Dean pays independents for April milk, owes millions to co-ops, USDA FMMOs, MilkPEP

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The Dean Foods product lineup as pictured on its website just prior to the November 2019 bankruptcy filing and May 2020 sale.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 12, 2020

HOUSTON, Tex. — Dairy producers who ship milk independently to any of the former Dean Foods’ 57 milk plants began receiving their final payments for April milk on Monday, June 8. These were the payments due from Dean debtor in possession (DIP) in mid-May that became part of the administrative expenses in the post-sale proceedings of the Southern Foods Group (Dean Foods) bankruptcy in the Southern District Court of Texas.

Several dairy producers in several states confirmed to Farmshine Tuesday that they received these  payments. Furthermore, their May advance payments were timely made by the new owners of the former Dean plants — namely DFA and Prairie Farms.

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) staff also confirmed late Tuesday that, “All Pennsylvania independent Dean producers have been paid what was due them for April.”

For its part, the PMMB staff had initially begun the process of auditing non-payments in preparation of filing bond claims. Seven of Dean’s plants are licensed and bonded in Pennsylvania – a requirement to buy milk from farms in the state. This includes four plants in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey, one in New York and one in Ohio.

The PMMB quickly shifted gears early this week from auditing non-payments to auditing the payments to independent producers, and as conveyed, found that producers received what was due.

The PMMB staff also indicated they are completing their auditing of what is still owed to milk cooperatives. If payments to cooperatives are not received, PMMB will file the necessary bond claims for any Pennsylvania cooperative milk that remains unpaid by the Dean bankruptcy estate.

Nationwide, independent producers have been paid, but cooperatives are still owed for April milk as of June 10.

In addition, USDA AMS Dairy Programs in Washington replied Tuesday, June 9 that, “USDA has not received payment from Dean (DIP) for April producer settlement funds owed.”

USDA had previously indicated that not only were the pool funds outstanding, Dean had also not paid the FMMOs for producer marketing services, transportation credits and administrative service in nine Federal Orders. Dean Foods is fully regulated in all Federal Orders except for the Pacific Northwest and Arizona.

In mid-May, USDA reported that, “handlers were notified via memorandum of the non-payment and the pro-ration of the available producer settlement monies.”

The loss of Dean’s Class I contributions to Federal Order settlement funds from 57 plants regulated in nine Federal Orders would decrease the blend price paid to all producers in those areas — under normal conditions — by reducing the pool funds drawn by handlers for other class uses. Several cooperatives are handling the loss of pool funds from back in Oct./Nov., and potentially April, by way of milk check deductions that will continue until the pool shortfalls are covered.

In an email response this week to Farmshine, USDA AMS Dairy Programs confirmed that, “No claims for these April producer settlement funds have been filed with the bankruptcy court because the April Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) obligations are post-bankruptcy debts and are recouped through the post-bankruptcy process.”

The post-bankruptcy process involves the Dean estate’s plan being filed with the court outlining how it will pay its vendors (including USDA producer settlement funds) as it winds down operations of the estate. According to USDA, Dean has notified the court that it will file the payment plan by August 3.

How much is owed for April milk to the USDA FMMO producer settlement funds across the U.S. is deemed proprietary information, according to USDA, and “it has not yet been aggregated with appropriate redactions and cannot be released at this time.”

However, some milk cooperative sources handling only manufacturing class milk in the Northeast and Mideast are pegging their losses from these unpaid April settlement funds to be upwards of 30% of the blend price.

In addition to the missed payments to FMMO settlement funds for April, USDA confirmed in an email that it filed proofs of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding for monies owed prior to the bankruptcy filing for October and mid-November 2019 milk marketings.

“Those proofs of claim (for Oct./Nov. 2019) totaled $13.8 million for monies owed to producer settlement fund, marketing service, administrative, and transportation credit funds, as well as the Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Program. The proof of claim documents were filed on April 21, 2020 and can be viewed on the Dean Foods Restructuring website,” USDA stated in an email response this week.

With more than 3000 documents on the Southern Foods Group bankruptcy docket, a search of claims did yield more than two dozen separate proof of claim filings by USDA on April 21, including information showing that Dean owes $3.1 million for Oct./Nov. 2019 to the Fluid Milk Processor Education and Promotion Program (MilkPEP). Fluid milk processors are obligated by USDA to pay 20 cents per hundredweight into this fluid milk promotion fund.

It is unclear how much of what was due the cooperatives back in Oct./Nov. 2019 is also upaid, but proofs of claim filed in March 2020 by milk cooperatives peg the largest amounts owed from last fall at $103.4 million to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA); around $14 million to Southeast Milk (SMI); and over $7 million to Land O’Lakes. The link to claims documents on the Southern Foods Group bankruptcy docket can be found at https://dm.epiq11.com/case/dnf/claims

As for what is owed to USDA for April 2020, it is difficult to estimate an amount based on the proof of claims filed for Oct./Nov. 2019 because COVID-19 disruptions completely altered the milk marketing landscape in April.

While Class I sales were much higher in April 2020 compared with October and November 2019, the Class I base price was $5.00 per hundredweight lower in April vs. Oct./Nov. Also, the amount of milk diverted to the lowest class “dumpage and other use” category for April was enormous – at 350 million pounds across all Federal Orders, this was up 960% from a year ago and represented almost 2% of the entire U.S. milk supply in April (see related story in next week’s edition of Farmshine).

These factors would most assuredly reduce the Dean settlement fund obligations to the FMMOs for April 2020 as compared with “normal conditions”. However, the marketing, transportation credits and MilkPEP checkoff obligations were likely higher in April than last fall.

Producers and state and federal sources indicate that the remaining skeleton staff for Dean Foods, post-sale, has been helpful in keeping lines of communication open. Each step of the way, independent producers, producer groups, state boards and others received information about the process and its potential timelines.

In the case of the independent shippers, at least, the Dean estate paid them the first week of June after letters were sent the week prior, indicating potential payment by mid-June.

State and regional organizations, such as Farm Bureaus, milk marketing boards, state departments of agriculture, and others had written letters to the bankruptcy court and the Dean estate, and articles about the unfolding situation had also been provided, leading up to Dean’s communication with producers and ultimately these payments to independent shippers being made.

As well, the bankruptcy court docket, hearing process, and bidding process seem to have been transparent, for the most part, albeit extremely complex.

In spite of this transparency, bidders other than Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) were not privy to details needed about payables for some of the Dean plants – information that was critical to putting together financing for potential bids. Furthermore, the 44-plant lump-bid by DFA provided an edge to win plants that had multiple contending bidders by lumping them together with plants that had no contending bidders.

What remains unclear is how the more than $100 million dollars, Dean owes to DFA will be handled in relation to DFA’s purchase of substantially most of Dean’s plants and assets at a price of $433 million. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the sale, with the stipulation that three plants located in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts be divested.

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The map of Dean Foods plants as provided by Dean Foods after its bankruptcy filing last November juxtaposed with the map of DFA plants — both wholly owned and affiliated — according to locations listed as such or otherwise publicly available.

Through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy sale process, which was consummated the first week of May 2020, 44 of Dean Foods’ 57 milk plants (including all seven licensed to buy milk from Pennsylvania farms) were acquired by DFA, the nation’s largest milk cooperative, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas accounting for one-third of the U.S. raw milk supply with members nationwide and sales nationally and internationally. DFA was Dean’s largest milk supplier and the Dean accounts represented DFA’s largest milk buyer, according to court documents.

Eight Dean plants and other assets were acquired by Prairie Farms, a milk cooperative headquartered in Edwardsville, Illinois with members as far south and east as Kentucky to as far north and west as Minnesota, marketing products in at least 14 states. Several years ago, DFA and Prairie Farms jointly purchased and incorporated the previously family-owned Hiland Dairy Foods, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, with its 17 fluid milk and dairy plants and 51 distribution centers that together stretch through the Heartland from Texas to South Dakota.

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‘GHG Guru’ talks about cows as key to ‘climate neutrality’

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Innovation in the face of disruption, that was one of the themes of the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience last week. In fact, Alltech CEO and president Dr. Mark Lyons talked about how innovation has been the driving force behind 35 years of the annual “ideas conference”.

This year, due to COVID-19 preventing the conference from happening in-person, innovation turned the ONE conference into a virtual experience for the first time with participation by over 23,000 people from 144 countries.

“We live in a time of great opportunity, we have younger people asking questions, and when farmers get those questions, they should answer them and not defer,” said Dr. Frank Mitloehner. Friday’s ONE keynote speaker.

Dr. Mitloehner is a University of California-Davis animal science professor and air quality specialist as well as world renown greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions expert. He talked on his favorite subject: “Clearing the air: Debunking the myths of agriculture.”

Mitloehner is a foremost authority on air quality emissions and how to mitigate them within the context of livestock and agriculture, and he is an integral part of a benchmarking project for the environmental footprint for livestock.

The project he deems most important of his career is “getting animal agriculture to a place where we consider it climate neutral,” he said, adding that climate was top-of-mind before COVID-19, and will be again. “There’s a lot of interest in this.”

But the path to climate neutrality begins with proper accounting for methane and how it behaves in the biogenic cycle.

“The one missing entity is the media on this,” said Mitloehner. “We are seeing a major new narrative about animal agriculture and the accurate quantifying of methane, but it is problematic that media are not reporting about it.”

Despite lack of media coverage, Mitloehner expects the new narrative to take hold.

