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.

-30-

Should dairy farmers be forced to fund ‘government speech’?

Dietary Guidelines among the factors plunging us deeper.

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

Many are confused about what the dairy checkoff organizations can and can’t do. There is nothing in the Order that says the checkoff programs must promote according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

So where did this idea come from and how does it look today and what might it look like tomorrow?

To stave off challenges brought by folks questioning the government’s authority to require farmers to fund private speech, USDA defended the checkoff programs as “government speech,” which is a protected form of speech. This was explained in more detail in part 6 of the GENYOUth series in the February 22, 2019 edition of Farmshine.

Here’s why it matters. Government speech on dietary concerns has become increasingly restrictive, and by the looks of the recently-named USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, it could get worse.

With so much control by USDA, how will dairy farmers fully defend their position — even when rigorous science is on their side? They can’t count on government speech because rigorous science is all too often ignored by government bureaucracies and the advisory committees with links to foundations and corporations that have other ideas for that money.

The proof is in the long trend of using mandatory farmer funds to promote the low-fat / fat-free government speech that has become their own undoing, not to mention detrimental to health, especially for our children.

Here’s a glimpse of where we are headed with this dairy-farmer-funded government speech.

Separation of Church and State, for example, seems to apply only when convenient for politicians. Could a religious doctrine of animal rights and vegan diets become even more embedded into the government Dietary Guidelines that dairy farmers are forced to promote?

I was told by more than a few people that Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is a scientist and would not allow this to happen to his formation of the current committee, but the composition of this Dietary Guidelines Committee takes us further down this wrong road.

In fact, could the U.S. guidelines be on the brink of cowtowing even more toward the Adventist-funded EAT Lancet Global Food Transformation Agenda?

Some scoff, saying not to take this report seriously because it’s not gaining traction.

Unfortunately, they are not paying attention. This track has been laid and the wheels are in motion, and plenty of bargains with the devil have been made behind closed doors.

Our dietary choices are poised to be further corrupted. Just writing about these topics makes my blood boil and causes me to second-guess my own sanity. 

But folks, this is real. 

We can be proactive, or we can sit with our heads in the sand and be run over. This is happening, and our own leaders don’t want us to see it, hear it or speak of it. 

People can criticize the series of articles on this topic all they want, but the truth is that alliances formed — most notably over the past 10 years — are poised to plunge us even further into dietary guidelines, labeling, look-alikes and standards that have the potential to remove even more animal-based dietary choices from Americans — especially our children. 

As an ag journalist, I’m appalled. 

As a grandmother, watching the effect it is having and will have on our children, I am angry. 

What I see coming is a dietary future that will be a mix of fake proteins, grains, legumes, vitamin/pharmaceutical cocktails and high fructose corn syrup fashioned into whatever you want it to be or taste like from your 3-D printer.(Even the venerable Dr. Kohl talked about it at a farmer meeting and how much this “spooks” him out.)

In the beginning, these 3-D printer options may use dairy or meat proteins, but they are set up for not just plant-based proteins, and what some in the industry call “dairy-based” proteins. What does ‘dairy-based’ mean? (more on that later). The 3-D printer technology is the handmaiden of the gene-edited cell cultured fake-meat proteins and the gene-altered yeast sourced by USDA to a company growing them (with the commercial assistance of ADM) in fermentation vats to produce fake-dairy protein without the cow.

Here’s the deal: The co-author of the 2013 report favoring epidemiological studies of the vegan/vegetarian Adventist communities vs. rigorous scientific evidence was put on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the capacity of weighing the scientific credibility of evidence to be considered by the committee in shaping the 2020-25 guidelines.

His name is Dr. Joan Sabate, and he was placed on the committee in this role instead of Stanford professor John Ioannidis — despite over 1000 letters supporting Ioannidis being sent to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue by the public that included medical doctors, dieticians, veterinarians and other experts, including specialists in oncology, heart disease and endocrinology (diabetes, etc).

Not only is Sabate Chair of the Nutrition Department at the Seventh Day Adventist institution, Loma Linda University, he also constructed the vegan food pyramid and co-authored a book on Adventist doctrine for global change, called “The Global Influence of the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Diet” where this playbook is well laid out.

