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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, October 11, 2019
MADISON, Wis. — On the business side of the 53rd World Dairy Expo last week, I came away with feelings as mixed as the weather — gloomy skies and a deluge of rain at the beginning of the week gave way to sunny skies and brisk breezes at the end.
There were plenty of new things to see among the nearly 859 trade show vendors. Annual attendance is reported at around 62,000. U.S. and international attendance did appear to be down from previous years.
For many, the first three days of the show felt slow in comparison even to last year. Some observed that the steep loss of family farms over the past 18 months was “being felt” at Expo.
Some pointed to the weather as heavy rains produced flooding Tuesday into Wednesday.
Others blamed the discouraging — and twisted — headlines that came out of a town hall meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the start of the week. The town hall was attended by around 200 dairy farmers, agribusiness representatives and organization leaders, along with dozens of reporters and television cameras.
What followed the hour of honest and detailed discussion (reported here as in Farmshine last week) were press accounts that warped Sec. Perdue’s comments and went viral through the wire services, starting with the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune and continuing into various agricultural press.
By Thursday, Wisconsin Farmers Union had sent op-ed responses to high profile news outlets, taking on the Secretary for his supposed comments about how we supposedly do things in America.
The stage was effectively set to cast the current Trump administration as purveyors of a factory farm model, attributing to the Secretary a proclamation that, “In America, the big get bigger and small get out.” This is now playing right into the hands of Democratic presidential hopefuls who are pal-ing around with HSUS in the Midwest, pretending to care about cows, farms and fly-over country.
Well, maybe some Democrats do care, but we know HSUS does not, and we know what the purveyors of the Green New Deal think of our cows. That’s another story.
Trouble is, the Secretary never said the words that have started this chain reaction. Or, at least, not in the order in which his words were parsed together in print.
You see, many other words were omitted. Context is everything.
From the sidelines and super busy with other pursuits at the Expo — but having attended the town hall meeting in person and having written my own coverage of the event in last week’s Farmshine — I began to see the headlines erupting on social media as share upon share made the news travel rapidly from Tuesday into Wednesday and then it was off to the races.
I began wondering how I could have missed such a derogatory comment. And I learned by Friday that, no, my notebook and partial recording had not failed me. Full transcripts were released by other reporters — providing that important context.
Transcripts showed clearly that the offending quote from Sec. Perdue was pulled from a very long and detailed response to a question and spliced together to make new statements. Not only is context everything, so is punctuation.
Too late, the discouraging and depressing headlines continued to beat small and mid-sized family farmers over the head all week. They began to feel as though even the USDA could care less about their survival – wanted them gone in fact to make way for “factory farming.”
The narrative was discouraging and many farmers confessed to me just how it made them feel. Several said reading those words made them feel like – why bother even going to Expo?
“Stick a fork in us. We’re done, according to Perdue,” a Wisconsin dairy farmer said to me Thursday.
Bad enough that the headlines erupted after Tuesday’s town hall were discouraging. Worse, that they were false in what they signaled to family farms. But there is also much truth in Sec. Perdue’s observation. He was describing “what we’ve seen in America,” not making a proclamation of how things will be done in America.
And the advancements in science and technology ARE what we have seen in America. Yes, they help smaller farms too, but it is science and technology that are contributing to the progress that is allowing rapid consolidation to take place.
For the record, I am pro-science and pro-technology and pro-innovation. But I also believe we are at a crossroads where it has gone so fast and so far, that we need to walk back and look at outcomes and impact and have a national conversation.
Just one day after the Expo closed, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford and member farms like Dotterer’s Dairy, Mill Hall, Pa. were on CBS 60-minutes talking about how high-tech dairy is today and the market challenges being faced by dairy farmers at the same time.
The twisted quotes from Tuesday’s dairy town hall meeting at Expo gave the impression that Trump’s USDA is proclaiming a factory farm model for the future of agriculture. In a sense, as we embrace rapid technological advancement, we are embracing that transition. These are inescapable facts that must be sorted out and dealt with.
The Secretary was merely observing the reality of what has been happening in America’s rural lands with increasing speed over the past decade.
While some of Perdue’s specific answers to specific questions were disappointing and other responses were encouraging, none of those specifics were reported elsewhere with any attention. All attention was placed on the twisted quote.
We have a Secretary who can see what is happening and who can have an honest discussion about it, while being pragmatic about what the potential solutions are that can be accomplished without the help of a paralyzed Congress.
No matter what we think of Dairy Margin Coverage, it was put in place to help smaller farms withstand these difficult times and figure out their place in the future. That’s just reality.
At the same time, what was lost in those press reports is we have a Secretary that at least took time to cheer-lead for the small and mid-sized family farms by using his bully pulpit to advocate for whole milk in schools. No one picked up on that, except for Farmshine.
Perdue also touted “local” food as a way to bring value back to farms. I haven’t seen any other press reports talk about that.
Most reporters ignored those thoughts. They also ignored the fact that the stage for the rapid consolidation in dairy — that is occurring today — was set 10 years ago under former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who today has his salary paid by dairy farmers through their mandatory checkoff as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and defacto leader of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy that is streamlining “U.S. Dairy” through various checkoff funded innovations and programs.
Think about this for a moment: U.S. dairy has progressed with technological advancements that are unparalleled in the world. American farmers have always looked to technology and to the future to produce food for the growing population and to be good stewards of the land.
It is the love of science and technology – along with the love of cows — that draws throngs of U.S. and international visitors to the World Dairy Expo each year. They want to see what’s new. They want to learn from each other. They want to make progress to do more with less.
Technology allows farmers to do more with less. That has meant producing more food from fewer cows. At some point it also means producing more food from fewer farms.
Perhaps it is time to not just praise science and technology with the eagerness of children on Christmas morning, but to have an honest conversation about where science and technology are leading the food industry.
Sec. Perdue was not very well informed when it came to the topics of fake meat and fake milk that are ramping up through USDA science and technology into cell-cultured and DNA-modified yeast factory vats and bioreactors. Instead of talking about factories replacing farms, he stated that “consumers will choose”, and he said currently those who are choosing fake meat and fake milk aren’t consuming the real stuff anyway.
That was the short-sighted comment that raised my eyebrow, not the parsed-together quote about big and bigger.
It’s time to dig into the structure of things.
Perhaps the real concern and conversation to be addressed is the structures and alliances that have been formed over the past 10 years as they are now coming to light. In former Secretary Vilsack’s talk at Expo about exports and dairy innovation, and in DMI’s workshop about what’s on the horizon, my initial impressions are that we are at a place where the industry is speeding up innovation and wanting more latitude on standards of identity at a time when we should be saying: “let’s push pause please.”
The race to feed the world has produced immeasurable waste and loss already, will it now change the face of agriculture forever?
Where is science and technology supportive for the family fabric that has made our food production the envy of the world? And where is science and technology promoting a path that leads us away from that model of food production to take it out of the hands of many families enriched by competitive markets and put it into the new emerging models of fewer hands, consolidated markets and lack of competition.
Don’t blame Secretary Perdue for these wheels that have been in motion. Don’t expect the government to solve it. But what we can do is have the honest conversation, ask the questions, hold leaders accountable, and move the needle far enough to provide a more level field of play for the small and mid-sized family farms.
You can count on Farmshine to break away from the narratives on both sides of this thing to do exactly that.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019
MADISON, Wis. – Grabbing the headlines from a town hall meeting with U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue during the opening day of the 53rd World Dairy Expo, here in Madison, Wisconsin, was a comment the Secretary made about the viability of small family farms.
He was asked whether they will survive. To which he answered, “Yes, but they’ll have to adapt.”
In fact, the Secretary said that the capital needs and environmental regulations that impact farms today make it difficult for smaller farms to survive milking 50 to 100 cows.
“What we’ve seen is the number of dairy farms going down, but the number of dairy cows has not,” said Perdue. “Dairy farms are getting larger, and smaller farms are going out.”
But in additional discussion, Perdue said that consumers want local products. He said that marketing local, even without the buzzwords, can be done successfully to bring value to farms.
He noted two things about dairy farms. First, they can’t be sustainable without profitability and second, he described the dairy industry as prone to oversupply.
Picking up on these comments, recently retired northwest Wisconsin dairy producer Karen Schauf said Farm Bureau is looking at the Federal Milk Marketing Orders and how make some adjustments on the milk pricing.
