‘Milk Baleboards’ are a ‘thing’, with a website!

Producers unite to send clear message to policymakers and consumers, website takes it to the next level.

Nelson Troutman (above) is a dairy farmer. He has made 20 Milk Baleboards and offers these DIY Tips with illustrations at the end of this story.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. — Nelson Troutman has been making the ‘Milk Baleboards’ since January. The Berks/Lebanon County dairy farmer came up with the idea after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board listening session in December.

“It’s very important that the bales all have the same message: ‘Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT-FREE.’ Don’t try to get funny with it. You could take the ‘local’ off and just focus on the ‘whole milk,’ but mainly to have impact, we want the bales to have the same message,” he said while painting bales in his shop during my visit last Saturday morning to the farm where he and his wife Mary live and which is now rented to a young couple for their dairy herd.

He still farms the land he has lived on his entire life, and he makes the feed for that herd and his son’s herd nearby. (In fact his daughter in law Renee wrote about whole milk recently, with a historical twist!)

Nelson has made 20 Milk Baleboards so far (check out his DIY tips at the end of this story). And he has seen new ones pop up from others following suit.

He has had 10 phone calls from fellow farmers as far away as New York, and has talked to so many more at meetings — out and about. He tells them: “Put a bale out… unless you are satisfied with your milk price.”

Did he think it would take off like it has? “No I didn’t,” he says. But he’s glad to see others joining in and hopes to see it catch on even more.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia has been doing all he can to get other agribusinesses to put them out. In addition to Morrissey Insurance having one on their property along Rte 272 north of Ephrata, the Milk Baleboards are popping up along other main routes like 23, 322, and 422, to name a few.

“Our advertising checkoff dollars just didn’t seem to be doing a very good job these past 10 years. They have been promoting fat free and low-fat 1% milk and the fat free yogurt — not much whole milk,” Nelson relates.

“After the listening session with the PMMB, some of us were talking. We thought it was time to do something different, something like letting consumers know whole milk is 97% fat free,” he said further. “We didn’t come up with a plan that day. We were thinking about a billboard, but that was far too expensive. We thought about portable signs.”

Then over the weekend after that December meeting, he looked around. “I thought to myself that I already have the perfect thing: A wrapped hay bale! So, I painted one. I set it in the pasture at our crossroad. We farmers have silos, wagons, barns and sheds we can paint signs on.”

Lots of feedback has come in, and it seemed no one knew whole milk was 97% fat free. Some said “why are we drinking 2% milk, when whole milk tastes so much better?”

Nelson observes that young and older people said they never thought about how much fat or nutrition is in milk. “It seems so sad how people are misled by our checkoff dollars, our doctors and medical people — and our federal dietary guidelines committee.”

He admits that people are easily confused. To be sure, the bales are attracting attention, leading to questions.

While it started out as a way to send a clear and unified message to consumers and especially policymakers, Nelson said the information is so surprising to people that it offers educational opportunities.

That’s why R&J Dairy Consulting invited Nelson and Bernie to a meeting of dairy farmers last Friday to see what could be done to use this teachable moment.

The group decided to purchase a website domain — 97MILK.com, and direct people there to learn more: What is whole milk? How does it compare? What is Real Milk, Local Milk?

The website can help unite these efforts, and bring additional excitement to the project. For example, at the meeting organized by R&J Consulting, their marketing manager Jackie Behr said when she asked peers what questions they have about milk, she ended up with a whole list.

“Let’s use this opportunity to educate consumers and help them make a good choice,” she said. The group decided to start out with key simple answers to frequent questions. Many businesses and people are pulling together in various ways that it is impossible to name them all here. That will come in a future Milk Baleboard update.

Jackie at R&J, with some help from others, got the website 97milk.com up and running within seven days. This includes a facebook page @97Milk, so check it all out!

Want to make a Milk Baleboard? Here are Nelson’s DIY tips:


1) Keep the message the same: Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT FREE (or now that there is a website, omit ‘Drink’ on a Round Bale and put the website 97MILK.com top or bottom.)

2) Get the right paint! Rustoleum Ultra Cover 2X paint and primer.

3) Use the small foam brushes and buy extra. This paint doesn’t wash out, so they can’t be re-used. Foam brushes can be turned for thick or thin letters.

4) Wear gloves, this paint will be with you a while if you don’t.

5) Before painting, sketch out a guide with a pen.

6) 97% is the largest and in making the percent-sign, put the circles parallel to each other and the slanted line in between to keep it straight.

7) Find the middle and that’s where the “I” in Milk goes, then build on that.

8) Letters are placed every 2.5 inches for “Local Whole,” and adjust others accordingly.

9) Spray paint onto foam brush, then apply to bale in strokes from the bottom to the top of each letter.

10) Alternate between colors (Blue/Red or Black/Red).

11) Make the letters broader and thicker for the word MILK, in all capital letters.

12) Follow your guide and use paint to even things out as you go.

13) Paint will dry faster and better, with fewer runs (in winter) if painting in sunshine or with a heater running in the shop.

14) Sit them on a pallet for better visibility on property you have along roads and set back from intersections.

‘Consumers are smarter than us, they are buying more fat.’