It’s pretty clear that Sabate has been given an influential position and has spent his career promoting a religious-dietary-doctrine with undue influence now in a government dietary advisory capacity.

Also, an article co-authored by Sabate in 2011 talked of how the Adventists praised the 2010 dietary guidelines that took the destruction of school lunch under the Obama / Vilsack administration to new lows. That report said the 2010 Guidelines “confirmed” the findings of Sabate’s predecessor at Loma Linda University.

Last Friday, while doing a Rural Route Radio show as a guest of Trent Loos, I learned from him a piece I did not know — that the Wellcome Trust, which wrote the check for the EAT Lancet Commission, is the trust of Henry Wellcome. He passed away in the 1930s, and was the founder of what is today a Big Pharma player.

Remove whole milk, full-fat dairy and red meat from our diets and we’ll all need more drugs for a panacea of ills. Yes, the EAT Lancet report calls for just a little over one ounce of meat per day, the equivalent of one 8-oz cup of milk per day and 1 and ½ eggs per week. See the picture?

Our kids are already drinking fat free or 1% milk in school, eating fake butter, skim processed cheese, non-fat yogurt (if you can call it yogurt) and a host of other real-food-replacements when they should receive the best nature has to offer.

Yes, there it is: The religious doctrine. Mr. Wellcome was an avid Adventist, and his legacy lives on through the EAT forum and initiatives that have pulled-in not only governments across the globe (through their respective bureaucracies setting diet standards) but also 41 major corporations that are poised to profit — including the Edelman PR and marketing firm,which provided their Amsterdam account director to that effort until she went to work for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and its EAT FReSH Initiative the very month that the EAT Lancet report was released (as detailed in part 8 in last week’s Farmshine).

Yes, Edelman is the same PR and Marketing firm that has worked for dairy checkoff for 20 years and increasingly in the past 10 years and was instrumental in the GENYOUth formation (2010), a non-profit with a pretty face that is also tied in with the Clinton Foundation of the same persuasion, and the Obama / Vilsack administration’s heavy hit to school milk and the school lunch program parameters, which also happened in 2010.

This really is one big thing connected, moving gradually to where we are today amid several key converging factors.

Call me “negative” or “unhinged” or whatever name you have for this investigative reporting, that is your choice. Meanwhile, some of our own organizations are tied in, and it is disturbing. 

The dairy and beef checkoff organizations — whose budgets are funded mandatorily by the farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and contributions to human and planetary health are in jeopardy — have aligned on the sustainability side with the noted anti-animal organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This is detailed on website documents and power point slides bearing the WWF emblem.

The template is set for a sustainability footprint that is focused on streamlining the food industry with rapid consolidation to get the WWF stamp of approval for the largest and most vertically integrated animal food producers.

Recently, other organizations that challenge these institutions have put farmers on a new HSUS ag-advisory board to try to influence that particular anti-animal organization to get a similar stamp of approval for small farms and regional food supplies. 

Meanwhile, the anti-animal heavy-hitters are laughing all the way to the bank as their strategy as kindred NGOs is to divide and conquer — while raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. Their strategy is working because there is division. Not because I’m writing about it, but because none of our organizations and institutions have the backbone to stand up for what’s right.

The mode of operation is to work quietly through alliances and advisory boards and non-profits — to paint a pretty face on these alliances, hoping to come out of the internal fray with a few crumbs for a surviving streamlined industry.

If you dare question these alliances or dig into them, you are attacked.

You must remain politically correct at all costs! Don’t touch the third rail! Shame on anyone who dare question! If you question, dig, report, enlighten (all while said organizations refuse to answer interview questions), then you are “negative”, “unhinged”, “divisive”, “harming farmers” and a journalist who has “an agenda” or is just trying to “sell newspapers.”

Not in the least. I would much rather be spending all of my time writing the positive stories, and I have quite a few lined up! But I can’t discard the concern for the people whose stories I’ve written as I watch one after another sell their cows and/or their farms, and as I’m deeply concerned for the health and well-being of our children.