“But what we really need to do is balance supply and demand of dairy products much closer,” she said. “I would ask if you would support a flexible mandatory supply management system to help producers keep that supply and demand in closer relationship.”
Perdue asked if she wanted the short answer or the long answer, stating that when his children want a quick answer, it’s always “no.”
Schauf replied, “Mr. Secretary, I just want you to think about it.” The subject went no further.
At another point in the questioning, a Wisconsin producer observed the disheartening price levels and said last year was a record high level of exports, while prices to farmers were worse than this year and worse than 2017.
He noted that exports hit 17.6% of milk produced, and settled out at 16% last year, which is a record, but his milk price averaged $14.60. He went on to say that, “our exports are off 2% this year, but I’ll probably come close to an average of $17 on my milk price.” He also noted that National Milk Producers Federation recently put out a press release stating 2015-18 as record years in domestic dairy consumption.
“This is all good,” the dairy farmer said, “but in Wisconsin we are losing 2.5 farms per day and I think the call centers are full with distressed farmers calling in, so beyond trade and some of these things you promote at the federal level, what can we be looking at so we never experience another five years like this?”
Perdue thanked the producer for his facts and said it is amazing that things “can be good and yet feel so bad.” He acknowledged that dairy has been under the most stress, and he said that the 2018 Farm Bill did “exactly the right thing” with the new Dairy Margin Coverage. He pointed out that this coverage is specifically in place for smaller dairy farms.
“Milk prices are cyclical, and I think we’ve met that trough, and things will improve for 2020,” said Perdue.
Referencing the 2% milk on the table in front of him, Perdue said: “You pretty much know what happened to milk in our schools, with the whole milk and the accusations about fat in milk. We hope to get some benefit, maybe, from the Dietary Guidelines this year, which drive a lot of this conversation.”
Noting that USDA “is leading” the Dietary Guidelines along with Health and Human Services, the Secretary said: “We have a great panel and they will bring together the best scientific facts about what is healthy, wholesome and nutritious for our young people and our older people and all of us, so we’re looking forward to that.”
On trade, the Secretary was hopeful. He cited the recent trade agreement with Japan, but did not have exact numbers for dairy, just that it will be beneficial for dairy. On China, he was optimistic and said progress is being made, but that it has been important to take this stand because they have been “cheating” and are “toying with us.”
One area he mentioned in regard to trade with China is that U.S. agriculture has become too dependent on “what China will do.” He said the administration is really working on trade with other nations in the Pacific and elsewhere that do not represent such large chunks as to disrupt or distort markets as they come in and out of the game. This has held true for dairy exports from the U.S., which are rising in so many other parts of the world.
On the USMCA, Perdue said the outcome will depend on whether the Speaker of the House brings it to the floor for a vote. “It will pass both caucuses, but it has to come to the floor. We hope to see that happen by the end of the year, that distractions won’t get in the way,” said Perdue.
The town hall meeting covered a wide range of other questions and comments, and often, the answer to the toughest questions was “it’s complicated and we’ll be happy to look into it.”
On the Market Facilitation Program, several had questions about why alfalfa-grass is not included as a crop, just straight alfalfa. Perdue explained that alfalfa is a crop exported to China and that the crops in the eligible crops for MFP payments have to be “specifically enumerated.”
As with other questions, he emphasized the local FSA Committees who implement some of the more subjective pieces of these programs that farmers can appeal to their local committees if they’ve been denied.
In the prevent plant flexibilities for harvesting forage, Perdue said USDA is looking at this as perhaps something to be made permanent – the ability to harvest forage on prevent plant acres in September rather than waiting until Nov. 1.
Paul Bauer from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery focused his comments on the spread between Cheddar blocks and barrels on the CME and how this is deflating the price paid to dairy farmers – especially in Wisconsin – but also across the U.S. because of how it affects the Class III pricing formula.
“For the last four years, the spread between blocks and barrels has been greater than 12 cents. Historically, the spread has been three cents or less per pound for the prior 50 years,” he said, noting that the spread at the end of the previous week stood at just shy of 35 cents per pound!
“The common thought is that this bounces back to a normal range, but it doesn’t,” said Bauer, noting that last year’s average spread cost dairy farmers 60 cents per hundredweight on their milk price. “Those farmers who ship to barrel plants, such as Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, were affected by $1.20/cwt on their milk price due to this wide spread.
He noted that last week’s 34 ¾ cent spread between blocks and barrels cost dairy farmers $3.40/cwt, which is 20% of their base price.
Acknowledging that this is a complex issue, Bauer asked the Secretary if USDA will take the first step and admit there is a problem instead of “rolling their eyes because of the complexity.”
“This is unfavorable to our farmers and unfair to our producers,” said Bauer, explaining that all dairy products are priced off the block-barrel on the CME, ultimately.
“It’s important to get it right,” said Bauer, explaining that it is a problem when the industry can build barrel inventory to create this divergence in block / barrel prices on the CME, which in turn suppresses the price they pay to producers for the milk used in a multitude of other “modern” products.
“Barrel production comes from 16 plants (nationwide), and represents 6% of the nation’s dairy supply, and yet has had a 58% of the impact on all producers’ milk checks,” said Bauer. “When the system is out of sync, that negative value affects us all.
“It’s time for USDA to formally take action and for the data to come to light that are influencing the market,” said Bauer.
He explained that the system is there to protect farmers and local buyers but is now being influenced by foreign cooperatives that keep one product – barrels – in oversupply in order to keep milk prices lower for products that are priced off the higher blocks in short supply.
Bauer said the secrecy of buyers and sellers on the CME protects this practice. “It’s time to update the system to keep up with modern times to protect our farmers and our food supply also in terms of quality and safety.”
Secretary Perdue drew laughter when he asked Bauer: “Would you repeat the question?” But he took it in and asked for a written copy of the question to look into it. Perdue said that concerns are often raised about the Federal Milk Marketing Orders.
“They are a fairly complex issue, but we’d be happy to investigate. The government’s role in general is to be the balance between the producer and the consumer and ensure no predatory pricing practices,” said Perdue, “while not interfering with commerce and contracts.”
He gave the example of the fire at the Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas and the staggering loss to cattle prices since that fire over a month ago that have resulted in packer margins at an unprecedented $600 per head.
“We saw a spike in the delta – the difference between the live cattle price and the boxed beef price at historic highs, and we are investigating that, to make sure there was no pricing collusion,” said Perdue. “I’ve asked those packers to come in and give me their side of the story. That’s the role of USDA.”
Pete Hardin of the Milkweed asked about the cell cultured meat, citing a publicized comment by the Secretary last summer pointing to the value of this science. Hardin asked if any studies have been done on the safety of this technology.
Perdue did not know if any specific studies have been done, and he confessed to trying an Impossible Burger, adding “There’s now one restaurant I no longer attend.”
He stressed that these products cater to people who aren’t eating meat anyway for whatever reason, and he said: “In the end, consumers will be the ones to choose.”
Picking up on this in a separate question about how dairy and livestock farms can remain viable with all of the imitation products competing for consumers, the Secretary observed that, “As farmers we are independent and like to sit behind the farm gate and produce the best, most nutritious food in the world at the lowest cost anywhere in the world, but we’ve never told the story.
“It’s up to every one of us to speak out locally and statewide and federally, nationally in that area and tell the story of what’s happening. No longer can we hide behind the curtain,” said Perdue.
“There’s a growing movement about knowing how you do your job, what’s in the milk, how the animals are treated, and there’s no going back from that. We have to engage with consumers. We have to tell the story loudly and proudly.”
Dairy Advisory Committee formed, meets with federal, state lawmakers
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 14, 2019
HARRISBURG, Pa. — “What I’m hearing here is that the government is between you and the consumer. You would have no problem marketing milk if you could get your message and product to the people,” said U.S. Congressman G.T. Thompson, representing Pennsylvania’s 15th legislative district over a swath of central and northcentral and northwest Pennsylvania.
That summed up the concerns related to school milk, dairy checkoff, fake milk labeling and other issues during a meeting between 11 dairy stakeholders and a dozen state and federal lawmakers and staff in Harrisburg on June 3.
It was a listening session that was followed by a productive work session as the grassroots group will continue to meet and correspond as a Dairy Advisory Committee.
Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey and 97 Milk Baleboard initiator Nelson Troutman worked with Pa. State Senator David Argall of Berks and Schuykill counties to set up the meeting.
