DMI-led, DFA-made: ‘siips’ is new ‘teen milk’, but…

But… when given the opportunity, teens choose regular fresh whole milk

siips: Siimply Perfect. Real Milk. Real Good. You Be You. These are the descriptive taglines for SIIPS, a shelf-stable, aseptically-packaged, ultrapasteurized, lowfat milk packaged by DFA in an 8-oz. aluminum can as a new “teen milk” based on DMI’s research of what it takes to make milk relevant to teens again. And DMI says more ‘innovations’ or ‘reinventions’ or ‘relevant products’ are on the way from other partners. All of this money and time spent to answer a question teens and pre-teens and elementary-aged students could have told us quickly, cheaply and easily, given the opportunity to choose whole milk – without the fancy packaging and processing that puts it neatly into a global supply chain instead of a local or regional fresh food system.

By Sherry Bunting (Farmshine, Nov. 13, 2020)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – On one hand they say they are not involved in reinventing school milk and then, well, they say they are.

Siips is the new low-fat, shelf-stable grab-and-go “teen milk” from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). According to Dairy Management Inc (DMI), checkoff led the way on the innovation and test launch in selected locations over summer.  

Siips is a result of DMI’s fluid milk revitalization efforts and is targeted to improving the youth milk experience with relevant packaging and flavors,” according to a recent edition of Your Checkoff News.

During last week’s Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call, a portion of the hour was devoted to questions and answers with DMI leaders, and we learned more about revitalization, innovation, and reinvention.

According to Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president for global innovation partnerships at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), DMI has been working since last summer to “understand perceptions of milk in schools.”

He said products like siips represent what DMI has learned from students in a variety of demographics so that milk can compete again.

Siips is grab-and-go milk in an aluminum 8-oz. can in the flavors of caramel, mocha and chocolate,” he explained. “Products like this will make milk competitive in the school ala carte area, and we are working with other partners for other ala carte grab and go products.”

Ziemnisky noted that DMI is also working with processors and technology companies to develop dispensers like those used in foodservice where students can choose their milk ‘formula’ or ‘flavors’. He said Covid set the test launch back for those, but they are coming.

The bottom line is, he said: “We are looking at new packaging systems… aseptic sustainable packaging, all in the process of starting up. We are working with the industry to line up 6 to 7 tests in key systems to create a catalytic effect across the whole industry.”

A dairy producer submitted this question: “We are seeing grants from checkoff to develop a ‘kids milk’ at Cornell. We already have a ‘kids milk.’ It is called whole milk. We are frustrated. Why would our checkoff spend money on this rather than spending money to get whole milk back in schools?”

DMI president Barb O’Brien replied that she is “not familiar with the ‘kids milk’ project. We are not involved in specialized formulation for school milk,” she said. “But we can tell you about the research programs we have invested in.”

Ziemnisky picked up from there to explain that, “Everything we do has to start with consumers to make sure what we do is relevant.”

He said DMI’s partners, including MilkPEP, are the experts in marketing and advertising while DMI is the expert on consumer research and insights.

O’Brien and Ziemnisky explained that what DMI does is “back-end strategy with brands to advance U.S. Dairy’s priorities.”

They said the brand partners spend “10 to 20 times our investment in bringing to market these innovations.”

“Three years ago, the milk revitalization alliance was formed,” said Ziemnisky. “By partnering with brands, we unlock new platforms and then leverage that to access their customers.”

O’Brien said that’s how DMI has managed what is essentially a $300 million state and national budget to become the equivalent of $3 billion in consumer access and increased per capita dairy sales.

Ziemnisky reported that whole milk sales grew by $1.8 billion on a value basis over the past five years to 41% of net sales at retail. He owed this to what he said were DMI’s “57 whole milk studies.”

(We can’t find any whole milk studies on the list of 57 studies, just a few studies related to full-fat cheese.)

The problem with 40 years of declining overall fluid milk sales, said Ziemnisky is that “the sector has gone 40 years without innovation.”

(The sector has also gone 40 years under what have become increasingly fat-restrictive USDA enforcement of its Dietary Guidelines, but that wasn’t mentioned.)

Ziemnisky pointed out that the gains made in whole milk sales have come at the expense of fat-free milk sales.

“We have a fix for that too,” he said. “Our goal is to make milk relevant again with high protein, low carb, portability, as well as reinvention at schools, foodservice and e-commerce to fit changing consumer lifestyles.”

As for the simple choice of whole milk in schools? DMI leaders were asked if they would fund and support a research trial like the one done last year at one middle/high school in Pennsylvania showing 65% gains in milk sales and sustainable reductions in waste of 95%.

O’Brien was “thrilled” to hear about that study and said exceptions can be granted for research, but quickly turned the conversation over to Ziemnisky to talk about the research and innovation of school milk DMI is already investing in.

Look for more in the next edition on DMI’s partnership with DFA on plant-based blends – why and how and other topics.

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New Cl. I milk price formula puts $403 mil. in processor pockets since May 2019, $436 mil. ‘pulled’ from ‘pools’ in May-Oct 2020 period

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 9, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — The bottom line is the Federal Milk Marketing Orders are not functioning as farm-level pricing can be easily manipulated.

Negative PPDs continue to persist, and all indications are this could be the case through yearend. Several stories in Farmshine since May have covered the Producer Price Differential (PPD) situation and what it means to producer milk checks.

Now, even the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is on record evaluating the fallout from the new way of calculating the Class I advance base price as implemented May 2019 after passage of the change was made part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

In terms of the money subtracted from Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) pools, Farmshine first reported the $1.48 billion in FMMO revenue gap across 7 of the 11 FMMOs that are multiple component pricing orders. The article and above chart were published in the September 18 edition. September losses will be reflected in FMMO reports in mid-October, and so far PPDs for September milk are mixed, some positive and some negative, but all are well below what would be the case under the old Class I pricing method.

This week, AFBF dairy economist John Newton pegged the cumulative loss to Class I value, alone, at $2.00 per hundredweight or $403 million to-date, across all FMMOs just on Class I milk — money unpaid to farmers that stayed in processor pockets. That figure is about 28% of the $1.48 billion component loss figure shown in FMMO negative balance and it correlates to Class I utilization being roughly 28% of total U.S. milk volume.

The Farm Bureau summary also shows the concentrated loss of $436 million in Class I value for May through October 2020. (Interesting coincidence: DFA is today the largest Class I milk bottler with the May 2020 acquisition of 44 of Dean Foods’ 57 milk bottling plants at a bankruptcy auction price of $433 million.)

“Due to the rapid rise in Class III prices and a modest increase in Class IV prices, the spread between the two was $6.83 per hundredweight in July, $10.96 per hundredweight in August, $10.30 per hundredweight in September and (will be) $3.56 per hundredweight in October,” writes Newton this week in the Farm Bureau analysis.

“As a direct result of no longer including the higher-of in the milk price formula, the Class I milk price never fully captured the rally in Class III milk prices. Instead, the new Class I milk price was as much as $4.57 per hundredweight below the higher-of formula price in August and $4.26 lower in September,” he continues. 

“As identified in Figure 2 (above), had the higher-of formula still been in place, the Class I mover would have exceeded $24 per hundredweight in August,” states Newton.

Newton cites a Class I minimum example for the Southeast, stating that these losses are “before Class I location adjustments are added. In South Florida, for example, with the $6 per hundredweight location adjustment, the Class I milk price would have been more than $30 per hundredweight in August 2020.”

Newton notes that from May 2020 to October 2020, the average difference between the old and new Class I milk price formulas was $2.04 per hundredweight in favor of the beverage milk processor. This means that the regulated minimum prices fluid milk processors had to pay dairy farmers from May through October 2020 were an average of $2.04 lower than what they would have been if the higher-of was still in place.

Going back to May 2019 when the new Class I formula was implemented, Newton notes that the Class I milk price was 62 cents per hundredweight lower on average for the past 19 months compared with the pre-farm bill higher-of formula. (Fig. 3 above)

When looking just at the 12 months pre-Covid from May 2019 to May 2020, the new Class I calculation added 9 cents per hundredweight to Class I pooled volume.

Newton writes that the Class I volume, alone, saw a $32 million benefit in the new Class I pricing in the first 12 months May 2019 through April 2020. Post-Covid, the new Class I pricing method is reflected as a $436 million loss May to October 2020, so the cumulative loss is estimated at $403 million over 19 months of implementation.

This analysis, says Newton, was based on actual Class I pool volume as determined pre-Covid, and does not account for the impact on all milk in and out of the pool for which producers were paid at or near FMMO blend price, before deductions.

The bottom line in looking at the Farm Bureau analysis, along with our own past four months of analysis, the new way of calculating Class I – per the 2018 Farm Bill – would be a relatively benign factor in a ho-hum market if dairy product and component values were at least somewhat accurately reflected across multiple manufacturing classes.

On the other hand, it works poorly in a lopsided market where markets are disrupted, huge government purchases occur on some products and not others, and where huge imports of some products (butter) and not others (cheese) impact accumulating inventory differently for the different milk classes.

While magnified in a severe market disruption like Covid-19 has created, the dairy “market” complex has had lopsided markets in the past and will again in the future at some level. The fact that this pricing change was made without a national hearing and without a dairy producer vote and without an FMMO administrative hearing is concerning.

Some members of Congress have stated that National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) — together — agreed on and requested this Class I pricing change and that Farm Bureau took a non-position, making the change a “no-brainer” for Congress to include in the Farm Bill. 

Farm Bureau had done analysis before the change was implemented showing the average over time was neutral. But neutral over time does not reflect month to month cash flow impacts and messed up risk management tools when markets diverge.

What we see in this so-called “neutral” change is the capacity for processors to manipulate the transfer of market value by playing one class against others and essentially removing ‘market value’ from producer milk checks.

