health.” It goes on to state that this creates “permanent shifts in the supply chain.”

Citing the use of e-commerce and hygiene practices as examples, this sixth phase of “living a new normal” when returning to daily routines could also apply to food and beverage purchases as consumers returning to true health and comfort during the first five phases may continue to prioritize true health and comfort after those phases have passed.

What do consumers really want? Where are consumers moving when they are free to move?

Without institutional control of daily diets and promotion, we are seeing a glimpse of the answer to that question within the context of COVID-19 pandemic buying patterns. Real whole nutrition, foods that build immunity, awareness of Vitamin D deficiencies in our population affecting immune system response, the role of other elements in milk for immune-building, preference for local food that doesn’t travel so far, and a revitalized awareness of how regional food systems are critical to our food security — these are perspectives that could prevail to influence buying patterns into the foreseeable future.

Uncertainty prevails right now, but hope is alive, and the good news is that milk and dairy have much to offer.

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While Dean negotiated with DFA, other interests requested documents they never received

Dean-DFA-plants3Antitrust issues at core of motion to form equity holders committee

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 6, 2020

HOUSTON, Tex. – Ahead of next week’s hearings on the Dean Foods Company (Southern Foods Group LLC) bankruptcy and sale, it is illustrative to review the motions hearing of Feb. 19. On tap for March 12 is the hearing to consider DFA as “stalking horse bidder” with the asset purchase agreement DFA and Dean agreed to on Feb. 17 involving 44 plants at a $425 million bid as reported Feb. 21 in Farmshine.

Also on tap next week is a hearing set for March 10 on the motion presented by Joshua Haar to form an adhoc committee of shareholders.

During the Feb. 19 motions hearing, there was extensive discussion about professional bonus payments to keep top staff on board during the bankruptcy. An attorney representing the Teamsters Union challenged these retention bonuses in the face of knowing union contracts will be renegotiated by new buyers, especially if the buyer is DFA.

The bottom line in that exchange was summed up by Judge David Jones’ comment that he is guided by his own interpretation of the numbers, trusts his own bankruptcy experience and skill sets and has clear concern that all parties should work together to see that the assets of Dean Foods continue to operate. Period.

In fact, Judge Jones often chided attorneys to talk in terms of the “practicality” of the situation above their own “strategically” motivated interests.

“I need what’s left of this company to be comfortable and stay in place,” said Jones. “We need to get to a sale process and have people see the opportunity for future jobs to stay in place.”

He showed low tolerance for any party expecting to get 100% of what they have gotten in the past (except for retaining the “critical institutional knowledge” provided by professional staff receiving bonuses), and he indicated that the retention bonus payments are necessary in that regard, giving him “some comfort that we may actually make the end of this because good people will stay in place.”

The Teamsters’ concerns were for financial awards and windfall profits to “talent at the top” while their member employees become creditors owed vacation and so forth.

To understand how Judge Jones views the national fluid milk model of Dean Foods, he said: “This is a business model that worked in the 60s and doesn’t work in 2020,” he said. “I could give a first-year business student this business model and they would look at me and say this is a model that doesn’t work.”

Judge Jones asked during motions, “Why not be hand-in-hand on this issue? I do not want to be responsible for school children not getting their milk, that means a lot to me.”

Saying that the Unions have overstepped in trying to prevent the payment of retention bonuses to professionals that constitute “institutional knowledge,” Judge Jones granted the debtor’s (Dean’s) motion to approve the “key employee retention plan” consisting of a schedule for paying these bonuses.

This exchange about “working together” — with the goal of keeping Dean assets operating — set the stage for Judge Jones to hear a motion by Joshua Haar to form an ad hoc committee of equity holders (shareholders). Haar is the attorney son of Jonathan and Claudia Haar, the New York dairy farmers who were part of the original representatives of the dairy farmer class in the previously settled Northeast Class Action Antitrust Lawsuit against DFA and Dean Foods.

Before hearing Haar’s motion, Judge Jones said he is “getting a sense of urgency,” in regard to seeing an end point and that he did not want to entertain motions that “extend the case on the backs of the vendors, including the farmers supplying the milk.”

In other words, he did not want to see the timeline of this case extended for an “exercise” that did not materially provide a practical solution.

Judge Jones offered to hear Haar’s motion the very next day, for which Haar said he would not be ready. Asking Haar if one hour is sufficient, Judge Jones set hearing on the appointment of an equity committee at 3 p.m. March 10 – two days before the March 12 hearing on the DFA “stalking horse” bid.

As part of this discussion, it was noted that the ad hoc committee of bondholders wanted time to put a plan forward, that they are “actively working on the financing and need time for equity holder involvement,” said Haar.

“On this equity committee request, there will never be an equity recovery here,” said the Judge. In fact, he added later that equity or share holders in Dean Foods, a publicly traded company “are in the worst possible place. If the debtor’s numbers are right, their money was lost years ago, and this is an event that recognizes history.”

Haar’s lengthy motion described milk supply chain and potential antitrust issues inherent in a DFA purchase, seeking time for other options to surface.

Judge Jones said he read the motion, but added: “I want you to understand the standard that is required for an equity committee. I’ll always give you the opportunity to talk and give the shareholder’s view of the world, but if you are looking for a committee, that’s a tough burden, and I expect you not to waste everyone’s time.”

He warned against a prepared speech of “just words… Telling me all the things you might do that are eloquent, I tend to be more blunt… especially when I tell people what’s coming and they choose to ignore it. I want you to represent your people. This is about people. But that’s what I expect.”

He expects an equity holders committee to be able to contribute to the process of the Dean Foods reorganization and sale, not to use one group of stakeholder for the sake of others.

Haar indicated that among the equity holders are persons and entities “connected to 15% of the U.S. milk supply” so in that sense this motion was not trying the milk supply antitrust concerns but rather what could be a legitimate consideration of a better way to move forward with offers that could potentially allow equity holders to participate in value recovery.

It was apparent that Judge Jones needs to be convinced with numbers and math and actual bids that can be consummated in the next few months, not the eloquence of ideas about what can or should or could be some time in the future.

Harr said of the motion that, “We can add significant value to the estate.”

With that, the hearing for Haar’s motion was set for March 10 with response motions due March 3.

Next up in the vein of “other options” was the existing creditors committee. Their attorney indicated concern as to how the asset purchase agreement negotiations with DFA took place.