They pulled together an advisory committee of 11 people, including Troutman and Morrissey, along with Dale Hoffman and his daughter Tricia Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County; Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer and president of National Dairy Producers Organization; Lolly Lesher of Way-Har Farms, Berks County; Katie Sattazahn of Zahncroft Farms, Womelsdorf; Krista Byler, foodservice director for Union City School District in Crawford and Erie counties, whose husband operates a crop and dairy farm in Spartansburg; Bonnie Wenger of Wen-Crest Farms, doing custom cropping and heifer raising for dairies in Lebanon and Berks counties; and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig Feed Mill, New Holland.
I was privileged to moderate the discussion, for which an outline was provided in advance.
Congressman Thompson was joined by Congressman Dan Meuser, who represents Pennsylvania’s 9th district covering Carbon, Columbia, Lebanon, Montour and Schuykill counties along with portions of Berks, Luzerne and Northumberland.
In addition to State Senator David Argall, State Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County attended, as ded legislative aids for Senators Ryan Aument, Elder Vogel, and Mike Folmer with additional interest from State Representatives John Lawrence and David Zimmerman.
Lawmakers said they left the discussion with “more work to do” and an “elevated awareness.” Their message to dairy farmers was: “Keep it up. Keep doing what you’re doing (a nod to the 97 Milk campaign and the planned rally for the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act on June 18 at the state Capitol). They said raising public awareness is crucial.
“Every few days, the bill gets another cosponsor,” said Rep. Thompson of HR 832 introduced in late January. “It will take public support and momentum to reverse this. It’s a challenging task.”
Even with evidence that bad science led to the federal school lunch milkfat restrictions, Thompson said the House Committee on Education and Labor must take up the bill in order for it to move forward. He noted that current leadership of that committee is the same as in 2010 when The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act tightened the vice grip on milk fat. (Learn more about the school lunch changes over the past 10 to 20 years here.)
The 2010 legislation with the blessing of former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack not only prohibited whole milk in the National School Lunch Program, it also reduced total calories, required less than 10% calories from saturated fat and made the milk part of the meal’s nutrient analysis.
With a nod to Krista Byler, Thompson said he understands more is needed beyond HR 832. “We need to eliminate the beverage information from the nutrient standards limitations,” said Thompson.
Discussion followed about the current Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization process currently underway in the Senate and what opportunities might exist for a regulatory change there.
Byler noted that while every child gets a milk, many students throw the milk away and buy sugary drinks that don’t offer milk’s nutrition.
Legislators were surprised to learn that high school students can’t buy whole milk but they can buy Mountain Dew Kickstart at school. This 80-calorie beverage made by PepsiCo — the company that also created a Smart Snacks website for school foodservice directors and received the GENYOUth Vanguard Award last November — is deemed “okay” by the current USDA Dietary Guidelines because it has fewer calories than milk, zero fat and a list of added, not natural, vitamins and minerals. But it also has 20 grams of carbohydrate, 19 grams of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup and zero protein, whereas whole milk has 12 grams of natural carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein.
In addition to Mountain Dew Kickstart, students in high schools and middle schools across the U.S. can buy other sweetened drinks like PepsiCo’s Gatorade as well as iced tea coolers. In addition, high schools are also permitted to have coffee bars.
Yet schools are prohibited from offering whole milk (3.25% fat) or reduced-fat (2%) with its high-quality protein and long list of natural nutrients – unless a child has a medical note from a physician.
On the flip side, schools must provide non-dairy substitutes like soy and almond beverage if a parent, not a physician, writes a note. And no notes are needed for students to throw away the milk and grab a sweetened high-carb beverage from PepsiCo.
“My purpose in coming here, after speaking with other foodservice directors across the state, is the changes that were made to allow 1% flavored milk last spring are having disheartening results. Schools have been doing the fat-free flavored milk as a requirement for so long, they don’t all understand the new rule,” Byler explained.
Part of the issue, she said, is they have their cycle menus done far in advance, and the changes to the milk — even if whole milk were suddenly allowed — do not fit into the nutrient analysis of the meal.
Before 2010, the milk was not included in the nutrient analysis of the school lunch or breakfast.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to hear members of Congress talk about this,” said Byler. “This bill (HR 832) is amazing, but it doesn’t have legs to stand on without the regulatory change to exclude milk from the nutrient analysis of the meal. For schools to have this choice, this bill needs to pass, and the milk needs to be a standalone component of the meal, otherwise schools won’t be able to make it work.”
She said the same goes for the Smart Snacks program. An exception to regulations is needed so schools can offer whole milk, just as they can offer PepsiCo’s energy drinks.
At the federal level, Rep. Thompson said the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation is working on getting a companion bill for HR 832 in the U.S. Senate. (This actually did happene a day after this report was filed for press — Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced the Milk In Lunch for Kids (MILK) Act this week. Bill number and text have not yet been posted)
“The biggest thing we need is to generate enough public support,” said Thompson.
The Dairy Advisory Committee urged Pa. State Senators to support a resolution on the federal bills.
On The Dairy Pride Act, Thompson was more optimistic. He believes FDA is giving an indication that the public has been misled by competing alternative beverages that infer by the name “milk” to have the nutritional attributes of milk.
Tricia Adams spoke of the many school tours she conducts at Hoffman Farms in the spring and summer, and what the kids tell them about school milk.
She says the kids are “brutally honest. They tell us, ‘This is the good milk!’ But just to get whole milk for a tour, I have to special order weeks in advance,” she says. “It’s a struggle to get enough of it at one time. It’s just not available.”
Her father Dale Hoffman observed that farmers are so busy, it’s tough to be involved in these things. He said it is scary how fast Pennsylvania is dropping in cow numbers and production.
“Somewhere, we need to get our foot in the door. This has got to be done if Pennsylvania is going to compete. We have the milk and the consumers right here,” said Hoffman. “We need your help. We hear it’s tough to get done, but it’s time to get whole milk back in the schools.”
Mike Eby said he sold his cows three years ago, but producers selling today “are getting half of what I got.” He said the dairy situation is increasingly difficult for farm families to manage whether they are staying in, or getting out, as the value of their assets shrink along with income.
“Where is our milk going to be coming from when we all go out?” he asked.
Eby describe the power of whole milk. He has been part of an effort to give out whole milk that is standardized to 3.5% fat instead of 3.25% to meet the California standards.
“We give the milk away at four parades a year,” he said, and the math adds up to over 10,000 individual servings. “We could give more! They love it. People are screaming for that milk.”
Circling back to Rep. Thompson’s point. The problem isn’t the product, the problem is the government getting between the farmer and the consumer when it comes to marketing the high value, nutritious and delicious product they produce.
State issues were also discussed, including needed reforms to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Law. Each participant also gave a fast view of the long dairy situation.
“The average dairy farmer we serve is under 150 cows, and our feed mill has 107 years in the business. We’ve seen a lot, but nothing as bad as this,” said Karl Sensenig. “We are greatly concerned about what is the future for the generations to come in our business and on the farms. We have become their bank. The situation is beyond dire, and I’m afraid we haven’t begun to see the true loss of farms. Even if the price gets a little better, many are so far gone that there’s no way out.”
Katie Sattazahn also questioned the future. She is integral to the farm operated by her husband and his brother, and she works off the farm. They upgraded their facility three years ago, never expecting a downturn of this duration and magnitude.
“The biggest thing is, we are supposed to be glad when we have a breakeven year, but that has to change. As dairy farmers, we need to be profitable to put something back into our operations,” she said. “Every dollar we spend is spent locally. Our farms provide open space and benefits for the environment, and the money we spend in our business helps the economy.”
With two young children, Sattazahn says, “If it stays the way it is, why would we encourage them to do this?”
Bonnie Wenger explained the conditions she sees in the community of dairy farmers. She explained to lawmakers the added difficulty of this year’s prevented plantings, a struggle that will get worse this fall in terms of feeding cows.
Byler also talked about the dire situation in her county. “The dairy farms support our communities. They support other businesses and bring in revenues for our school districts,” she said. “What will be left for our small rural communities?”
On the school front, she showed examples of the marketing foodservice directors see, pushing them away from animal protein. This included visuals from Fuel Up To Play 60 and its focus on fat-free and low-fat. She wonders why they can’t just talk about milk, why they have to pound home the fat-free, low-fat with every caption, every sentence, over and over. She has trouble seeing the value in it from the side of the dairy farmer or the school program.
Lawmakers and staff were taking notes, writing in the margins and circling things on the outline provided. By the end of the session, Sen. Argall said, “You’ve created a lot of work for us.”