It’s time for Congress to revisit the law authorizing the dairy checkoff. I don’t say this lightly. The dairy checkoff budget dwarfs all others at $350 million a year. That’s a huge budget of dairy farmer funding under increasingly detrimental USDA control.

Maybe government speech is “protected” under the law, but the law  should no longer require dairy farmers to pay for it.

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Are we going to keep zigging? Or is it time to zag?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 8, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — In Part 7 last week, we looked at some of the questions still unanswered by DMI regarding GENYOUth. As noted, a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created in 2009-10 and signed in 2011 by USDA, National Dairy Council and the NFL has not been provided.

Data requested on the “before” and “after” purchases of dairy by FUTP60 schools has also not been provided.

The question about total funds provided by DMI in addition to what appears on the GENYOUth 990 form has also not been answered. However, the 2016-17 DMI audit reflects amounts that are almost double what appears on the GENYOUth 990s.

And the question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth and any knowledge or concern DMI may have about Edelman’s role in the EAT FReSH Initiative was simply not been acknowledged, let alone answered.

This is the concern that is perhaps most vexing, and here is the what the public record tells us.

Richard Edelman sits on the board of GENYOUth and as previously mentioned, he is credited with recruiting GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick in a marketing publication’s story about her taking this position.

The Edelman firm is listed as a corporate sponsor of GENYOUth, including the board seat held by Richard Edelman, but the firm is not listed as a donor of funds on the GENYOUth IRS 990s, except that Richard Edelman, himself, is on record donating $25,000 in both 2016 and 2017.

Edelman is widely considered the world’s largest and leading public relations and marketing firm with offices worldwide. Based in Chicago, the firm, according to the writings of Richard Edelman himself, has been involved in work for DMI (Dairy Checkoff) for 20 years.

The firm is listed among the 41 corporate sponsors (logos pictured below) of the EAT FReSH Initiative. This Initiative is an extension of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

And, in Edelman’s own words in a May 2018 blog post, “Edelman has partnered with FReSH to help accelerate transformational change in global food systems.”

As reported in Part 6 of this series, Danone and PepsiCo are just two companies among the 41 corporate sponsors that are Edelman clients, and both companies planned new plant-based non-dairy “look-alike” product launches to coincide with the EAT Lancet Commission and EAT FReSH launch in the first quarter of 2019.

Edelman is best known for its annual Edelman Trust Barometer shared with the world’s leading business CEOs each year at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland.

Purpose driven marketing is their thing.

DMI will not acknowledge our question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth. Our question about the link between Edelman and the marketing of the EAT FReSH Initiative was also not acknowledged.

However, on the secret Dairy Checkoff facebook page, we have received screenshot copies of answers given to farmers who have asked the checkoff staff questions about this. In those one-to-one facebook group replies, DMI staff are stating on the one hand that “Edelman is not involved in EAT Lancet.” On the other hand, stating that, “we should be glad we have someone representing us there.”

So which is it? And who is representing whom?

What we found in the public record is that Edelman is not, technically, on record as “the” marketing firm for EAT Lancet. The situation is far more subtle, and clever, because Edelman “loaned” their Amersterdam office account director, Lara Luten, to the EAT FReSH initiative for at least one year prior to 2019’s EAT FReSH launch.

This was confirmed in Richard Edelman’s blog post at the company website in May 2018 where he did a series of questions and answers about the work Luten was doing with the EAT FReSH Initiative during her second 6-month “secondment” with EAT FReSH.

A “secondment” is defined as the detachment of a person from his or her regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere. 

In the blog post, Richard Edelman asks the firm’s Amsterdam account director on loan to the EAT FReSH Initiative what has been most interesting in her work with FReSH.

Her answer: “The current (2018) preparations for the EAT Stockholm Food Forum and the EAT Lancet Commission Report. But also: Setting a basis for communications for the FReSH team.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

He asks her what she has learned from this partnership that can be applied to other work, and Luten replies: “Working in a pre-competitive environment on a project (EAT FReSH) that is driving impact by leading the change. I’m also gaining in-depth knowledge about the food system (its topics and stakeholders) that will definitely be useful for other projects.”