Congress needs to hear the story of how dairy farms are impacted in their cash flow and use of risk management tools when a minimum of $1.48 billion in component value is simply sucked out of milk checks over a 4-month period. 

Yes, CFAP payments help dairy farmers. But government payments lead dairy even farther away from establishing market value to become more reliant on government payments that, quite frankly, come with more and more strings attached.

Remember, USDA Dairy Programs responded in a Farmshine interview in August to explain that the value missing from pools is “still in the marketplace” even if it doesn’t show up in the FMMO blend prices.

Specifically, USDA stated in that August 3 email that, “The blend price (SUP) is a weighted average of the uses of milk that was pooled for the marketing period (month). If some ‘higher value’ use milk is not in the ‘pool’ then the weighted average price will be lower. It is important to note that the Class III money still exists in the marketplace. It is just that manufacturing handlers are not required to share that money through the regulated pool. 

From the looks of milk checks shared in Farmshine’s Market Moos survey in June and July — and looking at the All-Milk prices reported by USDA through August — this ‘money that still exists in the marketplace’ has been largely unshared with producers.

The Class I pricing change was made, according to NMPF / IDFA to so that Class I processors could manage their price risk with forward contracting.

However, CME market brokers and analysts who were questioned about the use of forward contracting by Class I milk bottlers say that few, if any, are doing it. Part of the NMPF / IDFA push for this change was their statements that Class I bottlers would use risk management to stabilize their milk costs if the higher-of method was abandoned in favor of “averaging”.

In fact, some analysts we spoke with report there’s no incentive – even with the new formula – for processors to forward contract a perishable, quick-turnaround product like gallon jug milk. It doesn’t sit in a warehouse like cheese or butter or powder.

… Unless it is shelf-stable ultrafiltered milk — like Coca Cola’s Fairlife products. Coca Cola purchased the remaining shares of Fairlife from the Select Milk Producers cooperative on Jan. 3, 2020 — just 9 months after the new Class I pricing method was implemented.

The industry said this Class I pricing change was needed so that fluid milk processors could stabilize prices and in turn be positioned to invest in fluid milk processing and innovation, which would help dairy producers in the end by providing more Class I markets.

But what happened? Just 6 months after the new Class I pricing method was implemented, the largest fluid milk bottler, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy protection and sale in November 2019 with DFA waiting in the wings to buy. Then, 3 months after that, Borden filed bankruptcy and ended up selling to a consortium headed by former Dean CEO Gregg Engles.

Farm Bureau’s analysis this week estimates the impact on dairy farmer revenue from a purely Class I perspective. It does not quantify the full extent of component value removed from FMMOs in the process. Thus, the $403 million cumulative loss impact declared by Farm Bureau represents about 28% of the total loss – which is equivalent to the current nationwide Class I utilization.

This is a Class I pricing calculation change, but its impact on FMMO blend prices and farm-level mailbox prices is pervasive.

In addition, it is important to be aware in this discussion of loss impacts that there is absolutely zero method of calculating the market value of fresh fluid milk. It is not possible to determine what fresh fluid milk is worth because it is:

1)      Regulated by federal and state milk marketing orders and boards,

2)      Used as a loss-leader by supermarkets selling it far below its cost – especially the largest milk bottling retailers like Walmart and Kroger, and

3)      Federal government restrictions on the fat level of milk children are “allowed” to consume at school or daycare.

In short, the federal government controls fluid milk through USDA in lockstep with NMPF / IDFA — and don’t forget, DMI. Dairy checkoff figures prominently in this equation with the same heavyweights at the same table — pushing fat-free, low-fat, ultrafiltered, shelf-stable products, even 50/50 plant-based blends. 

Even DMI CEO Tom Gallagher is on record stating that the white gallon isn’t the future because even if children can have whole milk “innovation” is needed and admitting that his job is to “get processors to do stuff with your milk”. 

For processors to “do stuff with your milk”, they have to be promised a bigger margin. This could explain why the forward-looking focus of farmer-funded checkoff efforts is on innovation (processing partner margin), not on promoting and educating consumers about fresh fluid milk. And, it might explain why this new Class I formula was needed to average the only so-called market value left in the so-called dairy market.

CFAP payments are salve on some wounds, but the larger issue is still clear: Dairy producers need a voice — apart from the organizations that claim to represent them.

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Dairy producers say risk management takes time, planning, daily involvement

Producers share priorities, experiences during risk management conference

A panel of producers during the Center for Dairy Excellence Risk Management Conference last week agreed their top priority is stabilizing input costs, especially feed, is the first component to any dairy risk management strategy.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — How are dairy producers navigating the rapidly changing dairy markets? A panel of Pennsylvania producers shared during the 11th annual Center for Dairy Excellence Risk Management and Financial Conference, conducted ‘virtually’ by Zoom in September with an audience each day of over 100 people, most of them dairy lenders and consultants.

“Risk management is important, but it takes planning,” said Mike Hosterman of AgChoice Farm Credit, moderating the panel comprised of Mark Mosemann, who farms with his father and brother milking 450 cows at Misty Mountain Dairy, Fulton County; Glenn Kline, who farms with his two sons milking 600 cows at Y-Run Farms in Bradford County; and Rod Hissong, who farms with his brother milking 1600 cows at Mercer Vu Farms in Franklin County, Pa. and 1200 cows at their satellite dairy 65 miles south in Whitepost, Virginia.

Polling the audience, Hosterman revealed a low percentage of lenders see a risk management or marketing plan from clients.

All three producers put a big emphasis on the input side of the margin since 2012. Some common themes and priorities emerged.

Stabilize feed costs

The 2012 margin squeeze caught many producers by surprise as milk prices skyrocketed and feed prices went wild.

After that happened, all three panelists aimed to expand their land base through ownership and especially rented ground to produce all of their own forages and a portion of energy and protein.

They also increased inventory capacity to buy and store feed commodities and do risk management with local feed mills.

By stabilizing feed costs – the largest input cost on the dairy – they are positioned to operate the business, plan for the future and think about risk management opportunities on the milk side.

Hissong noted that their expansion with a satellite farm in Virginia was also a hedge on the future in terms of the next generation. The brothers will be able to downsize or upsize depending on how the future shapes up for sons, daughters, nieces and nephews because they invested in two sites, not expanding into one larger site.

Value of networking

“Don’t underestimate your networking capability,” said Mosemann, who described how this enabled his family to acquire rented ground and work with others in custom harvesting and feed inventory.

For Hissong, relationships on buying forage changed to relationships in acquiring ground. 

They also brought more pieces under their own management, now raising their own dairy replacements and hauling their own milk.

The satellite dairy allows the Hissongs to manage weather risk on the feed side and to set up their cow flows to gain labor efficiencies in operating the dairy. Baby calves are raised at the home farm and go to the Virginia site when bred. They stay there through gestation and calving and for milking through first, sometimes second, lactation.

Kline and Mosemann both purchase some inputs collectively with other farms, which is a risk management strategy more producers are using to stabilize costs today. They also work with other farms in custom harvesting and trucking.

Relationships with feed mills offer additional opportunities to manage risk, and relationships with the nutritionists, veterinarians, and financial advisors bring ideas to the farm.

Two ways to breakeven

All three producers use their farm accountants to do both a cost of production analysis as well as cash flow analysis to come up with a Class III price that meets their farm’s breakeven price in both scenarios, including the cost of the risk management.

That’s essential because producers can’t afford to pay for risk management that doesn’t secure breakeven or better.

“We take the COP analysis and come up with a gross milk price. We calculate our basis into that and look at the Class III price that is required for us to break even,” said Mosemann, explaining that a separate cash flow analysis, with net income offsets, calculates a final Class III price target. “That’s what we use to measure against when deciding what to buy, and our goal is to come out of it with a net price above the net breakeven.”

Even armed with this knowledge, relying on the Class III breakeven method has become a challenge today with the inverted basis from negative PPDs.

While the basis on milk in the East has declined rapidly along with the declining Class I milk utilization over the past decade, at least it has been relatively stable and could be plugged into a Class III breakeven strategy at an approximate level.

However, in the current market, a “Class III breakeven” is much more difficult to calculate because the basis is all over the place and mostly negative. Looking out at risk management for the next six to 12 months is frustrating even for those who have been doing this for a while.

Hissong observed that their strategy changes with conditions, but a key to making it work is to keep their variable costs “fairly flat” from one quarter to the next.

“We are not trying to ‘guess the market,’” he explained. “We are trying to gather information and make an educated decision. We are trying to protect the breakeven.”

Watching it daily allows him to adjust using other tools through the cooperative. Forward contracting through the cooperative means no margin calls, but Hissong noted that, “Once you take a position, you are locked into that position.”

Having both Class III and IV contracts helped because where they lost on Class III because it went higher, they gained on Class IV because it went lower.

Layered approach

All three producers use a layered approach. They don’t put all their milk in one basket and they don’t necessarily cover all of their milk.

They start by using the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) on the first 5 million pounds of annual production. 

Each farm on the panel also forward contracts with their respective cooperatives, and they use more than one tool offered by the cooperative. They have also used Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) on a portion of their milk in a few quarters where it made sense.

Dedicated person

It is essential to have someone within the farm ownership core who manages the strategy and is looking at it every day, the panelists said. This is not something they do and then forget about, or hand off to someone else.

“You’ve got to be passionate about it. It takes a lot of time, and you’ve got to look at it every day. So that means someone has to have the time to do it, and enjoy doing it,” said Kline, who does the risk management at Y-Run.

For Mercer Vu, that person is Rod, and at Misty Mountain, it is Mark’s father.

Kline says he is able to do it because his two sons are doing the other things in the operation. “This gives me another perspective in the operation of the business to work on,” he explained.