Congressman Meuser noted this is now an even higher priority for him.
Sen. Martin said this is on the Pennsylvania Assembly’s radar, and he mentioned a package of bills coming that are “just a start.” He mentioned the dairy commission being put together to advise the legislature on dairy.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s a roar not soon forgotten when the field of 33 drivers rounds the curve to the paddock straightaway and the pace car exits the track. The thrill of the Indianapolis 500 is unmatched in motorsports, and the refreshing, replenishing, refueling and revered beverage associated with this great race is MILK — Real Dairy Milk!
For 103 years, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, a patriotic display, Blue Angels fly-over, recognition of our military and moment of silence for our fallen precede the 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
And for 83 years, the legendary race is complete with the ice cold Drink of Milk in Victory Circle — deemed the “coolest trophy in sports”, awarded for the “greatest spectacle in racing,” also known as the largest single-day sporting event in the world.
Dave Forgey of Logansport was an Indy500 spectator for years before having the chance to be the ‘Milkman.’ As a dairy farmer he was enthusiastic when the Indiana milk promotion board began choosing dairy farmers, instead of executives, to be the ones to give the famed bottle of milk to the winning driver each year. After serving as the ‘rookie’ in 2011, he was lead Milkman in 2012.
“As dairy farmers, we bring a personal touch to the award, that brings it to the common level of the fans. At the end of the race, the Milk is always first,” said Forgey with a broad grin standing in front of the IMS Pagoda race day morning talking to fans in 2012.
The job of the Indy500 Milkmen (or women) begins long before Sunday, and continues throughout the year in venues such as Rotary Club presentations and small town parades, as well as other competitive events that capitalize on the Winners Drink Milk slogan of American Dairy Association Indiana.
By Sunday, the Milkmen are focused on keeping the Milk iced for Victory Lane and promoting milk and dairy farming to race-day fans. They ask all the drivers to choose between Whole, 2% and fat-free and have those selections ready since they don’t know who the winner will be. Whole milk has been topping the choices 2 to 1 over the past few years, and two top drivers, Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe in 2019 said they would return to the buttermilk choice of 3x winner Louis Meyer in 1936, if it were an option!
In short, the Indy500 milkmen are charged with protecting the future of this unique sports award ruled tops for its “cool factor” according to Sports Illustrated writer Pete McEntegart, who in his si.com column ranked milk #1 among the Sports World’s top-10 unique trophies.
“It is certainly a tradition that everyone respects. What else can we do that is this national and international in scope?” Forgey observes. He said he came home to find an email from a friend in New Zealand who saw the whole thing on television.
“The fans are interested. They want to talk about our dairy farms,” says Forgey. When fans realized he was giving the bottle of mlk, they wanted to know how he qualified for the job. When Forgey explained that he and his rookie are Indiana dairy farmers, the fans were eager to know more. Of course, they also want to see the milk. Standing by the milkmen in front of the IMS Pagoda on race day morning, enthusiasm for “the milk” is evident. Fans paused to take pictures, and ask questions.
“There is always a lot of excitement for the milk among the racing fans,” says Forgey. “They know the tradition. They know about the milk. And when we can help them connect it back to the farmer, that generates interest.”
Initiated 83 years ago when the first three-time winner, Louis Meyer, asked for buttermilk to quench his thirst after the grueling 500-mile race, the Drink of Milk tradition has endured. Today, scientific evidence shows Louis Meyer knew what he was doing back in 1936, when he turned after that grueling race to the unique, natural and un-matched combination of hydrating re-fuel found in Real Dairy Milk with it’s healthy maitrix of fat, protein, carbohydrate, a dozen essential nutrients and refreshment. In fact, in those days, buttermilk was the name given to full-fat milk with extra heavy cream! Today’s drivers tend to choose Whole Milk (standardized at 3.25% fat) more than the reduced fat (2%) or fat-free options.
ADA Indiana coordinates the Indy500 Drink of Milk promotion today, and 45 years ago they added to the heritage by sponsoring the “Fastest Rookie” award on the Tuesday before the big race. The coveted award recognizes the first-year driver who achieves the fastest four-lap average speed from among fellow rookie competitors during time trials.
“The rookies are very interested in the milk and getting their pictures taken with the milk,” says Forgey.
Fast forward to 2016 with the 100th running of the Indy500 and what a celebration it was! Nearly half a million people attended in person. To put this into perspective, the largest-ever attendance of the NFL Superbowl was just over 100,000 people. The 100th running of the Indy500 in 2016 clocked in at 350,000 in the gates and another estimated 100,000 outside the gates just wanting to “be there.”
Prairie Farms, American Dairy Association Indiana and the IMS together gave commemorative, specially-packaged bottles of milk to fans for a winning milk toast and they were available in stores throughout the region.
After 500 miles, 200 laps, 54 lead changes and 13 different leaders, the winning of the 100th Indy500 came down to a fuel strategy that put Alexander Rossi — the 9th rookie ever, and the first since 2001 — into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the sweet taste of victory — the 80th traditional ice cold drink of milk, delivered in 2016 by Milkwoman Janet Dague, a dairy farmer from Kewana, Indiana and rookie Joe Kelsay of Kelsay Farms, Whiteland.
“I was so excited to see our rookie win the 500,” said Dague, an avid race fan and dairy farmer after delivering the Drink of Milk to Rossi in Victory Circle. “I was jumping up and down, cheering when he crossed the finish line. I even said to Joe ‘I told you I wanted our rookie to win!’
By “our rookie,” Dague was referring to Rossi earning the 42nd Fastest Rookie award given annually by the ADA-Indiana at a special dairy-and-racing-focused luncheon on the Tuesday before the race. There, Rossi was honored as the qualifying rookie with the fastest 4-lap average speed on qualification day, at an average 228 mph.
Dague described Rossi as “so gracious about winning. I think because of the rookie luncheon that just took place, he understood how important this was for the ADA-Indiana and every other dairy farmer around the world,” she explained. “In every picture, he made sure to take a drink of the milk and even made sure our logo was facing front and center. We couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson.”
The whole crew was celebrating that win with their milk, along with race fans given commemorative bottles on the 100th anniversary. Owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta were toasting each other, drinking their milk. Andretti, in particular, was happy to taste the elusive beverage right from driver Rossi’s official bottle while Rossi did his victory interview with ESPN, and their chief mechanic was next for the taste of victory!
Rookie Milkman Kelsay was excited to be there for the first time with the Drink of Milk in that 100th year of the Indy500.
“To have the spotlight shine on the nutrition of milk in this way is just awesome,” he said during the parade honoring military and the heritage of the race on the day before. “It is an honor to represent fellow dairy farmers who are back home milking and feeding and listening to the race on the radio. It has been a humbling experience so far. It seems as important to the fans as it is to dairy farmers. Even one of the police officers mentioned what an honor it was to meet us, saying he would be sure to keep me safe if something happens.
“We just thank Louis Meyer for starting this trend over 80 years ago that we can highlight the healthy choice of milk and deliver that message to a global audience here at the Indy500,” Kelsay adds.
“What better way could we as dairy farmers promote our product than to be out in the forefront of this event, which is so significant worldwide?” says Forgey, who appreciated the honor of spending 2011 and 2012 representing the dairy farmers in Indiana and across the U.S., who work hard to produce a healthy product.
After all, #WinnersDrinkMilk because #RealMilkAlwaysWins #TasteTheVictory
A while back, I tackled the subject of food labeling in a consumer column. We covered the rigorous testing by which ALL milk is actually antibiotic free. But people still had questions. They kept hearing about hormones in milk and meat, and they see labels stating “hormone free” and wonder what to make of it all.
So we’ll turn our attention to the hormone question and the labels we see.
The biology news flash of the day is that there are hormones in pretty much everything we eat — that is, if it was derived from a living organism.
And yes, that goes for the plant-derived foods we consume also!
In fact, endocrinologists and reproductive physiologists explain hormones as small chemicals that are produced naturally by and circulate throughout all living things! These hormones instruct cells and tissues on how to adjust, grow, reproduce and thrive.
Without hormones, life could not exist. All foods come from living things — both plant and animal. Technically, all life requires hormones. Thus, all living things, plants and animals, contain hormones.
So, if someone tries to sell you ‘hormone-free’ products, and you know it did not come from a rock, well, technically, it can’t be ‘hormone-free’.