“They got bid materials. We issued requests for these materials. The debtor (Dean Foods) wanted to share these materials but were unable to share them with us because DFA put a confidentiality clause on it,” said the attorney for the Dean creditors. “We did a letter writing campaign. DFA would not agree. We did file an emergency form to compel the bid materials, and an hour before the bid deadline, the documents flowed to the advisors for the committee.”

In other words, too late to analyze the issues.

As the negotiations between Dean Foods and DFA continued, the creditors committee apparently repeated its requests for information and were told “no.”

 

Finally, a week before the Feb. 19 motions hearing, they received a two-page slide packet from DFA that “gave very little information and did not give the information about what Dean plants were included and excluded in that asset purchase agreement until it was announced publicly.

“The creditors committee’s initial impression is negative,” said the attorney representing the committee, indicating it will be heavily contested. “First and foremost, we are concerned about aggregate consideration… it is not clear that there is enough (in the bid) to pay-in-full the creditors.”

She mentioned that DFA, in addition to seeking stalking horse bidder status, is also a large creditor of Dean Foods with significant payables and that their bid could represent a “dollar-for-dollar deduction in value of assets to cover their claims.”

The Judge was un-moved. “If integration fixes the problem, then we ought to be working on integration,” he said, telling the DFA lawyer to work with the lawyer for the creditor committee. “Get her at your table,” he said.

The response from counsel for the creditors was that they want a seat at the table and would “engage in good faith, but there could still be a contested hearing on March 12.”

Attorneys for DFA and Dean indicated engaging in dialog with the DOJ on antitrust issues.

A potential bondholder bid was also referenced. The attorney for the creditors said the bondholders have done a “tremendous amount of work looking into financial investment into the company. We are hopeful the process can get there before March 12 with a more value-maximizing offer than the one on the table now.”

But again, it was mentioned that a “critical piece of information is still missing. There is some information that the ad hoc bondholder committee needs that the debtor is not willing to provide and we implore the debtor to turn it over now so the bondholders have the information. The next two weeks are critical.”

One item needed is “milk payables. We need to see, or the financiers need to see that, and it has been difficult getting it provided to us for third-party financing.”

Judge Jones offered his office as mediator for emergency hearings to get that flow of documents moving in the event that having the information allows other bid processes to go forward.

In short, the creditors committee, ad hoc bondholders committee and lenders were “left out of the information flow” during the Dean negotiations with DFA on their asset purchase agreement. They all read it at the same time (when it became public on Feb. 17) and are looking for a bid with more value to come in.

Judge Jones turned to the Dean Foods attorney and said “you took this in and you know what to do. I am trying to convey my sense of urgency here. Let’s figure out how to move the process forward. We all have the same goal.”

(Facilities in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota — where Dean bottles under the Land O’Lakes brand — are excluded from the DFA-Dean asset purchase agreement. The licensing of the Land O’Lakes brand elsewhere is also excluded.)

plants in deal

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Revealing look at what’s behind the curtain

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Having attended urban food conferences and working with people influencing the locally produced discussions, I have found that the quest by rank and file consumers is for real, local, minimally processed foods. By kowtowing to the global scheme for sustainability, we miss what is behind that curtain: the billionaire food system takeover agenda and the vegan activists who propel it and will quite simply never be satisfied.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May, 2019

Getting into a social media conversation with anti-animal activists is a truly educational experience. I’ve occasionally been in these back-and-forth discussions before, and didn’t have much tolerance for them.

Over the weekend, however, a simple ‘tweet’ on Twitter thanking farmers, ranchers and veterinarians for everything they do to deal with the tough decisions and situations on the real biological side of agriculture turned into a flurry of vegan responses that took me down a road I did not enjoy traveling.

They were mean, nasty, ridiculing and extreme. Instead of returning their insults, I came back with logic, reality, explanations that would satisfy most people. Instead, it fueled their attacks, and soon they were crawling out of the woodwork to do a pile-on tackle upon every tenet of animal care and agriculture many of us hold dear.

They posted links to flawed studies, talked about doctors telling patients to ditch dairy for causing a host of diseases. They harped on climate change, land and water resources, detailing how they believe cattle are ruining “the ecosystem.”

Quite often I found myself telling them that I respect their freedom to choose their dietary path, but cannot respect their attempts to push this on others or demean and degrade my choices.

Each time I provided a scientific piece of information or a link, they either ignored it and went on to some other seemingly crazy rationale or they called me an animal agriculture ‘shill.’

That word ‘shill’ was used over and over again. It’s their favorite insult. A shill is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an accomplice of a hawker, gambler or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.”

They accused me of profiting off the misery of animals, of being selfish in destroying THEIR planet (as if it only belongs to them). They wrongly described so much about dairy and livestock farming that it was difficult to hold my figurative tongue and respond in 134 characters or less per tweet another side to the story they were portraying.

In fact, they were against pastured cattle, saying the grasslands should be re-forested and re-wilded. Their agenda became crystal clear in every detail.

What I am explaining here is just the tip of the iceberg, so I sat back and read their tweets, their links, their self-congratulatory tweets to each other as they presumed they had gotten the best of me.

What they didn’t know is that I was studying their game. I chose to respond only to tweets that I felt other ‘watchers’ could benefit in hearing a logical response. I avoided the insult name-game and did not go back repeatedly on one thought for more abuse, but kept my tweets to a minimum, refusing to be goaded.

So, by now you’re reading this wondering, what’s my point? We already know the 3% of the population that are truly vegan anti-animal activists are crazy, why ‘entertain’ them?

Here’s the point. The entire dialog began with a tweet of gratefulness for the less than 2% of our population taking care of food animals, and the veterinarians that are part of that deal. Simple. Gratefulness. There must have been a buzz word in that tweet that sent me to them through social media algorithms, who knows?

But here’s the larger point. They are armed with pseudo-science being published in even some of the more respected and mainstream news, financial and scientific journals.

They have a world view that is increasingly making its way a few steps at a time into U.S. and global dietary policy, environmental policy, regulations and the like.

But here’s an eye-opener. They will never be satisfied. Nothing, I mean nothing, we can do will appease this fringe in its march to infiltrate our institutions. Their less aggressive counterparts – HSUS, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and others – are already internally working within government and industry.

