Pandemic economics, concerns on the radar, and valuable business insights shared as Dr. Kohl kicks off PA Dairy Summit

Dr. Kohl covered the gamut of what’s on his dairy and agriculture radar at home and abroad. Then he encouraged producers to separate the controllables from the uncontrollables to focus on the business. One tool he highlighted evaluates business management IQ using 15 critical questions for crucial conversations because it gets people thinking.

China, fake meat and dairy, propaganda seeking to eliminate the dairy cow, and much more concern him. But Dr. Kohl encourages farmers to seek opportunities, be flexible, innovative and adaptive, and to follow a process for their business and sharpen their business focus. Be sure to check out the navigation points on Dr. Kohl’s compass at the end of this article.

By Sherry Bunting

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The disruptions and challenges of the past year also create opportunities, said Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus and co-owner of Homestead Creamery for the past 20 years.

He was the keynote speaker kicking off the 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit held virtually this week through an online convention format that had much of the signature Summit feel.

In his characteristic style, Dr. Kohl stepped the virtual audience through a broad global and domestic view of events and evolution down to the impacts at the dairy farm level with motivational thoughts on how to navigate.

He urged farmers to navigate rocky roads of change by adopting two key management elements. First, be flexible, innovative and adaptable. Second, follow a process for the business with a business focus.

Kohl also encouraged producers to manage around the things they can’t control like election results, pandemics and the strategies of China’s Xi Jinping.

 “A good marketing and risk management plan is critical. In this environment, we have to separate the controllables and uncontrollables… and look for the opportunities,” he said.

As he has in past seminars since the pandemic, Kohl highlighted the ‘buy local’ movement is picking up steam post-Covid. “Many of you are in that footprint. One-third of the U.S. population is in your area, so this movement might be sustainable,” he said.

That’s good news. The bad news is the acceleration of economic divide, said Kohl. He sees this affecting agriculture, other businesses and households, which will add to the economic volatility and extremes in the big three: milk prices, feed costs and interest rates.

Market supercycle

“We are in another supercycle that is really impacting the grain sector,” said Kohl. He cited the stimulus checks as “dangerous one-off income” leading to printing more money, which devalues the dollar. This fuels more exports, especially when coupled with the ‘China-effect’ as they rebuild their protein sector and livestock industry.

This, along with weather concerns in South America and investor speculation have “shot those grain prices higher, especially on corn, beans, and we see it in cotton, all up.”

He sees this grain market supercycle abating through 2021 and 2022. The grain price rally is not sustainable, in his view, unless weather problems in South America persist and unless weather affects North American crops this coming season.

Globalization

Kohl noted that globalization started six decades ago, and he marked 1995 through 2015 as the period of “hyper-globalization, but in recent years, we’ve moved away from this. Dairy is right in the crosshairs of this shift because exports have become a much bigger share of milk production,” he said. “If de-globalization continues, this will impact agriculture in the U.S.”

He warned that the dairy industry would be well advised to not shape itself with China’s market in mind.

“Don’t bet your dairy expansion on trade with China,” said Kohl. He gave the example that 300 million people in China were without power a month ago because China would not allow Australian coal in to fuel plants.

Kohl observes that while the U.S. and Europe are bickering about everything, China has been pursuing world power. China has invested a trillion dollars in 68 countries – the agriculture ‘hot-spots’ around the world.

“Their initiatives will impact our competitiveness,” said Kohl, noting that China is also moving ahead on building a world supply chain for vaccines made at sites they have cultivated in developing countries.

“China could be the leading power by 2040, even 2027. They are going to move forward very fast if we don’t get our act together,” he said, explaining the recent “regional” trade pact China made that makes China the central focus in Asia.

Market Concentration

The flipside of globalization is the domestic U.S. food supply and marketing chain.

“That’s our Achilles heel,” said Kohl. “We have too much concentration with too few firms, and I’m being very blunt about this. We saw what happened when plants shut down. Now we see more nations saying they want to become more self-reliant. This is something to watch closely over the next five years.”