Covington more optimistic for dairy in 2019

(Above) Calvin Covington is the retired CEO of Southeast Milk, Inc. and formerly with American Jersey Cattle Association and National All Jersey. He has published many articles in Hoards Dairyman and other publications and is respected for his insights on milk marketing. Covington came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from his home in North Carolina on Jan. 29 to talk about dairy markets — from the Northeast perspective — at the R&J Dairy Consulting winter dairy meeting. The previous week, Covington spoke at the Georgia Dairy Conference in Savannah, giving the Southeast outlook and perspective there. He also shared with producers that butterfat is driving milk check value because consumers are smart, they are choosing whole milk, butter and full-fat natural cheeses. He urged producers to hold their industry organizations accountable on selling and promoting fat and flavor. He encouraged farmers to focus on pounds of components to improve milk prices at the farm level.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, February 1, 2019

EAST EARL, Pa. — Bringing a bit of good news, along with good understanding, of dairy markets, Calvin Covington kicked off R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy seminar Tuesday (Jan. 29) talking about what needs to happen for milk prices to improve.

He had the full attention of the 300 dairy producers who gathered at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl for the meeting, where they learned that Covington anticipates 2019 Federal Order blend prices in the Northeast to improve by $1.00 to $1.50 in 2019 compared with 2018.

“But it’s going to be a walk, not a run. they will move up gradually,” he said. “Last year, I was pessimistic. This year, I am a lot more optimistic.”

Covington also talked about the “4 C’s” that need tochange as the major factors to improve farm level milk prices: Consumption, Cow numbers, Components and Cooperation.

“The most important is consumption,” said Covington. “What is the consumer telling us?”

He showed a graph of how overall dairy consumption has steadily increased on a solids basis from 2000 though 2018, and he displayed a chart (above) showing that the consumer is telling us they want the milkfat — that it’s the solids in the milk — the bufferfat and protein — that give milk value.

“Exports are growing. That’s where most of our growth in demand has been coming from… but we export commodities — milk powder, whey, lactose,” he said. “We export very little butter and cheese.”

While he said exports are of course important to the milk check, he emphasized the need to focus on domestic demand, which has been overlooked and “presents real opportunity. What can we do to lift domestic demand and make that happen?”

In a word, said Covington: “Milkfat. That’s number one. We in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers are a whole lot smarter than we are. They are figuring it out. They are buying more fat… and we need to sell thatt.”

He said that the average fat content of all types of fluid milk sales from fat-free to whole milk — nationwide — is 2%.

“If that moved up by just 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 percent, the difference in farmer milk checks would be substantial. Fluid milk sales have been declining (in total), but whole milk sales are up three years in a row,” Covington explained.

“Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it.”

He also pointed out how per capita butter consumption is at its highest point in over 10 years.

“That’s big, and that’s why the butterfat price in your milk check is double the protein price,” said Covington, explaining that in addition to butter, natural cheeses are one-third fat, that we forget about.

“Natural cheese consumption is higher, but it’s the processed cheeses, that contain less fat, that are moving lower,” he said.

He noted that for many years, the research said fat is bad for us.

“Now smart people are showing this to be false and we have books and articles about how butter, cheese and whole milk are good for us.”

Covington noted that what the industry needs to focus on is giving consumers more of what they want and not being afraid to “sell more fat. That will up your milk price,” he pointed out, encouraging producers to focus on pounds of components because this is the majority of how their milk price is determined.

He shared a story about meeting Queen Elizabeth in England with one of the oldest Jersey herds in the world. Those cows produce more than 6% fat, and that’s what she drinks and she’s 92 years old.

He also observed that the Queen knows as much about cows and agriculture as about anyone he’s met.

Look for more highlights and details from Covington’s fascinating discussions and his 2019 market outlook for the Northeast and the Southeast in a future Farmshine.

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It’s 4th and 40 with 4 seconds on the clock, backed up to our own endzone…

Web-based FUTP60’s branding is long on NFL, short on dairy, while funding is long on dairy, short on NFL

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 8, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Since 2010, Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) has been GENYOUth’s flagship program, a marriage between the NFL’s Play 60 initiative for students to participate in 60 minutes of exercise daily and the Fuel Up portion touted by DMI and underpinned by USDA, focusing on healthy eating, defined as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, including fat-free and low-fat dairy. This is a program where dairy checkoff outspends the NFL $4 to $1.

In its 2016-18 report “Building the Evidence Base for FUTP60,” published in January 2018 and available here, the FUTP60 program is called “the nation’s largest in-school wellness program with over 73,000 enrolled schools.” The report states further that, “FUTP60 aims to improve K-12 school nutrition and physical activity environments using a student-centered approach and social marketing tactics along with promising practices for creating positive, incremental environmental changes.”

The team regularly tracks key indicators of program reach, effectiveness, adoption, implementation and maintenance, according to the report.

An illustrative infographic documents progress through educator surveys, reporting in January 2018 that of the 38 million students in the 73,000 enrolled schools, 13 million were “actively engaged” in the program.

Under healthy eating, the report states that “because of FUTP60, 14 million students are eating healthier, consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) and that 18 million students are more physically active.” 

But there are no surveys tracking actual food selections as the impact data are self-reported as “educator insights.”

In fact, all of these numbers are self-reported as the fine print states: “Data are based on a combination of annual FUTP60 Utilization Survey of almost 10,000 educators nationwide, funds for FUTP60 reporting and program enrollment data.”

So, just 10,000 educators are surveyed for the report, but 73,000 schools are said to be enrolled.

According to the Jan. 2018 report, the GENYOUth funding supported the following items in 2016-17: 2333 breakfast carts, 2,338 school kitchen equipment upgrades, 1833 projects to create active classrooms, 244 projects to improve physical education, 1984 school-wide walking clubs, and 741 cafeteria makeovers.”