It goes like this: “Work with us, take the steps we want you to take, and we’ll support you and hold you up as an acceptable animal ag industry.”

Baloney. The old adage of give them an inch and they’ll take a mile pertains here.

This is why I am concerned about the direction of our industry organizations, including the dairy checkoff with its multitude of new initiatives on diet and sustainability and animal care aimed at working with the enemy to somehow get a pass – a social license to exist.

But it’s not the non-governmental organizations, the NGOs, that give us the pass to exist, it is the consumer. Our consumers are being swayed bit by bit by the radical fringe only because we allow them to be. When we validate these NGOs with our internal strategies to “work together with external organizations” we endanger our ability to stand up for truth.

Should we be doing all we can to improve animal care and environmental practices? Sure!

Should we be talking about these improvements? Definitely.

But should we be aligning with the polished and refined versions of this fringe believing they offer us passage with their stamp of approval? No.

Why? Because they will never be satisfied. Not until we stop breeding dairy and beef cows. Not until we stop eating meat and drinking milk. Not until every farm produces plant-based diet alternatives and every pasture is re-wilded to its un-managed natural state.

They will not be satisfied.

Instead, we should be educating the other 97% of the population about the realities of animal biology. A Pennsylvania veterinarian on facebook is doing that. She gets real with her facebook posts and school presentations, and it’s refreshing.

The more we sugar-coat what we do to appease people who will never be satisfied, the more of our mile they will take because we have given them that inch.

This brings me to my next point. Dig below the surface of these fringe folks on Twitter and the organizations our industry is partnering with to build so-called consumer trust, what they advocate for, ultimately, is the world view of billionaires like Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the other Silicon Valley investors in fake meat and fake dairy.

Their view of the world is one that relies on their food technology to replace what farmers, ranchers and veterinarians do every day. It’s not that they don’t trust farmers and ranchers, it’s that they believe the world should have fewer cattle, rely more on plant and lab-created proteins, and yes, surprise, they will profit on their patient capital investment to provide that alternative.

There is an organization few know about that I have been researching, called Breakthrough Energy. On their website, they list the ventures and you can see their world view mapped out in great detail. At first blush, it appears to be related to energy, but look deeper, they want to change the food system. The investors and founding members are a who’s who of the rich and famous, including the big tech owners and CEOs of everything from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon, to big political investors like George Soros and Tom Steyer.

Meanwhile, our consumers live in the real world. And it is the millennials who are changing the consumer quotient as they are funneled into the new planetary lifestyle with the subtle steady drumbeat of fear from our educational institutions.

Animal ag needs strange bedfellows to get their story to be heard; but at the same time, those strange bedfellows are changing our story, leading to programs that will determine who and how to farm.

It’s time for local and regional alliances to be built more strongly than ever. It’s time to partner with rank-and-file consumers, not the big NGOs with billionaire wishes fueling them. It’s time to activate our communities to realize they, too, are being fooled and threatened.

In other words, we need to find other bedfellows – groups and organizations we can rely upon – not the self-proclaimed ‘cool kids’ who say we can be ‘in the club’ if we bend until we break. Because what they want, really, is for us to break.

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WWF school milk waste report ignores the one small step that changes the WHOLE story!

WholeMilkKidsBy the time these two little girls are in school, their happy smiles and enjoyment of milk will be but a memory as the low-fat and fat-free brain-washing will begin and the full-fat brain-building they get at home will come to an end. Milk will become yucky to them, and the one they get with their school lunch and/or breakfast will likely go into the trash. Such is the plight for millions of children in our schools every day over the nine years of government prohibition against whole milk. Meanwhile the weights and waste at U.S. schools are ballooning out of control. 

But never fear, the government (and its NGOs) are here! Dairy checkoff’s “sustainability” partner, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — estimates 45 million gallons of milk are discarded at U.S. schools annually. Here’s the unbelievable part: They recommend schools reduce the size of milk containers, use self-serve dispensers and end the practice of ‘serving’ milk with every meal. Yes, the dairy checkoff’s sustainability partner is recommending less milk as the solution to more waste.

Meanwhile, one school is offering whole milk on a trial basis and gathering data showing how this one small step is changing the whole story — for healthy kids and a healthy planet. We are protecting the identity of this school from the USDA school milk police because if “caught” for doing what’s right, they could lose eligibility for state and federal education funds that are tied to participation in USDA’s low-fat school lunch rules.

By Sherry Bunting

Dairy Checkoff’s “sustainability” partner — the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — released a 2019 “Food Waste Warriors” student-led audit report a few weeks ago indicating that U.S. schools discard an average of 28.7 containers of milk per student per year.

This amounts to an estimated 45 million gallons of milk discarded from schools annually, the report said.

Of the totals, elementary students discarded 37.6 cartons per student per year while middle schools discarded 19.4 cartons per student per year. The difference is middle and high school students have more alternative beverage options.

A gallon of skimmed milk weighs 8.63 pounds, so 45 million gallons amounts to over 388 million pounds per year and a cumulative estimated 3.5 billion pounds of discarded school lunch skimmed milk over the past nine years since USDA removed whole and 2% milk as choices in the 100,000 schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (95% of U.S. schools).

WWF funded the study, with support from Kroger Co. Foundation and the EPA, analyzing food waste in 46 schools in nine cities across eight states.

The objectives of the WWF project were to engage students in the act of measuring waste, foster an understanding of connections between food and its environmental impacts, and “formalize how we might gather more streamlined data on cafeteria food waste,” the report explained.

In its report, WWF identifies the National School Lunch Program as “one of the most influential programs for educating youth on conservation opportunities linked to our food system.”

Waste-reducing milk strategies used, compared and suggested in the WWF report are: 1) serve smaller containers of milk, 2) educate schools to realize they are actually not required by USDA to force students to take a milk with their lunch or breakfast in the first place, and 3) invest in bulk milk dispensers so students can take only the amount of milk they will drink.

So here we go. Let the WWF / USDA / EPA / DMI ‘sustainability’ propaganda begin. The idea of milk dispensers is a good one. But, what matters more is the fat content of the milk IN the dispensers, bottles or cartons!

Of course, the report does not identify the simplest, tastiest, most nutritious and ‘sustainable’ solution: Waste could be reduced overnight if USDA would simply allow the 100,000 schools enrolled in the National School Lunch Program to put whole milk on the menu! 