In the hormone conversation, the most important thing that is missing these days is perspective and context!
Jude Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant and former university professor, explains it this way:
“The amount of estrogen in the steak from the implanted animal is miniscule: 5.1 nanograms. One nanogram (one-billionth of a gram or one-25-billionth of an ounce) is roughly equivalent to one blade of grass on a football field. By contrast, one birth-control pill, taken daily by over 100 million women worldwide, contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. That’s the equivalent of eating 3,431 pounds of beef from a hormone-implanted animal every single day. To put it another way, it’s the annual beef consumption of 59 adults. Doesn’t that put it into perspective?”
To repeat: One birth control pill contains the hormone equivalent to the amount of beef eaten by 59 adults in one year. So one month of birth control is equivalent to the amount of beef 59 adults would eat in 30 years.
Here’s another comparison from Dr. Troy Ott, a professor of reproductive physiology at Penn State:
“If you set the amount of estrogenic activity in a 3 oz steak equal to one M&M candy, then 3 oz of tofu (made from soy plants) would contain a tractor-trailer full of M&M – that’s 19 million times more. Big difference! But fear not, eat your tofu because your liver is there to deal with any substances that enter your body from the food you eat.”
Whew! Whether you are a vegetarian, carnivore or omnivore, it’s good to know the hormone food topic is not so scary after all.
Hormones are the beneficial agents of life on the planet Earth. They regulate every process of life. When we consume plant and animal foods, we are consuming hormones that our bodies recognize as nutrients!
Perhaps the confusion about hormones stems from all of the talk in sports these days about steroid use. That’s a much different conversation. The hormones in plants and animals – that we consume – are first of all digested and secondly recognized by our human bodies as nutrients, not steroids.
Trent Loos, a seventh generation rancher, explains it this way: “Misinformation and misunderstanding of the value of hormones to our everyday life have perpetuated the concern over hormones. Some of that has certainly been the result of activists and those attempting to remove technology and efficiency from the food production system. However, some also has been the result of misleading messages…” in the area of marketing.”
He cites researchers from Lafayette College, who have shown how hormones regularly improve our lives. Many common foods naturally contain estrogen (or in the case of plants, phytoestrogen) at levels hundreds or thousands of times higher than the levels in any dairy or meat product to come from animals — even those animals that may have been given additional hormone to more efficiently produce food at a more affordable price for a growing world.
In fact, if you tested milk from rbST-treated cows versus cows that did not receive rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) you would find no difference in the milk. Likewise for beef that comes from a steer (neutered male) that received hormone replacement at a specific time in its growth and the appropriate withdrawal time observed before harvest. The beef from that hormone-implanted steer would test pretty close to the natural hormone levels in the beef from an untreated, non-pregnant female beef animal.
As we read labels and marketing materials about the food we feed our families, here is a checklist to consider:
— Context is everything, so keep a perspective about this topic and the various label claims when determining how to spend your food dollar.
— The hormones being debated (either at naturally-occurring or at enhanced levels for production efficiency) are protein hormones, not steroid hormones.
— Our bodies do not recognize these protein hormones as hormones, but rather as nutrients! It’s pretty cool to think about how wonderfully we are made.
— Hormones are found in every living thing – be it plant or animal! In other words – food!
— There is no difference in the hormone content of milk whether or not the cows received hormone treatments for enhanced productivity at any point in their life. But that said, most dairy farms have given up this practice for many years because of consumer confusion. Most milk in stores is produced from cows not treated with rBST or rbGH and is labeled this way as well.
— In the long run, animal productivity benefits consumers by helping to keep food costs more affordable than they would otherwise be. Food prices are rising but the farmer’s portion of the consumer dollar is at an all-time low of 14 cents today.
While some want to debate hormone-free meat and milk and create fear in the minds of consumers, the truth is that we encounter far higher levels in plant foods, which we readily consume without question.
Here is a short-list showing just some of the eye-opening example comparisons compiled by the researchers at Lafayette College. (ng = nanogram)
4 ounces of beef from untreated steer: 1.2 ng of estrogen
4 ounces of beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 ng of estrogen
4 ounces of beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 ng of estrogen
3 ounces of milk from cow given recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST): 11 ng of estrogen
3 ounces of milk from non-rbST-treated cow: 11 ng of estrogen
4 ounces of raw peas: 454 ng of estrogen
4 ounces of raw cabbage: 2,700 ng of estrogen
Average soy latte (one cup of soy milk): 30,000 ng of estrogen
3.5 ounces of soy protein concentrate: 102,000 ng of estrogen
3 ounces of soybean oil: 168,000 ng of estrogen
Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 ng of estrogen per day
Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 ng of estrogen per day
A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 35 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at email@example.com
GORDONVILLE, Pa. — “You are hearing the negatives, not the positives,” said Marilyn Hershey about the dairy checkoff during a meeting requested by Lancaster County dairy farmers hosted here in Gordonville on Friday, April 12.
Hershey has a dairy farm with her husband Duane in neighboring Chester County, and she serves as the national chairperson of the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) board.
Approximately 12 of the expected 30 farmers attended the meeting with a range of topics on their minds, in particular fluid milk sales and whole milk promotion.
Hershey got involved in dairy promotion eight years ago, serving first on the National Dairy Board, then becoming vice chair of DMI, the board that combines various boards, before becoming chairperson two years ago. National Dairy Board has term limits, whereas the DMI board does not.
Accompanying Hershey for the discussion was Harold Shaulis of Somerset County, who served 25 years on state, regional and national checkoff boards. Having sold his cows, he is no longer a board member, but helps with promotion.
Shaulis said the bottom line in dairy promotion is to sell more milk. He said total per-capita dairy consumption has grown since the 1980s, even though fluid milk sales have declined (Fig. 1). He also talked about trade missions to China and Southeast Asia.
“We are in a global market. One out of six loads of milk a day is exported, and we want to see that grow,” he said.
In addition to exports, Hershey said consumers are eating more dairy products, overall. “The National Dairy Council has funded 20 years of research on butter to get it back in the mainstream. We got butter into McDonalds in place of margarine, and 80% of McDonalds’ sales have a dairy ingredient in them,” she explained as an example of DMI’s partnership strategy.
By email, after the meeting, Hershey furnished the previously requested list of National Dairy Council research we will explore for a future edition.
However, a perusal of the science summaries section of National Dairy Council’s own website, where a few summaries are available, each download is prefaced with these words: “Low-fat and fat-free dairy foods are part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and American Heart Association (AHA) dietary recommendations. You can download our full report, which shows further support for consuming low-fat or fat-free dairy foods as recommended in the 2015 DGA.”
The website also talks about “nourishing communities,” about farm animal care and sustainability measures (FARM program) adopted and funded by checkoff dollars that tie in with the low-fat and fat-free dietary theme.
Undeniably Dairy replaces Real Seal
Cross-referenced to the National Dairy Council website is the Undeniably Dairy campaign. Hershey said this promotes positive messages to targeted audiences with school curriculum and through social media.
At this website, the “nourishing communities” theme continues as well as the reinforcement of low-fat and fat-free dairy.
Hershey provided a handout on Undeniably Dairy and said: “We are targeting the ‘conflicted health seeker’ with four messages: Responsibly produced, nutrient rich, locally driven, real enjoyment.”
“We want Undeniably Dairy to replace the Real Seal. That is the goal,” said Hershey. “We are combining MilkPEP’s ‘Love What’s Real’ campaign with our Undeniably Dairy campaign.”
The Real Seal was previously owned by UDIA / DMI, but it is now the property of National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). The Real Seal can only be used on milk and dairy products that contain real dairy ingredients, no imitation dairy ingredients and are made with milk produced and processed in the USA.
This posed a problem for DMI, since importers must pay a small checkoff fee for dairy promotion, so the dairy checkoff stopped promoting the Real Seal and came up with Undeniably Dairy two years ago.
Hershey fielded questions about the requirements for using the Undeniably Dairy Seal. How might those requirements differ from the Real Seal? She did not have the specifics and promised to get back with those details.
“We don’t just have a foot in the schools, we are IN the schools,” said Hershey. “Companies would kill to have what we have in the schools.”
The Northeast program is strong because there are seven football teams here so the program can affect a large number of kids in the Northeast, according to Hershey.
Asked what is on the breakfast carts, she said: “Yogurt, cheese, milk, fruits and vegetables, and some have smoothie machines.”