The report describes the funding as “generously donated by America’s dairy farmers, U.S. corporations, non-profit organizations and philanthropies.” (Table 1).

FUTP60 was founded in 2009. GENYOUth was licensed as a non-profit in 2010, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by the National Dairy Council, NFL and USDA in 2011. IRS 990 forms for 2014-16 available at guidestar.org show dairy farmer checkoff organizations are the single largest contributor to GENYOUth – outspending the NFL $4 to $1, while bound by the MOU signed with USDA to not use the platform to advertise. Meanwhile, the entire program is clothed in NFL branding and USDA dietary dogma. Table compiled by Sherry Bunting with available 990s for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Peer-reviewed articles mostly studied the design of the program. However, a 4-year (2011-15) review of the impact of FUTP60 was published in the March 2017 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, available here.

The authors studied participants in schools within the 32 NFL franchise markets, including a range of 50,000 to 100,000 students from just 497 schools (not 10,000 nor 73,000 schools). These 497 schools completed FitnessGram assessments annually for 2011-2015. Program participation was not required, and its implementation was evaluated each year through self-reported school surveys. 

The study measured the main outcomes of aerobic capacity and Body Mass Index (BMI) of students. Results showed that about 19% of the 497 schools were “classified as FUTP60 programming schools.”

Annual improvements in aerobic capacity were “significantly greater in schools that participated in the programs for both girls (3%) and boys (2.9%) compared with non-program schools. The annual improvements in BMI Healthy Fitness Zone achievement were also higher in girls (1.3%) and in boys (1.2%) from schools that participated in the program vs. those that did not.”

The report stated that schools implementing the programs for the entire 4-year period tended to have better improvements in aerobic capacity than schools enrolled for only 2 or 3 years.

Still, the study authors concluded that, “The results … support the utility of the NFL Play 60 physical activity promotion programs for improving youth aerobic capacity and potentially helping to reverse the prevalence of overweight / obesity. However, the overall program adoption rate is low.”

Most of the FUTP60 program is web-based, with toolkits for lead educators at participating schools. In fact, IRS Form 990s for 2014-16 show that of the $7 to $10 million in funds received annually through checkoff and other organizations, roughly $3 to 4 million was used annually in the form of grants to qualifying schools and of the remaining $4 to $6 million, an average of just $109,000 (roughly 1%) from 2014 through 2016 was used for printing or publishing materials.


FUTP60 is mainly a web-based program where a playbook and toolkits are available for schools to choose one healthy eating play and one physical activity play to implement to qualify for up to $4000 a year for physical activity or foodservice equipment or projects. The playbook branding is long on NFL branding, short on dairy. DMI cites the mobile breakfast carts as a ‘prime mover’ for students to consume more fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese that are among the breakfast options offered.

The detailed website is augmented by NFL ‘Play60’ apps that students can download and use on electronic devices to participate in ‘virtual challenges’ relating to movement and activity.

The less than $1 million contributed by the NFL and the larger number Commissioner Goodell articulates based on ‘services’ can be considered as furthering the advertising value for the NFL — attracting future generations to the game while attracting schools to participate in FUTP60. The FUTP60 infographic explains how the NFL “brings excitement to school wellness”… with these 2016-17 statistics: 2700 NFL players, mascots and cheerleaders visited schools, 4200 local events were held, 12,000 flag (football) kits were donated to schools to get over 6 million students moving more, and over $1 million in hometown grants were donated to schools.”

It is certainly true that there is plenty of NFL branding in this program under the auspices of “bringing NFL excitement to physical activity” — even though…

America’s dairy farmers — through their mandatory checkoff organizations — outspend the NFL $4 to $1, according to available 2014, 2015 and 2016 IRS 990s at guidestar.org

Even the video spots created by DMI for this year’s social media lead-up to the 53rd Super Bowl were long on NFL branding and short on dairy messaging. Read more about that, here.

Again, the Youth Improved Incorporated Foundation, doing business as GENYOUth, is short on dairy and long on NFL.

FUTP60 is largely a program focusing on physical activity, and there are other areas of youth wellness that are being added each year.

This year’s new foray for GENYOUth is sleep studies. The new big thing in weight-loss is getting enough sleep.

As it grows, GENYOUth’s founding and primary funding is by dairy farmers who see their message diluted – just like the flavor of their milk at the school lunch counter or mobile breakfast cart.

The thinking is that fat-free and low-fat dairy can be quietly positioned for the future within this overall youth wellness effort. Insiders put stock in the mobile breakfast carts that schools can earn using FUTP60 healthy eating and physical activity ‘plays’ to score ‘touchdowns’.

DMI staff point to these breakfast carts as opportunities for children to consume more fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt and skim-processed cheese.

Should dairy farmers be investing in youth wellness? That feels like a good idea. But when there are so many questions about how ‘well’ kids are permitted to eat at school, one has to wonder where this is all going.

In terms of truly promoting dairy, this all has the feel of a hope-to-catch, hail-Mary-pass that is destined to be intercepted vs. a game plan that earns a win for the home-team that sits at 4th and 40 with 4 seconds on the clock — backed up to their own endzone.

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GENYOUth finances raise eyebrows

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 1, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Looking over the past nine years since GENYOUth was licensed in 2010 as a non-profit under the official name “Youth Improved Incorporated,” the annual Gala event is just one small piece of the larger pie. The Gala has been held for three consecutive years: 2016, 2017 and 2018, ostensibly to raise funds for GENYOUth and its flagship program: Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60).