That’s right folks: 95% of U.S. schools are ruled by the iron-hand of the USDA milk police.

Not only are school nurses beginning to report to Farmshine that their annual student weight averages have climbed 7 to 9% in the 9 years that whole milk has been forcibly removed from school menus, one school reports it is doing its own study of student preferences and milk waste reduction this year.

We are keeping the names of the reporting schools anonymous to protect their identities from the USDA milk police.

Since September, one anonymous school’s study shows students are choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over 1% low-fat milk at the middle school and high school where the trial is being conducted.

Imagine that! Middle and high school students CHOOSING milk, and actually drinking it!

Oh, and by the way, when whole milk is used to make chocolate milk instead of using skimmed (1% or fat free) milk, less sugar is added!!

And, by the way, the data from this particular anonymous school shows that not only are their secondary students CHOOSING whole milk 3 to 1 over skimmed, the school has reduced its milk waste by 94%… in one year!

They report that their “milk not consumed” totals now average 32 ounces per day as compared with 4 gallons, or 512 ounces, per day the previous year!

Where school lunch is concerned, USDA’s rules are neither practical, nor are they logical, nor are they healthy for our kids or our planet. At the same time, WWF’s suggestions miss the mark completely!

Join in with those farmers and consumers asking Congress and USDA to bring back the choice of whole milk in schools. Sign the petition for choice and be part of the WHOLE solution. If you haven’t signed, you have until February 15 to do so online at this link: https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools

Also, to get signatures in your community, download the printable version of the petition at this link: WHOLE-MILK-IN-SCHOOL_PETITION_011520_

 

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Surprise. Surprise. Whole Milk is on the rise!

… Even in the face of massive opposition by USDA, DMI and others

Editor’s note: Farmshine contributor Sherry Bunting continues her opinion and analysis on where the milk bus is heading and some thoughts on what to do about it.

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, January 17, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Activist non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are increasingly driving the milk bus as dairy industry organizations, checkoff organizations and government agencies partner with entities such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on dietary and sustainability goals.

The leaders who are working with NGOs and government agendas long enough might think they speak for us as consumers, as society. They don’t. But through our organizations partnering with them, they ultimately and incrementally not only speak for us, they are driving the bus.

If we are listening, we’ve heard the model described by industry experts and thought-leaders in articles, at conferences, and in roundtable discussions: Build huge cheese and protein ingredient plants at designated growth locations. Innovate with ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis technologies. And begin to balance the export-driven dairy industry focus and consolidation by transporting ultrafiltered solids “more sustainably” – minus the 88% water portion – and do the reconstitution, extended shelf-life and aseptic packaging on location in the regions that are currently fluid-milk-centered markets, such as the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Rampant supermarket loss-leading on fluid milk by the nation’s largest retailers on one hand, with USDA-regulated farm-level price enforcement on fluid milk on the other hand, has produced the vice-grip in which the fluid milk sector has found itself over the past four to five years in particular.

Dairy producers were in the grip the past five years, but now that farm-level prices have ticked a bit higher the past five months, fluid milk bottlers suddenly find themselves unable to weather the margin compression, as we see in the recent high profile bankruptcy proceedings of Dean Foods and Borden, not to mention the smaller companies along the way.

As long as producers were the ones receiving the ugly side of the stick, the conversation could be generally centered on “too much milk” or “market forces” or “trade and tariffs.”

Now that farm-level milk prices have moved up (even though export volume was down), the unsustainable, low-margin, commodity treatment of fresh fluid milk is being seen as a primary factor fueling fluid milk processor bankruptcies – for those looking into these issues more deeply. In fact, checkoff leaders cite the milk bottler bankruptcies as proof that milk should be reinvented. Some have gone so far as to say — in presentations to industry groups — that the goal of innovation is to “move consumers away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward these new and innovative products.”

While per-capita milk sales have been declining for 45 years, the past 10 years have seen faster rates of decline. This has been no accident. From dietary guidelines, to checkoff’s government speech requirements, to memorandums of understanding, to sustainability objectives, dairy’s own national checkoff organization has partnered with USDA, WWF, and others to move milk in a different direction – yes, intentionally.

Meanwhile, consumers are showing a thirst to know more about milk nutrition, and they are responding by buying more whole milk even in the face of this extreme neglect and alternative direction.

Case in point. While Coca-Cola, now 100% owner of fairlife, cites double-digit growth of the its 3% market share, the USDA Class I packaged milk sales show a different perspective.

The most recent report for October shows that the “other fluid products” category had year-to-date volume growth of over 300% but amounts to just 269 million pounds (10 months) — less than one percent (0.7%) of market share.

Meanwhile, whole milk’s growth for year-to-date volume of 12.5 billion pounds comes in at just under 1% (0.9%) on 33% of market share, which makes fresh whole milk the top VOLUME gainer this year, and it has surpassed sales of 2% reduced-fat milk.

Flavored whole milk is also growing by double-digits some months, with year-to-date sales through October of 629 million pounds – up 8.9% on 1.7% market share.

Under Organic brands, whole milk sales are up 4.4% year-to-date, with 412 million pounds representing 43% of organic milk market share.

Consider this: While whole milk is prohibited in schools and daycare centers, and it goes virtually un-promoted and is often poorly stocked in the dairy case, those sales still manage to be the largest volume growth category under all of these constraints.

Innovation can be good, but the fact remains that whole milk naturally meets many of the desires consumers have even though labeling makes its fat percentage a mystery, and even though it has to overcome a low-fat and fat-free promotion campaign pitted directly against it… In the face of all of that, whole milk’s growth is not too shabby.

In short, fresh whole fluid milk has the potential to solve many of the problems it was previously blamed for in diet and health trends, and it has a ‘clean’ label and local sourcing and flavor and nutrition going for it.

Whole milk checks all the boxes.

Trouble is, if whole milk sales grow faster, then the best laid plans for using innovation and sustainability and dietary edicts to lead farmers and consumers into dairy industry structural transformation would be in jeopardy.

What can be done? What can be accomplished?