Kohl said the industries that are linked to dairy are in 50 to 75% recovery while at the same time Amazon, Walmart, Target are operating at 125%.

“They are getting too much power here in the U.S. and around the world,” he said, noting that on one hand the buy-local movement is accelerating, but on the other hand, the pandemic environment has moved even more market power to these large global entities.

Expressing agricultural ‘serfdom’ concerns, Kohl responded to a question about China purchasing agricultural land and assets in the U.S. This also hit upon the recent news in business journals that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been buying up farmland and is now the single largest owner of U.S. farmland (not total land but good arable farmland).

“I am worried about this one,” said Kohl. “Some of this big investment money creates serfdom. We need to do some due diligence, and we don’t have enough political forces looking at this. Canada put the kabash on China buying their land.” He noted that his research shows the land purchased by Gates through Cascade Investments is fertile land next to rivers and near international ports, as well as land with mineral rights.

’They want to eliminate the dairy cow’

Kohl’s Summit keynote discussion came the morning after the Super Bowl. And yes, he noticed the Oatly (oat beverage) ad that ran before halftime.

“Did you see the guy last night singing in the field talking about eliminating the dairy cow?” he asked, quoting other CEOs of brands like Beyond Meat also stating their goals to replace cows entirely.

On fake dairy and meat alternatives, Kohl was emphatic about how closely this needs to be watched.

“They’ve got the money. They’ve got the power. And they think they are saving the environment,” he said, explaining that these products are going to become more competitive with real dairy and meat as large investors and large companies in the traditional dairy and meat supply chain ecosystem get involved to drive the alternative product prices down and change the packaging. He gave the example that Beyond Meat is already closing that gap at $6.79 to $6.99 per pound compared with ground beef at $5.49 per pound.

“They are coming after traditional agriculture. That much is loud and clear,” said Kohl. “Big Ag has to look themselves in the face — that they allowed this to happen — with too much market power. This is me speaking, and I’m being blunt.”

During the chat session that followed, Kohl noted that even their Homestead Creamery based in Blacksburg, Virginia is seeing competition from non-dairy alternatives where they sell their fresh local dairy products.

“It is interesting that we are getting more questions on the non-meat and non-dairy products out there. Our customers are asking our sales team,” said Kohl. “We try to go into it with more education, and we are going A2A2 as a differentiator for our milk and ice cream.”

Minimum wage impact

Current legislation being considered in Congress includes a four-year phase-in to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That’s more than double the current federal minimum wage.

“This will be bad for small business. The big guys can handle it,” Kohl observes. “This creates more business consolidation. We’re seeing a little push back on this now, but there needs to be a lot of push back. America was built on small business and entrepreneurs. We don’t want to create a serfdom where we just work for big business.”

Stimulus, taxes, regulation

With $2 billion a day in stimulus checks being written by governments worldwide, Kohl said this ‘black swan (pandemic event) can turn into an angry bird.

When government writes check, what comes next is encroachment, said Kohl. He sees federal, state and local taxes increasing and “regulators are going to have more swagger. This makes it imperative, to surround the farm business with your best advisors and have a good tax accountant who understands agriculture.”

Regulations in the environmental, labor, banking and financial service sectors are likely to increase, said Kohl. “Regulators have a lot of pent up energy from the past four to five years, and they’ll likely be coming out with a full-court press.”

Energy independence

Noting that the U.S. had its longest economic expansion until February of last year (pandemic), Kohl said a key reason is that the U.S. became the number-one energy-supplier in the world.

The effort to become energy independent began after the tragic attack of 9-11 in 2001. Today, the U.S. is number one energy producer, Canada is number four and Mexico is number eight. This means three of the top 10 energy producers are in North America.

“Now we are seeing a rollback of this playing right into the hands of Opec,” said Kohl, noting that the advertising and policy points about moving to electric vehicles can all sound good. “But we’re not thinking of the unintended consequences, where 74% of the components (for EV vehicles) are produced in China.”

How energy plays out policy-wise is important for agriculture, according to Kohl, because “$8 out of every $10 we spend is linked to energy.”