In fact, since GENYOUth has not been widely publicized until last year, many people believe it began in 2016 and that the Gala is its primary source of funding. Not so.

According to guidestar.org, Youth Improved Incorporated (aka GENYOUth) was started in 2010 and the IRS 990 forms available for 2014-16 show its budget goes well beyond the fundraising of the Gala, with DMI as the primary source of unrestricted funds primarily for administration. Many other donations are restricted or earmarked for specific things.

It’s mission, according to the Guidestar profile is one of empowerment to position youth as “change-agents” in their communities. (In fact a recent GENYOUth project underway is a youth sleep study).

Here is the mission as published in the profile: “GENYOUth nurtures healthy, high-achieving school communities by: Activating programs that create healthy, active students and schools, empowering youth as change-agents in their local communities, engaging a network of private and public partners that share our goal to create a healthy, successful future for students, schools and communities nationwide.”

While it’s true that the November 2018 Gala in New York City raised $1.4 million for GENYOUth, according to DMI staff responses to inquiries, the entire GENYOUth budget has far exceeded this at $8.1 million in 2014, $7.8 million in 2015 and $10.4 million in 2016, according to the IRS 990 forms for those years – the only ones available at this time. (Forms have been submitted requesting 990s from 2010 through 2013, and the 2017 990 won’t be released until March 2019 while 2018’s 990 won’t be available until March 2020.)

Of these $7.8 to $10.4 million budgets, roughly half was spent in the form of grants and contributions to schools and half on administration.

Looking at just the most recent 990 available for 2016, nearly half a million dollars was spent on travel, conferences and meetings, $4.5 million total administration, including over $2 million in ‘professional fees,’ nearly $1 million on salaries, $259,961 in office rent or occupancy, another $202,095 in ‘other expenses,’ and less than $90,000 on printing and publications (aka materials).

GENYOUth carried in 2016 total assets and fund balances of $8 million at the end of the year.

Of the $10.4 million in contributions, less than $1 million came from the NFL ($813,112) with the NFL Players Inc. kicking in $25,000 and two teams contributing $5000 each. Quaker Foods (owned by PepsiCo) kicked in $12,500 that year. Nike contributed over $400,000. Domino’s contributed nearly $700,000, Land O’Lakes contributed nearly $600,000, Microsoft (Bill Gates) kicked in $100,000, fairlife $100,000, Dannon $100,000, and Leprino $20,000.  

A whopping $4.2 million came from checkoff organizations, making mandatory dairy farmer checkoff funds the single largest source of funding in 2016, as follows: 

DMI accounted for $1.527 million and Midwest Dairy Association accounted for $1.203 million. 

The balance of the $4.2 million in dairy checkoff funds came from ADA Northeast $30,162, ADA Indiana $81,822, ADA Mideast $38,952, California Milk Advisory Board $29,800, Dairy Council of AZ $164,210, Dairy Max $18,750, Florida Dairy Farmers $150,000, Idaho Dairy Products Commission $175,000, Maine Dairy Promotion Board $10,000, Midatlantic Dairy Association $43,772, Midwest Dairy Association $1,203,000, National Dairy Council $15,000, New England, Dairy Promotion board $100,000, Oregon Dairy Products Commission $117,818, UDIA of Michigan $147,825, Washington State Dairy Products Commission $210,000, and Western Dairy Association $59,139

Interestingly, PepsiCo did not even appear in the 2016 contributions, but contributed just $12,500 through Quaker Foods in 2016. In both 2014 and 2015, the combined contribution by PepsiCo and its subsidiary Quaker Foods was $450,000 and $430,000, respectively.

While dairy farmer checkoff organizations were by far the largest GENYOUth contributor, funding nearly half of GENYOUth’s budget in all three available 990 years, the roughly $4 million annually for each of those three years represents 1% of the total annual checkoff funds paid by dairy farmers annually.

It is unclear how many other moving parts to the program are funded in other areas of national and regional checkoff budgets apart from these direct contributions.

GENYOUth’s main program, FUTP60, is described as the dairy farmers’ in-school youth wellness program that is reported to be in 73,000 schools affecting 38 million students, its actual promotion of milk and dairy products has been limited to the deeper layers of online toolkits that accompany several of the available ‘plays’ a school can choose to implement to earn grants for physical education or cafeteria equipment, such as smoothie makers, coolers for milk and the separate implementation of mobile school breakfast carts.

In addition, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) all parties signed with USDA in 2010-11 prevents the program’s partners from using FUTP60 to advertise.

When a school picks one ‘healthy eating play’ and one ‘physical activity play’ from the list of choices in the FUTP60 ‘playbook,’ a school can qualify for up to $4000 in grants annually to ‘kickstart healthy changes.’

When the National Football League (NFL), PepsiCo and others who partner in FUTP60 are involved, their brands have immediate recognition. They don’t need to say a word to get advertising value.

For example, the NFL brand is obvious in many of the ‘plays’ that even use its name, such as NFL FLAG-in-Schools – Get in the Game!” This has advertising brand value.

Another example, when PepsiCo is presented with a GENYOUth award and the CEO uses that platform to talk about PepsiCo’s plant-based health foods and beverages coming on the market – some directly competing as dairy alternatives — that has advertising value for PepsiCo.

Where is the advertising value for dairy farmers? What brand do the underwriting dairy farmers showcase for their participation? Any photo of milk is strategically positioned so the brand cannot be seen, unless it’s fairlife. And dairy farmers get five simple words that are sometimes included and sometimes omitted from GENYOUth and FUTP60 materials: ‘including fat-free and low-fat dairy.’