Get USDA’s attention. Get the attention of the Administration and Congress and hold industry leaders accountable for the following steps:

Federal Order price reform has never been more needed. The regulated value center is mostly on the diminishing Class I fluid milk sector. That’s a big weight to carry. Many of the innovations and reinventions of fluid milk beverages are not even Class I. Small regional entities wanting to get into the fresh fluid Class I milk market have difficulty doing so because they must – in effect — pay the cartel. Now the recent bankruptcy and potential sale of Dean Foods’ assets to DFA, suggest we could see an even bigger cartel.

In that scenario, an even larger national footprint entity would run the table, deciding how fluid milk markets will be supplied, with what product mix, and from what plants. DFA CEO Rick Smith has already indicated some Dean plants should be shut down. DFA president Randy Mooney in his address at the DMI / NMPF convention a week before the Dean bankruptcy was announced said dairy resources should be consolidated to focus on plants that “make what consumers want”, instead of having “plants on top of plants” in a region.

Add to this the push to normalize ultrafiltration in FDA standards of identity for all sectors of dairy beverage and product development and production, and we see the stage being set for meeting “sustainability” objectives by removing water from the transportation scenario and moving more milk from designated export-growth areas into the markets with higher Class I utilization at a lower cost.

In effect, this trend would use the fluid milk markets to physically and financially ‘balance’ the designated growth regions and huge protein export plants more freely — weakening the position of farms operating in those Class I utilization markets.

Transportation cost is already diluted to where it is not the equalizer it should be for regional milksheds to take local milk first. Ultrafiltration and reinvention of milk in the name of innovation is all coming from the Sustainability Council of DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. At a certain point, the trend – especially with the help of the world’s largest players in ultrafiltration including Coca-Cola – make location and transport even less relevant with milk’s 88% ratio of water taken out of the transport equation. These trends need full and transparent discussion instead of creeping along quietly under the mantra of “innovation” and “sustainability.”

Uphold standards of identity, not just the plant-based deal on the left hand that we are all watching so intently. While the industry talks about FDA’s milk standard vs. the imitations, the right hand is busy behind the scenes working on other dairy identity standards to make changes.

One such change is getting FDA to overlook reconstitution of milk solids with water on long-haul transport. This is a step that could enable Class I fluid milk markets to become the balancer for the huge commodity export plants that are being built in designated growth centers, and which get the make allowances built into manufacturing class prices.

Cheaper transport of excess milk – without the water — into Class I FMMOs would, and potentially is, allowing those suppliers to use eastern fluid markets as the export plant balancers.

Draw a line in the sand with a retail minimum on fluid milk. This step is necessary, at least as an interim step until the larger pricing issues have a full airing. A simple $2/gallon line in the sand certainly allows for capitalistic free markets while stopping the supermarket insanity that makes milk the Cinderella-sister that all other dairy case beverages, dairy and non-dairy, market off the back of and are free to make and keep the profit at milk’s expense.

Unless Walmart and Amazon and Kroger and others want to eat their own loss-leading decisions, themselves, they should not have the ability to price milk at $1.50, $1.15, 99 cents, 67 cents per gallon. This is crushing the supply chain and further diminishing milk’s stature.

Stop dumping skimmed milk on our kids. We’ve already lost at least one generation of milk drinkers, simply allow whole milk at schools for all the reasons that have been written about over and over in Farmshine. It’s also what is right for our kids.

Stop forcing producers to pay a checkoff tax that promotes government speech, and aligns with NGO-influenced government agendas on the future of food. At the very least, allow regions and local entities to keep and target all of their checkoff funds to promote what is made with their milk and to promote sustainable regional supply chains and food security.

Ask checkoff leaders to start promoting all milk instead of using the qualifiers “low-fat / fat-free.” Stop beating everyone over the head with the familiar “fat-free and low-fat” refrain. It’s not helping farmers, and it’s certainly not helping the health and obesity crisis, and it clouds the healthy choices consumers are able to make – once they learn the truth.

This is just a start.

 

Borden second major milk co. in 60 days to file Chapter 11

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‘Business as usual’ motions face lender objections over how cash reserve is accessed and used. Judge grants Jan. 7 ‘interim’ relief with authority to pay pre-petition ‘critical vendors’, including producers supplying milk. A hearing on the final order in regard to critical vendor payments and cash management is set for Jan. 23.

 By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, January 10, 2020

WILMINGTON, Del. — Citing unsustainable debt, including pension funds, negative dairy industry trends, fluid milk category declines as well as margin pressure in a loss-leading, commodity-driven market, the Borden Dairy Company, based in Dallas, Texas, but organized in Delaware, became the second major fluid milk bottler in the past 60 days to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Unlike the November Dean Foods filing with intentions to sell assets, Borden states its intentions are to use the Chapter 11 process to restructure its business for the future.

The company seeks to combine the bankruptcy filings of its 12 affiliated milk plants and one transport company stretching from Texas to Florida and north to Ohio under Borden Dairy Holdings LLC, owned by Acon Investments LLC,which had recapitalized these assets as recently as 2017 when purchased from Laguna Dairy after they were spun off from Grupo Lala.

Processing 500 million gallons of fluid milk annually for customers including supermarkets and schools, Borden employs 3300 people at milk plants in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas. Milk is supplied by dairy producers and milk cooperatives in these and other states.

In addition to licensed brands Borden and Poinsettia, other brands involved include Coburg, Dairy Fresh, Dairymens, Flav-O-Rich, Kid Builder, Saba Sunburst, Sallie’s Southern Tea, Sunburst, and Velda. DFA separately owns the Borden brand license for cheese.

In Delaware District Bankruptcy Court, Wilmington, Judge Christopher S. Sontchi heard Borden’s first day bankruptcy pleadings on January 7.

“Concurrent to the decline of the number of milk producers, dairy processers have seen bottling margins decline due to competitive pressures from milk suppliers and large (and sometimes vertically integrated) customers. Couple this with the fact that … consumption has steadily declined, and it is no surprise that Borden and other dairy suppliers (such as Dean Foods) have begun to feel the same negative effects that have plagued dairy farmers for the past decade,” said Borden Chief Financial Officer Jason Monaco in his declaration with the court.

While all expected motions were filed to allow Borden to continue ordinary business while restructuring under bankruptcy protection — including motions to use a cash deposit reserve to pay pre-petition critical vendors such as dairy producers — attorneys for unsecured creditors objected Tuesday.