“This is such an important part of our bottom line, so we believe we have to be more involved in it,” Hissong said. “The first thing to know is COP, so we know what price to protect. We have to know what is a profit. We do cash flows and budgets with Mike Hosterman and work with Acuity to do quarterly accrual-based accounting so we can calculate-back our breakeven through Class III and basis.”

“Risk management is not always successful,” Mosemann acknowledged. “But our strategy is to get base-hits, not a grand-slam homerun. If we can get on base and stabilize things, then we can plan. Risk management is now a cost of doing business for us to protect against the volatility we see.”

All three producers said they tap other resources for information in addition to those they work with on risk management.

Difficult environment

The current market environment is a difficult one in which to execute a risk management plan.

These producers do their homework, develop their strategies, layer their tools, know their breakevens, know their goals, watch the markets, work with their team — but still find it difficult to know over the next six to 12 months when to pull the trigger at what looks like a breakeven forward contract or price floor due to the unknown and negative basis relative to Class III.

Each producer said they would participate in more risk management right now, but it’s difficult to assess a breakeven level because the tools based on CME futures do not match up with how their farms could ultimately be paid for the milk in those future months. 

Without knowing how their cash price will perform in relation to the futures price, it’s hard to commit to a strategy that worked in the past, so new thinking is needed. The producer needs to have a handle on what to do about basis. Will the farm’s cash price move in the same direction as the futures, and by what margin of premium or discount will the cash price move? This is part of the decision making when working through a plan.

Using advisors

All three producers mentioned working with their farm and financial advisors as a key to risk management. They see lenders starting to require some level of risk management and foresee this being part of lending packages in the future.

A little bit of everything

From renting more ground and networking with others, to contracting feed, creating inventory, running cost of production, budget and cash flow analyses and using multiple tools from DMC and DRP to forward contracting, these dairy producers say a little bit of everything adds up to some base-hits to keep margins in a zone where they can operate the business and plan for the future.

“With the way the last four to five years have been, and seeing how politics and a global pandemic can turn everything on its head, if we are looking to purchase land or expand for the next generation, we better have risk management in place even if the lender doesn’t require it,” said Kline.

Hissong added that, “We continue to see our industry change. For those actively wanting to be in it and see a future in it, or if they have to work with someone to make a go of it, risk management will almost become mandatory.”

At the same time, he observed that the government CFAP payments and dairy product purchases add another ripple.

“The CFAP payments changed the balance sheet for us, and they were definitely needed from the perspective of our dairies coming out of a rough spot and scary time,” said Mosemann.

At the same time, noted Hissong, the government involvement has an effect on the market “when trying to figure out market signals and trying to figure out what to do in 2021.”

With milk class and component pricing relationships in turmoil from pandemic disruptions and government intervention, risk management is more difficult to do right now. 

Even so, these producers would encourage others to take this time to learn more about it, to work through their numbers and work through some scenarios to be prepared to implement risk management at some level in the future.

— By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 25, 2020

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‘Vote Whole Milk’ yard signs aim to mooove school lunch milk bills forward, here’s how to help!

Nelson Troutman, a dairy farmer in Berks County who started the “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” round bale painting in January 2019 that led to the 97 whole milk education effort, was the first to get a “Vote Whole Milk — School Lunch Choice” yard sign. He’s pictured here with grandchildren (l-r) Jase, Emma, Evelyn, Carolyn, Jocelyn, Nolan, Madalyn. Photo submitted

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 25, 2020

EPHRATA, Pa. — It’s campaign season, and here’s a campaign everyone should be able to get behind: “Vote WHOLE MILK — School Lunch Choice — Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition.”

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC are urging citizens to contact their local school boards and other community leaders about adopting resolutions to show federal and state governments they support the right to offer the simple choice of whole milk at school. 

Campaign-style yard signs are now available to help communities show their support for the immune-boosting nutrition children love.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Morrissey Insurance, Ephrata, Pa. and Nelson Troutman, the Berks County dairy farmer who painted the first “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” round bale, are working together to print yard signs (pictured with this article) and gain sponsorships from additional agribusinesses to make them available to customers and the public.

The first print-run of 300 were supported by and are available from these PA businesses: Wenger’s Equipment of Myerstown, Sensenig’s Feed Mill of New Holland, K&K Feeds of Richland, Triple M Feeds of Lebanon, and Morrissey Insurance of Ephrata and Troy. 

“We are continuing to work on this issue of whole milk choice in schools and are concerned about children having this choice. The signs are professional campaign-style 24-inch by 18-inch yard signs, and it is important that we get them placed as soon as possible,” said Morrissey. “We are looking for others to join us as concerned citizens for children’s immune boosting nutrition, to get a sign, or several signs, and get them placed. They catch attention and show support.”

Morrissey just ordered a second round of 300 signs, so there will be more available shortly for more businesses to get involved in sponsorship and distribution. Companies that want a supply to give out to customers and/or the public can call Bernie at 610.693.6471 to acquire them at cost.

Bernie Morrissey doesn’t quit. At age 84, he is a powerhouse for dairy. On a beautiful sunny day this week, he was delivering “Vote Whole Milk — School Lunch Choice” yard signs. Requests have come in from Wisconsin, New York and Virginia to do a bulk supply of signs and Bernie is having a second-run of 300 signs printed for a total of 600 in PA. The first 300 signs popping up in southeast and southcentral Pennsylvania are sponsored and available from Morrissey Insurance, Sensenig’s Feed Mill, Wenger’s of Myerstown, K&K Feeds and Triple M Farms. The second 300 are up for grabs to businesses that want to make them available to customers and the public. If so, contact Bernie at 610.693.6471 to acquire a supply of signs at the printing cost of $6 each (plus shipping if they can’t be picked up). Or to find out how to simply have one for your yard, visit the businesses sponsoring them or call Bernie. 

These yard signs include the 97milk.com website where people can go for information about the issue and the effort to bring whole milk choice back to schools.

A “Take Action” tab at the 97milk.com website provides online visitors with information about the issue and how school boards can adopt supportive resolutions. There, they also learn about the Dietary Guidelines process, as well as two bills in Congress and how to send a message to Senators and Representatives asking them to cosponsor and support the bills that would simply allow schools to offer a choice of milks, including whole milk (3.25%) and reduced-fat milk (2%), which are currently banned.

In January 2019, Rep. Glenn G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania introduced the bipartisan House Bill 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids with co-sponsor Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Today, it has 42 cosponsors but has not been considered by the House Education and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 1810 Milk in Lunches for Kids was introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson in June 2019 and has only 3 cosponsors.

Having publicized the “Vote Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice” effort on social media, 97 Milk received hundreds of shares, likes and comments and a few emails with additional questions. After one school asked for a sample resolution, such a template was developed. 

To-date, one school in Wisconsin reports formally adopting the resolution, while two other schools report they are looking at it.

The resolution sample here is also available online on the second page of the “Take Action” document at https://www.97milk.com/wp-content/uploads/TakeAction_092820.pdf

Asking school boards to show support for whole milk choice is one way to help the legislative efforts that are currently stalled in Congress. As schools adopt resolutions, this sends a message to USDA. 

An earlier effort consisted of submitting a 30,000-plus-signature petition to members of Congress, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, legislative committee chairs, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the DGA Federal Register Docket for Comment, and others.

The petition brought awareness but failed to increase the number of cosponsors for the two bills. This means members of Congress are un-moved on this issue despite over 30,000 signatures from across the country requesting the choice of whole milk in schools.

Over the past year, a few representatives of dairy checkoff, dairy industry organizations and a couple dairy processors have indicated in conversation that schools do not support whole milk choice because they can’t afford whole milk.

The idea behind the “Vote Whole Milk — School Lunch Choice” yard signs — and the sample school board resolutions — is to get parents and communities involved and to give schools the opportunity to show their tangible support for children’s immune boosting nutrition. This is a way for schools and communities to send a signal to state and federal policymakers that they want children to simply have the right to choose whole milk at school instead of being restricted to fat-free and 1% low-fat milk. Enough is enough.

This effort also seeks to make more parents aware that the federal government indeed currently restricts school milk offerings to be only fat-free or 1% low-fat milk. This is something many parents, teachers and even individual school board members are not fully aware of.

School Boards and other groups adopting resolutions are urged to contact their representatives in Congress and their state agriculture and education departments, as well as USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipp to let them know of their action. 

They are also urged to email 97wholemilk@gmail.com in order to be added to a public list of resolution adopters.

Those who are interested in talking with their school boards about adopting a resolution can use the sample, which can then be customized by their board. This sample is also great for state legislatures, town boards, county commissioners, even civic, educational, health, nutrition, agricultural, and parent-teacher organizations to consider adopting. The more the merrier!

Even in this uncertain time of Covid-19, when schools are doing a combination of on-site and virtual learning, the breakfasts and lunches provided to students learning from home must also align to the same USDA Food Nutrition Services regulations that are dominated by the Dietary Guidelines.

Even the school meal “flexibilities” announced by USDA for bulk meal pickups during the pandemic require schools to obtain waivers and fill out paperwork explaining why low-fat and fat-free are not available — before they can offer the whole milk (3.25% fat) or reduced-fat (2%) milk.

With supermarket sales of whole milk rising 6.5% January through July, and fat-free milk sales falling 22% compared with a year ago, it’s obvious more parents choose whole milk for their families at home. Therefore, children should be able to choose the milk they love – the milk they have shown they will drink and not discard – at school.

It’s time to remove the federal government’s heavy hand on school meals and allow schools to simply offer the choice of whole milk for children’s immune boosting nutrition.

Congress and USDA and the Dietary Guidelines process are all dragging heels on this simple change despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits. 

Our schools and community leaders can help get Washington’s attention by adopting resolutions. 

Our citizens can help show community support by placing yard signs and talking to their school boards. 

And our businesses can help by sponsoring and distributing more yard signs and even talking with the civic and community organizations they may belong to.

We can do this!