So not only was the Edelman firm involved, but their involvement is “leading the change.”

In mid-January 2019, at precisely the point in time when the EAT Lancet Commission report was released and the EAT Forum and EAT FReSH Initiatives were launched, Luten left her employment with Edelman to take the job as manager of communications for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

What is the WBCSD? It is described at its website as “ a CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business.” It is made up of the 41 corporations, including the Edelman firm, that have launched the EAT FReSH Initiative.

In her new employment as WBCSD communications manager, Luten now carries on the public relations, social strategies and marketing she began planning, organizing and laying the groundwork for during the time that she was employed by Edelman “on secondment” to this 41-corporation group now launching the EAT FReSH Initiative.

It all fits together with how Edelman does business. This is not in any way a question of ethics. Plenty of marketing agencies work for competing accounts in the world of advertising and public relations. There’s nothing new about that.

There’s also nothing new about this concept of working in “pre-competitive” environments where products and marketing are developed in a way that all corporations involved can utilize in their own new product campaigns.

This is, in fact, a signature way that DMI has also functioned over the past 10 years. In addition to GENYOUth, the Sustainability and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy began similarly with an MOU between DMI and the USDA, and it also includes the participation of dairy processors in a pre-competitive environment to develop and initiate innovations and sustainability measures. One example to come out of that pre-competitive environment is the innovation of ultrafiltered milk known as fairlife. Another example is the F.A.R.M program.

The goal of these pre-competitive collaborations is to give all corporate participants something they can use in a way that takes away a competitive edge.

What is concerning for dairy producers — who are mandatorily funding DMI — is that this has folded dairy promotion into a broader setting of corporations working in pre-competitive environments to pass back through the supply chain requirements about how things are done on the farm.

Toward that end, Edelman has actually played an even larger role in DMI projects over the past 20 years and especially in the past two years in coming up with the design of the Undeniably Dairy campaign. Again, purpose-driven marketing is an Edelman specialty.

And it seems noble to drive marketing with a social purpose. More companies today engage in purpose-driven social marketing, aiming to win consumers by showing what they are doing to address social concerns, such as the environment. In fact, they create problems to fit the solution they want to market.

In its own way, each corporate member of pre-competitive collaborations then capitalizes by introducing products that solve a real or “created” need in this realm of social purpose.

Here’s where it gets cloudy for dairy farmers. The government mandates that dairy farmers pay 15 cents per hundredweight for education, research and promotion. DMI administrates the use of the national portion of these funds and even sets the direction for regional funds — under the ever-more-micro-managing-oversight of USDA via two key MOU’s (GENYOUth and Innovation and Sustainability Center for U.S. Dairy).

DMI’s association with Edelman over 20 years has increased its alignment with purpose-driven marketing via pre-competitive environments with food supply chain corporations. On its surface, that doesn’t sound so bad.

But here’s another way to look at this trend. As one creative strategist, Zac Martin, stated recently in his opinion piece for an ad agency publication, “purpose” was 2018’s “most dangerous word.”

Martin defines “purpose” in marketing in the context of “brands aligning with and promoting social causes, almost always seemingly out of nowhere.”

This is most definitely the road we are on. We are being told that consumers don’t want to know what you know, they want to know that you care. We are told that consumers make brand choices based on the “why” not the “what.”

Some of this comes from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer and other research where consumers are surveyed about who they trust in their buying decisions.

But what information do consumers actually use when they buy? Price, flavor, freshness, perceived nutrition. 

Are we part of the problem? Are these alignments helping or hurting the promotion of actual milk?

Think about this. EAT FReSH is just the newest and most transformational example of how a “why” – climate change and the environment – are being used to sell new food products based on their fulfillment of a created “why”.  

What could be more perfect than to use unsubstantiated “science” to make untrue claims about certain food and agriculture impacts and then use that as a selling point for a whole new product answering the “why” that has first been created?

The EAT Foundation even has the new “planetary” diet patterns outlined (1 cup of dairy equivalent a day, a little over 1 ounce of meat/poultry/fish a day, and only 3 ounces of red meat per week, and 1 ½ eggs per week for examples). Within that context, the participating corporations are now coming out — simultaneously — with a whole bevy of new beverages, snacks and staples that do not contain any animal protein. Protein is played down and favors plant protein (incomplete proteins) and refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup is just fine.