He gave a vivid example of why accurate measurement is needed. Speaking in Ireland recently, he compared photos of the Emerald Isle to photos of Los Angeles to photos of a coal-fired power plant in Europe.

Ireland is so green, with pastures, hedges and forages everywhere, he said. But the way carbon is conventionally quantified, Ireland would have the largest carbon footprint of the three examples.

“But the change in how we perceive GHG is materializing as we speak. We have to think about methane not just produced but also degraded, and how GHG is sequestered,” Mitloehner explained.

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In the old way of quantifying carbon by looking at methane budgets (left side of graphic), not only are methane’s short-lived properties as a ‘flow gas’ ignored, but also the sequestration (shown on the right side) provided by agriculture and forestry as part of a biogenic cycle. Screenshot from Friday’s keynote presentation by Dr. Frank Mitloehner during Alltech’s ONE Virtual Conference.

Using the old way, “They don’t think of sectors like forestry and agriculture serving as a sink for GHG,” he said, comparing the three GHGs — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — in terms of their heat trapping capacity.

“So they look at methane and translate it to a CO2 equivalent. That’s what people have been doing since 1990,” he said. “At that time, scientists had several footnotes and caveats, but they were cut off and people ran with the slides without the footnotes. That is a dangerous situation that has gotten animal agriculture into a lot of trouble actually.”

He explained that CO2 is a long-lived climate pollutant, whereas methane is short lived. Methane is different. Unfortunately, when methane emissions are calculated globally for sectors each year, they don’t consider the whole picture.

“If we don’t get this question right, and the livestock moves, then we have ‘leakage,’” he said. “Most people add it up and stop discussion there, but they shouldn’t. On the right side of the graph are these sinks, and they amount to a respectable total, so the net methane per year is a fraction of the total number they are using.”

Another difference is the life span of these gases. CO2 lives 1000 years, nitrous oxide hundreds of years, methane 10 years, Mitloehner explained. “The methane our cows put out will be gone after 10 years, it is produced and destroyed.”

Dr. Mark Lyons brought up all the talk about “planetary diets” and the “spin and marketing” of eating for you and the planet.

Mitloehner said “the inference of diet on environment is greatly overplayed for PR purposes. The impacts are much lower than some people say who want to sell their alternatives. If and when comparing food groups, it must be done fairly. A pound of beef has a different footprint than a pound of lettuce, but it also has a vastly different nutritional profile.”

Another example he gave was dairy vs. almond juice. “Using the old way of assessing the impact of dairy milk, it is 10 times greater, but almond juice has a 17 times greater water footprint. You can make any food shine, but drill into it and there is no silver bullet. People will continue to eat animal sourced foods and the sound argument is to allow us to produce what people need and crave in the lowest impact possible and that is the route we are going.”

The good news, he said, is that for every one vegan, there are five former vegans. The retention is not good.

He talked the virtual ONE attendees through the process of where carbon comes from and where it ends up. This is why GHG from livestock are significantly different from other sources such as fossil fuel.

Plants need sunlight, carbon in the form of CO2, which is made into carbohydrate, cellulose or starch, ingested by the cow into the rumen where some of it is converted into methane. And after a decade, that methane is converted back into CO2 needed by the plants to make carbohydrate.

“The carbon from our methane originates in the atmosphere, goes through plants, to animals, to air, and again, on repeat,” said Mitloehner.

In this biogenic cycle, if there are constant livestock herds, “then you are not adding carbon to the atmosphere, it is all recycled,” he explained. “What I’m saying here doesn’t mean methane doesn’t matter, but the question really is: Do our livestock herds add to additional methane for additional warming, and the answer is NO.”

This is a total change in the narrative around livestock, and it will be the narrative in the years to come, according to Mitloehner. Because dairy and beef herds have declined so much since the 1950s and 1970s — producing more animal protein at the same time, “We have not caused an increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere but have decreased the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere,” said Mitloehner.

The difference between animal agriculture and fossil fuels is a cycle vs. a one-way street.

“Each time you drive to work, you put CO2 into the atmosphere that lasts 1000 years, and it is a stock gas that adds up each day,” Mitloener said. “Everytime we put it in the atmosphere we add to the existing stock. This is why the curve always goes up, because it is a long-lived climate pollutant. Methane on the other hand is flow gas. Cows can put in the air Monday, but on Tuesday a similar amount that is put in is also being taken out. By having a constant number of cows, you are not adding methane into the atmosphere. The only time you add is throughout the first 10 years of its existence or by increasing herd size.”

He quoted researchers from Oxford University who are also communicating this science and technical papers to the public. But again, the media in general are ignoring it.

What really gets Mitloehner energized are the concepts like biogas and use of it as a renewable fuel in vehicles, for example, and other technologies where dairy and livestock operations can take their climate neutrality and turn it into a cooling effect by counteracting the warming caused by other sectors.

“The current way of accounting for it is a flawed way of looking at it, because it does not account for the fact that keeping methane stable, the amount of warming added is actually zero,” he said. And this is where to build incentive to make up for other sectors that are actively adding to the warming.

“If we were to reduce methane, we could induce cooling,” he said. “We have the ability to do that. This is how agriculture, especially animal agriculture, can be the solution to the warming caused by other sectors of the economy and life.”

Mitloehner measures to quantify the impact of mitigation technologies to see if we can get to that point of reducing other emissions. He talked about California law mandating reduction of methane by 40% by 2030.

“They’ve reduced by 20%, using the carrot instead of the stick. The state incentivizes the financing of technologies that mitigate,” said Mitloehner. “We are now at 25% of the 40% total reduction. If we can do it here, it can be done in other parts of the country and the world… and it means our livestock sector will be on the path of climate neutrality.”

If you have a ‘beef’ with GHG reporting, contact Dr. Mitloehner on Twitter. You can follow him there @GHGGuru. He urges farmers to get involved, get engaged.

— By Sherry Bunting

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Passionate volunteers take 97 Milk effort to next level

New website and online store launched

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The 97milk.com website has a whole new look, new options, more content, and a new online store for ordering whole milk promotion and educational items.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 5, 2020

EPHRATA, Pa. — Just in time for June Dairy Month 2020, the 97milk.com website has been revamped to include more information, more milk facts, new activities for children, more recipes, an area for farmers about forming chapters, and most exciting, a new online store that makes ordering 97 Milk materials easy.

“We knew the old site was outdated. Ordering needs to be easy for people. Now, whether it’s one item or 500, it’s all at your fingertips,” says Jackie Behr, marketing manager for R&J Dairy Consulting. She serves on the 97 Milk LLC board of directors, and she volunteers her time managing the website and social media, including the online store, as well as designing many of the education and promotion items.

It has been 15 months since a group of dairy farmers began meeting monthly in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area to start a milk education effort and website in conjunction with the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales that were initiated in late December 2018 by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman.

Operating as volunteers, 97 Milk LLC is funded by donations.

Now, the new online store at the upgraded website makes it easy to order single items and bulk items, while returning a small margin to keep the creativity going.

With just a few clicks, items can be ordered, placed in the online cart, paid for and shipped. All prices include shipping.

Some of the items available at the online store are 97 Milk T-shirts, bumper stickers, two sizes of magnets, four styles of banners, two-sided 6 inch by 6 inch whole milk education handouts, stickers with QR codes for milk cases, pens to give out, and “I Love Milk” stickers for kids.

This is just the beginning.

Farmshine reader called the newspaper office recently wanting whole milk education cards to include with milk coupons he was funding for a local food pantry that did not have a way of storing actual milk to give to families in need. Since he was funding these coupons for people to buy milk, he wanted the whole milk information cards to accompany the coupons, and was able to purchase them through the new 97 Milk online store.

Before the website renewal was launched two weeks ago, the process of ordering 97 Milk items, such as information cards and T-shirts, was a bit cumbersome.

“As long as we have the item you order in stock, we ship the next day,” says Behr, adding that items needing to be made or printed typically ship within a week.

Currently, the online store is mainly promotional items for consumer education, and the 97 Milk T-shirts have been a big hit since the first ones were made a year ago for sale during summer events where 97 Milk has operated a booth for face-to-face consumer interaction.

“We are looking at hats, but we are so limited in our funding,” says Behr. The group is hoping funds from purchases at the online store will help them be able to turn around and buy additional types of inventory to offer, as well as allowing a small margin to come back into 97 Milk to keep the website running and fund future promotion activities.

“The goal of the online store is making it easier for people to get involved and to share the information, but it has to be a click, it has to be easy. So we spent the time and money to get here, and we hope to add more items as we go,” Behr explains.

She is quick to point out that for June Dairy Month, a new downloadable activity for children is also available at the 97milk.com homepage, and Behr will be posting fun recipes and will be refreshing the website regularly with new content to keep people interested in coming back and to generate more new activity through online searches.

In addition to the online store, the upgraded website also has a download area where people can download and print off many of the educational posts that have appeared on social media pages.

To keep the movement going, those interested in helping the Drink Whole Milk consumer education effort can also make donations to support the cause.

The “Donate” tab at 97milk.com offers two options.

1) To donate to help 97 Milk keep up the milk education efforts, click under “Help us make a difference.” Since 97 Milk is operated by passionate volunteers, 100% of donations go to 97 Milk’s many educational efforts. In addition to donating online, donations can be mailed to 97 Milk LLC, P.O. Box 97, Bird-In-Hand, PA 17505.

2) To donate funds specifically for purchasing milk through a partnership 97 Milk started last month with Blessings of Hope food pantry due to COVID-19 hardships, use the “donate milk” button, where it says “Help support dairy farmers and community members in need.”