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MARKET MOOS: Whole milk up 6.5%, Negative PPDs = $1.47 bil. unpaid value, Jan-July imports mirror butter inventory growth

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 11, 2020 and preview Sept. 18, 2020

Whole milk sales up 6.5% Jan through May, total milk sales flat

While consumer packaged goods (CPG) reports indicate fluid milk sales being up 4 to 5% through the Coronavirus pandemic — and flattening as of the end of August back to year ago levels — the other side of that coin is the loss of institutional, foodservice and coffee house demand. Thus, the extra CPG sales at supermarkets slightly more than covered the lost usage in foodservice and the net wholesale volume of fluid milk sales reported by milk handlers January through May 2020 was virtually unchanged (up 0.2%) compared with a year ago, according to USDA.

Within that volume are some important shifts. Conventional fluid milk sales to all uses were down 0.5% vs. year ago in the first 5 months of 2020 while organic fluid milk sales were 14% higher than a year ago.

Within the conventional milk sales, whole milk was up 6.5% and reduced fat (2%) milk was up 3.3%. Also gaining in sales January through May 2020 were “other” fluid milk sales, which includes ultrafiltered milk such as Fairlife, up 10.5% vs. year ago.

The big losers were fat free milk down 12% from year ago and flavored fat reduced milk down 22%.

These numbers were reported in the most recent USDA product sales report. Given that this included the mid-March through early May period when shortages and purchase limits were put on fluid milk in many stores throughout the country, it will be interesting to see June and July data when they are reported in the next 30 to 60 days.

Clearly, consumers are shifting even more strongly to whole and 2% milk and away from 1% and fat-free milk. With organic sales also experiencing sales increases, it is a sign that consumers are looking at health indicators, and a sense for wanting what’s real, natural and perceived to be most local when choosing milk for home. At the same time, overall sales of conventional milk are negatively impacted by the steep drop in institutional, foodservice and coffee house demand.

Class I milk markets get demand push from gov. purchases

At the wholesale milk handler level, USDA reports tightening milk supplies in the eastern U.S. relative to Class I usage. Specifically, the USDA Eastern Fluid Milk and Cream Report Wednesday, Sept. 9 indicated Class I sales picking up this week in the Northeast with balancing operations receiving steady to lighter milk volumes compared with recent weeks.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, milk reported to be adequate for Class I needs, and loads traveled to the Southeast for immediate needs as USDA reports Southeast milk production is tight and output is down with most milk loads clearing only to Class I plants and no loads to manufacturing.

USDA reports production of seasonal milk beverages such as pumpkin spiced flavored milk and eggnog have begun to pick up.

USDA reports that the steady to higher Class I demand is due to some schools returning to session along with government programs purchasing extra loads from manufacturers this week. In fact, reports USDA, bottlers in eastern markets are receiving milk from other regions, which is loosening up the previously tighter cream availability.

Block cheese rallies past $2/lb, but futures rally is short-lived

Cheese markets made significant gains for the third week in row, fueled in part by the third round of USDA CFAP food box purchases for delivery October through December 2020.

On Wed., Sept. 9th, 40-lb block Cheddar was pegged at $2.1575/lb — up 25 cents from a week ago with a single load trading. The 500-lb barrel cheese price was pegged 10 cents higher than a week ago at $1.67/lb, with zero loads traded. The barrel price had reached $1.70 earlier in the week before backing down Wednesday, taking early week futures market gains along with it.

The block to barrel spread is at its widest level of 48 cents per pound, an indicator of cheese market vulnerability and volatility for the longer term.
Butter loses cent, powder gains cent

Spot butter lost a penny with a significant 13 loads trading Wednesday on the CME spot market, pegging the price at $1.50/lb. Nonfat dry milk gained a penny at $1.0425/lb with 3 loads trading.

Negative PPDs persist, unpaid component value across 7 MCP Orders totals $1.47 billion for June through August milk

Look for more on this in the 9/18 Market Moos in Farmshine, but for now, here’s a chart I’ve compiled showing relevant information for August, July and June 2020 vs. same month year ago in 2019.

The bottom line is three months of significantly negative PPDs resulted in $1.47 billion in total unpaid component market value across the 7 Multiple Component Pricing Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

Losses were also incurred by the 4 Fat/Skim Pricing Orders but are not easily quantified on the FMMO pool balance sheet.

This has cost dairy producers even more who have paid to manage risk through a variety of tools because those tools only work when the milk check follows the market higher to provide the protected margin. When the market says ‘no fire here’ but the house burned down just the same, it’s a double-whammy.

Remember, fluid milk does not have a ‘market’ because it is regulated or used as a loss-leader by the nation’s largest supermarkets. Thus, the value of the components in fluid milk can only be market-valued in the other products made with milk that “sort of” have a market. When that market rallied, the value was pulled instead of pooled.

Instead of ‘band aid’ approaches to milk pricing reform, given the Class I change made in the 2018 Farm Bill has been a disaster, it’s long past time for a national hearing on milk pricing with report to Congress.

Read on, to see how other factors such as imports vs. exports affect storage anc contribute to unprecedented market misalignment.

Close-up Cl. III / IV spread widens, average for next 12 months narrows

The spread between Class III and IV milk futures widened to a $4 to $5 spread for September and October, $2 to $3 for November and December. But the average over the next 12 months for both classes in CME futures trading has narrowed this week.

The Class III futures contract for September traded at $16.62/cwt Wednesday, Sept. 9 — fully steady with a week ago while Class IV traded 15 cents lower than a week ago at $12.83.

October’s Class III futures contract traded at $18.48 Wednesday, down 54 cents from a week ago, while Class IV traded at $13.64, down 40 cents.

The next 12 months of Class III milk futures closed the Sept. 9 trading session at an average $16.68 — down 24 cents from a week ago.

The next 12 months of Class IV futures averaged $15.03 — down 4 cents from a week ago.
At these midweek trading averages, the spread between Class III and IV over the next 12 months averages at $1.65/cwt — 20 cents tighter than the previous Wednesday.

Import-Export factors affect storage, which in turn affects markets

As mentioned previously, the most recent USDA Cold Storage Report showed butter stocks at the end of July were up 3% compared with June and 13% above year ago. Total natural cheese stocks were 2% less than June and up only 2% from a year ago. Bear these numbers in mind as we look at exports and imports.

According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), total export volume is up 16% over year ago year-to-date – January through July. For July, alone, total export volume was up 22% over year ago. Half of the 7-month export volume was skim milk powder to Southeast Asia. January through July export value is 14% above year ago.

However, butterfat export volume averaged 5% lower than a year ago year-to-date. The big butter export number for July was not enough to make up for the cumulative decline over the previous 6 months.

On the import side, the difference between cheese and butter is stark. Cheese imports are down 10% below year ago, but the U.S. imported 14% more butter and butterfat in the first 7 months of 2020 compared with a year ago.

The largest increase in butter and butterfat imports occurred in the March through June period at the height of the pandemic when retail butter sales were 46% greater than year ago.

Looking at these butter imports another way, is it any wonder butter stocks are accumulating in cold storage to levels 13% above year ago at the end of July — putting a big damper on butter prices and therefore Class IV?

The U.S. imported 14% more butter and butterfat and exported 5% less butter and butterfat year to date while storage has been running double-digits higher, up 13% at the end of July.

As accumulating supplies pressured butter prices lower, the U.S. became the low price producer and exported a whopping 80% more butter in July compared with a year ago. This was the first year over year increase in butter exports in 17 months. But the record is clear, year-to-date butter exports remain 30% below year ago and total butterfat exports are down 5% year-to-date.

Analysts suggest that butter and butterfat imports are higher because U.S. consumer demand for butterfat has been consistently higher — even before the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic stimulated butter demand for at-home cooking and baking.

This reasoning is difficult to justify — given there is 13% more butter currently stockpiled in cold storage vs. year ago keeping a lid on the wholesale prices (while retail prices rise) and undervaluing butterfat and Class IV milk price in the divergent milk pricing formula. If 14% more butter and butterfat are being imported, does this mean we need to import to serve consumer retail demand and keep larger inventory at the ready to serve that retail demand?

If so, why is the inventory considered so bearish as to hold prices back and thus amplify the Class III and IV divergence?

Does month to month cold storage inventory represent excess? Or does it simply represent a difference in how inventory is managed in today’s times, where companies are not as willing to do “just in time” and “hand to mouth” — after they dealt with empty butter cases and limits on consumer purchases at the height of the pandemic shut down this spring.

The trade has not sorted out the answers to these questions.

Meanwhile, these export, import, and government purchase factors impact the inventory levels of Class III and IV products very differently — and we see as a result the wide divergence between Class III and IV prices and between fat and protein component value.

Interestingly, USDA Dairy Programs in an email response about negative PPDs that have contributed to the wide range in “All-Milk” prices, says the higher value of components “is still in the marketplace” even if All-Milk and mailbox price calculations do not fully reflect it across more than half of the country.

Rep. Thompson and Keller want Whole Milk choice for WIC

The American Dairy Coalition, a national organization headquartered in Wisconsin, applauded Congressmen Fred Keller and G.T. Thompson, representing districts in Pennsylvania, for recently introducing a bill designed to offer an expanded variety of dairy products, including 2% and Whole fat milk, to participants of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The bill, officially titled, “Giving Increased Variety to Ensure Milk into the Lives of Kids (GIVE MILK) Act,” would expand WIC offerings.

The Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee joins the American Dairy Coalition in thanking Congressmen G.T. Thompson and Fred Keller for their dedication to trying to help nutritionally at-risk Americans have the ability to choose what dairy products fit the taste preferences of their families. Thompson is prime sponsor and Keller a co-sponsor along with 39 other members of Congress on another bill — the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 832 — aimed at allowing whole milk choice in schools too.