Of the dozens of ‘plays’ in the FUTP60 playbook that schools can choose to implement, most have toolkits that focus on empowering students to consider “sustainability” and nutrition of the snacks they choose. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are emphasized. Discussions about milk and dairy are found in the deeper layers of these toolkits but are not part of direct action implemented in the ‘play.’

When ‘plays’ are implemented and a grant is awarded for equipment, an school assembly is often held, and in some of those cases, dairy could be highlighted if the equipment is a smoothie maker using yogurt, for example.

In fact, any number of these ‘plays’ are positive for young people, but the dietary emphasis of the healthy eating ‘plays’ is on whole grains, fruits and vegetables with “including fat-free and low-fat dairy” as the five little words educating future consumers. No mandatory checkoff funds are coming into GENYOUth from these other commodities.

As for the mobile breakfast carts funded through GENYOUth, they offer an opportunity to sell more milk, yogurt and cheese as breakfast options students can choose from. Checkoff staff point to these sales opportunities as the benefit that trickles down for the dairy farmer’s investment.

Still, the offerings remain fat-free and low-fat, and the interactions with these 73,000 schools are cumulative – not ongoing. Once a play is implemented and an assembly is held and a grant is given and equipment is purchased, a few posters may show up in the lunchroom, but school staff confide months or years later they tend not to even realize they are FUTP60 participants.

Life goes on. Lunch goes on. Breakfast goes on. There is no real tracking of the results in terms of whether the 38 million school children ‘touched’ by the program cumulatively since its inception in 2010 are drinking their milk or eating their cheese and yogurt.

Meanwhile, the dairy education and promotion aspect is limited to fat-free and low-fat milk, nonfat yogurt, and skim-processed cheese as dairy farmers are cobbled to USDA by both the Dietary Guidelines and the GENYOUth memorandum of understanding.

In effect, mandatory dairy producer funds are toting the government’s dietary and sustainability message instead of being free to boldly put dairy’s best and most nutritious foot forward with whole milk, real butter and full-fat natural cheese for growing young bodies and minds to be empowered. 

Given that the dairy farmer checkoff organizations have been primary funders of GENYOUth since its inception to the tune of around $4 million a year (times 8 = approximately $32 mil cumulative) — and given the fact that PepsiCo seems to have missed at least one year out of the three years for which records are available, having given just $1 million over three years, cumulatively — maybe the “Everyday Superheroes” theme of the November 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City should have taken a different route.

Perhaps the Vanguard Award should have been presented in gratitude to The American Dairy Farmer instead of PepsiCo. 

Then, instead of hearing the PepsiCo CEO talk about the ‘oat milk’ their Quaker Foods is launching, the Gala attendees could have viewed a professional video of America’s dairy farmers… working every day through weather and markets to care for the cows and the land, and the nutritious benefits of real milk for each one of us.

Now that would have been impressive for all of those corporation CEOs and world “thought leaders” in attendance to have seen.

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Decision made, faith shared as his beautiful Lancaster County farm auction is set for Feb. 9

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 1, 2019

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Picture postcard perfect in Tuesday afternoon’s snow, Rusty Herr’s 71-acre farm, including the all wood construction dairy and heifer barns (shown here), designed to showcase Golden Rose Genetics, as well as the restored historic home (not shown) in the Andrews Bridge historic district of southern Lancaster County will be auctioned by Beiler-Campbell on Feb. 9.

CHRISTIANA, Pa. – “It was a gut feeling, more than anything — an inner sense of knowing something had to happen,” says Rusty Herr about his November decision to auction the 71-acre farm and its most unique dairy facility that is home to Golden Rose Genetics and its elite herd of 40 cows, 25 of which are related to the Oakfield Pronto Ritzi cow he purchased as a yearling in 2009 at the New York Spring Sensation Sale.

Beiler-Campbell Auction Company will conduct the public auction at the 3 Sproul Road farm in the Andrews Bridge historic district of southern Lancaster County near Christiana, Pennsylvania next Saturday, February 9 at 1:00 p.m. In addition to the farm, and it’s not quite four-year-old dairy and heifer barns, the sale includes the family’s restored historic home.

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Rusty with his foundation cow Oakfield Pronto Ritzi EX93, in front of the dairy facility at Golden Rose Genetics. The facilities and renovated farm house are part of the auction Feb. 9 of the 71-acre farm. Pronto Ritzi’s is from a genetic line that is now 19 consecutive generations EX with the most recent four generations bred here at Golden Rose and a potential 20th generation EX — a red and polled first calf heifer — waiting in the wings to be scored.

Rusty will determine his options for the cattle and equipment after the sale of the farm. He’s hoping to be able to keep some of his best animals and some heifers for his children to show.

The beautiful all-wood construction Canadian-style barn, complete with indoor wash rooms and a show case entryway was built so that Rusty could give his small herd of high-scoring cows the individual attention and as a show place to merchandise the genetics he has been developing.

In fact, his Golden-Rose Ladd Glory-Red (below), both Red and Polled, has not yet been classified and has the potential to be a 20th generation EX in Oakfield Pronto Ritzi’s line.

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Oakfield Pronto Ritzi EX93 is the foundation cow at Golden Rose

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Golden-Rose Ladd Glory-Red is a polled first-calf heifer that will be professionally photographed in February. She is not yet classified, and Rusty has high hopes for her as a potential 20th generation EX from the Oakfield Pronto Ritzi line. Rusty will make plans and choices for his cattle after the public auction of the farm.