They’ve created the “why” (planetary boundaries that they have set) and now they can sell consumers the products (fake meat and fake dairy) that fulfill that social planetary purpose that they themselves have convinced us we need!

Looking at this ‘social purpose’ trend in marketing, Zac Martin states the following: “The fad (of purpose-driven marketing) seems to driven by the likes of Simon Sinek, who notoriously said: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ But Simon is wrong. It’s a claim made without substantiation.”

In fact, Martin observes that purpose-driven marketing to is made up of “feel good” stuff that promotes and aligns with social causes while doing little as a sound marketing strategy.

Undeniably Dairy feels good. Telling our “why” feels good. Do consumers need to understand more about what happens on a dairy farm, why we do what we do? Of course! But this does not substitute for sound marketing of the dairy farmers’ product: Milk.

Martin says this trend amounts to “brand noise” that is “a sign of desperation”.

He defines purpose-driven social marketing as “fabricating an experiment, presenting pseudoscience disguised as research,” and all the while appearing “authentic.” (Think EAT FReSH).

He makes the point that when everyone is zigging, maybe it’s time to zag. I could not have said it better myself.

This series of articles is not meant to question the good intent of good people doing what they believe is good for their industry. Rather, the point is to show the direction dairy promotion dollars have taken since 2009 and some of the guiding principles that are not working.

Going back to part one, the graph showing fluid milk consumption trends could not be more clear. What we are doing is not working — unless the objective is to sell less fresh fluid milk, especially whole milk, that returns the highest value to farmers and keeps dairy farms relevant in communities, especially in the eastern states, while selling more global dairy commodities, at cheaper prices, fueling rapid expansion of more consolidated and integrated dairy structures in the western states.

Dairy Checkoff has been aligning more closely to USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines when nothing in the Congressional Act establishing the Checkoff states that it must. Dairy Checkoff has been aligning in pre-competitive environments with corporations that turn around and push us right out of the dairy case with non-dairy alternatives that fill a social purpose of their own creation.

Dairy Checkoff has partnered with fast food chains that help sell more cheese, and yet one pre-emptive cheese company is a primary beneficiary, and rapid milk production expansion in certain states follows with that.

Dairy Checkoff has bought-in to the idea that rapid expansion of exports is a primary mission, when that actually lowers the farm-level milk price because the focus of those sales is the lower-value commodity dairy.

Meanwhile, the marketing largely ignores the best selling point we have: Nutrition and Flavor in the domestic market.

Now the pressure is on for Dairy Checkoff promotion to draw more farms into “telling our story.” As noble and wonderful as this may be, what’s the 15 cents doing to actually sell milk, to win back the milk market we’ve been losing in the process?

We have a simple product. It doesn’t have a list of additives to make it look, feel and sort of taste like milk, it IS milk.

We have a nutritious product. Nothing else on the market comes close.

We have a delicious product. But we have to market the tasteless version and train our children to dislike milk by doing so… because somehow we have ended up in a place where the government’s dietary police are in charge, and we either must obey, or we just think we must.

Telling consumers our ‘why’ can be a good thing, but with 15 cents per hundredweight forked over by farmers by government mandate, the question remains, what is being done to truly sell the “what” — the actual milk that comes out of the cow because of all the good things farmers do. 

Consumers don’t know squat about milk. That’s being proven over and over again, despite over $300 million a year in mandatory promotion funds deducted from farmer milk checks for promotion.

We’ve been zigging with the ziggers long enough.

Maybe it’s time to zag.

(The graph below shows us what has happened to per capita real fluid milk consumption since 2010 while we increased the amount of zigging, suggesting it is time to zag.)


This graph illustrates what has happened to fluid milk consumption and the steep drop-off since 2010 while the dairy industry has increased the amount of zigging with the ziggers. It may be time to zag, especially when we see that consumers — where given a choice — are CHOOSING whole milk more frequently since 2014 even though the checkoff message is still fat-free / low-fat.

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