Current Dietary Guidelines have stifled Whole milk choice by recommending 1% and fat-free milk for children over 2 years of age even though Whole milk provides a nutritionally dense, affordable and accessible complete source of protein that children love.

Science shows consumption of these products promote a healthy weight in both children and adults and fends of chronic diseases.

“More initiatives such as the GIVE MILK Act are necessary to change the antiquated and unscientifically based notion that saturated fats are dangerous to public health,” states a press release from the American Dairy Coalition. “We encourage all members of the dairy industry to not only support the GIVE MILK Act, but also encourage their legislators to urge the Dietary Guidelines for Americans also be updated to remove caps on saturated fats, allowing once more the choice of whole milk in public schools. Children deserve the best — let’s give them whole milk!”

Look for more next week on what the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk are working on to get the word out to “Vote WHOLE MILK choice in schools — Citizens for children’s immune-boosting nutrition.”

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How data analytics, supply chain ‘ecosystems’ fit DMI’s global strategy for U.S. Dairy

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher shared this slide with August ‘open mic’ call participants as consumer data confirm a current focuse on health and economics — even though global supply chain transformation is pursued on an accelerating scale.

By Sherry Bunting, excerpts summarized from Farmshine, August 21 and 28, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Early in the pandemic, consumers were initially focused on health drivers in food purchases and then began moving toward economics. But with the resurgence of Covid cases across the country, data insights show “consumers are now back to a focus on health again,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Consumer insights and purchasing patterns pre- and post-Covid were discussed in an early August DMI ‘open mic’ call with Gallagher, as well as DMI president Barb O’Brien, board chair Marilyn Hershey and Inmar Intelligence CEO David Mounts.

Health and value were expressed as big opportunities for dairy. But the underlying message of food transformation was also clear in the discussion of how consumer data analytics and supply chain ‘ecosystems’ are integrated and streamlined to fit the dairy checkoff’s global strategy for the future of ‘U.S. Dairy’ — including new product innovation and the relationship DMI now has as Amazon’s dairy ‘category captain’.

Gallagher sent graphs indicating the percentage of change in fluid milk sales rising during the Coronavirus pandemic corresponds with increased sales of cereal.

“We think this is important, showing there are multiple reasons — no one reason why — during ‘panic buying’ consumers bought what they bought,” he said. “Cereal and milk have historically been tied. Cereal has been on a decline for years.”

Gallagher noted that as more people eat breakfast at home, new opportunities are presented beyond cereal and milk.

“This is an opportunity for us for innovation and marketing,” said Gallagher. “One of the reasons we lost fluid milk consumers is that their spending away from home was a big percentage on breakfast, and the white gallon is not suited to that.”

He said new breakfast ideas are coming out. For example, Kraft is getting into the breakfast game with new “breakfast mac and cheese.”

Gallagher also stressed a statistic he looks at, which is the “velocity” of money.

“This is simply the rate of spending and saving. Americans are at the lowest rate of spending since the 1950s and 60s,” he said, explaining that savings rates show a second reason for opportunity as Americans are on more of a savings trend since the pandemic.

“If we can get into the ‘right product’ and the ‘right positioning’ and the ‘right marketing’, people will want our product, and we’ve got that, but innovation needs to be done too,” said Gallagher. “As the unemployment rates ease, the money will be there for people to pay a little more (for innovative products).”

Dairy positioning for in-home meals is something the industry has not seen for decades, said Gallagher. He explained that before Covid, 10% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. After Covid, 50% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. More people eating at home — even after Covid — presents “huge new opportunities for us,” he said.

E-commerce was highlighted as one of those opportunities.

“Change is happening in an ‘omnichanneled’ world,” said David Mounts of Inmar Intelligence. He described media networks, digital networks for in-store, curbside, delivery and online, and how Amazon is integrating all of these as not just a retailer, but also a merchant, a media company and data company in the ‘strike zone’ of everyday business.

“We saw this opportunity a few years back and did a program on home delivery that was extremely successful,” Gallagher reported.

O’Brien noted that this gave DMI the experience to work with Amazon.

“E-commerce will change the supply chain,” she said. “As of June 14, internet purchasing surged 70%, so we are pleased we anticipated that growth, and now we see Covid has accelerated it.”

DMI has been working with Amazon for two years. Then, a year ago, Amazon named DMI as dairy “category captain.” Since then, DMI has been helping Amazon “navigate the whole dairy category with dairy 101 for their entire grocery leadership team,” O’Brien explained. “From the beginning, we were able to position ourselves as category experts and brand agnostic. We gave them a deep dive into each sector, and in the end, demonstrated the dairy category as a driver.”

As category captain, DMI will work deeper into Amazon’s e-commerce business across 31 sales regions to identify sources and tie consumer shopping experiences online through a promotion portal that puts it right at the internet point of purchase and can measure consumer response.

DMI will work with MilkPEP and other partners on this, she said.

“It was important to first prove the size and value of dairy to Amazon, where placing their investments,” said O’Brien. “Because competition is stiff in plant-based allocation, we now have been able to come back with data, with proof of what dairy can do for their business, so we think opportunities will continue.”

Mounts also highlighted e-commerce.

“This is a time for digital transformation to accelerate in the retail environment,” he said. “The entire retail industry got caught under-invested in digital readiness for what happened in this pandemic. Now massive resources across the retail industry are in catch-up mode.”

‘Real time’ consumer shopping data during the pandemic was also shared by David Mounts of InMar Analytics during the recent ‘open mic’ call. Slide from presentation

Inmar’s analytics show consumer behavior has changed to fewer trips to the store, buying more at each trip with total retail sales up 10% over year ago and some dairy categories up by more than that. Retail sales of fluid milk have settled in at 4 to 5% over year ago and butter up 46%, for example.

Total supermarket baskets are up 15% per trip, and the number of trips are down 6% right through end of July, “so this is real time data,” said Mounts.

Online shopping spiked 6 times higher than year ago in March and is up 2 to 3 times over year ago for the year to date.

Mounts said the number of people who have registered to be online grocery shoppers is increasing at rates of 100%, with the majority seeking value and savings as priorities.

“Consumers are also thinking about in-home health and wellness, ways to boost immunity and stay healthy,” said Mounts.

“Dairy is such a positive for consumers in retail. It is a core part of strong at-home food sales,” Mounts observed. “Dairy is an anchor for at-home meal planning and stock-up trips, and its always part of every shopping list.

“That’s where we think the opportunity exists — right now — as consumers shift from list-buying to ‘solutioning,’ and the occasion now is one that requires planning and thoughtfulness to have more value,” he explained.

Meanwhile, as retailers have been transitioning through their supply issues, “they are understanding new in-home categories and assortments to be more dynamic,” he said. They are being more data-driven to be more agile.”

At the same time, he said “manufacturers are focusing on their core — their most productive products — and are streamlining and trimming.”

These trends set the stage for a more centralized, streamlined and globalized dairy supply chain at a time when consumers are showing they want to be more – not less – connected to where their food comes from and to know more about the nutritional benefits.

“Consumers will deal with fewer players,” said Mounts, emphasizing the point that, “The mindset of the consumer, retailer and manufacturer must adapt to set the right priorities.”

Those priorities are being set within the tools of technology. According to Mounts, investment in technology and data tools support the strategic pillars of DMI and its partners, which Gallagher said are geared for dairy to be “viewed as an industry leader setting the gold standard on environment and animal treatment, and fitting into the efficient and healthy lifestyles of consumers.”

Searchable apps for phones, in-home voice activation systems tied to marketing outlets, namely Amazon, these tools “bring consumer preferences and marketing targets together for effective campaigns that demonstrate super strong value to consumers,” Mounts explained. “By connecting data into such platforms, the advantage for advertisers is they see it generate sales.”

But the conversations will change, and the level of personalization will increase in the food sector around the data, according to Mounts. “The digital assets are more efficient, and you talk directly to people you want to speak with and are going where the buying audience is to capture them.”

“That’s where we need to be,” said Gallagher. “This is the information the industry looks to DMI to share and will be used to create partnerships with industry.

“We won’t get the drinker or eater back if we do not do these things,” he asserts. “Farmers are great and we have a great product, but it still requires innovation. Until whole milk is recommended for kids, and even when it is, we still need innovation to get it to the kids in a style that they like.”

Mounts said innovation is a “team sport, and the key to speeding it up is to create the ecosystem, the environment, that inspires others to come in and bring solutions.”

Where dairy farmers are most familiar with the production playing field, Gallagher sees DMI as the entity that expands the dairy supply chain ecosystem to bring in other resources globally. In short, DMI has identified itself as U.S. Dairy’s supply-chain integrator and expander. Gallagher said checkoff partnerships are regional, national and international — along with the industry and National Milk Producers Federation.

“Working together as one is our hope for the future,” Gallagher insisted. “If we do not have that unity, then we are small players in a big marketplace.”

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Iowa farms deal with derecho’s aftermath: ‘I’ve got all my family and cows alive, that’s everything.’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 21, 2020

This farm in Benton County was just one of many east-central and northeast Iowa dairy farms sustaining damage to silos, bent, toppled and with top halves blown off. Behind it is a view many are looking at right now of flattened and greensnapped corn. Dairies are pushing to chop silage while it’s still green so it will feed through the chopper, especially where stalks are snapped. KWWL drone photo

NEWHALL, Iowa — Farmers in Iowa say they’ve not seen anything like the derecho storm that hit so many with so much impact on Monday, Aug. 10. It was 780 miles long and 50 miles wide, moving at 50 to 70 mph west to east from South Dakota to western Ohio, straight through the middle of Iowa. Wind speeds were recorded up to 112 mph at the epicenter, with most severe impacts toward the east-central and northeast counties of the Hawkeye State, with virtually no time to prepare.