Good cows and good genetics, along with a love of marketing and the training and skill-set for reproductive work — these are the things Rusty has learned and will continue to love – even if the path forward right now is like opening a book of blank pages.

While it was a gut feeling and months of deliberation that led to the decision to sell the farm, it all comes down to the financial strain he and other dairy producers are enduring.

“Each of us has to know how much longer we can tread water before losing everything,” he says. “We also have to look at how the financial strain may be impacting on other areas of our physical, emotional and family life. If the dairy industry was in a good place, financially, it is obvious we would not have all of these farms going out of business.”

In kitchen table discussions with other dairymen who’ve crossed this bridge over the past several months, one thing is apparent, our industry’s young farmers and transitioning families do not have the cash flow to finish transitions or move into later stages of having started as beginning farmers. They also don’t have the peace of mind that the markets will cycle high enough to pull them up from four years of losses. This is concerning for the future as we are not just seeing the older generation retiring out of the business, we are seeing unprecedented numbers of young people who have a passion for dairy in these tough decisions.

For Rusty, it means walking away from the farm and most unique dairy facility he had spent years dreaming, planning, preparing for and then in 2015 building for his Golden Rose Genetics.

He had been sharpening his skill-set in embryo transfers, ultrasounding and IVF work, building a line of Excellent cows from the Oakfield Corners yearling he had purchased. He methodically built up the genetics side of his business, ultimately downsizing his prior herd with a 2015 auction to fund the new barn and intimate setting for a smaller herd where he could specialize in genetics.

What he didn’t plan on — what nobody could have — is that the milk price would abandon its three-year cycle to tumble low for four straight years, beginning in 2015 when he moved his smaller herd into their new quarters at Golden Rose.

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With a rough-cut pine exterior and the interior smooth pine tongue-and-groove construction, clear-coated to protect the wood against moisture, the 40 tie-stalls and four box stalls were designed for the individual care of high-scoring cows. They currently produce 75 pounds/cow/day of milk with 4.2 fat and 3.3 protein and somatic cell counts 160,000 and below. They are fed a forage-based TMR of mainly corn silage and double-cropped triticale, along with some dry hay.

“Without one good year in the dairy markets (since 2015), it’s been an uphill battle,” Rusty reflects. “We were treading water, but then the outlook sealed it. If it looked like markets would be a lot brighter going into 2019, maybe we could hunker down a bit longer, but we felt like we have already hunkered down and pushed it.

“Obviously it has not been an easy decision to make,” but he says that it is the right one for his family to move on from dairy farming as they have known it.

Looking back, he has no regrets.

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The entryway to the cow barn is part of what make this property a unique opportunity for many types of buyers. The location and beauty of the property and its wood-crafted dairy facilities designed for a small elite dairy herd could easily be converted for horses or for a farm to retail business.

“Life has a way of teaching us valuable lessons that we would have never learned if we didn’t go through certain things. When things get difficult, when the pressure is high and the pain is great, those are the times when we learn the most, when we figure out who we really are and come out better and more prepared to handle what is to come,” he describes the perspective that leaves him with peace about stepping towards whatever God has in store next for him and his family.

With the decision made, the marketer in him has Rusty feeling excited about the upcoming auction on February 9.

He and his wife Heather feel a sense of relief knowing the financial strain will ease, and he believes that any number of options could be in front of him.

He says the whole experience has taught him patience and to trust God for His perfect timing.

“This wasn’t how I would have planned it, having just purchased the farm and begun construction on the dairy less than four years ago, but it’s how the script is unfolding,” he notes.

“The dairy industry is changing in many ways, and to think that anyone could have predicted the markets would be moderately to severely depressed going on a fifth year in a row would have been unimaginable.”

But he adds that, “This is the reality of where we are with a high debt load, input costs from all angles and a very uncertain outlook. It’s just not sustainable to continue with the farm and small dairy herd.”

He and his wife Heather and their four children have put the future in God’s hands. He loves the work he has been doing both on and off the farm.

If a buyer wants to keep the dairy going and keep him working with it, he is open to that potential.

If the farm sells to a buyer completely unrelated to dairy, his path could change dramatically, and he’s ready for that.

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The foyer has a comfortable and historic sitting-room feel where milk quality certificates, pedigrees and ribbons and banners won by his daughters showing cattle at the local fairs are displayed. You can see the cows behind the double doors in the tiestalls. A visitor from the Netherlands surprised Rusty with a cow decal on the wall, a signature he leaves at every farm he visits, worldwide.

“We chose to auction the farm. This is not a forced auction,” Rusty affirms. “I have always loved cow auctions and after meeting with Beiler-Campbell, we decided this is how we would handle the farm sale.”

True to form, Rusty finds himself seizing the opportunity to learn about marketing real estate through this whole experience. Just another way to embrace circumstances and decisions even if they are completely opposite of earlier dreams and plans.

RustyHerr-AuctionSign.jpgIn fact, Rusty penned these words in a Facebook post 10 days before Christmas just after the auction signs went up, thanking their network of family, friends and church family and offering to others a glimpse of the hope and faith that remain strong – knowing so many farmers are wrestling with similar difficulties and decisions.