The lenders argued that, “(Borden) should not, and cannot, be allowed to use chaos of their own making to distract from the clear facts. There is no economic justification for… sudden chapter 11 filings, and the debtors cannot use the lenders’ (cash) collateral to finance an attempt by Acon to re-trade the out-of-court transaction,” that the parties had previously been negotiating.

The unsecured lenders contend that the bankruptcy filing occurred virtually on the eve of their out-of-court terms being ready for signatures. They contend that the $30 million cash deposit reserve is collateral and that other cash collateral Borden seeks access for operations are “insufficient.”

Acknowledging the importance of Borden continuing operations to preserve equity for all parties, the objecting lenders seek various protections from the court, including a position of consent with some oversight of budgets for the use of cash reserve and payment to critical vendors, including milk producers.

A day earlier, Borden CEO Tony Sarsam cited major milestones for Borden last year, including the revival of its spokescow Elsie, the brand’s reintroduction in Ohio and the launch of several innovative products such as state-fair inspired milk flavors and a new Kid Builder flavored milk line using 2% milk and containing 50% more protein and calcium with no added sugar.

Sarsam also explained in a press release that the company “continues to be impacted by the rising cost of raw milk and market challenges facing the dairy industry” that have contributed to “making our current level of debt unsustainable. He said ultimately, reorganization through court-supervision was the only solution “for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Court documents reveal that Borden reported 2018 consolidated net sales of $1.181 billion with gross profit of $292 million but experienced operational income loss of $2.6 million and total net income loss of $14.6 million. These losses continued into 2019, with reported operational income loss of $22.3 million and total net income loss of $42.4 million from January 2019 through December 7, 2019, according to court documents.

Borden maintains that its situation differs from the Dean Foods bankruptcy.

“We believe that, from an operational standpoint, we are in a much better position than Dean Foods. Borden is EBITDA-positive and growing, which means we have solid earnings and are healthy,” Sarsam said in a public statement. “Borden intends to continue operations and strengthen our position … whereas Dean Foods announced its intention to sell substantially all of its assets. We are confident that, once we fix our balance sheet, we will be equipped to win together in the market.”

Documents also note Borden’s “need to raise new investor capital” to “continue to innovate with new products, modernize our facilities and equipment and improve Borden’s ability to compete in today’s market.”

The bankruptcy process is still in preliminary stages with more than 45 items filed on the docket within the first 48 hours.

Stating that this bankruptcy reorganization will not affect dairy producer contracts, Borden announced on Jan. 5 that it fully expects business as usual and to move quickly and efficiently through the bankruptcy process.

However, on Jan. 6 and 7, unsecured lenders filed the objections to many of the motions that would allow business as usual – creating potential ripples in that scenario.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 8, a signed interim order from the Jan. 7 hearing authorizes Borden to maintain its cash systems and bank accounts and provides interim relief to pay certain pre-petition obligations, such as payments to ‘critical vendor,’ including milk suppliers.

A hearing on the final order in regard to critical vendor payments and cash management is set for Jan. 23.

In the meantime, dairy producers supplying milk to Borden plants, are advised they may need to file a proof of claim with the court to be eligible for payment or otherwise consult an attorney for guidance.

The company’s claims agent, Donlin Recano, can provide appropriate forms once a deadline for filing claims has been set by the court. For more information on that, dairy producers can call the Borden restructuring information center toll free at 1 (877) 295-7345 or e-mail bordeninfo@donlinrecano.com.

A special Borden restructuring website contains various documents, including one that answers questions for raw milk suppliers at https://www.bordenfinancialreorg.com/

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Coca-Cola now sole owner of fairlife, beyond the headlines

lead-fairlife (2)By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill.  The Coca-Cola Company announced Friday (Jan. 3) that it has acquired the remaining stake in fairlife LLC from its joint venture partner Select Milk Producers, a 99-member cooperative run and founded by Dr. Mike and Sue McCloskey. Mike McCloskey is also co-founder and chairman of the board of Fair Oaks Farms, and he was chairman of the Sustainability Initiative of DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2014, when fairlife was officially launched.

As a result of the recent transaction, Coca-Cola now owns 100% of fairlife, up from its previous 42.5% minority stake, according to company statements.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

According to a company statement, fairlife will continue to operate as a standalone business and will continue to be based in Chicago, where the brand got its start as a joint venture of Select Milk Producers and Coca-Cola, and received partnership grants for research and promotion through the Innovation Center of the checkoff-funded Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

“We are excited for the next chapter of fairlife’s growth and innovation,” said fairlife CEO Tim Doelman in a press release, emphasizing the strength and scale of the Coca-Cola Company.

“It’s important for fairlife to continue to operate as a standalone business based in Chicago,” stated Jim Dinkins, president of Coca-Cola North America in a press release. “This will continue to give Tim and his team the space and running room they need to innovate and build the fairlife brand in a unique and fast-changing category.”

The fairlife LLC launched in 2012 to make use of a patented cold-filtration process known as ultrafiltration, which removes some natural sugars (lactose) while concentrating milk’s protein and calcium. The launch began with a high-protein milkshake called Core Power and has grown to offer a portfolio of products in what Coca-Cola calls “the fast-growing value-added dairy category in North America.”

In addition to Core Power, the line of products includes fairlife ultrafiltered milk with 50% more protein and 50% less sugar, fairlife DHA with DHA Omega-3 fatty acids, fairlife (drinkable) smart snacks, fairlife nutrition plan (shakes), and the new fairlife creamers for coffee.

Coca-Cola reports fairlife sales have grown by double-digits each year since 2014, playing a big role in what the company sees as steady growth of value-added dairy products in contrast with the traditional fluid milk category. The brand has been supported by the reach of Coca Cola’s distribution, both through the Minute Maid system and Coca-Cola bottlers across the country.

According to IRI data, fairlife’s first-year sales were $62 million, representing 0.36% of market share in 2014. According to Nielsen AMC, fairlife surpassed $500 million in retail sales last year, an 8-fold increase and representing just shy of 3% of market share.

A new fairlife milk facility is under construction in Goodyear, Arizona to expand production beyond its current plants in Waco, Texas and Coopersville, Michigan. In 2018, fairlife launched its products for sale in Canada and will begin local production and sourcing in Ontario this spring.

According to Dinkins, Coca-Cola “will continue to ensure that fairlife has the best distribution possible and will be here to provide resources and expertise in areas such as sustainability and supply chain management to make the brand stronger and better for the future.”