Kohl sees a “fine balance” to be had on sustainability and climate action.

“Some things we are doing for water, air and soil health are important, but there are contributors other than fossil fuels. I see a need to think about unintended consequences. If components for new sources come all out of China, and we get locked down, that creates a problem. Also, a lot of people seem to forget: when gas goes to $5 to $7 per gallon, it shuts a consumer and a farm down very quickly.”

Navigation points on Dr. Kohl’s compass:

— Surround yourself with good advisors and a good tax accountant.

— Be careful with one-off income from government support. Are you using that money to build efficiencies or pay down debt? Don’t make long-term expansion decisions based on this one-off income.

— Watch the value of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies, but land value should hold.

— Expect to see acceleration of ‘carbon payments’ replacing direct farm program payments.

— Keep the non-dairy and meat alternatives on the radar screen, especially if you are involved in dairy leadership.

— Healthy soil, water and air quality are important focuses as agriculture deals with weather extremes.

— See the positives that have come out of the pandemic: farms labeled essential, local food movement acceleration, time with family, time to re-evaluate priorities.

— Be flexible, innovative and adaptive.

— Have a risk management plan and realize you are going to leave money on the table when you follow a plan that works for you 8 out of 10 years.

— Keep working capital available as your shock absorber and so you will be ready for emergent circumstances and unexpected opportunities. The recommended ‘war chest’ is to have greater than 25% of the farm’s expenses (not including interest and depreciation) as working capital reserve.

— Have a written farm budget and compare periodically (monthly) to actual expenses.

— Have a separate family living budget and compare periodically to actual expenses.

— Use advisory teams. They are the fastest growing trend, and they work.

— Be proactive on a plan to transition the business and to merge older and younger views of the future.

— Evaluate your business management IQ with 15 questions to ask yourself about your business and have each member of the family in management fill it out separately. This is a great way to measure business management progress, “and it gets you to think,” said Kohl. (See chart.)

— Do your baseline cash flow projections for the farm business, but also do financial sensitivity analysis. Work through the numbers in a best-case scenario to the aspiring goals of the business, but also run worst case scenarios. Look at the analysis if interest rates go up 1 to 2% — or with changes in the input and output values — to see how those changes affect the bottom line. “This gives you the parameters to keep you out of the ditches as you move forward,” said Kohl. “If those values experience extreme change, you can fall back on that working capital reserve.”

— Monitor those cash flows monthly against projections.

— Work with ag lenders to lock in interest rates where you can.

— Re-examine your vision and your goals and make sure expansion or investments line up with these goals; keep your working capital cushion. 

— Look for your “three’s” – 3 things you want to continue, 3 things you want to improve. When isolating goals and actions, limit to three to intensify your focus.

Published in Farmshine, February 12, 2021

Dairy checkoff GENYOUth ‘hero’ PepsiCo partners with Beyond Meat to market plant-based alternative protein snacks, drinks

Watch those FUTP60 breakfast carts! Packaged food, beverage giant and faux-meat maker join forces to market plant-based alternative protein snacks, drinks.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 29, 2021

The business news stream was buzzing Tuesday (Jan. 26) as Beyond Meat stock value soared to 18-month highs after PepsiCo announced a joint venture with the fake meat maker to develop and sell plant-based protein snacks and beverages.

“Plant-based proteins are playing an increasingly vital role in modern diets — they’re nutrient-rich and far more sustainable than meat,” states the PepsiCo press release about the joint venture with Beyond Meat, being launched as “The PLANeT Partnership” and billed as being “better for the planet.”

The announcement was complete with ‘clever’ marketing hashtag — #ThePLANeTPartnership — but not much science, of course, nor substance.

“Climate action is core to our business as a global food and beverage leader,” said Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said just one week earlier announcing Pepsico’s ‘bold’ new climate action plan.

Beyond Meat’s global chief commercial officer Ram Krishnan said the PepsiCo partnership “represents a new frontier in our efforts to build a more sustainable food system.”