“Yes, it is sad to walk away from something I have worked my whole life to get to, but in other ways I can be so happy to have been given the opportunity to do it. So many people can never say that,” Rusty wrote, and reiterated during a Farmshine visit to Golden Rose Monday evening. During the visit, Rusty confided that the rollercoaster has not been the markets — they’ve been down with no relief. The rollercoaster he and other dairy producers deal with every day is an internal up-and-down in the mindset of whether they can move forward, or how.

“We can control a lot of things, but not the market,” he explains that they have done all they could to increase income and cash flow amid the perfect storm of lower prices for milk, cattle and beef. He stepped up his ET, IVF and other reproductive services to dairy producers in the region –pulling him away from the very farm he was bringing income back to keep going.

“What’s the family farm going to look like in the future?” Rusty wonders aloud. “That question, I think, is being answered. We are disappearing.”

“I don’t want sympathies and people feeling sorry for us…” he wrote in that mid-December post announcing the sale of the farm. “There are dairy farm families right now who are grieving over the loss of a loved one who thought that ending their life was the best way to cope with their overwhelming situation. They are the ones who need our prayers and support. There are others who have no idea how they are going to get through the coming months and years if things don’t dramatically improve. They might be retirement age and have just watched all of their net worth get eaten up while trying to ride out the storm. I would like this post to be about them.”

Rusty is grateful for family, friends and faith. He urges everyone in the dairy community to “Reach out to your neighbors and friends. Let them know that you care and are praying for them.”

In short, he says, “2018 has been the most difficult year in modern history to be a farmer. Farmers are strong people and can deal with more than most will ever have to, but we all have a breaking point. Pay attention, listen when someone just needs to be heard. Be a shoulder to cry on if needed. Be kind — you never know how much someone might be dealing with. People are good at hiding their struggles and pain.”

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It’s milking time, and Daisy Herr, 13, gets started Monday evening at Golden Rose.

As Rusty and one of his daughters, Daisey, 13, began milking Monday evening, younger daughter Maddie, 12, fed the cats and prepared to join in. Their dad started a pot of coffee and prepared to feed.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” he said as we concluded the interview as night fell. “The decision was difficult, but we’re all looking forward to what’s next, even if we don’t know what that looks like at the moment. For now, I’m focusing on the auction on Feb. 9, and trusting God has our back.”


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

Jeremiah 29:11

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Rusty pushes up and gets ready to feed while daughter Daisy milks and daughter Maddie helps with other chores. He says Alli, 15, Daisy, 13, and Maddie, 12, have been taking turns with the milking. Son Jeremiah, 9, helps Heather’s mom with feeding calves.

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Thompson, Peterson introduce Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019

schoolmilkiStock-510657195web.jpgBipartisan bill would allow whole milk as option in school cafeterias

WASHINGTON – Making good on a promise to introduce legislation to bring whole milk back to schools, U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) has joined forces with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) to introduce a bipartisan bill to allow for unflavored and flavored whole milk to be offered in school cafeterias.

H.R. 832, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 recognizes the importance of milk to the health and well-being of growing children.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue directed USDA to allow schools to serve 1% low-fat flavored milk in school meal programs that had been restricted previously to fat-free flavored milk.

H.R. 832 would take this further to allow whole milk to be included as well.

 

“Milk is the No. 1 source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of our students, but if they don’t drink it these health benefits are lost,” Rep. Thompson said in a press release Wednesday (Jan. 30). “Milk consumption has been declining in schools throughout the nation because kids are not consuming the varieties of milk being made available to them. It is my hope that the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will bring a wider range of milk options to American lunchrooms so students can choose the kind they love best.”

“I’m proud to join Congressman Thompson in this effort that will provide more choices for nutritious and healthy milk to kids in schools, and a valuable market for dairy farmers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and nationwide at a time when they’re continuing to face extremely difficult market conditions,” Chairman Peterson said in a statement.

Rep. Peterson is Chairman of the House Ag Committee and Rep. Thompson is a member of the House Ag Committee.

Thompson is also a member of the House Committee on Education and Workforce to which the bill was referred after its introduction on Jan. 29.

The nine original co-sponsors of the bill include Agriculture Committee Republican Leader Mike Conaway (R-TX) and three members of the Committee on Education and Workforce to which the bill was referred — Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

Additional co-sponsors are Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Rep. John Joyce (R-PA), and Rep. Mike Kelly(R-PA).

In a press release late last week, Thompson gave some background on this bill. He noted that in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which amended nutrition standards in the School Lunch Program.  Among the changes, the law mandated that flavored milk must be fat-free within the program.

This 2010 law, along with lower participation in the program, led to an alarming decline in milk consumption in schools since 2010. Declining milk consumption in schools not only impacts students, but also dairy farm families and rural communities across the nation.

Two years ago, to help encourage nutritious options in the School Lunch Program and increase consumption, Rep. Thompson introduced legislation – H.R. 4101, the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2017 – which provided schools the option to serve 1% low-fat flavored milk varieties.

In May of 2017, the USDA announced a rule that allowed schools to receive waivers for low-fat (1%) flavored milk, rather than only fat-free, which is the essence of H.R. 4101.

On January 29, 2019, Rep. Thompson introduced this bipartisan bill — H.R. 832, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019. This legislation builds on the previous bill and USDA’s rule by allowing whole milk (both unflavored and flavored) to be offered within the School Lunch Program.

Producers and consumers are urged to contact their representatives to support this bill. Key members of Congress to reach out to on the Committee on Education and Workforce, which will be the committee to consider the bill, include Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rep. Marsha Fudge (D-OH). View all Congressmen and women serving on this committee here

Follow the progress of H.R. 832, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 here.