She said the Grab N Go Breakfast Carts have ice packs to keep the milk cold. She also stated that every dime ADA Northeast sends in to GENYOUth is returned to the Northeast region to fund FUTP60 and breakfast carts as well as other foodservice equipment grants to schools. (See ADA Northeast 2017 Annual Report here)
“We buy the carts, and we have multi-year contracts with the schools to keep milk on the carts,” said Hershey.
Acknowledging that the milk provided is fat-free or 1%, she stressed that, “As independent dairy producers, we can advocate for whole milk, but DMI, FUTP60, and GENYOUth cannot influence policy,” she explained.
“You have to go to your co-ops and Farm Bureau and G.T. Thompson to get that done. We can’t do it,” said Shaulis.
Shalis said the FUTP60 breakfast carts “absolutely sell more milk.”
He reported that 95,000 more children participated in school breakfast in 2018 compared with 2017. “That’s 95,000 more servings of milk since they have to take a milk.”
“But do they like it?” asked one farmer.
Hershey quickly replied: “It doesn’t matter if it’s 3%, 1%, 2% or 0%, they are getting the same nutrition. Even though they are not getting the fat content, they are getting the nutrients.”
A discussion of fat-soluble nutrients and bioavailability of nutrients ensued.
When asked if DMI, yes or no, believes 1% and fat-free milk are equal to whole milk, Hershey said: “We have no control over what we serve or promote in the schools. With that carton of 1% milk, we want children to know they are getting the nutrition, we can’t address the fat.”
When asked what DMI can do about 20-plus years of having the low-fat diet-heart hypothesis “forced on us,” Hershey’s reply was that, “It took 20 years to get here and it will take a while to turn it around.”
She informed the group that the American Heart Association has already written a letter to Congress signed by 18 health organizations protesting the House Bill 832: Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act.
“They are against the bill, so there is a battle in front of us,” Hershey said.
On the positive side, Hershey said farmers can thank Dr. Greg Miller, global chief science officer for the National Dairy Council, for his use of the research on full-fat dairy. She also said dairy farmers can thank the dairy scientists in each partnering company’s kitchen as DMI develops new products for Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Domino’s and McDonalds.
Beyond the fat
“Lots of things with school milk need changing, not just the fat,” said Hershey as she dove into the innovations side of DMI’s strategy.
“I appreciate that the fat content is your focus, but it has to be the right temperature, delivered correctly and packaged correctly,” she said. “We are working on this with processors.”
She said that giving high school teens the same packaging as kindergarteners doesn’t fly. She cited research showing that when schools switched from paper cartons to plastic bottles, milk sales grew by double-digits in the first year, and waste was down by 20% in those schools.
“School milk got a lot of discussion there,” Hershey reported. “But, let’s not get lost in this whole milk point. There is a huge price difference (between whole milk and 1% or fat-free), and school contracts are lost by one-quarter of a penny per carton.”
Some of the farmers in attendance said that didn’t matter unless other beverages can compete for those contracts. The bottom line would be whole milk going into the schools.
Time was also spent talking about the trend toward smaller containers and ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization. “All the milk in Europe is UHT, and it tastes good,” said Shaulis.
Some of the farmers in the room disagreed, sharing their concerns that UHT leaves a less valuable product nutritionally and in flavor. To which, Hershey and Shaulis said the entire food industry is going that way, and there’s nothing they can do about that.
“What we have to try to do (in promotion) is stand by the value milk has and promote what we are able to promote,” said Hershey.
She shared figures showing that overall fluid milk sales represent 18% of total milk production: “79% of consumers are not eating meals as a family. Everything is grab and go. That’s where we need to be,” said Hershey. “We have to meet consumers where they are with our innovation and packaging.”
Citing fairlife, she explained how “that product came through our fluid milk committee, and now others are following. Darigold has a new high protein ‘fitness’ drink. DFA has a couple things coming out under the Live Real Farms label. Kroger and Shamrock are coming out with beverages – all this year. These products have a lot of milk in them,” she said.
Farmers learned that these new products are not Class I products. They are largely Class II.
“We partner on these products,” said Hershey. “We give money for research. They do the product research. We only contribute to the research to try and get the innovation out there in order to survive.”
“We gave up on selling milk. ‘Got Milk’ did nothing,” Shaulis added. “Generic milk advertising doesn’t work.”
Farmers wanted more statistics to back up this claim, and they referenced the overwhelming reaction among consumers to the 97 Milk Baleboards and campaign done voluntarily at a grassroots level, starting in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania with signs and baleboards now in five states and spreading nationwide and internationally through the website and social media.
Hershey did share the news that retail data show whole milk sales grew more in the first quarter of 2019 than the already higher whole milk sales in 2018.
She later sent an email stating that in the Northeast, retail sales data show 40% of fluid milk sales are coming from whole milk sales. She also reported that, nationally, whole milk sales as a percentage of total fluid milk sales rose from 29.7% in 2014 to 39.3% currently.
As one farmer noted, “DMI has done a good job promoting cheese, what we are asking for is more focus on fluid whole milk than we are seeing now.”
Hershey had explained that the national checkoff boards are represented geographically by milk volume.
Some wondered if making the checkoff voluntary would allow them to put money into promoting local whole milk, and to take on the imitations head-to-head without the restrictive oversight of USDA.
“It’s all or nothing. That’s how the whole world of checkoff programs work,” said Shaulis. “These farmers on the board look at every penny spent, and they look at what is best for the industry while regions look at what is best for their region.”
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Cover Commentary, April 26, 2019
I have been following and writing about the nutrition exploits of the National School Lunch Program since 1994. At that time, my children were in school, and I served as an elected director of the Eastern Lancaster County School Board.
Today, I continue the fight because I see the effects. I am a grandmother. I have been on this soapbox whether milk prices are high or low, though some say I’m just conjuring up devisive issue because of low milk prices.
My track record on this issue is 25-years-long-and-solid.
The problem started surfacing in the mid-90s when the low-fat / high-carb nutrition dogma became firmly entrenched, and big food brands were pushing low-fat versions that contained – you guessed it – more sugar and concentrated high fructose corn syrup.
The situation became progressively worse through the 2000’s as the government began tightening its vice-grip — as one foodservice director at the time put it — “forcing us to serve the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet to growing kids.”
Foodservice directors who piloted the USDA software for the nutrient standard menu planning said it would be an obesity disaster in the making. They correctly noted that when fat is removed from diets, carbs and sweetener take its place.
There are three things that give food calories for sustaining life: Fat, carbs and protein. There are two calorie-providing elements that give food its flavor: Sugar and fat.
By excessively reducing fat, the flavor of the meals and the milk is reduced, and children are pushed toward more sugar and less feelings of fullness.
By removing whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, we now have 10-year-olds with ‘hunger pangs during math class.’ Sen. Stabenow recognized this, but she doesn’t grasp why. She sees the solution as more of the same: Just find ways to get more kids enrolled to eat even less of what’s good for them.
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act made “historic changes” alright. Bad ones. It dealt our nation’s dairy farmers and children the final blow. It limited the calories of the total meal, tightened the saturated fat limits, and required only fat-free and 1% milk or fat-free flavored milk be served along with offerings of fruit juice and water. It also increased the carb counts.
What our government leaders and USDA nutrition elite bureaucracy think is progress is actually regression. Sen. Stabenow says ‘don’t go backwards.’ But our children are already going backwards as nutrient dense foods are limited.
I find it amazing that our political leaders can sit in committee examining childhood nutrition programs costing $30 billion in reauthorization and talk about the nutritional crisis our nation is facing that affects our national security and yet claim that the 2010 Act brought “progress”, saying “don’t backtrack”.
In essence, our leaders believe the problem is not enough kids are enrolled in the programs that they have ruined!
Instead of hiring market research firms to find out how to get more participation, change the program. Apply some logic.
The School Lunch and later breakfast programs began when the military in the 1940s saw malnutrition as a national security issue among recruits. At that time, the biggest thing the school lunch program did was to make sure children received whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, real food. And yes, we ate our vegetables, they had real butter or cheese on them!
We sailed along until Dr. Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota, and his now heavily-challenged hypothesis, became the darling of the American Heart Association. By the 1980s, it was intrenched. Other rigorous science was bullied and buried.
By the 1990s, school lunch rules became more intrusive in reducing fat and increasing carbs.