People have been asking for these educational items for milk donation events, farm tours, trade shows, and the like. In the past, 97 Milk would send small quantities of information cards to people, or help them order bulk quantities or explain how to download the files to take to their own local printers to make banners and handouts.

As more requests came in from across the country for handouts, T-shirts, banners and other items, and as 97 Milk is solely dependent upon donations and volunteers for what they accomplish, the best way forward is to give everyone the opportunity to purchase the items easily online.

The new website also has a brand new “For Farmers” area, where producers can find out what to do to start their own 97 Milk chapter.

“We have people interested in forming a chapter for their area, but no new chapters yet,” Behr reports.

She is excited by how the complete overhaul of the 97milk.com website has more than doubled daily online new users since the launch on May 18. The website used to get around 50 new users daily. Now, in the first two weeks since the renewal, it’s been attracting 120 new users a day.

At the same time, the 97 Milk social media pages, such as Facebook, have seen an uptick in new followers and new activity since the website revamp. The Facebook page has amassed 11,500 followers in just 15 months.

“The website now has more milk facts. We have quadrupled the information. Having more written text is what drives google search engines,” Behr says, explaining that with more information available, the website pops up more frequently when people do internet searches – and on a wider variety of topics.

“We are ready to take 97 Milk to the next level,” Behr observes. “We want to continue to be the milk education backbone for other chapters and be a resource for people doing ideas in their own communities — a place they can come for information and materials and to bring ideas.”

The money raised through donations and online orders goes right back into purchasing more educational materials inventory, billboards, and future activities

As 97 Milk evolves, the main mission of “milk education for our community” is the same, and the message is resonating with dairy farmers and with consumers across the country.

Dairy farmers from east to west and north to south are sending in photos and ideas for social media and inquiring about forming chapters. In addition to a how-to guide for forming a chapter, the ‘For Farmers’ tab at the website suggests other ways farmers can help.

Organizers hope to see a nationwide movement and “ripple effect” grow as people collectively participate by doing something, no matter how small it may seem.

“We saw dairy farmers across the nation were ready for a movement like 97 Milk, and consumers are more interested in ever in learning how to support local dairy farms,” says Behr. “That is why we have been successful so far is that we are that bridge between the two.”

In the same way, when people see the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales, signs, banners and vehicle magnets, all with 97milk.com emblazoned on them — connections are made, and minds are opened.

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Lancaster event blesses farms and families, 9,296 gal. of whole milk given

Author’s note: There are so many examples of farmers and communities coming together throughout the U.S. to bless one another with nourishment for body and soul during this pandemic. Here is another great story about a grassroots whole milk giveaway in Lancaster, Pa.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 5, 2020 (photos by Michelle Kunjappu)

LANCASTER, Pa. — It poured raindrops and milk blessings Saturday, May 22 as the wet weather was no obstacle for volunteers working the Lancaster Whole Milk Giveaway Community Support Event.

Local farmers, businesses, community volunteers — along with Pequea Township Police, New Danville Fire Police, Pioneer Milk Producers Cooperative, Hy-Point Farms Dairy, Clover Farms Dairy and Pennsylvania Miss Agriculture USA — all came together to bless thousands of families in true farm-to-city fashion.

They gave away 9,296 gallons of fresh whole milk during a scheduled five-hour drive-through distribution that began early when cars started lining up three hours ahead of time.

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CK Manufacturing hosted the event in their parking lot just south of Lancaster in Pequea Township, Pennsylvania, where two refrigerated trailers of milk were parked to serve two lines of cars flowing through in two directions.

Organizers said the event was planned to “demonstrate God’s love in support of those in need in our local communities and on our farms in this time of hardship.”

“It is just amazing how much support is out there for the farming community and how many people are in need and want whole milk,” says David Miller about the event he was instrumental in organizing with the help of others. “I had to do something. I had this urge to make something like this happen, and it is unbelievable how it all worked out.”

A member of Lancaster County’s Amish community, Miller works for CK Manufacturing, maker of dairy replacement stalls and other cattle equipment. One of the first people Miller got involved in the idea was the company’s owner Chris King.

“Chris was very supportive, so we pushed forward with it. We wanted to target this to benefit people living in Lancaster city, and our location just outside of town was perfect for that,” Miller relates. “Chris got the Pequea Township Police and New Danville Fire Police involved because we have a lot of traffic on this road, and we wanted to be prepared and to do it right. They were all very supportive and encouraging of what we were doing.”

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Miller also got in touch with Amos Zimmerman of Dairy Pricing Association. “Amos mentioned it on Dairy Pricing’s Monday night call,” says Miller. “As people were hearing about it, many were asking how they could help. It’s unbelievable how fast it came together and how much support is out there to do this.”

They set up a donation account, so other local businesses and individuals could contribute to help purchase the milk. And a nice surprise on the day of the event, some families gave money to pay-forward to help fund future milk donation events.

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Initially, Miller contacted Pioneer Milk Producers Cooperative, a relatively new cooperative made up of mostly Lancaster and Chester County dairy producers. He says they were glad to provide a load of milk, and they had Hy-Point in Delaware bottle it.

The event was advertised in the local paper and on social media, as well as being publicized on the 97 Milk facebook page and twitter.

When the views and comments on social media began growing, Miller realized 5000 gallons would not be enough, so 4000 additional gallons were ordered from Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa.

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“We knew a week ahead that one load was not going to reach around because they were telling us it had over 25,000 views on facebook, which was rather dumbfounding to me,” Miller reports. “Hy-Point couldn’t do a second load that day, so we went to Clover because that’s local milk too.”

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Miller says he was moved to initiate the planning for a milk purchase and giveaway because he knew a lot of milk was being dumped and that people were out of work. He had been watching what others were doing, and he spoke with Mike Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill for some ideas from their drive-through in April.

“I told everyone from the beginning that if we do this, it’s got to be local whole milk,” Miller says. Those two criteria were also important to the families who came.

Zimmerman reports that many people driving through asked if the milk was whole milk and if it was local. “It felt good to answer ‘yes’ to both questions,” he confirms.

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Miller wanted to provide education about whole milk at the same time, and he knew about 97 Milk and the whole milk flyers Sensenigs had handed out. So, he reached out to GN Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC board. 97 Milk is a nationwide grassroots effort run by volunteers and donations and founded by dairy farmers in Lancaster and neighboring counties with other areas interested in starting chapters.

Hursh put up some banners and brought handouts.

(In fact, 97 Milk recently revamped the website at 97milk.com  to include a new online store where educational materials can be directly purchased, along with other promotional items.)

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Among the volunteers for the Lancaster event were Cassidy Kuhl, Pa. Mrs. Agriculture USA and her sister-in-law Rebecca, Pa. Teen Miss Agriculture USA. They were all smiles handing out gallons and educational materials.

“This was a great opportunity to be a part of because this is my community we were serving,” said Cassidy. “I was excited to see so many people come for milk and take extra to pass on to their friends, families and neighbors. It felt good.”

From the comments on facebook, it is obvious this meant a lot to the community as well.

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“There were smiles all day long, and some neat stories about people coming in and getting decent quantities to go out and deliver whole milk to people in the inner city – reaching out to people beyond what we were doing,” adds Miller.

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Truly representing the Lancaster community, organizers said the volunteers who showed up to hand out milk included about half from the Amish community and half from the ‘English’ community.

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The help of the fire police was appreciated as the traffic flowed steadily all afternoon and into the evening, and the timing was perfect for the volume of milk. Volunteers report that the last gallon was given right at 7:00 p.m.

To get this together within less than two weeks, and to see this kind of local response has many calling the event an answered prayer, a true farm-city event and a real blessing shared by all in the midst of very challenging times.

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New CFAP details emerge: Dairies eligible for payments on milk, cull cows, some youngstock, some crops

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USDA Farm Service Agency has created this guide for farms applying for CFAP payments.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 29, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. — When Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)payment details were first released last week, the understanding was that payments for livestock price losses would not include dairy production cattle. Also noted at that time was that crops on dairy farms could only be claimed if they were cash crops.

This week, however, as USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) began the enrollment process on May 26, new details about implementation have emerged, meaning dairy farms have multiple areas of assistance to apply for.

Dairy cull cows and youngstock sold for other than dairy purposes can be claimed under certain classes of livestock under CFAP.

“This was a confusing point, and some portions are still not clear yet,” said Cynthia Walters, FSA dairy programs specialist for Pennsylvania in a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call Tuesday.

“Dairy cows sold for beef from January 15 through April 15, 2020 are eligible for payment under the ‘slaughter cattle, mature cattle’ category. We are still waiting to find out if dairy cull cows can be listed in inventory for that second portion of the payment for second quarter,” she said.

Walters also explained that cattle kept on a dairy farm as beef inventory will qualify for the inventory calculation. This would pertain to animals fed for beef or youngstock intended for sale to a veal grower or beef feedlot, or fed for the beef market as part of the dairy farm operation.

As for feed crops, Walters explained that some calculations are still being worked out to convert dairy feeds grown on farms to grain rates under the “non specialty crop payments” portion of the spreadsheet.

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The Center for Dairy Excellence created this table to show examples of CFAP payments for various farm sizes based on first quarter milk production.

Milk payments

As reported in Farmshine last week, only the first quarter milk production on a dairy farm is used by FSA to calculate the farm’s total Q1and Q2 milk payments.