In the same week as the Coca-Cola announcement on acquiring whole ownership of fairlife, a joint public statement was released by fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms announcing their new and evolving four-part animal and worker care platform as their long term response to the animal abuse videos that became public last June involving one of the 12 separate dairies at Fair Oaks Farms. This was also mentioned in the ownership transaction press packet.

“To guide this journey, we’ve assembled a fairlife Animal Welfare Advisory Council to ensure we are both learning and leading for the short- and long-term,” Doelman stated in a public statement. “We’re working with our supplying farmers to outline more detailed animal welfare policies… investing with and in our farmers … And we continue to require that every farm in our supply chain is subject to regular third-party unannounced audits with clear action plans for learning and improvement after each audit.”

DMI officials have indicated funding promotion and exhibits at Fair Oaks Farms’ visitor center an hour south of Chicago in Indiana. However, DMI indicates that its financial grants to fairlife for promotion ended in 2019. To receive DMI promotion funding, companies with approved innovations must spend a comparatively larger amount of their own funds.

Available tax forms for 2017 and 2018 list DMI grants to fairlife of $8 million for promotion in each of those years, and prior support was available from affiliated research and development resources in the Chicago suburbs of Rosemont where DMI and Fonterra are both located.

Ultrafiltration is a process that can vary by dairy product application and is used around the world. A 2018 Transparency Market Research report pegged Coca-Cola among the companies it listed as “key players operating in the global ultrafiltered milk market, along with HP Hood LLC, Idaho Milk Products Inc., Fonterra Co-operative Group, Kerry Group, Tatura Milk Industries Ltd., Darigold Ingredients Company, Erie Foods International Inc., Enka Sut Company, Grassland Dairy Products and others.”

In 2017, the FDA said ultrafiltered milk could be used to make any fresh cheese product.

While fairlife milk is still considered a fresh product with a 90-day shelf-life, some products in the lineup are shelf-stable and aseptically packaged.

Dr. McCloskey confirmed in a presentation on “the road to innovation” at the 2016 Georgia Dairy Conference that fairlife ultrafiltered milk was at that time designated a Class I fluid milk product; however, some of the other beverages in the lineup are Class II.

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Politics of whole milk, part 2: Vilsack banned whole milk in schools, gets dairy checkoff’s top pay

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Dec. 13, 2019

The former Ag Secretary instrumental in removing whole milk from schools is now the highest-paid executive at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) whose virtual $1 million/year in 2018 came from dairy farmers who are going bankrupt.

Farmshine Editor’s Note: Sherry Bunting has written a lengthy, well researched commentary on how the dairy economy and dairy product promotion and marketing evolved over the past decade with Tom Vilsack at the helm. Vilsack served as USDA Secretary in the Obama Administration and is the current chief of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), an affiliate of Dairy Management, Inc. Wherever he has been since 2009, Vilsack is unquestionably one of America’s most powerful influencers when it comes to dairying. And the outcome has seldom been favorable to the nation’s milk producers. Part I of this reportappeared in the December 6th edition of Farmshine, page 20. Part II follows

In my journalistic pursuits of the past decade, two statements by checkoff-paid executives and dairy checkoff board members now reverberate in my mind:

1) On milk as a beverage: “Fluid milk is dead, we have to stop beating that horse and innovate for these new beverage markets.” – 2016 during questions after a presentation by a USDEC checkoff-paid employee at a meeting of dairy policy analysts and economists.

2) On dietary guidelines and school milk: “They are a different breed. We have our own plan. We have a friend inside the White House. We are already working with someone on this. And we finally have a drink that consumers want (fairlife).” — 2015 phone call to me from a DMI board member who also served on DFA’s board, challenging an article I had written that year. In the course of our conversation, he made this comment in response to my question to him asking why the dairy industry was being silent on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that year, and why dairy was not joining forces with beef to push the solid science on animal fat as revealed in Nina Teicholz’s book Big Fat Surprise. I had also asked him why they weren’t supporting the beef industry’s opposition to the “sustainability” driven parts of the 2015 dietary guidelines.

In his Ag Secretary role in 2010, Vilsack was instrumental in the creation of GENYOUth through the MOU signed between USDA, National Dairy Council (Dairy Checkoff) and the NFL. (In fact, as Ag Secretary, Vilsack appointed some of the current Dairy Board members who then hired him at the end of the Obama administration as a DMI executive vice president and CEO of USDEC.)

Fuel Up and Play 60

USDA Photo from Feb. 4, 2011 where then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to young people at the Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) event held at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, Texas before the 2011 Super Bowl, the same day that the MOU was signed between NFL, USDA, Dairy Checkoff and GENYOUth to focus on ending childhood obesity with fat-free / low-fat foods and beverages and 60 minutes of daily exercise. And so, a decade later… here we are so much farther down this wrong road.

Today, GENYOUth is the bus on which more companies each year are hitching a ride into the schools — paid for primarily by dairy farmers in effect funding their own demise. Meanwhile, dairy farmers are the only ones not free to fully promote their best product, being relegated and regulated to government speech on fat-free / low-fat.

When Vilsack was presented the Vanguard Award during the 2017 GENYOUth Gala aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York City Harbor, former President Bill Clinton spoke his accolades, and congratulated him on being the one to overcome the hurdle of getting beverage calories included in the school meal calculations. It is the very thing the current Senate Bill seeking to allow whole milk in schools would reverse.

Bill Clinton, a vegan, went on in his 2017 GENYOUth Gala speech to emphasize how beverages were a “huge” problem in the obesity epidemic, that we don’t think about how many calories kids consume in a drink, and that regulating school beverages was a big step forward on that front.

He was talking about whole milk. Whole milk is named, specifically, on the list of beverages prohibited from sale on school grounds during school hours.

And yet plenty of PepsiCo beverages — made specially to meet the 60-calorie threshold with a combination of high fructose corn syrup and sucralose, including Gatorade and Mountain Dew Kickstart — are welcomed on those school lunch “smart snacks” acceptable beverage lists.

Vilsack started with DMI six days after the Obama Administration ended in January 2017. But 2018 was his first full year as a DMI executive, and he has been busy earning his highest-paid status.