The winds of the “derecho”– like a hurricane over the Heartland — impacted an estimated 40% of the state’s crops on what the Iowa Department of Agriculture estimated Tuesday (Aug. 18) to be 14 million acres of corn and soybeans across 57 counties in its path. Within the 36 hardest-hit counties, the greatest impact is estimated on 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans.

USDA Photo by Jeremy Davis.

The storm also left in its wake destruction to infrastructure, an estimated 8,300 structures – homes, businesses, hospitals, schools – damaged or destroyed in towns, and untold losses to farm structures.

On Tuesday, the Ag Department responded to our inquiry to say that no livestock losses have been officially reported; but of five farms with dairy and beef cattle we spoke with in a hard-hit three county area this week, a collective 4% of cattle were euthanized or culled due to injuries or displacement.

Miraculously, on one dairy farm in Benton County, between the hard-hit towns of Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown, calf huts were found half a mile away, but the calves are all okay. On another dairy farm in that area, 44 calf huts were thrown about by the wind, and only two calves were lost.

Unlike a tornado hitting one area, the span of the derecho was broad, including Iowa’s second-most populated city of Cedar Rapids, where damage was severe. The uprooting of its many trees, hundreds of years old, bore testimony to the sheer strength of the winds and intense directional pressures within them.

For most of the first week after the storm, up to half a million people were without power, and 9 days later, 50,000 remain so. Some residents in the towns are living in tents as many structures are condemned. Access to communications and necessities have been disrupted — from food, water, fuel, building and repair supplies to power, phone lines, cell towers and internet access.

President Trump approved a nearly $4 billion emergency declaration requested by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on Monday. These are emergency funds for the state, not covering the farm, business and individual homeowner losses, which will be accounted for later.

The President held a disaster recovery conference in Cedar Rapids Tuesday afternoon, not televised by any national news network, except The Weather Channel. In fact, aside from The Weather Channel, social media posts, regional news coverage and a few national print media stories, the world is largely unaware of the derecho and its devastation.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture estimates the magnitude of impact to the state’s corn and soybean industry, alone, may exceed $4 billion as grain storage is decimated on farms and area elevators, and crop damage is so significant and widespread, it can be seen in satellite photos.

MODIS images like this one graphically illustrated by storm chaser and meteorologist Peter Forister are used by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and USDA Risk Management Agency to gauge the estimated crop damage across millions of acres at different wind speeds in the Aug. 10 derecho’s path across Iowa. Satellite photo provided by Peter Forister

Farmers are resourceful and resilient, and the farmers we spoke with in Iowa this week were also grateful their families and the vast majority of their animals are safe.

Through it all, Iowans are helping Iowans, despite their own troubles.

The Benton County Cattlemen’s Association grills meals for linemen, work crews and displaced families. Hy-Vee stores have been dropping water and necessities at farms and points in town. Farmers, with their own troubles at home, brought equipment to towns to help cleanup trees and debris so linemen could get in to work, including linemen from a dozen states responding to a nationwide call.

Churches are sending work crews and supplies. Insurance adjusters encourage farms to move quickly to recovery, to start fixing, harvesting as necessary, getting repairs scheduled. Vendors bring equipment, manpower and ideas to farms, many are donating products. These actions help everyone keep moving forward.

These dry cows have a makeshift area where a 100-cow robot barn once stood at Green Branch Farms in Newhall, just east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Brian Schanbacher moved his milk cows to other farms and is looking to rebuild.  Photo provided

Dairy producer Brian Schanbacher of Green Branch Farms, Newhall reports that a work crew from Oakview Church 200 miles south in Memphis, Missouri showed up on his hard-hit dairy to help with cleanup and stabilizing remaining components of structures to tend dry cows while milk cows went to new homes and a rebuilding assessment could begin.

Similar stories are shared throughout the area.

A field rep working with dairy farms in the area notes that five of his producers have serious building damage or destruction, but that all farms in the area are dealing with power outages and crop damage.

“They have to start chopping silage, and as long as it’s staying green, they are trying to get out and do it, focusing on fields with snapped corn first. They can only chop in one direction, and it’s difficult to get it to feed through the chopper,” he said. “It remains to be seen how this will go, but corn can do amazing things, but in this case, the damage is later in maturity.”

Flattened corn, some of it dead, shown here in an aerial photograph. After a tour to assess damage this week, Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig has asked USDA Risk Management Agency for a no-harvest crop insurance option, deeming some of the over 14 million affected acres will be unharvestable. At the same time, last year’s crop is affected by damage to grain bins at elevators and on farms. Corn took the brunt, while several farmers report their soybeans may come back. Drought is also a problem in Iowa, but derecho’s path flattened some of the most promising acres. Agriculture in northern Illinois and northwest Indiana was also impacted by the derecho spinning off potential tornadoes as it slowed down into Ohio. Photo credit Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

In driving across the region, the fields he sees “range from 100% ruined to slightly ruined.” This was confirmed by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig’s aereal report Tuesday, stating many affected acres will not be harvestable and tens of millions of bushels in grain storage is lost.

The hardest-hit area is mostly crop farms, with hogs and beef cattle, while Iowa’s heavier dairy area is to the north and west. At the storm’s epicenter are pockets of dairies and those working with farms there say many will have to have facilities totally re-done or significant repairs at a time when work crews are busy everywhere and lumber and tin are already in short supply at higher prices since the Coronavirus pandemic.

Three fatalities are attributed to the storm and many injuries.

“I’ve got all my family and cows alive. That’s everything,” says Brian Schanbacher. His three-row freestall barn is gone that had housed 100 cows and two Lely robots.

The derecho’s destruction at winds estimated between 100 and 112 through this part of the storm’s path through Iowa claimed the robot barn at Green Branch Farms, Newhall. Photo provided

“The only thing left standing is the north wall end with the robots. The cows were packed into that end of the barn in a 30 x 50-foot area, and no injuries to any of them,” Brian relates. “We lost a heifer and five others have injuries.”

Thirty of his cows went to Biercrest Holsteins, just a couple miles north in Van Horne, where Cary Bierschenk reports damage to facilities, feed storage and machine shop, but the parlor and freestall barn are operational. “Brian would do the same for me,” he says.

At Biercrest, the 150-cow freestall barn and milking parlor are functional, but with damage at one end. The recently remodeled barn for their show cows has its roof, fans and lights gone. The top halves of silos are gone, and a grain bin collapsed. But Cary and Kristen Bierschenk are moving forward one step at a time, even taking 30 cows needing a home from Green Branch Farms, because “Brian would do that for us too.” Photo provided

The Franck family of Newhall will also evaluate how to go about rebuilding. Their 200-cow freestall barn is destroyed, along with the old barn that housed the milking parlor. The milking equipment appears to be workable, but without a building, says Ron Franck, “we’re out of business right now.”

Ron and his wife Joan operate the dairy farm with their five children, ages 12 to 24. They sent half the herd to a farm 10 miles away and the other half an hour north. Like others in this situation, they truck feed to the cows that are nearby and help milk them, keeping dry cows at home and swapping fresh cows for dry going forward.

Ron recalls the first hours: “A pair of young kids just showed up around 4 p.m. when we were getting trailers around. Our boys were driving trailers and our daughters were getting cows out of stalls, and these kids could move and sort cows and set panels. The next day the hoof trimmer came with eight guys to clear a portion of the rubble to move dry cows to get feed and water and some shade. Our manure hauler brought 25 people here to canvas the corn fields, bringing out tin and debris, and my wife’s cousin brought a track hoe.

“We’ve not had to cook one meal. Too many people to mention have made sure of that,” he adds.

Photo credit Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Attention this week turned from cleanup to crops. “Much of the corn is flat, leaning or snapped over, a bunch of stalks with the leaves stripped off,” Brian observes. He and others report their bean fields look like they may come back.

Salvaging corn silage is a priority for dairies. “We don’t feel like we get much done each day, but we are getting it done,” says Cary. He and Jennifer and their son Zachary and daughter Ally operate Biercrest Holsteins.

The tremendous crop he expected to harvest is now flat on the ground. He started chopping some fields this week, concerned that many had snapped stalks where the corn was dying.

Seven miles east of Brian Schanbacher’s Green Branch Farms, his cousins at Schanbacher Acres mainly lost feed storage, silos and stored feed that is either lost or inaccessible. They milk 280 cows, and the freestall barn and parlor are fine, they say, but are scrambling for what to feed. This week, Ron Franck and his sons began chopping fields for them before getting to their own, so at least the Schanbachers have green chop to feed. Photo provided

It’s a slow-go, chopping in just one direction, while hoping to avoid unseen debris in the fields that can stop progress in a hurry.

“Everyone has a story from this storm,” says Brian. They’ll remember where they were when it hit. He tells of his cousin who was baling hay in the middle of a field in a tractor and of a farmer grabbing the axel of the combine with his arms around his grandkids holding on to him as the machine shed broke apart around them.

“It’s therapy to talk about it, I guess,” says Brian. “This was no tornado, it lasted at least 20 minutes.” He and his wife Kristen were at home, and their children were 15 miles north where the damage was less severe.

Ron and his sons were also at home 10 miles north of the main farm when the derecho hit at lunchtime. “By the time we heard about Marshalltown, it was already here,” he recalls. “Our first warning was the emergency sirens, and 5 to 10 minutes later, it was on us.”

To a person, farmers recall how devastating the wind was in its duration. “A tornado comes through, lasts a few minutes and hits one area. This lasted 20 to 30 minutes or more and it covered a large area,” says Ron. “The meteorologists couldn’t keep up with it because as it hit the towns, it annihilated weather stations, cell phones went haywire, so they didn’t have data points.”

Even before the storm was completely over, Ron and his older sons knew they had to get back to the farm. “We got a mile or two south and it was pretty bad, straight west of the house, the farmstead was wrecked,” he reflects. “There must have been big variations in the pressure. We would see things look good on one place, and the next place, totally wiped out. Just no rhyme or reason to it.”