Walters explained that producers will “self-certify” and keep their documentation on hand in case they are pulled for spot checks. Farms will not provide this documentation to FSA but use their milk statements and other records (such as dumped milk recorded) to fill out the forms.

She confirmed that the only production information the producer puts on the form / spreadsheet are the pounds of milk produced from January 1, 2020 to March 31, 2020. This will be paid at a rate of $4.71 per hundredweight. The second quarter production will be calculated using the January through March production figure, multiplied by a factor of 1.014, and then paid at $1.47 per hundredweight.

The total payment — using these two formulas together — will then roughy equate to $6.20 per hundredweight for the equivalent of first quarter milk pounds.

Walters reminded dairy producers that all first quarter milk production is eligible, even those pounds that were enrolled in risk management programs.

CFAP_Livestock_Payment_Rate_Figure_2 (1)

Farm Bureau created this graph to show payments for eligible classes of livestock.

Cattle payments

There are two parts to the assistance for cattle: A payment per head for cattle sold between January 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020 and a different payment per head for cattle inventory subject to price risk on a date of the producer’s choosing between April 16 to May 14, 2020.

For example, cull dairy cows sold for beef between Jan. 15 and April 15 would be listed under ‘slaughter cattle, mature cattle” and qualify for $93 per head. The inventory method for after April 15 does not apply to dairy cows that are considered dairy inventory, only beef cattle inventory are eligible for the second type of cattle payment.

For calves and heifers sold for other than dairy purposes, the Jan 15 to April 15 marketings would be listed under Feeder Cattle. In the less than 600-pound category, the payment is $102 per head. In the over 600-pound category it is $139 per head.

As for choosing an inventory date between Apr. 15 and May 14 for youngstock that are intended for sale as beef, veal or feedlot animals, they can be listed for an additional $33 per head payment.

Dairies feeding Holstein or Dairy-cross cattle for the beef market or raising / backgrounding such calves for feedlots may apply for all relevant cattle payments.

USDA confirmed in a media call that livestock payments will only go to producers with eligible livestock. Processor-owned livestock are not eligible for these direct farm payments, and a separate program will be designed for livestock producers who were forced to euthanize animals due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions.

CFAP_Non_Specialty_Payment_Rate_Figure_1 (1)

Farm Bureau has created this graph to show payments for eligible non-specialty crops.

Crop payments

Included under non-specialty crops are payment rates for malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat and hard red spring wheat.

These crops, if grown on dairy farms for feed, are also eligible under inventory with conversions to grain prices — as long as these crops were “subject to price risk” or incurred market costs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

In the case of corn silage, for example, Walters said producers would use their Jan 15 inventory, the amount owned by the producer on January 15 that was subject to future price risk.

PaymentCalculator (1)
This payment calculator spreadsheet is part of the application form for CFAP payments. It can be downloaded at farmers.gov/cfap under “CFAP Application” or at this direct link 

FSA application process

“The direct financial assistance through CFAP is for commodities with 5% or greater price decline or market costs from disruptions due to the virus,” said Walters.

She noted that farm enrolled with FSA for other programs have their eligibility already on file (AGI forms, highly erodible lands conservation, banking information for direct deposit, and contact information). This streamlines the process for filling out the application electronically or faxing or mailing it in.

Walters said FSA employees can help dairy producers walk through these categories on the calculator spreadsheet that is now available at farmers.gov/cfap.

Producers can also enroll for CFAP payments online and do not have to set up an appointment with FSA as long as they have been an FSA customer in the past and have all of the FSA forms in place. The USDA has provided a payment calculator for farmers to download at farmer.gov/cfap under “CFAP Application.” It is also available at this direct link.

This gives producers the option to print the application after entering their data, and then sign it and submit it to their County FSA Office by email, fax, or mail.

Farm consultants, such as nutritionists, can assist their clients in downloading and using these forms and in calculating relevant feed crop inventory.

FSA offices are being inundated with calls. Walters noted that a CFAP Call Center is also available for producers who would like additional one-on-one support with the CFAP application process at 877-508-8364.

The main information needed to begin the application process includes:

1) Settlement milk checks for January through March 2020,

2) Receipts of cull cows sold January 15 through April 15, 2020,

3) Inventories of grain not under contract and inventories of corn silage on hand as of January 15 paid on grain conversion,

4) Direct deposit information,

5) Farm ownership structure if needed to be eligible for expanded payment limits for larger, multi-generational farms.

Walters was quick to point out that there is plenty of time to apply for CFAP payments.

“These funds are NOT first-come, first-served. The department is paying 80% of a farm’s total eligibility to be sure there is enough funding for all farms,” said Walters. “Applications will be accepted until August 28, 2020, and the other 20% of a farm’s payment will come later.”

In addition, USDA is purchased $437 million in additional milk and dairy products, including $317 mil. so far for the Farmers to Families Food Boxes as part of the CFAP program.

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USDA communicates with DOJ as Dean ‘Estate’ misses final payments on April milk; lawsuit filed to block sale to DFA

deanfoods

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 22, 2020

HOUSTON, Tex. — Dean is a dead duck, with an estate. The ‘pools’ (no pun intended), in which it reigned as top duck — and most of the pool toys it gathered over the past 20 years — have been sold to its largest supplier, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), leaving just the Dean Foods (Southern Foods Group) Estate to settle its affairs, including paying farmers for April milk sold in good faith.

But the funds to do that are locked into the Chapter 11 plan handling all manner of administrative expense claims that could take days, weeks or months to sort out. Part of the issue is that the super-priority credit facility of $850 million was extended to Dean to keep operating before sale. Now the sale is consummated, and that credit facility is not being used for critical vendors. In fact, what was used of the $850 million becomes the first post-petition debt to settle.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers are looking at their contracts and the regulated pricing structures and even those states with bonding and wondering what recourse they have for payment. Most have no recourse. In states like Pennsylvania, there is bonding of licensed milk buyers through the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, and it is a complex process.

On a recent DMI ‘open mic’ call for producers, Jim Mulhern of National Milk Producers Federation was a guest. He said they have looked into whether the Packers and Stockyards Act guaranteeing prompt payment for livestock could be use. It can’t, he said. There is no national insurance-bonding of milk buyers like there is for meat and poultry.

Not only did Dean milk suppliers not receive payment, cooperative handlers also went without payment, and the Federal Order pools in which Dean Foods is regulated did not receive their settlement payments. This then affects payments to handlers from the pool for April milk, which in turn affects other dairy producers paid by those other handlers.

Dean Foods did pay the April advance – the first of two monthly checks paid to dairy farmers. But the settlement funds for April milk due mid-May have not been paid, and Federal Milk Marketing Orders have established dates in each milk marketing area of the country stating when the settlement payments are made to the pool, when the handlers are paid from the pool and when the producers are paid by the handlers.

All of those dates for all Federal Milk Marketing Orders have now passed as of May 19, and Dean Foods’ Estate has not honored any of these April milk settlement obligations.

According to USDA Dairy Programs, “Dean Foods, DIP, (Dean) is fully regulated in all Federal milk marketing orders except the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. Dean did not make payment into the Producer Settlement Fund (PSF) for April pooled milk to any FMMO where it is fully regulated.”

USDA also confirms that, “Dean is responsible for paying the blend price to the independent producers who supply its plants. That payment is not contingent on whether or not Dean pays into the Producer Settlement Fund.”

Dairy farmers that ship to Dean Foods confirm no payment has been received, and the Pa. Milk Marketing Board confirms being notified of the same as it regulates these payments in Pennsylvania as well.

USDA indicates that it is “closely monitoring the situation and is keenly aware of the impact this failure to pay has on the dairy industry.”

Furthermore, USDA is continuing to consult with the Department of Justice in an effort to work within the confines of the bankruptcy laws to recoup monies owed to the Pool Settlement Funds.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTUREHandlers were notified by USDA via memorandum (see Order 5 example of what went out to all FMMO handlers above). They were notified of the non-payment and the pro-ration of available producer settlement monies.

Some handlers have indicated this affects their funds to pay their producers by 20 to 30% for April milk.

In Pennsylvania, where there is bonding through the Pa. Milk Marketing Board, every bond claim is unique and fact-dependent, so there’s no set time that has to pass before a claim is made.

Activity reports are not due to the Pa. Milk Marketing Board until May 25, so a bond claim cannot be made for Pennsylvania milk until the PMMB knows how much is owed.

On the national side, USDA confirms that Dean did timely file its milk receipts and utilization report for April, but these figures are confidential and proprietary, so the amounts owed to farmers and the Producer Settlement Fund are not known.

While USDA is communicating with the U.S. Department of Justice on this, the PMMB is reportedly doing their best to communicate and work with Dean to determine if there’s anything it can do — short of the agency filing a bond claim to have Pennsylvania producers paid. There are four Dean plants in Pennsylvania and at least two out-of-state plants, including one in New Jersey, receiving milk from Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

For Dean’s part, Gary Rahlfs is the chief financial officer overseeing the “winding down” of the Dean Foods Estate. In an email reply early this week, he referred to the May 6 public announcement at the Dean restructuring website after the sale of plants and other assets was completed that week, stating: “Dean Foods anticipates that the plan will provide for the full payment of all administrative expense claims in several months (following the repayment of its senior secured super-priority post-petition financing facility) as proceeds continue to come into the Dean Foods Estate.”

In addition to the public announcement, Rahlfs confirmed that administrative expense claims do include the payments Dean owes for April milk and many other payables.

“We are working diligently to ensure this process and the payments are made as quickly as possible,” Rahlfs wrote in an email response to Farmshine.