By the 2000s, schools had to submit their menus for approval or run them through USDA software for percent-of-calories-from-fat analysis. School foodservice directors admitted to serving more dessert to replace the calories lost from nutrient-dense fats and proteins, but they used applesauce, more sugar and high fructose corn syrup — instead of butter and eggs — to make those cakes, cookies and brownies.
In 2010, the government limited the lunch calories, tightened the saturated fat limits, and outright forbade serving 2% or whole milk in schools.
Don’t our leaders see that we keep making a bad situation worse because we can’t admit that it’s time to backtrack?
Now our military says recruits are too obese to serve. We are facing a new national security threat. This is no joke.
When will our nation have a full airing of the science? When will we backtrack from a hypothesis disproven?
Since the 1990s — and even moreso since 2010 — our children are served increasingly less of less, and we have a USDA and a Congress that want to stay on this road and just make sure more of us travel it. In fact, while USDA representatives told Congress last week that they don’t want schools and states to have to be ‘food police’, they admitted they look at ‘competing foods’ to see that kids aren’t leaving the lunch line to eat or drink something else on campus.
Pennsylvania and other states will not allow various FFA groups to put in whole milk vending machines and manage them as a fundraiser, or they must be locked during school hours in order not to “compete” with what government is literally forcing down our children’s throats, or into the trash can.
If the federal government won’t do what’s right, then get out of the way and let our communities decide how to feed our children. Stop ruling from the ivory tower that “looks and listens” but fails to act. Change the Guidelines. Face it. Do it. Now, before it’s too late.
Military insights suggest backtracking, but disappointing answers given on school lunch and milk fat
By Sherry Bunting,Farmshine, April 26, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last time a childhood nutrition authorization was passed by Congress was in 2010: The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. A decade later, the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing last Wednesday (April 10) on perspectives in childhood nutrition.
Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said this is the first step in the reauthorization of the $30 billion in mandatory and discretionary childhood nutrition programs he wants examined and passed this year.
The hearing panels included representatives of federal agencies, state and community food programs, and the national childhood health program.
Most of the discussion centered on ways to streamline programs, increase enrollment that has been declining since 2010, and provide more flexibility.
There were a few eye-opening highlights and some discussion related to milk.
Chairman Roberts said in his opening statement: “One size fits all does not work for all.
Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stated that, “Whether it’s a mother getting enough calcium to insure healthy bones for her baby, or making sure a 10-year-old isn’t fighting hunger pains in math class, child nutrition is about building a stronger future. It’s also important to our national security.”
Stabenow then revealed how and why the National School Lunch Program began 80 years ago, and what the concerns are today — two decades after the saturated fat limitations were introduced and a decade after the last reauthorization under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, when the screws were further tightened on milk choices and other aspects in 2009-10.
“Interestingly, the National School Lunch program was created in the 1940s because General Lewis Hershey came before Congress to explain that recruits were being rejected due to malnutrition,” said Stabenow.
“Today, over 750 retired Generals, and other military leaders, are sounding alarm bells again, this time because young adults are too overweight to serve,” she stated. “With 14% of children as young as 2 showing signs of obesity, we have to address this issue early and everywhere.”
That said, Sen. Stabenow touted the “tremendous progress in the past 20 years in schools and daycares. It is vital to move forward, not backward,” she stated, while in her next breath saying that “obesity in adolescents continues to rise while over 12 million kids do not have enough to eat.”
She touted the need for greater enrollment in the National School Lunch Program so kids can have access to that “better” lunch, breakfast, after school snacks and even supper. She talked about a “veggie van” driving out into communities. She cited the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program as critical to first stages of life.
But when her opening statement was said-and-done, Sen. Stabenow again touted “the progress made in 2010” and said several times “we don’t want to backtrack while streamlining these programs.”
Toward the end of the session, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) brought up “the science of milk” and addressed his question specifically to Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a pediatrician who is director of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.
It was not surprising that the most important question of the day got the most disappointing and predictable answer.
After hearing Dr. Falusi present her comments about how early childhood diets are responsible for critical programming of lifelong metabolism, brain development, and educational outcomes, Sen. Casey addressed Dr. Falusi as follows:
“There’s been much discussion in Pennsylvania about the ability of schools to serve whole milk to students. What does ‘the science’ say about the appropriate levels of whole milk consumption?” the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania asked.
Predictably, Dr. Falusi replied: “As a pediatrician, I recommend to my patients that they drink water or low-fat or fat-free milk. We know that milk has many benefits from protein and calcium and Vitamin D. We also know, though, that lower fat and lower sugar in diets are healthier for children.”
Dr. Falusi continued matter-of-factly: “What we would admonish, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that the standards for school nutrition programs — including the type of milk served — really be based on the science, and the science is that lower fat and lower sugar are what we should be advocating for children. And we do encourage the USDA to rely on the nutrition experts and to look at a number of studies for those guidelines.”
Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked about students turning to competitive foods when the school lunch does not appeal or satisfy. She addressed her concern to USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps.
Lipps replied that the government seeks a balance between the school lunch and “competing foods” allowed on campus. He also noted they are “looking to see that kids are not leaving the school lunch line to buy competitive foods elsewhere on campus. But we’re not making the schools or states be the food police.”
Sen. Fischer asked: What are the foodservice professionals telling you? Are kids eating the school lunches?
Lipps replied that the “schools are very positive on the flexibilities in the final rule… It’s not a major change, just a comfort in long-term planning. Schools have to buy a long way out to plan their menus in the way that we require them to do. So they’re glad to have finality on the flexibility” (for example, they have flexibility to serve 1% flavored milk instead of only fat-free).
In response to the suggestion that the nutrition standards are “no good.” Lipps stated that, “We put in a calorie limit in 2009, and if the kids don’t eat half the food on their plate, and if they are getting half of the maximum calories that we provide them, if that’s happening, then that’s a problem.”
USDA is monitoring this, said Lipps: “As you know, the same is true, particularly with milk and the nutrients that it provides, so we are going to continue to listen and see if further flexibility is needed on that front.”
Repeatedly, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was cited for making “historic changes” that led to “greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as encouraged by USDA.” But at the same time, panelists repeatedly said fewer eligible families and children use the programs today compared with before 2010, and that obesity and diabetes and hunger are rising in our youth.
When asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) about school waste related to the 2010 changes, USDA Under Secretary Lipp said flexibility in the final rule on whole grains, sodium and 1% low-fat flavored milk went a long way toward changing that.
“I don’t think we have anyone telling us we need a major change in the nutrition meal pattern requirements for the school meal, but they do want flexibility,” said Lipp.
Sen. Ernst also noted the concerns about portion sizes being the same for a first-grader as an eighth-grader. “School foodservice professionals say they want the flexibility to vary it,” she said. “Right now, booster clubs are bringing in food for athletes who are not getting enough. And with mandated portions and mandated nutrition requirements, we are seeing a lot of food waste, what can USDA do?”
Lipp replied that USDA will continue to “look and listen.”
Josh Mathismeier, Director of Nutritional Services for Kansas City public schools and Mike Halligan, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Banks, based in Lexington, Kentucky, said participation would increase if they could take the food to the people instead of forcing the people to congregate to access the food.
Some states have actually hired market research firms to do focus groups with eligible families to learn how to increase their enrollment.
The 2016 report touts a $5 to $1 return, but here is a deeper look. More transparency needed, sought
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 5, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. — USDA released the 2016 Dairy Checkoff Report to Congress on April 1, and it focuses on quantifying the return dairy farmers received for their 15 cents per hundredweight — over $320 million collected annually — in mandatory checkoff investment.
Well, not really.
The headliner is that farmers received a $5 to $1 return on their promotion dollars. But let’s look a little deeper.
The $5 to $1 return is an evaluation made by the independent analysis of Texas A&M based on the dollars spent on “demand enhancing” and “promotion” activities, not a return on investment calculated on all dollars mandatorily invested by dairy farmers.
Digging into the charts, this puts the evaluated dollars at around $250 million, and that includes the processor funds in the MilkPEP program. The total dairy farmer checkoff of 15 cents per hundredweight amounts to $320 million annually and the MilkPEP processor funds are close to $94 million annually, according to the report.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to bring transparency to checkoff programs for all farm commodities. The bill — Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act — was reintroduced a week ago by U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
According to an advocate of the bill — the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) — the OFF Act would put an end to the “most egregious abuses” committed by the boards and contractors of the federally mandated commodity checkoff programs.