(Above and below) The derecho split the Franck family’s 200-cow freestall barn right down the middle and destroyed the building that housed the milking parlor. They’ve sent cows to other farms, keeping only dry cows at the main farm. Their attention this week is getting the flat corn chopped for neighbors who have cows to feed, but lost or can’t access their feed. The tall green bountiful corn crop close to normal chop date is now flat in the distance, but they are getting what they can. KWWL drone photos

What they found at their main farm was half the cowherd in the corn fields and the other half huddled against a corner with most of the barn gone — split right down the middle by the force of the winds.

By 11 p.m., all the milk cows were placed at other farms. By midnight, they had one area functional for dry cows.

While it’s hard to see forward more than a day at a time, producers talk of rebuilding – grateful for the help offered in the early hours and days — to help find animals, pull debris from fields, sort cattle to be moved, bring meals, lend a hand, give a hug.

“We have insurance and crop insurance, but we need profitability in agriculture to keep going. We need to be able to rebuild, and rebuild right, and to know we have a future. This is unlike anything we’ve seen. Trouble, we’ve seen before, but never so many at once,” said a beef producer during the President’s disaster recovery conference in Cedar Rapids.

Amid the significant challenges ahead, the recovery begins.To facilitate the neighbor-helping-neighbor process, the Iowa Farm Bureau has developed the Farming Community Disaster Exchange – an online message board.

“It’s a little overwhelming how much help we have had,” Ron says, pausing a moment to collect his thoughts.

“I will say this… six days after the storm, we are stabilized — as long as the weather is nice – from a cow health perspective with just the dry cows here now. Those little calves in the huts went for quite a ride, but we’ve modified things with what we have left to make pens, and my daughter has them looking pretty good again.”

‘No rhyme or reason to it.’ Toppled silo wagons are to be expected in a massive storm like this. But what amazed some farmers we spoke with is how there was no rhyme or reason to it. One example, two wagons side by side – one knocked over while the other is found a mile away in a field, destroyed. Photo provided

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WHOLE Milk gets results too important to ignore!

By Sherry Bunting, Republished from Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. —  One school in Pennsylvania had the courage to just do it.

For the 2019-20 school year beginning in September, they conducted a trial that simply offered the choice of whole milk and 2% next to the required fat-free and 1% to middle and high school students daily for breakfast and lunch. They did not promote the trial or call attention to it, just waited to see how students would react and what their responses would be.

The results are too important to ignore!

Within a short time of expanding the milk choices last September, students were choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat milk.

In January, four months into the trial, they found that allowing students to choose from all varieties of milk fat levels increased overall milk consumption by 65% and reduced milk waste by 95%.

Just before schools closed in March due to the pandemic, students were surveyed to learn what they had to say about their milk consumption behavior. Here’s a sampling: 60% said they had thrown away milk in the past before the trial, but only 31% said they had thrown away milk AFTER the whole milk trial.

Only half the students said they were aware of the restrictions on what type of milk could be offered at school.

Incredibly, the percentage of teens at this school who said they were choosing milk at breakfast before the trial was 67%, after expanding milk choices to include whole milk, 80% were choosing milk at breakfast.

All of this data and more in just seven months at a middle school and high school in Pennsylvania. We are withholding the name of the district and its foodservice director to shield their identity from potential backlash due to the USDA rules on fat content of purchased ala-carte “competing” beverages.

The foodservice director who set up the trial, with the support of the school board, states that students have now tasted the difference. Now that the school is using the intermediate unit as the vendor for packaged pickup meals and can only make 1% milk available, the kids are asking: “Where’s the Whole milk?”

“I am 100% convinced that most parents do not know about all that is going on with the school meals programs,” the Pennsylvania school foodservice director said. She is letting them know about the Dietary Guidelines and school nutrition rules so they can become aware and perhaps be led to be involved.

The official public comment period on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report has ended. USDA and HHS are using the DGA Report to finalize the next five years of Dietary Guidelines.

To bring the choice of whole milk back to schools, contact your representatives in Congress to cosponsor House Bill 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids and Senate Bill 1810 Milk in Lunches for Kids. Also, contact school boards and other governmental and non governmental organizations and ask them to consider adopting resolutions in support of this choice.

Learn more about how to take action at this link. A sample board resolution is on the second page. Schools that adopt resolutions should email 97wholemilk@gmail.com to be added to the list and also let their Congressional delegations in Washington know they support HR 832 and S. 1810. https://www.97milk.com/wp-content/uploads/TakeAction_092820.pdf

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DMI circles wagons around new ‘Net-Zero’ hire

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. – After last week’s Farmshine cover story, dairy producers across the country have been reaching out to DMI board members and staff seeking answers to questions posed about the Net Zero Initiative, direction of sustainability goals, and the newly hired Executive Director of Dairy Scale for Good, Caleb Harper. He was tapped in May to lead the effort to ‘scale up’ technologies for “U.S. Dairy” to meet its commitment, despite his history of involvement in cellular agriculture and other concerns.

DMI has not yet responded to the questions posed by Farmshine. However, producers are getting some responses. During Wednesday’s “open mic” call with DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, the topic was addressed at the top of the hour to indicate a future “open mic” would be devoted to this topic.

“We’ve been getting questions,” said DMI chairwoman Marilyn Hershey as she opened the call Wednesday. She referred the 350 people on the line — including 50 board members, 80 dairy farmers, along with media and staff — to her blog post at usdairy.com.

“The Net Zero Initiative has pathways for all size farms to be able to stand behind our sustainability goals,” she said.

“Our next ‘open mic’ will focus on sustainability because there is a lot going on in that arena. There is misinformation and good information, and we want to get the details and have National Milk and Newtrient — a company of dairy co-ops and people from the Innovation Center — on where we are going and why,” said Gallagher.

“The industry is focused on being net-zero, but profitable net-zero. That is something that will take time and hard work to get to. We are focused on all size farms — not just large, medium, or small — and on all regions,” he stated. “We know each region has different challenges.

“Most of the small farms are probably net-zero already,” he said.

Gallagher explained that DMI recently added several people in different parts of the organization. “One (new person) is Caleb Harper, and we are really glad to be able to attract him,” said Gallagher.

“We know Caleb is completely a dairy guy. Let’s face it,” said Gallagher. “Cell ag and other competitors are getting well-funded. Caleb is a smart guy, a guy who is pro dairy. He understands the playbook of the other team, so we are miles ahead.”

In the blog post callers were asked to read for answers, Hershey writes: “Caleb Harper joined our team in May to lead Dairy Scale for Good. Caleb is a former principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He has a tremendous background of leading engineers, scientists and educators in the exploration and development of future food systems and technology.”

Hershey goes on to describe his responsibilities as “directing best practice and technology adoption and implementation on a handful of pilot farms. Harper will also develop third-party strategies to generate investments, partners and technologies that will keep farmers from bearing the entire commitment of this endeavor.”

Harper has already been visiting dairy farms in the Southwest and Upper Midwest after his first-ever dairy farm visit to Fair Oaks Farm.

Both in the blog post, and in other responses made in writing to producers from DMI staff, Harper is described as “coming from a family that raises horses and goats on a small ranch in Texas and crops and cows on a fifth-generation homestead in Kansas.”

What isn’t mentioned is that, according to a Sept. 2019  Chronicles of Higher Education story, Harper’s father, Steve Harper, was a grocery executive, actually Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Fresh Product Development, Procurement and Merchandising from 1993 to 2010 for the H-E-B supermarket chain in Texas and northern Mexico, among the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. in sales. He stayed on part-time through 2012 before retiring in 2015.

H-E-B was the first and longstanding partner of Mike and Sue McCloskey, when they were dairying in New Mexico and founded Select Milk Producers. They were working to get closer to the consumer, and the H-E-B alliance was instrumental, Sue explained in her presentation at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2020, where she painted a picture of dairy’s future as seen by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and its food industry partners.

In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle, the McCloskeys worked with H-E-B, supplying their milk and in 1996 to produce Mootopia ultrafiltered milk, an H-E-B brand. This was the pre-cursor to fairlife, the ultrafiltered milk beverage line in which DMI partnered with the McCloskeys, Select, and Coca Cola to market and R&D. (On Jan. 3, 2020, the Coca-Cola Company announced it was sole owner of fairlife LLC after acquiring the remaining stake from its joint venture partner Select Milk Producers.)

Both Caleb Harper and Mike McCloskey currently serve on WWF’s “Markets Institute” Thought Leadership Group.

Hershey writes of Caleb Harper’s involvement in several non-profit organizations, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Economic Forum, as an explorer for National Geographic, and at New Harvest (www.new-harvest.org), a cellular agriculture research institute, which has provided research funding to such startups as Perfect Day.

Meanwhile WWF — the DMI sustainability partner — will stop at nothing in its quest for food transformation away from animal use. WWF is currently using the Coronavirus pandemic and “threat of zoonotic diseases jumping from animals to humans” as the angle for pushing food transformation, with a “stop the next pandemic” campaign at the WWF website stating: “The conversion of land for unsustainable agricultural and livestock use drives wildlife, domestic animals, and humans in closer contact.”

Both New Harvest and WWF support and advocate for rewilding of lands as farms and ranches fold under the pressure of low prices, rapid consolidation, misinformation used to position new plant-based and cellular ag products as future of food replacements for meat, eggs and dairy, using climate change, sustainability and now pandemic fears to prepare people to accept these bio-engineered versions grown in fermentation vats and bio-reactors instead of farms and ranches.

“While (New Harvest) goes against the essence of who we are as farmers, and Caleb no longer serves on its board, his knowledge and insights in this area will be an asset,” writes Hershey. “I am very excited about Caleb’s ability to open new doors for dairy. He brings an astounding depth of relationships with other scientists, organizations and companies.”