Unfortunately, it appears from the wording of the announcement that this could take several months, and the super-priority credit facility Dean used to continue operations during the bankruptcy sale process is being prioritized for repayment as income comes in from sale of assets and prior sales of product during this “winding down” plan for the bankruptcy.

All through the bankruptcy and sale proceedings in the Southern District of Texas, Judge David Jones referred often to how it was a priority of his to ensure a sale process that would not leave schoolchildren without milk and would not leave farmers without markets or employees without jobs. He talked often of fond memories as a child of milk delivered by the milkman.

In fact, this is one reason, Judge Jones approved retainment bonuses for professional staff to be sure that the people who understand the milk business would continue in their positions so the company and its 57 plants would remain in operation and viable during the bankruptcy sale to avoid the chaos that would result if the company fell into Chapter 7 status.

However, a detail left hanging is the final payment to farmers and cooperatives supplying milk to Dean Foods.

Back in November, when Dean Foods filed under Chapter 11, farmers had many questions about whether or not they would continue to be paid for milk. Credit facility of $850 million was secured, and the court gave permission to use income and credit facility for day to day operations to pay employees and critical vendors, including farmers.

Dean Foods Raw Milk Supplier FAQ — First Day

In fact, a Raw Milk Supplier FAQ dated November 2019 still searchable in a cache file of the Dean restructuring website stated (as shown above) states: “We intend to pay suppliers in full under normal terms for goods and services provided after the filing date (Nov. 12).”

That language is no longer readily shown on the website. It was replaced when DFA became heir-apparent by a completely new and different Raw Milk Supplier FAQ dated February 2020.

While DFA, the buyer of 44 of the 57 Dean plants at a price of $433 million, has been Dean Foods’ largest milk supplier, the company also has many independent family farm shippers throughout the Northeast, Southeast and across the country. All are left waiting for payment at a time when they’ve already come through five years of low income and below-break-even prices and at a time when they are taking further losses in milk pricing and additional marketing costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a separate action this week, a lawsuit was filed for an injunction against the sale of 44 of Dean’s 57 plants to DFA. The lawsuit was filed by Food Lion and Maryland Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative in Federal District Court for Middle North Carolina in Greensboro Tuesday, May 19.

The lawsuit states that DFA’s ownership of Dean’s milk plants is the “coup de grâce (final blow) for competition” in fluid milk markets, arguing the merger gives DFA monopoly over the dairy supply chain, the death of the independent, family-owned dairy farms, and higher prices ultimately for consumers.

Plaintiffs are specifically asking the Court to grant a preliminary injunction to block the sale and want DFA to divest at least one of the Dean facilities in the Carolinas to an unaffiliated independent purchaser.

“This action arises out of Defendant Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.’s (“DFA”) longstanding effort to seize control of the milk supply chain. Indeed, for the past two decades, DFA has rapidly consolidated and dominated the market for the supply of raw milk not by competing on the merits, but through unlawful conduct and anti-competitive agreements through which it has gained near-complete control over the purchasing of key nationwide milk processors,” the plaintiffs state in their filing.

“This anti-competitive campaign has allowed DFA to transform itself from a modest regional dairy cooperative into the Standard Oil of the modern dairy industry.”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) already approved the deal three weeks ago with the stipulation that three plants in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts be divested from the 44-plant DFA purchase.

Prior to the bankruptcy and sale, Dean Foods was DFA’s largest customer and DFA was Dean Food’s largest milk-supplier.

“Their partnership was forged through a corrupt bargain entered into at the time of a prior merger between Dean and another dairy processing giant, in order to avoid U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) scrutiny through subterfuge and deception,” the plaintiffs state.

“On May 1, 2020, DFA and Dean closed on the Asset Sale, transforming DFA overnight into both the largest milk producer and the largest milk processor in the United States,” plaintiffs continue. “With capability to wield market power at two levels of the supply chain, DFA now has both the ability and the incentive to wipe out any remaining pockets of competition.”

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DMI details decent dairy conditions on all fronts during industry, media calls

Exports up, Retail up, Food banks up, Inventories stable, Foodservice down but recovering, Future unknown

By Sherry Bunting, May 22, 2020

headshots.indd

CHICAGO, Ill. – How do dairy industry leaders view the status of dairy sales, marketing and promotion and what insights will they share? A few themes emerged from phone conferences with media and producers.

First, it appears that not only is Dairy Management Inc (DMI) working to move product to “hunger” systems, including schools, food banks and charitable organizations, they are also working to reassure consumers — both domestically and overseas — that the U.S. is producing a reliable supply of milk and dairy products, despite the news of so much milk dumping.

After six to eight weeks of supply chain disruptions, milk dumping news, sparse dairy case shelves and/or purchase limits, DMI says national, state and local teams have worked to get stores to remove limits, keep shelves stocked and assure domestic consumers and export buyers that the milk will keep coming.

The news from dairy checkoff leaders is pretty decent on how dairy looks on many of its marketing and inventory fronts. Exports are up. Retail sales are up. Food bank usage and government purchases are up. Inventories are stable. And the previously plunging foodservice sector is recovering.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers received April settlement milk checks in the $10 to $12 range, many with COVID-19 deductions as high as 87 cents/cwt. Some report milk checks netting a single-digit price for April milk. And for direct shippers to Dean Foods, zero checks or deposits were received in mid-May for April milk.

Top dairy leadership talked Tuesday on a media conference call as well as Monday on a producer ‘open mic’ call about some of the dairy market statistics and insight, and how DMI is “pivoting” during the Coronavirus pandemic to “get more dairy in the hands of consumers.”

On the research front — “We need to maintain the things we have to maintain and alter the things we can alter,” said DMI CEO Tom Gallagher in the May 19 media call. One example he emphasized is “DMI’s commitment to publishing milkfat research to keep that front and center.”

On the “open mic’ call with producers the day before, Gallagher said dairy checkoff has been involved in either funding or publishing 59 studies related to milkfat since 2002. He said that the Dietary Guidelines won’t change until there is a “preponderance” of evidence – a “mountain” that is so large — large enough to overcome 40 years of anti-fat dietary advice.

In looking at the list, most are studies related to full-fat cheeses and the role or impact of dairy consumption, no matter the fat content, on various health indicators. Some are studies of milkfat composition, beyond the saturated fat portion, and a handful of the 59 studies pertained to fluid milk of all fat percentages (more on this in a future edition of Farmshine).

On the foodservice front — Sharing data provided to DMI by Inmar Insights, Gallagher said that the foodservice losses can now be measured by transactions but not by dollars or volume, yet.

At the lowest point in the pandemic, the number of sales transactions in the quick serve restaurants (QSR) was down 42% below year ago, but now these transactions are down 20% from year ago.

For full-service restaurants, transactions were down 80% at the height of the pandemic, and now they are 60% below year ago as more full-service restaurants adopt curbside and contactless meal options.

“At the height of the pandemic, 70% of consumers said they would avoid eating outside the home. That percentage is now 50%, and we believe it will reduce over time,” said Gallagher.

Various fresh dairy products

On the retail sales front — Gallagher shared that fluid milk sales pre-COVID were trending 5% below year ago. “But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, fluid milk sales jumped 34% higher, and now, in the past month or so, fluid milk sales are averaging 10% above year ago,” he said.

Looking at products that surround a milk choice, Gallagher noted that cereal sales have been declining 1 to 3% per year pre-COVID. But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, cereal sales jumped 78% and are now averaging 17% above year ago.

He said milk used on cereal has historically accounted for 3% of all fluid milk sales, so the rise in cereal sales is at least a partial factor in the increased fluid milk sales, according to Gallagher.

Looking ahead, Gallagher noted that DMI expects to receive “deep analysis” this week about “why people buy what they bought” both in the first two weeks of so-called “panic buying” and for the four to six weeks after as conditions stabilized.

“There is a lot of conjecture and a lot of opinions out there,” said Gallagher, “But we can’t be in the business of taking our opinion of nutritional or comfort reasons, we really have to understand what was the motivation.”

Gallagher noted that the total all-beverage sector saw very large increases in sales post-COVID, and that the alternative dairy beverage category showed very high percentage increases but are still a very small percentage of volume.

“On an incremental basis, (non-dairy alternative beverage) increases are nowhere near what the increase was for fluid milk sales,” he said.

Another retail category DMI highlighted was frozen pizza sales. “Historically, frozen pizza sales were flat, pre-COVID,” said Gallagher, adding that in the first two weeks of the pandemic, frozen pizza sales jumped 120% over year ago, with sales over the past month averaging 39% higher than year ago.

“That’s just as important to us as cereal sales,” said Gallagher.

Looking ahead, he noted that the “deep analysis” of why consumers buy what they bought will be used as a benchmark and monitored periodically for changes.

“Ultimately, what happens to sales will not be determined by some great ad or some smart thing that one group does, it will be determined by what is the behavior of consumers after this pandemic,” he explained. “We know going into this pandemic, we have moved from consumers spending 90% of their food dollars in the home in the 1950s and 60s to over 50% spent outside the home. Now, those at-home dollars are way up.

“At the end of this, what will their behavior be? Will they eat more at home? Will they keep eating cereal? Or will they go back to breakfast on the go? Will they still do more baking?” Gallagher wondered aloud.

“The idea that we can just educate and the problem will be solved, it wouldn’t,” said Gallagher. “If you look at the competition up and down the grocery aisle, there are two aisles with no dairy in them in the nutrient-rich niche market for on-the-go (shelf-stable). That could have been dairy, but now it’s not, and we have to play catchup.”