In May, Vilsack wrote about how the U.S. dairy industry would meet its new goals to export 20% of production, and he praised the record level of exports in 2018 as “a banner year for exporters.” (We all know 2018 was anything BUT banner for dairy farmers paying his salary. In fact, export volumes were higher in 2018 than in 2017 and 2019 while prices paid to farmers were lower in 2018 than in 2017 and 2019.)

In June, Vilsack testified before Congress that the government should partner with the dairy industry to pay ‘pilot farms’ to develop and test the innovations “U.S. Dairy” will need in order to reach the Net Zero emissions goal he has been instrumental in setting. In fact, Senators referred to him as ‘the president of dairy innovation.’

The ultimate vehicle for those practices after they are tested on pilot farms will be the dairy checkoff-funded and NMPF-administrated FARM program initiated through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

At that “sustainability” hearing of the Senate Ag Committee in June, Vilsack earnestly stated that the Net Zero project – and government assistance for pilot farms to find the practices to achieve it — was essential for the U.S. dairy industry to have an edge in international markets.

In November, Vilsack endorsed former vice president Joe Biden for President of the United States and praised his candidacy “for including a path to addressing climate change while at the same time helping the rural economy and creating jobs by investing in green infrastructure, renewable fuels and low-carbon manufacturing,” according to an article about the Vilsack endorsement of Biden in the Nov. 23 edition of the Des Moines Register.

In fact, the Register article stated that Vilsack “helped write Biden’s plan for rural America.” But that’s not political involvement by a checkoff executive, is it?

It is interesting that when dairy checkoff board members are asked by the farmers paying the checkoff why they can’t stand up for whole milk in schools, the response they always get is: “That’s politics, and we can’t get into that.” Of course, the rules and regs of USDA overseeing checkoff are then cited forward and backward.

But, when it comes to Vilsack’s hands in the political pie – not to mention dairy farmers’ pockets – there are no rules and it’s all good. In fact, it’s encouraged because it’s part of the plan, the future of dairy, of food.

Vilsack is, after all, the dairy checkoff’s highest-paid executive, who is most culpable in his former position as Ag Secretary for putting the last nail in the fluid milk coffin. His policies on milk in schools and the fat-free / low-fat ‘government speech’ that now defines milk promotion, have at the very least contributed to – if not accelerated — the loss of fluid milk sales in the past decade of steepest decline.

In 2015, when confronted with what investigations have revealed about the science on animal fat, especially milk fat – according to the new and previously buried research — Vilsack said the preponderance of the evidence still favored low-fat diets. And with that proclamation, he signed the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that accelerated taking dairy markets – and our nation’s children – down the wrong road.

Think about this. From 2010 to 2018, the era in which the alliance between Vilsack’s USDA and the dairy checkoff was initiated and bloomed and in which he is now the highest paid executive – DMI controlled $140 to $159 million annually in mandatory dairy farmer funds. In that pool of funds, 25% went to salaries and other costs associated with core operations and another 30% went to contractors for promotion in ways that could be considered ‘core operations.’

In 2018, as in previous years, the NFL received $5 million; Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, received $16 million; Fairlife $8 million, Domino’s $9 million, a marketing firm for GENYOUth with ties to Edelman $4 million, McDonald’s $5 million, and Vilsack got his virtual million.

Yes, folks, hindsight is 20/20. And here we are on the eve of 2020 with former Ag Secretary Vilsack – who was paid a $999,421 salary in 2018 from mandatory dairy producer checkoff funds and is now the top-paid DMI executive — to thank for the removal of whole milk and whole dairy products from our schools. And no one cares to ask him to testify to Congress about why whole milk should be allowed in schools, but he is politically involved in so many other discussions.

The dairy industry had and has Tom Vilsack — or vice versa.

110206_OSEC_AL_1642

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 at Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, TX. The MOU outlines the joint commitment of the National Football League (NFL), Department of Agriculture, National Dairy Council (NDC), and Gen YOUth Foundation, to end childhood obesity. (Signing L to R President of the National Dairy Council Jean Regalie, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and GENYOUth Foundation CEO Alexis Glick) 

Today, DMI IRS 990 forms show that Dairy Checkoff pays Tom Vilsack just shy of $1 million/year as DMI’s highest paid executive; Dairy Checkoff pays the world’s largest PR firm Edelman $15 to $17 million/year as the purpose-driven brain-trust behind the GENYOUth and Innovation Center ‘sustainability’ concepts; Dairy Checkoff pays the GENYOUth CEO over $200,000/year to run the foundation; Dairy Checkoff pays the core operations of GENYOUth to the tune of $1.5 million; Dairy Checkoff has USDA attorneys at every meeting and on every conference call to approve promotion projects and messages (government speech); and Dairy Checkoff pays the NFL $5 to $7 million annually for their part in this “promotion.” Meanwhile, NFL promotes its brand through flag-football sets to FUTP60-participating schools; USDA markets and enforces dietary guidelines with the financial assistance of dairy farmers through the checkoff; and other companies participating in GENYOUth, most notably PepsiCo, are able to market their own pet projects, products, brands and influence to kids while the dairy farmers are regulated to government speech. Dairy Checkoff touts the FUTP60 breakfast carts as serving milk with every breakfast, but only fat-free and 1% are promoted and permitted, and USDA’s own studies show that this fat-free and 1% low-fat school milk is among the most frequently discarded items. The entire deal ignores the fact that the dietary guidelines have exacerbated the obesity and diabetes trend, that children are not getting the valuable nutrients from the milk they are served if they don’t like the taste of fat-free and 1% and throw it away to buy something else. And the deal further ignores studies showing that body fatness was lower and Vit. D status higher in children drinking whole milk as compared with children drinking 1% low-fat milk. What will it take to see positive change when the very government figure who was influential in getting us here is now the dairy industry leader that the industry organizations revere and who is looked at by USDA, Congress and other policymakers as speaking for dairy? If he took whole milk out of the schools, and he now ‘speaks for dairy’ and is ‘believed’ to be so concerned about kids, who else matters in the discussion? Does the government care about the over 15,000 online and 5000 by mail signatures of dairy farmers, parents, grandparents, students, teachers, coaches, school boards, town boards, county commissioners, state lawmakers, health experts, nutrition experts, athletes, nurses, doctors, and generally comcerned citizens among these signatures asking for the choice of whole milk in schools

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