OCM states that, “Checkoff programs have fallen under the control of commodity trade organizations representing global agribusiness interests,” noting that “farmers are struggling amidst increasing consolidation, low commodity prices, and excess supply. Net farm income is at a 19-year low. Along with recent trade disruptions and natural disasters, such as the flooding in the Midwest, the last thing farmers want or need is their tax dollars working against them.”
The OFF Act is intended to “rein-in conflicts of interest” and “stop anti-competitive activities” by forcing checkoff programs to publish their budgets and undergo periodic audits so that farmers and ranchers know where their mandatory checkoff dollars are going. It would also stop federally-mandated checkoff dollars from being transferred to parties that seek to influence government policies on ag issues and increase the transparency of the individual boards’ actions by shedding light on how these funds are spent and the purpose of the spending.
In light of this new bill, let’s look at the 2016 Dairy Checkoff Report to Congress released on April 1.
According to the 2016 Report’s executive summary, “… the combined effects of 2016 promotion activities on the consumption of fluid milk, cheese, butter, all dairy products, and dairy exports includes benefit cost ratios (BCRs) for dairy producers, dairy importers and fluid milk processors. For every dollar invested in demand-enhancing activities, the BCRs for producers were: 1) fluid milk $4.11, 2) cheese $4.81, and 3) butter $22.74, 4) exports $8.10. The BCR for fluid milk processors attributed to fluid milk promotion activities is $3.73. And the aggregate BCR on every ‘demand-enhancing’ dollar spent was calculated at $4.78.
Putting those BCR’s in perspective, the 2016 Report totaled the mandatory dairy promotion contributions at $415 million, of which $94 million was contributed by the Milk Processors Education and Promotion Program (MilkPEP), which are the funds paid by fluid milk processors for fluid milk promotion.
When looking at the graphs accompanying this report — since the report does not include the raw data points for 2016 — the total amount of domestic dairy demand-enhancing funds from which the BCRs (aka returns on investment) were calculated, comes out to around $250 million for the year. And a large chunk of that came from the fluid milk processors (over $80 mil).
From 1996 through 2016, the amount of money collected topped $7 billion, according to the report.
During those 20 years, the dollars spent on “demand-enhancing” activities for fluid milk have declined, and the fluid milk sales have declined also. Of the roughly $110 million spent on fluid milk demand-enhancing activities in 2016, most of those dollars came from MilkPEP generic promotion.
Also, keep in mind that the fluid milk sector is the sector held most notably to the standard of “government speech” in its “allowable” promotion i.e. the low-fat and fat-free USDA Dietary Guidelines that have precipitated the decline in fluid milk consumption.
In fact, whole milk sales rose in 2016 while the entire fluid milk category fell. But whole milk was not promoted with any of the producer or processor promotion funds overseen by USDA and evaluated in this report. Consumers chose whole milk based on external factors that are driving the discussion of fats and proteins in the diet.
The fastest growing demand-sectors in recent years include butter. The 2016 Report to Congress states that farmers received a $22 to $1 benefit cost ratio (BCR, aka return on investment) in that category.
That looks really great, right?
But again, this is based on the amount of “demand enhancing” funds actually spent on butter promotion in 2016 — right around $8 million for the year — the lowest category of all product promotion sectors to receive promotional funding, but the fastest rising in demand and value.
Put simply: Very little of the dairy farmer’s promotion funds (less than 2% of total checkoff funds) were used to promote butter, but sales have risen so fast in that category that the return on investment seems to be quite impressive. The “return” may have nothing to do with the “investment” under this scenario.
Meanwhile, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has continued consolidating the way it uses its national share of individual farms’ mandatory checkoff funds through business-to-business (B2B) partnerships where the goal is to influence the amount of dairy utilized by the top restaurant chains, pizza chains, and other foodservice companies in what they offer to consumers. This may become increasingly important as the government dietary guidelines and other factors pressure companies to use more plant-based options. But the drawback is that this B2B use of dollars feeds into further consolidation of the industry in terms of geographic winners and losers.
The key to looking at the 2016 Report’s BCR (returns on investment) calculations is the choices consumers are making where they actually have choices. Consumers are choosing whole milk and full-fat dairy at rising rates. Where they don’t have a choice, the low-fat and fat-free versions are enforced and offered. So while $110 million might have been spent by farmers and processors to enhance fluid milk demand, precious little, if any, has been used to promote the whole milk message due to USDA oversight of all advertising messages.
Part of the other half of checkoff funds not included in the “demand enhancing” and “promotion” BCR (return on investment) calculation is in dollars funneled toward the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
What is the Innovation Center, farmers wonder?
The Innovation Center is the part of DMI that is considered “pre-competitive.” This includes new product development, like fairlife.
The Innovation Center also includes the FARM program that governs animal care standards and is increasingly seen as a methodical tool to control and cull dairy farmers by management style. Dairy producer checkoff funds have paid for the FARM program through DMI’s Innovation Center even though National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) implements and administers FARM with DMI paying NMPF for certain services and NMPF paying DMI for other services.
The Innovation Center also includes the “sustainability” standards being set for FARM in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to streamline the dairy “industry” for WWF’s sustainability stamp-of-approval.
Both links are housed by WWF’s website and WWF is also working in alliance with the beef checkoff to set sustainability parameters for U.S. cattlemen as well.
Meanwhile, HSUS is among the proponents of the OFF legislation introduced by Senators a week ago. This is the counter we here, how farm organizations seeking competitive markets are working on the same side with HSUS.
For the record, Dairy Checkoff and Beef Checkoff are working with WWF, and WWF is barely one step away from HSUS in terms of having an anti-animal-use agenda.
Both organizations seek to greatly decrease, or end, the use of animals for food, work, etc., and they seek the re-wilding of lands where farmers and ranchers have gone out of business to accumulate massive sanctuaries for wild animal proliferation while working in close partnership with EAT Lancet-supporting companies to shift the U.S. diet away from animal products to plant-and-laboratory-based-imitations.
What is missing in the “sustainability” discussion that farmers are helping to pay for with their checkoff dollars through their dairy and beef boards is the truth that the plants need the animals and the animals need the plants and we humans need them both for healthy bodies and a healthy planet.
What is also missing is the food security and regional economics of the food industry consolidation that is occurring in the name of “sustainability” through the very checkoff-funded “sustainability” programs that are being developed to appease groups like WWF.
If companies want to consolidate and streamline this way, that’s free market enterprise. They are free to do so. But should farmer checkoff funds be helping to pay for it?
For example, dairy farmer checkoff funds were used — according to the 2016 Report to Congress — to develop a variety of programs aimed at transforming the industry. This has been going on since 2009, according to the Report.
This means a portion of the dairy farmer checkoff funds collected from all dairy farmers on all milk from 2009 through 2016 has gone into developing programs that are not considered demand-enhancing and that are — in effect — picking winners and losers within the dairy farming sector.
These funds have been used to implement aspects of FARM in animal care and environmental sustainability.
These funds have been used to launch programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the dairy supply chain, including a “fleet smart” program that touts its ability to help processors and cooperatives transform their trucking and distribution.
Read that sentence again. What does it mean?
Dairy farmers have funded — through mandatory checkoff — the development of the very programs that are streamlining and consolidating their industry in the name of so-called “sustainability.” As proprietary and co-op processors adapt the transportation and distribution ‘fleet smart’ modules, farmers are, in essence, paying for that with checkoff funds and other assessments put on them by their cooperatives, and in turn, those transformations make some farms desirable and others undesirable simply by size or location.
The invisible hand of the free market picks winners and losers. But in this case, should mandatory dairy farmer checkoff funds be the helping hand to pay for that? To pay for their own demise, in some cases?
It is interesting also to know that USDA is paid for its extensive time and costs to do all of this oversight – paid by these funds to keep the troops in line on toting government speech, among other things.
Here is how the 2016 Report to Congress describes USDA oversight:
“USDA has oversight responsibility for the dairy and fluid milk promotion programs. The oversight objectives ensure the boards and qualifying partners (QPs) properly account for all program funds and administer the programs in accordance with the respective acts and orders and USDA guidelines and policies. USDA reviewed and approved all board budgets, contracts, and advertising materials. USDA employees attended all board and committee meetings, monitored all board activities, and were responsible for obtaining an independent evaluation of the programs. Additional USDA responsibilities include nominating and appointing board members, amending the orders, conducting referenda, assisting with noncompliance cases, and conducting periodic program management reviews. The boards reimbursed the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, as required by the acts, for all of USDA’s costs of program oversight and for the independent analysis.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.