He said consumers “eating at home can be a hope that would be huge for the white gallon, but if we think the white gallon is the innovation of the future, it’s not.”

While Gallagher acknowledged that these current retail buying trends during COVID-19 bode well for fluid milk and butter, and DMI can market toward that once they understand why, he also countered these trends, observing that, “If consumers go back to where they were, then we are back to the same opportunities and issues that were always there. The reality will likely be somewhere between those two extremes.”

Gallagher pointed out that many people believe consumers are responding to messages about dairy nutrition, and that it might seem to be a good idea to “market to nutrition, but it’s not that simple,” he said. “What we do for dairy farmers has to be based on the reality of the data.”

In other words, DMI will market to the why’s behind the sales data once they receive the next layers of  “deep analysis” – to continue a promotion direction of following consumers with partner ‘innovations’ instead of leading them with an emphasis on product information.

On the export front — “The numbers look better than we anticipated for the first quarter of 2020 despite the virus, and we hope this will continue for the year,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

Specifically, Vilsack reported that the U.S. exported 109,000 more metric tons of dairy products in the first three months of 2020 as compared with a year ago, and these exports were worth $528 million more than exports a year ago.

He expects to see a decline in exports into the summer with a rebound later in the year.

He said USDEC is “using aggressive social media in all export markets for U.S. cheese and dairy ingredients to make sure buyers know milk is still being produced here.”

According to Vilsack, export buyers are diversifying their purchases and spreading supply risk, “so some of that market share is coming our way from diversification,” he said. “Our price-competitiveness is good at the moment, and this is something we watch, so our ‘Next 5%’ plan for growth continues even in this much-changed landscape.”

USDEC is marketing with Costco in China and Southeast Asia, including significant advertising about American-made cheeses. In the Middle East, recipes using cheese are being included in grocery bags and hung on doorknobs, said Vilsack. Culinary efforts are also being geared to encourage the next generation of overseas chefs to use American cheeses.

On the inventory front — Vilsack noted that USDEC sent a “warning shot” letter to the European Union and other to be sure any dairy intervention does not lead to a stockpile of powder or dairy products like the EU accumulated in 2015, which had led to three of the past five years of dismal global milk prices.

In a producer call the day before, Gallagher’s guest Jim Mulhern from National Milk Producers Federation described U.S. dairy commodity inventories as “not that bad.”

Mulhern said some dairy product stocks were building at the start of the pandemic, but mostly inventories are “not really burdensome right now. We are not in bad shape (inventory-wise). That’s one reason barrels moved is stocks are not that large right now,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we focused on the need to have USDA buy products now and get them into commerce through feeding programs and into food banks right away. The need is there, and we have the product,” said Mulhern. “We don’t want to go back to holding product in storage and selling it on the market later.”

On the food bank front — Vilsack confirmed that there is a 70% increase in overall food demand by the food bank system, and Gallagher added that fluid milk is still the most requested item.

“Food banks get most of their food from retail, and this is a challenge at a time when the retail sector is challenged by this higher demand,” said Vilsack, who in addition to being CEO of the dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council, sits on the board for the Feeding America national food bank system.

Vilsack noted there is a significant demand for volunteers and for equipment such as refrigeration to handle these higher volumes of food being supplied to serve the expanded need brought on by around 30 million newly unemployed workers during the COVID-19 economic shut down.

National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien talked about the “emergency action team” that was assembled after foodservice and restaurant trade began to shut down with business restrictions.

“We shifted our focus,” said O’Brien, noting that DMI partner Kroger, with its 16 milk plants, got involved in moving “hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk into the hunger system.

“We also worked with other processors on fluid milk, cottage cheese and turning 40-pound blocks into smaller packages, and we worked with processors to solve infrastructure challenges around refrigeration, to get coolers and refrigerated trucks placed at pantries,” O’Brien said, explaining that their teams are looking at the supply chain issues in four quadrants: schools, hunger, foodservice, and retail and then “working with farmers, processors and cooperatives to redistribute product.”

For school feeding, some of the regional checkoffs developed free emergency menu resources, donated thousands of coolers at alternative school feeding sites, worked with school nutrition personnel and USDA to help translate the rules – to understand the waivers that allow bulk or gallon containers for multiple meal service.

On the schools front –  Also on the media call was Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. She talked about the COVID-19 School Fund that was launched on March 30 two weeks into the closure of schools and non-life-sustaining businesses.

The purpose of the fund, which has raised $5.5 million to-date, is to provide grants and resources to help schools package, distribute and deliver meals in the grab and go model. Glick said they have received $33 million in requests so far as 12,000 school buildings, to-date, have applied for individual $3000-grants for equipment needed for such distribution.

“So far, $5.5 million in cash and equipment has been awarded to support over 6000 schools, said Glick. She estimates that these 6000 are collectively delivering 50 million meals per week (two meals per day).

“We are aiming to approve 250 to 500 grants per week by prioritizing schools that are serving the highest number of meals with the highest numbers of (USDA) free- and reduced lunch eligibility,” she said.

Glick noted that “alongside dairy farmers,” support for the COVID-19 School Fund has come from financial institutions, Domino’s, PepsiCo, National Football League, United Healthcare and a recent partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation as well as private donations from chefs, athletes and celebrities.

“We are working with our health and wellness partners, our partners at USDA, the School Nutrition Association, celebrities and media entities to get the word out and draw awareness. Just because the school year ends, doesn’t mean the end for hungry kids,” said Glick.

GENYOUth’s technology partner SAP has developed a “resource locator” called SAP for Kids to connect families to school meal resources in their zipcodes.

Glick also said school meals will convert soon to summer feeding sites and then in the fall, meals at schools will likely change based on CDC recommendations for eating in classrooms instead of cafeterias. “Schools will need our help to buy equipment that they will need for that,” she said.

Moving and messaging — As mentioned in the Farmshine article last week, O’Brien again touted the “deep relationships” dairy farmers have with ‘some of the biggest foodservice partners.” saying those partners “extend what we can do to immediately drive incremental cheese volume.”

An example she gave is an extra two ounces of cheese on pizzas and new national ads to be run by Papa Johns and Pizza Hut now through the end of August about more cheese. She also highlighted Domino’s new concept launching carside delivery full-tilt in July, saying this will move “more cheese.”

Meanwhile, said O’Brien, the “Undeniably Dairy” messaging is focused on “building trust and bringing joy by reassuring people that dairy farmers and the dairy community are essential and working tirelessly to ensure a safe and consistent supply.”

They are also repurposing content to provide virtual farm tours for parents and teachers to access for at-home curriculum and promoting recipes.

“Consumers are still interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said O’Brien. So, these “tell your story” and “sustainability” themes the checkoff has been focusing on pre-COVID will continue, but are changed a bit to conform to stay-at-home communication venues.

Among the planned media segments leading up to June Dairy Month are the one Monday, May 18 on Fox and Friends featuring Maryland dairy farmer Katie Dotterer-Pyle and the 30-second video produced with footage from several dairy farms that will be shown 20 times in the following weeks and will be picked up by other stations through online “streaming.”

She also said that the MilkPEP television commercial that was running about dairy farmers, haulers, bottlers, and store employees has now been “co-branded” with a large Undeniably Dairy logo, it reinforces the essential care of the entire dairy supply chain.

O’Brien hinted at a surprise promotion to happen May 21 in partnership with a major pizza chain on late-night-TV — a ‘pizza party’ celebrating 2020 graduates as their traditional graduation ceremonies have been suspended by COVID-19.

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USDA steps up dairy purchases; $437 mil. in new buys

Borden gets nearly half the ‘food box’ dairy total, most of the fluid milk buy

Farmers to Families Food Box

By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – USDA announced on May 8 it has awarded $317 million in dairy purchases as part of the new “Food Box” program. These purchases are separate from the flurry of new bid invitations that also appeared on the USDA AMS food procurement website Friday to fulfill the separate ramping up of $120 million in dairy purchases for “normal” distribution in July under “normal” USDA feeding channels.

Friday’s contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program covered a total of $1.2 billion in first-batch purchases. In addition to the $317 million for dairy products, of which roughly half is for fluid milk purchases and half for dairy product boxes, the awards include $258 million in meat product purchases, $461 in fresh fruit and vegetable purchases and $175 million to vendors supplying “combination boxes.”

This first award announcement uses over one-third of the $3 billion set on April 17 by Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue for food box purchases as part of the overall $19.2 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

In this unique program, USDA is partnering with national, regional and local suppliers — whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses.

The approved suppliers will package products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need from May 15 through June 30, 2020.

The biggest winner across the board was Borden Dairy Co. with a total government contract of $147 million — all of it designated as fluid milk purchases — with $99 million for the Southeast region, $40.6 million Southwest and $7.3 million Midwest. This represents nearly half of the total $317 million in dairy purchases announced Friday as part of the food box program, and it constitutes the lion’s share of the fluid milk purchases awarded.

Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative based in Illinois was awarded the next largest dairy contract in the food box program at $27.3 million, with 90% of this for the Midwest region and 10% for multi-region distribution outside of the Midwest. The majority (80%) of the contract is identified as dairy products boxes and 20% for fluid milk purchases.