New Harvest is more than a “cellular agriculture research institute.” It’s mission is to replace cattle and other livestock by growing portions of animals, separating protein excrement from yeast, and other ‘genetically altered and digitized” methods of displacing farmers and ranchers from the land. In 2017 and 2018, Harper was one of five board members for New Harvest. In fact, though canceled due to Covid, the New Harvest 2020 Conference was scheduled for the M.I.T. Lab in Cambridge, Mass., where Harper was a lead researcher until April 30, 2020.

In her blog post, Hershey writes that, “Earlier this year, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set new environmental stewardship goals to further the progress and commitment that dairy farmers and the broader dairy community have to responsible production.”

She describes it as a “collective effort” expected to benefit all farms with a pathway for farms to voluntarily contribute. She writes that it will not be mandatory. Instead, she notes that it will provide opportunities for farms of all sizes to adopt technologies and practices and create revenue streams.

Stay tuned.

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Fair Oaks, fairlife co-founder paints picture of dairy’s future as seen by partner DMI

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 14, 2020

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The big question Sue McCloskey gets about fairlife is “How did you think of it?”

As co-founder with her husband Mike of Select Milk Producers, Fair Oaks Farms and the fairlife brand, McCloskey spoke about “the spark of innovation” to a crowd of over 500 at the 2020 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in State College last Thursday, Feb. 6. She was among the featured speakers that were sponsored by ADA Northeast.

“We are all innovators in agriculture,” said McCloskey, telling how they learned of reverse osmosis when a well on their New Mexico dairy backed up 25 years ago, and RO membranes were used to separate solids to restore water quality. That experience introduced them to the concept of filtering solids by molecular size, but her larger message was about the concept of innovation in allowing companies to differentiate in a generic category like milk.

For example, she said, who would think, years ago, that water would become the multi-billion-dollar industry that it is today? And coffee? She cited Starbucks as a catalyst for the rise of coffee houses and coffee drinks and blends today.

As in these examples, someone was the first innovator to bring value to those generic categories. She said for milk, the parallel is fairlife.

“Innovation – thinking outside the box — that’s what grabs people,” she said.

McCloskey maintains that as consumers, “We are all waiting for the next new thing. We want more. We want new. That’s where we have seen success with fairlife.”

The journey

McCloskey talked about her husband’s journey from being a dairy veterinarian to a dairy producer and innovator. They started with 300 cows in California and a partner they still have today in Tim DenDulk. One by one they bought dairies, fixed them up and rolled them over.

Once they got to New Mexico with a 3000-cow dairy, that was the real beginning of it, she said. That’s where they founded Select Milk Producers 25 years ago, which is today the sixth largest cooperative on a milk volume basis with 99 members.

They formed to focus on high quality milk with low somatic cell counts and to sell that concept direct to retailers instead of being part of a co-op that commingled their milk to blend-down the somatic cell counts. That’s where they were introduced, she says, to the concept of what has become fairlife through the use of RO membranes to ultrafilter the milk. She explained that the milk going in must be very low in somatic cell counts because the process of ultrafiltration concentrates the solids – including somatic cells.

She pointed to the “incredible success” of building different plants and beginning to build the fairlife brand, which led them to their next opportunity in the Midwest – Fair Oaks Farms.

When the McCloskeys came to Indiana, DenDulk, their original partner in California, was already in Michigan.

McCloskey said the housing technology had developed by that time to where they felt they could do larger dairies in the Midwest climate. They built the first of the original four 2800-cow dairies in 1999. Today, there are 13 separate dairies totaling over 36,000 cows that are owned and managed by a few families on the roughly 30,000 acres, including the new 800-cow robotic dairy that opened at the end of 2019.

In fact, she spent part of her time talking about the innovations coming out of Fair Oaks to recycle and recover nutrients and to address greenhouse gas emissions to improve the “sustainability” and carbon footprint of dairy.

“There are cool things happening and things we are doing that we really need to embrace,” she said.

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(Sue’s husband Mike, who spoke in March at the PDPW virtual business conference on U.S. Dairy’s goals for GHG emissions, was the first chairman of the Sustainability Initiative when it was launched under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2009-10, and the checkoff’s research and development and marketing assistance for fairlife and Fair Oaks came from DMI through the Innovation Center where such partnerships are born.)

The process

Establishing fluid milk supply relationships with large retailers like H-E-B and Kroger, McCloskey said they have worked over two decades to move closer to consumers as they began using RO and ultrafiltration as early as 1995 to reduce the water moving loads of milk to cheese plants, while at the same time beginning the high protein, low sugar milk proposition partnering with H-E-B in Mootopia in 1996, before what is fairlife today.

They saw other protein drinks in the market they could compete with – by concentrating the protein in milk.

So began the process of building the brand from coast to coast as new products have been added continually. While most people are familiar with fairlife ultrafiltered milk, the CorePower fitness recovery drink was among the first that was created as a competitor for Muscle Milk.

Today, there are flavored Yup drinks, snack drinks that pair ultrafiltered milk with oats and honey, new coffee creamers, and a full line of weight management and healthy lifestyle products that are just emerging under the fairlife brand.

While Select Milk Producers sold its remaining half-interest in fairlife to its early partner Coca-Cola a few weeks ago, McCloskey remains a spokesperson for the brand. Also, the research and development teams remain intact and are still located in Chicago.

The spotlight

What Coca-Cola did for fairlife, said McCloskey, is to provide a nationwide distribution network that the Select co-op could not have achieved on its own.

“The hardest thing in consumer goods is to get a product in front of the people who want to buy it,” said McCloskey. “Our challenge was distribution. So, we formed a partnership with Coca-Cola. With Coca-Cola as 100% owner of fairlife, what happens now is that they are just going to run with it.”

This means that, “Milk is in the spotlight. While we hear the bad news from Dean’s and Borden, the good news is that the Coca-Cola, a top-five company, is involved in milk,” said McCloskey.

With an ultrafiltration plant producing fairlife in Michigan, she explained that the east coast and midwestern markets could be served and that the new Select plant in Arizona will serve the west coast market. A plant is also being built in Canada.

Answering a question about whether fairlife, or this direction of milk innovation, would ever “play ball” with the smaller average size farms in Pennsylvania, she replied that any milk supply for fairlife must be very low in somatic cell counts and will have to meet with flying colors all of the new levels of audits and animal welfare requirements that Select Milk Producers and Coca-Cola have implemented since the undercover animal abuse video at McCloskey’s original farm at Fair Oaks this past summer.

When asked how producers are compensated for these additional measures, she did not disclose proprietary information about how producers are paid.

The proposition

She said the fairlife story shows “there is still room for investment and innovation in milk, innovation that makes milk relevant to consumers.”

McCloskey explained how the ultrafiltration process raises the protein and calcium levels, removes the lactose and reduces the natural sugars in milk without adding anything.

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“And it is still real milk… but better,” she says, explaining that fairlife is finding “amazing growth in differentiation,” that fairlife’s entire proposition to consumers is the concept of  “believe in better.”

“Our core tenets of the master brand are better taste, better nutrition, and better values,” she said.

“The brand is created around values, and these values are not new, but they are done in a way that is a little more creative to today’s consumers.”

She explained that Select Milk Producers sends milk that goes into a jug at Krogers and sends milk to fairlife, “but it’s the innovation and sharing the values that leads to growth.”

Sharing consumer surveys showing 90% of fairlife consumers are satisfied and 69% are repeat customers, McCloskey said this growth and innovation “mean bigger things for dairy than just fairlife.”

She said that 45% of the fairlife market share is coming from within the milk category and 55% of their consumers are coming over from outside of the milk category.

While fairlife’s ultrafiltration process is patented, McCloskey said a dozen new products have come on the market since fairlife that use similar technology or other means of delivering high protein, low sugar outcomes.

This allows these products to differentiate themselves next to the gallon of milk as a generic staple, she explained.

“If someone is on food stamps and can’t afford these new products, that’s okay,” McCloskey said. “They can buy milk. People will still buy milk.”

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The next phase

McCloskey stressed the “tremendous value checkoff organizations bring to dairy farmers to promote how to innovate dairy and make it better.”

She explained the next phase, how DMI is sitting down with young urban-suburban consumers to “learn how they make food choices, to learn what they look for. This is leading us into sustainability and carbon footprint,” said McCloskey.

“We also sit down with the different NGO’s (like World Wildlife Fund for example). We all sit at the table and talk about the challenges that face dairy farmers,” said McCloskey. “The Net Zero Initiative coming out of that is one of the coolest things, and we are a collaborator on what is needed for dairy to get to net zero. It’s a big stake in the ground, but it’s got to be the place where we need to go.”

She explained the Net Zero Initiative under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has a catalog of technologies to help producers deal with environmental issues.

“What if 37,000 dairy farmers could have net zero greenhouse gas emissions? This is what we have to chase,” she said. “The innovation can’t stop. The whole genome of the dairy cow has been mapped. Manure can be fractionated. There is innovation that is so exciting for us to think about what dairy can look like in the future.”

The forward-looking picture McCloskey painted for Summit attendees includes even more fractionization and extraction of milk’s elements, more use of specialized GMO crops and more consolidation of farms and processors with fewer cows producing more milk to meet new sustainability benchmarks.

McCloskey said the innovation from fluid milk to cheese to fractionating protein into “all kinds of other products” — while reducing the overall dairy carbon footprint — is the road to 2050.

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The ‘perfect laboratory’

“We have only begun to know milk’s power and the different vitamins and elements we are just discovering how to use and extract,” she said.

“And it all happens in nature’s perfect laboratory – the dairy cow.”

On the flip side, McCloskey acknowledged that DMI has also learned consumer choices come back to this bottom line:

“It’s got to taste good and it’s got to do something for me,” she noted. “This is why dairy is not going away. Dairy is real and it tastes great and it makes you feel good.”

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