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Is this milk antibiotic-free? You bet!

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These Jersey cows are calmly chewing their cud while being milked in the parlor. Their milk will be tested before it is loaded on the truck and again at the processing plant because all milk – no matter what is on the label – is antibiotic-free. Any milk found to contain antibiotics is discarded. Protocols and penalties are in place from farm to consumer.

By Sherry Bunting

Author’s note: This 2014 column in the Hudson Valley Register Star brought in more email than any other column. I was amazed how many people shared it when it ran and how many reached out to say they did not know this! 

Organic. Natural. Antibiotic-Free. Are you confused by food labeling? Do you question what milk to bring home for your family? How is milk tested and regulated before it reaches the dairy case at my supermarket?

It’s important to break down these labels to understand what they mean — or don’t mean — in terms of the safe, healthful and nutritious qualities of milk and dairy products.

Let’s talk specifically about antibiotic-free milk. The good news is that all milk is indeed free of antibiotics! And all dairy milk is among the safest, most nutritious food and/or beverage on the planet, no matter what special label it does or doesn’t carry. In fact, milk, butter, natural cheeses and many other dairy products are among the cleanest labeled foods and beverages you can find. Unlike the fake stuff, milk is minimally processed, if at all, and no long list of ingredients. Dairy milk is just milk, straight from nature to your fridge. No mystery vats full of additives. Just a bunch of hard-working dedicated people loving what they do — taking care of cows making nutritious delicious natural milk!

Not only does milk contain protein (8 grams per 8 oz glass!), calcium and 9 essential vitamins and minerals, all dairy milk — no matter whether it is organic, conventional, labeled “antibiotic-free” or not — is heavily tested and truly antibiotic-free!

I often hear from consumers who believe organic-labeled milk is their only antibiotic-free choice. Let’s examine this.

“So many people think there are antibiotics in milk not labeled organic. We are pleased to report that we dispelled that myth at the Just Food conference in New York City,” reported Deb Windecker. She and her husband and their two children milk 100 cows near Utica in Herkimer County. She again recounted the steps that ensure all milk is antibiotic-free during an interview with staff writers for Farm Aid ahead of the concert at Saratoga Springs in September 2013. Today, the Windeckers are a certified organic dairy farm, which means they are not permitted to use antibiotics as treatments, but this is not to be confused with antibiotics in milk, because all milk, no matter the label, is tested multiple times to ensure it is free of antibiotic residues. The same goes for meat.

Farm Aid’s emphasis in recent years has gravitated toward organic as the symbol of family farms producing wholesome products, but the truth is that farm families operate farms of all sizes, organic and conventional. In fact, the most recent Ag Census shows that 98 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family owned. Furthermore, as unique as farms are in their management practices, there are certain things all dairies have in common — shipping antibiotic-free milk is one of them!

It’s important to know how highly-tested all dairy milk is at multiple intervals from the farm to the consumer, and how penalties and protocols are in place on the farm, at the processing plant and with regulators.

“These steps insure the milk you drink and the dairy products you eat are totally antibiotic-free,” Windecker explains.

On the farm, dairy producers sometimes use antibiotics when a cow or calf is sick — just like a mother would treat a sick child instead of watching that child suffer. On an organic farm, the producer may treat that animal also, but then the animal must be sold to a conventional farm because even after the treatment clears the animal’s body, she cannot be milked on the organic farm after she recovers. The owner must sell her to a non-organic farm even though all of her treatment is gone and no residues are left in milk, meat or even the filtering organs of the body!

So, what happens when cows are treated on a nonorganic, conventional farm? The treatment is recorded, and the cow’s milk is kept out of the milk tank not only during treatment, but for the prescribed time after treatment that it takes for the medication to totally clear the blood system.

Medications have “withdrawal” instructions on the label or per the veterinarian’s prescription, and farmers often do a quick-test or send samples with the milk hauler to be checked at the plant to be sure they’ve waited long enough BEFORE putting that cow’s milk in the tank.

Residue avoidance is of huge importance to dairy producers because they care about the quality of the milk they produce for consumers, and because if that milk were to be shipped, the sample tested would show the residue and the whole tank — or truckload — of milk would have to be dumped. In that case, the farmer would not be paid for his milk, and he would be liable for the value of other milk on that truck, because it would also be dumped.

When I worked on the dairy farm, we avoided treating cows unless absolutely necessary because withholding their milk during and after treatment is something farmers stay conscious of. This is why dairy farmers pay attention to details and take time to observe their cattle to adopt preventive protocols that help to avoid illness in the first place. Farmers certainly can’t afford to spend money on unnecessary medications or to lose a whole tank of milk, and the penalties that go with it, by accidentally milking a treated cow into the tank.

Good record keeping, identification methods, and employee communication are important at the farm level. But, rest assured, if mistakes happen, they are caught when the farm sample is tested at the milk processing plant.

After filling the tanker-truck, the milk hauler provides the processing plant with the test samples he has collected from each farm’s milk tank. Those samples are taken before the milk is loaded on the truck. Those samples are tested at the plant, and fresh samples are also taken of milk in the truck at the plant and again from storage units before processing. Packaged milk is also randomly tested in commerce to ensure further accountability.

Milk testing in the dairy industry is precise and covers a range of trace substances in addition to antibiotic residue and bacteria levels. Each testing interval from farm to store ensures milk’s safety, quality and goodness. Feel free to enjoy with confidence, and without fear.

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Sherry Bunting is a veteran journalist writing on agriculture and food topics for 35 years.