In The Northeast and Midatlantic regions: Schneider Dairy, Pittsburgh, Pa. was third highest dairy purchase award at $4.27 million, of which $4 million is for fluid milk purchases and the balance for dairy product boxes. Turner Dairy Farms, Penn Hills, Pa. was awarded $315,450 to supply dairy product boxes. Marburger Farm Dairy, Evans City, Pa. was awarded $78,000, with roughly 70% in fluid milk purchases and 30% in dairy product boxes. And HP Hood, Lynnfield, Mass. was awarded $11,000 in fluid milk purchases.

In addition, an array of wholesalers, foodservice distributors, aggregators, missions, common markets, farm-to-table organizations etc., were awarded contracts that included dairy product boxes, and to a lesser degree, fluid milk purchases.

For example, Philadelphia’s Common Market was awarded $5.76 million for use in the Midatlantic and Southeast regions, with almost $1 million of this earmarked for dairy product boxes in the Midatlantic region.

In using the balance of the $3 billion in CFAP food box funds, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reports it may simply extend these contracts using “option” periods instead of the bid-solicitation process that is used for its other food purchases — depending upon the program’s success in this first go-round.

In addition to the “Farmer to Families Food Box” purchases Sec. Perdue announced a new and additional $470 million in “Section 32” food purchases for delivery to normal USDA feeding programs beginning in July – including $120 million in new spending for dairy products.

These supplemental Section 32 purchases use the normal USDA AMS bid procurement process with solicitations opening in the coming weeks for June approval.

“America’s farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the Coronavirus. USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most,” said Secretary Perdue in the announcement.

USDA AMS Section 32 purchases of domestically produced and processed agricultural products are ongoing, and USDA anticipates spending a total of $4.89 billion this fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins in July, and USDA says fourth quarter purchases will be determined by industry requests, market analysis and food bank needs.

Additional information on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, including webinars and an FAQs, is available on the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box.

Details on how vendors can participate in Section 32 food and dairy purchases are available at https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food

Dairy product specifications and quantities for bid solicitations are shown as they are announced at this website: https://www.ams.usda.gov/open-purchase-request/Dairy_Products%2C_Grades_&_Procurement_of

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Signups begin May 26 for $16 bil. CFAP; dairies payments equate to Q1 milk x $6.20/cwt

Farmers and ranchers deemed essential to our nation’s future; bulk of payment totals under two calculations to be sent a week to 10 days after signup

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By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue released the long-awaited details on the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) direct payments to farmers this week, indicating that dairy farmers will be eligible for two payment rates across first and second quarter production — and those rates pencil out to be equal to $6.20 per hundredweight multiplied by first quarter production, including milk that was dumped.

Farms using USDA Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) or Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) programs, or certain types of forward pricing through cooperatives or brokers based on futures markets, are eligible for CFAP direct payments on all pounds of milk production, even the pounds enrolled in these types of risk management tools. Participation in other forms of government aid through the Small Business Administration does not affect a farm’s eligibility for direct payments through CFAP.

Signups with USDA Farm Service Agencies began May 26, and USDA intends to send 80% of the total calculated Q1 and Q2 payment to farms within seven to 10 days of their signups. The remaining 20% will be paid later, pending the availability of funds in the $16 bil. package after all eligible commodity applicants receive first payments.

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Screenshot of CFAP payment spreadsheet calculator across all eligible commodities. A preview video on how to use the calculator and fill out forms can be found at this link — Check back at www.farmers.gov/CFAP for the spreadsheet calculator or find it through your FSA portal.

Applications will be received until August 28, 2020. USDA has a video for signup, explaining how to use the online calculator spreadsheet, across commodities at this link.

To calculate payments, USDA is using $4.71/cwt from the CARES Act applied to a dairy farm’s first quarter (Jan-Mar) “actual” milk production and $1.47/cwt from CCC funds for a second quarter (Apr-Jun) “calculated” production that is equivalent to the first quarter pounds multiplied by a factor of 1.014 to reflect seasonal production increase for Q2.

Those two payment rates with the second quarter calculation of production push the total payment to be equivalent to multiplying first quarter production by about $6.20/cwt.

With the 80 / 20 split in how this total payment will be sent, farms shipping 5 million annual pounds of milk with roughly 200 cows could expect a payment around $60,000 by early June if they sign up at the end of May, with the balance of roughly $15,000 in a later payment, pending availability of funds.

Responding to bipartisan support from members of Congress asking for payment limits to be increased so that larger multi-generation family farms can benefit, USDA expanded the payment limits to $250,000 per farm entity even with multiple eligible commodities. The previous limit was $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per farm.

The payment limits were increased for larger farms with multiple ownership structure. Partnerships with two owner-operators would have a payment limit of $500,000, and the maximum limit for any farm structured as an LLC, LLP or corporation with three or more owner-operators is $750,000.

These payment limits apply to the total amount of money a farm can receive even if applying under more than one commodity, such as dairy and crop or dairy and beef.

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Graphic by Center for Dairy Excellence risk management coordinator Zach Myers.

Doing the math on larger herds, it appears that a 1000-cow dairy would stand to receive around $325,000 total payment (split 80%, or $260,000, right away, and the remaining 20% later pending available funds). This puts a 1000-cow dairy over the single-owner limit but under the partnership two-owner limit.

The rough math on a 2000-cow dairy comes out to a total payment of around $650,000, which is getting close to the hard-cap of $750,000. A farm of this size or larger, with three or more owner-operators, would have a payment limit of $750,000.

Dairy economists Mark Stephenson and Andrew Novakovic at the Dairy Markets and Policy website have a more detailed paper on this that can be downloaded downloaded here.

Eligibility is limited to owner-operators who materially participated in the dairy (400 hours minimum). For those deriving 75% or more of their income from farming/ranching, there is no adjusted gross income limit for eligibility. For owners not in that category, the adjusted gross income limit to be eligible for CFAP payments is $900,000.

To be eligible for these payments, farms must also show “conservation compliance” regarding the highly erodible land and wetland conservation regulations.

The original USDA notice stated that milk priced on forward contracts would be ineligible for CFAP direct payments, and under ‘dairy eligibility’ was original language stating: “Any milk production that is not subject to price risk for any time during January, February or March is ineligible.” However, USDA removed this language about forward contracting in the final rule for May 21 Federal Register publication.

USDA has confirmed that milk pounds covered by USDA risk management programs like DMC, DRP and LGM, as well as some types of forward contracts based on futures markets through cooperatives and brokers, are eligible for the CFAP direct payments. 

Forward contracts are a gray area. An example of ineligibility could pertain to milk pounds that are specifically priced under a binding contract where pricing is determined ahead of time, such as cost-plus, and where no changes were made to reduce those contracts or charge marketing fees during COVID-19. These are not common contracts, but some larger farms have such contracts with certain processors outside of the Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

In short, the final rule as prepared for Federal Register publication on May 21 no longer contains language excluding risk-managed milk from being eligible, but a farmer applying for CFAP payments is still signing a statement that the pounds of milk certified had price losses of more than 5% and incurred other marketing and inventory costs or deductions during COVID-19.

Producers are encouraged to call their local FSA offices as soon as possible to set up phone appointments for application and to find out how to provide the information required for their applications and forms, such as tax ID number, ownership structure of the farm, adjusted gross income if applicable and pounds of first quarter milk production via milk check settlement statements Jan. through March, or other documentation for dairies doing on-farm processing.

Any milk that was dumped on farms in March due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions that is not included in the milk check pounds can also be self-certified by a producer’s record of this dumping, according to USDA.

These CFAP payments help producers offset COVID-19-related declines in income by price loss and sales loss for dairy as well as livestock and identified specialty and non-specialty crops.

Secretary Perdue indicated that for livestock and poultry growers forced to euthanize animals due to supply chain disruptions, a different program will handle those losses once USDA has the data on these occurrences to review. These CFAP payments are only for animals sold in the first quarter and animals subject to price risk that are a part of a producer’s inventory on the date chosen in the second quarter.

Dairy producers are eligible for compensation for certain types of livestock and feed.

Included under livestock are payments per head for specified classes of cattle (excluding cattle intended for dairy production), hogs, sheep (lambs and yearlings only) and wool.

CFAP_Livestock_Payment_Rate_Figure_2

It is clear that cattle sales intended for dairy are not eligible for cattle payments. However, dairy producers feeding Holstein or Dairy-cross cattle for the beef market, or raising / backgrounding such calves for feedlots may apply for cattle payments.

Cull cows are also eligible under “Mature Slaughter Cattle” for Q1 actual sales, but the “inventory at risk” method is not appropriate for dairy cull cows since they are dairy production animals while they are in “inventory,” not beef animal inventory waiting for a slot at the packing yards. Youngstock sold for to beef or veal growers, not dairy replacements, can be entered under feeder cattle. Check with your FSA office.

Assistance to cattle producers has two components – cattle sold between January 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020 and cattle inventory subject to price risk on a date of the producers choosing between April 16, 2020, to May 14, 2020. Livestock payments are per-head are shown in the Farm Bureau chart above by the two rates used for Q1 and Q2.

USDA confirmed in a media call that payments will only go to producers with eligible cattle and livestock, including contract growers if their contract allows them to have price risk in the livestock. Processor-owned livestock are not eligible for these direct farm payments.

CFAP_Non_Specialty_Payment_Rate_Figure_1_CorrectedIncluded under non-specialty crops are payment rates for malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat and hard red spring wheat. These crops grown on dairy farms are also eligible under inventory with conversions for silage to grain prices — as long as these crops were “subject to price risk” or incurred market costs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Also, included under specialty crops are payment rates for a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as almonds, pecans and walnuts, beans and mushrooms.