During the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 2021 livestream on Transformation of Food Systems and Land Use on the very next day (Wed., Jan. 27), PepsiCo’s Laguarta joined United Nations FAO director, deputy secretary general, special envoy for the food transition summit later this year, CEO of Rabobank and president of Costa Rica. The relationships between these types of partnerships are becoming clear.

Let’s review:

For 11 years, dairy farmers through the mandatory promotion checkoff founded and have predominantly funded GENYOUth, a ‘youth wellness’ non-profit with the dairy checkoff’s Fuel Up and NFL’s Play 60 combined as Fuel Up to Play 60. For nine of those 11 years, GENYOUth has partnered with PepsiCo, bringing this ‘fox’ into the FUTP60 schoolhouse — even awarding PepsiCo North America CEO Albert Carey the ‘hero’ Vanguard Award at the November 2018 GENYOUth Gala event in New York City. 

This, despite the fact that these two GENYOUth partners — the National Football League and its longtime beverage partner PepsiCo — contribute $1 million (or usually less) annually while dairy farmer-funded checkoff pays $4 million or more annually on the non-profit filing tax forms as Youth Improved Incorporated. DMI tax forms also show dairy checkoff payments to the NFL of $5 to $7 million annually as an independent contractor for ‘promotion services’. Amounts potentially paid in proprietary partnerships with PepsiCo are undisclosed.

GENYOUth was created while Tom Vilsack was Secretary of Agriculture during the Obama administration in 2008, with an MOU signed by USDA, NFL and National Dairy Council in 2009. (Mr. Vilsack is President Biden’s pick for Ag Secretary — again. In between his eight years as Ag Secretary under President Obama and the upcoming round-two as Ag Secretary, Vilsack was the top-paid executive hired by the dairy checkoff to head the U.S. Dairy Export Council and provide leadership for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)

When former President Bill Clinton was invited to speak about Vilsack at the 2017 GENYOUth Gala — the year that Vilsack was presented with the Vanguard Award — Clinton, a vegan, talked about every entity in the “diverse partnership” that he was celebrating except for America’s dairy farmers.

In the 2017 Gala speech about award winner Vilsack, Clinton talked about how children receive 40 to 60% of their calories from drinks in school. He talked about turning the obesity epidemic around by everyone taking responsibility in that area of beverages. He talked about how Vilsack’s leadership with Michelle Obama, made beverages and snacks abide by the fat-free rules, including school vending machines. Clinton stated that Vilsack was “instrumental under the radar… working for a ‘healthier’ generation of kids before coming to USDA and before the launch of GENYOUth.”

Former President Clinton thanked former Secretary Vilsack at the 2017 GENYOUth Gala for being “the guy” to tackle the beverage issue in school lunches. The year GENYOUth was formed is the year Vilsack’s USDA outright banned whole milk from school property from midnight before the start of the school day until 30 minutes after the end of the school day. The “Smart Snacks” rules went into effect under Vilsack, requiring a la carte and vending machine beverages to meet the Dietary Guidelines fat criteria and be under 60 calories per serving. (Mr. Vilsack and others in charge are still waiting for that elusive ‘preponderance of evidence’)

What happened next? A proliferation of PepsiCo snack and beverage products made their way into schools through PepsiCo’s own school foodservice company – complete with “USDA-Smart-Snacks-compliant” lists of snacks and drinks, including Mountain Dew Kickstart, Gatorade Zero, a host of snack bars, Doritos, and more.

The very next year at the November 2018 GENYOUth Gala, PepsiCo was the Vanguard Award ‘hero’. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sang PepsiCo’s praises, of course, the NFL and PepsiCo have been partners for decades.

“I say to our farmers: They had a dream, and we have been blessed to be part of that dream. You gave us life. You believed in us. And can you believe we are standing here today on the cusp of the 10-year anniversary of FUTP60?” said GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick just before extending “an extra special thank you to PepsiCo.”

Glick said of PepsiCo’s Carey: “The generosity of your vision, your resources, your team, time and talent have changed our organization.”