USDA has a special webpage devoted to the CFAP program at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

CFAP payments are not government “handouts” or “bailouts”, but rather the government’s recognition that our nation’s farmers and ranchers are essential to our nation’s future. Like other businesses receiving federal assistance during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and economic shut down, the losses farmers are suffering are monumental and totally outside of their control and outside of the disrupted supply chain’s ability to handle under these unprecedented conditions.

Throughout the past eight weeks of publicized empty shelves, purchase limits and dumping of milk — as well as euthanizing of livestock and plowing under of produce unable to be harvested – consumers are showing renewed appreciation for American farmers and ranchers. These much-needed funds will not make farmers whole but are a life boat in uncharted waters.

According to American Farm Bureau Federation, this program is considered “an important downpayment in helping farmers and ranchers deal with the unprecedented and unexpected economic fallout related to COVID-19.”

According to Jim Mulhern of National Milk Producers Federation, the details on the dairy payments are “more than we anticipated,” but at the same time “more is needed,” he said.

Both AFBF and NMPF – as well as other farm organizations – indicate they are working with lawmakers for additional assistance in the future as the full extent of the pandemic and crisis become known. USDA will be replenishing the CCC by $14 billion in July, and Congress is currently looking at what additional measures are necessary to assist producers of commodities not included in the CFAP package.

Mulhern noted in a PDPW Dairy Signal webinar Tuesday that the dairy industry stands to lose nearly $9 billion this year if the recently released World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates of 2020 milk price comes to fruition – or worsens.

He said that even with the expanded limits for CFAP, “This still leaves larger operations (over 2000 cows) without coverage for larger losses. I think there’s a good chance that additional legislation, like the House ‘HEROES’ bill, to have the payment limit issue removed.”

Mulhern also noted that one of the biggest CFAP benefits to all dairy farmers right now are the nearly $450 million in new dairy purchases that were recently announced through the $317 in dairy product awards for the new food box program May 15 through June 30 and the $120 million in additional Section 32 dairy purchases out for bid for delivery to food programs in July.

The good news is that cheese, butter, powder, and milk futures prices have been rallying over the past four weeks with near-term Class III milk contracts well into the $17s — more than $5/cwt higher than the current for May. Mulhern expects to see a volatile pattern in dairy product and futures markets for the rest of this year.

To stay up to date on information from USDA about the CFAP payments, including an FAQ, click here

The 40-page official rule on was published today, May 21, in the Federal Register. Read it here.

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Consumer trends amid COVID-19 have DMI a bit perplexed

Gallagher skeptical about ‘comfort and nutrition’, wants data from partners, not opinions. O’Brien says ‘future of dairy’ may go fast-forward

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Data shared by DMI in the May 4, 2020 industry call shows all retail dairy sales categories are up significantly year over year. DMI CEO Tom Gallagher noted that the level of increased sales of fluid milk compared with a year ago are “still relatively consistent” as of the end of April.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 15, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Amid the supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Dairy Board are having weekly conference calls. They say 100 to 150 farmers have been participating.

And they are scratching their heads a bit over what to make of the now ‘unleashed’ consumers.

‘Unleashed consumers’ is the phrase I have coined for describing consumers now in control over their food, beverage and dairy choices, now that they are not so completely influenced by away-from-home and institutional feeding that adhere more closely to the dietary guidelines.

This has emerged most notably in the huge increases in whole milk sales that have boosted the fluid milk category well over year ago levels to the first year-over-year increase last month in decades. It has also shown up in the demand for butter, full fat cheeses and other cream products that sell out quickly at retail and prompt spot shortages.

On the May 11 DMI call, Russell Weiner, Domino’s COO and president of the Americas, was a guest and he highlighted his company’s partnership with dairy checkoff since 2008. That is a separate and quite interesting story. One thing he referenced is that pizza sales have been strong through the pandemic, and that consumers historically spend 5% of their disposable income in the quick-serve-restaurant (QSR) sector through recessions and other crises. This appears to be holding true amid the pandemic.

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien also gave updates about what DMI is doing about consumer buying patterns and future trends. It was evident in the discussion that DMI has a future of food concept for dairy based on prevailing insights from its partners and does not want to deviate from this framework unless data from partners points to a true shift in consumer purchasing and unless they have a “why” behind the shift.

Gallagher stressed that DMI, and the states and regions, are collecting every piece of information from every partner they can to “see what it will mean post-COVID or during COVID. There are a lot of opinions out there,” he said, “but it’s too early for us to put our stake in the ground as to this is what it will be.”

He talked about DMI’s data partner Inmar Analytics, which did the recent 2019 “Future of Food Retailing” report. “At no charge to us, they are looking at the buying patterns after the initial ‘panic buying,’” said Gallagher. “We know what people bought, but why did they buy it? Was it because they were interested in comfort food or nutrition? Or were they hoarding? Or were they baking more? I am a data guy. I want to see the data as to why they buy what they bought.”

In a skeptical tone, Gallagher went on about these so-called “opinions” on the buying patterns revealed by COVID-19 impacts.

“Some say, ‘Oh, it’s a return to nutrition.’ And some say, ‘Oh it’s a return to comfort food.’ But what really drove their behavior? And what strategies should really influence our thinking about the future? We don’t know. In the meantime, we will collect information,” Gallagher said. “We all have opinions, but we want to be informed with data, not opinions, to design how we move forward.”

Gallagher mentioned a study coming out this week on what food companies are thinking will be the patterns after COVID. When pressed later about how to hang on to the new-found bump in purchases of certain dairy products at retail (such as whole milk and butter), given that some of these purchases may be relatively new for some consumers, Gallagher was steadfast on not changing the future plan because of current “opinions.”

He stated — again — that Inmar Analytics will be able to tell DMI “exactly what shoppers put in their baskets and compare it to what they put in prior to COVID. They will be able to tell us what changed and through technology, why did that change occur, that’s the data I want,” he said.

One ‘why’ for ‘what changed’ (in this reporter’s opinion) may be too subtle for the Inmar Analytics surveys to detect — that is the nuances of just how much consumers have been controlled by the Dietary Guidelines pre-COVID, without even realizing it. There is rarely any talk from DMI about what those flawed guidelines — set by the government with very little opposition by the dairy industry — actually do to buying patterns when people are consuming 54% of their calories away from home and much of that in schools, workplaces, quick-serve-restaurants and other institutional settings where food choices are more “formulated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly unleashed consumers nationwide from the fat-restrictive Dietary Guidelines. Now, consumers are able to use more of their own discretion and choice apart from institutional food settings, guidelines and formulas. Some experts ‘reading the tea leaves’, such as Nielson Global Insights, observe that after a significant event like a pandemic of this magnitude, consumers can be expected to stay with some of the choices that made them feel healthy and safe during the pandemic, once the world gets back to a new-normal. That could be significant for dairy — but it may not line up with the ‘future of dairy’ pathway set by DMI and its partners.

O’Brien explained that dairy checkoff teams are actively involved in both long-term and immediate efforts.

“We are looking at the future of dairy. COVID-19 may fast-forward some of that future to happen more quickly,” she said. “In the immediate term, our retail teams are working with MilkPEP, to keep stores stocked and address the concerns people have about value, and we’re doing things with e-commerce to offer recipes that extend the use of the dairy products they bought.”

DMI’s ‘future of dairy’, as we know, is built on partnerships, innovation, and promotion of dairy farmers and sustainability and animal welfare practices, not education and promotion about milk and dairy products. It is well known that the innovations over the past decade have been focused on consumers eating dairy, not drinking it; and in the fluid space, these innovations emphasized through DMI partnerships have focused on ultrafiltered, shelf stable, lower-fat dairy beverages and blends and away from the whole milk gallon jug.

But we also can see that in their time of freedom to choose for their families amid the pandemic, consumers are reaching for the whole milk gallon jug. In fact, prices are rising on whole milk by $1 to $2 per gallon, while other fat content milks have remained the same, and still sales of whole milk are strong.

A producer from Wisconsin on the call asked Gallagher to make sure to track convenience store purchases when gathering the data, not just grocery retail, noting that many consumers buy their milk at convenience stores. Gallagher responded that they may have to check with another data partner for that piece.

O’Brien also stressed that while they gather data about consumer patterns, DMI will continue to chart the path it has set. That is to “gain the trust of consumers and celebrate dairy’s role in sustainably nourishing families and communities,” she said, adding that a media segment is being prepared for Fox and Friends next Monday morning, May 18 that will feature Katie Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Maryland.

“That piece will help bring to life our dairy farmers’ commitment to sustainably producing nutritious food,” said O’Brien. An estimated 2.5 million viewers will see the spot, and it will be supplemented with “live-streaming” on two other network stations where farmers will be interviewed to “tell their story.”

“That piece is supported by a 30-second video drawing footage from many farms and will run this week to the end of the month in streaming venues,” said O’Brien. She also explained that DMI has been working extensively with MilkPEP (fluid milk processors promotion) and that MilkPEP’s ‘Love what’s real’ ads are on television right now during the COVID period (when everyone is at home). The ads review the essential role of dairy farmers, and others involved in the dairy supply chain, she said.

“We co-brand these ads using the Undeniably Dairy logo, and design ways to help them reach consumers with these interests,” said O’Brien. “That’s our runway into June Dairy Month.”

While Gallagher said he expected to have some data insights from Inmar Analytics as early as next week, he added that it will begin a process to use technology to interact with consumers to learn more of the why’s behind their choices so that DMI — and its partners — can “appeal” to those drivers.

Stay tuned.

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