That’s a mouthful. 

PepsiCo’s Carey showed his appreciation by plugging the new Quaker “oat milk” they were launching that month. It fell flat in the market, but PepsiCo is at it again with this new joint venture with Beyond Meat to make fake meat snacks and fake milk beverages that are sure to find their way onto the USDA-controlled Smart Snacks menus and FUTP60 breakfast carts in schools — even as the nutritious, delicious whole milk children love is prohibited.

In accepting the GENYOUth Vanguard award in November 2018, PepsiCo’s Carey talked about their “long and wonderful partnership with the NFL” and the way their ads and retail programs boosted both of their brands. He talked about how Play 60 was the NFL program they “most admired and wanted to be part of.” He was careful to leave out the “Fuel Up” part when mentioning the program because that is supposed to belong to the dairy checkoff.

He went on to talk about how PepsiCo “wanted to be part of the Play 60 program because of the importance of kids being active. But we also believe at PepsiCo that we need to provide healthy products for our consumers,” said Carey. “Some of you may be familiar with our mission ‘performance with purpose.’”

He described the mission as “getting great business performance while also serving others… on the part of the environment… or many other ways, but this one particular way is about providing healthier foods for our consumers.”

GENYOUth Gala, New York City, November 27, 2018: Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, presents the Vanguard Award to Al Carey, CEO, PepsiCo North America, accepting on behalf of PepsiCo. (GENYOUth Now photo)

Carey took his time at the GENYOUth Gala podium, ‘hero’ Vanguard Award in hand, to tout PepsiCo’s “healthy beverages, including zero sugar soda, Life Water, Bubbly Sparkling Water, Gatorade Zero, Quaker oat milk.” (Yes, the now off-market Quaker oat beverage never put ‘milk’ on the label, but Carey called it ‘oat milk’ in his speech during the GENYOUth Gala as dairy-farmer-checkoff-paid employees of GENYOUth, DMI, NDC, etc. smiled and clapped with partnership euphoria).

Carey went on to tell the November 2018 GENYOUth VIP Gala audience that, “Oat milk, Bare Snacks and probiotic drinks are part of PepsiCo converting its portfolio to healthier foods for the future.”

A December 2018 Farmshine article about the Gala event quoted from the PepsiCo website, where the company touted its purpose-driven mission “to further the World Health Organization goals of alternative products to reduce saturated fat consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby improving global environmental and nutritional sustainability.”

What did PepsiCo do to earn the Vanguard Award from GENYOUth in 2018? PepsiCo committed $1 million that year to fund translation of the Play 60 materials in Spanish and to purchase some additional mobile breakfast carts. While it’s true those school breakfast carts carry fat-free and low-fat 1% milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat or low-fat cheese, they are also well-stocked with PepsiCo snack bars and beverages.

After this week’s headline-making announcement of the PepsiCo – Beyond Meat joint venture to make alternative plant-based protein snacks and beverages, we see what might be appearing on those breakfast carts and USDA-compliant lunches in the not-so-distant future.

Again, as oft-repeated in this nutrition and promotion saga, the USDA / HHS Dietary Guidelines are the framework that allows less healthful foods to appear more healthful simply because they are devoid of saturated fat and contain artificial sweeteners. 

The government-mandated dairy checkoff deduction from milk checks pays for government speech, which means promoting fat-free and low-fat dairy and funneling ‘change-agent’ ‘sustainability’ curriculum into FUTP60 offerings. The NFL gets logo-emblazoned flag football kits into schools to promote their brand through exercise. Corporate partners like PepsiCo develop entire meal, snack and beverage lists with their products touted as “USDA Smart Snack compliant”.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers foot the main bill for the vehicle and watch as fluid milk consumption declines took a steeper nosedive since 2008, and as a whole generation has been turned away from milk until the recent resurgence of grassroots whole milk promotion. Farmers foot the bill for the vehicle and watch as obesity and diabetes rates rise among children and teens, especially low-income communities most reliant on government feeding programs. They foot the bill and watch as schoolchildren discard large volumes of packaged skim milk only to buy those other beverages, many of them made by PepsiCo.

All because dairy promotion and school offerings are strapped to Dietary Guidelines developed by the federal government that even in this recent 2020-25 round ignore more than a decade of scientific research on dietary fats as well as ignoring the investigative reports that have uncovered the flaws in the original science at the very core of 40-years of failed dietary policy.

You can’t make this stuff up. 

However, it’s not all that surprising when we see what is going on in this week’s ‘virtual’ World Economic Forum ‘Great Rest’ Davos Agenda. More than 60 global food, technology, energy, pharmaceutical, and financial companies made headlines also on Tuesday. They signed an agreement to adopt Environmental Social and Corporate Governance (ESGs), including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) centering on Net Zero by 2050, including goals to “reserve” and control 50% of the earth’s land surface by 2050.

It is increasingly obvious that the Dietary Guidelines adopted by the U.S. and other countries around the world have little to do with human health but are a framework for using ‘nutrition’ to implement a ‘sustainability’ agenda seeking to dilute and replace animal agriculture while increasing global corporate control of food, and more. 

There’s a connection to China in these convergences of factors, which is also coming to light. Figuring prominently in the WEF Great Reset Davos Agenda this week is China, as evidenced by Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China being chosen to give the opening Davos address Monday (see related story).

According to the May 20, 2020 edition of Newsweek, Beyond Meat signed a significant deal with Shuangta Foods in China’s Shandong province to provide 85% of the concentrated pea protein for its fake meat products.

Over the past decade, China has built an empire of soy- and pea- protein manufacturing. According to the Good Food Institute — the trade organization representing plant-based and cell cultured meat and milk replacements — China is a “dominant supplier” of soy and pea protein to the world and keeps expanding pea protein concentrate and isolate processing capacity, having already been at 79% of global soy protein isolate production by 2016.

This is a familiar path in the way China dominated and took over the global apple juice market two decades ago, making apple concentrate powder that is reconstituted here to bottle most commercial brands of apple juice sold in the U.S. (a major shelf-stable beverage option already offered at schools and other foodservice settings).

PepsiCo has a 40-year history of building up its presence in China, spending billions in the past decade to build up its beverage processing infrastructure. In February 2020, PepsiCo purchased Be & Cheery, maker of nut, fruit and meat snacks in China. At the same time, PepsiCo announced plans to grow online snacks sales.

Thinking back to the 2007 melamine catastrophe in China involving the addition of melamine to boost protein levels ‘on paper’ for China-produced milk powder that was destined for infant formula production, as well as the periodic recalls of pet foods for melamine levels as many of the concentrated proteins in pet foods are also made in China… 

One has to wonder about the future of food. 


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WEF Davos Agenda 2021 kicks off with China’s view of post-pandemic global ‘reset’

Xi Jinping, president of People’s Republic of China, gives the opening address about China’s role in the post-pandemic global reset during World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda 21 this week. (WEF Livestream screenshot)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 29, 2021

“History is moving forward and the world will not go back to what it was in the past. Every choice and move we make today will shape the world of the future. It is important that we address the four major tasks facing people of our times, (including Covid-19),” said Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, chosen to give the opening address of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda 2021 opening day Monday (Jan. 25).

The annual meeting of world government and business leaders was virtual and livestreamed. It is normally held in Davos, Switzerland.

Jinping identified the four global governance tasks (health, economic, climate and digital), and discussed China’s role in global digital governance and in enhancing global health governance while pledging to get more engaged in global economic governance.

“It serves no one’s interests to use the pandemic as an excuse to reverse globalization and go for seclusion and decoupling of supply chains,” he scolded, using the term “arrogant” to describe any country or region that disrupts globalization. “We are one Earth with one shared future to cope with the current crisis.” (That being the Coronavirus pandemic, which originated in the Wuhan Province of China.)

Citing climate and economic recession as the other crises facing the world, Xi Jinping talked about coordinating macro-economics to determine ‘sustainable’ global growth and to shift the global growth factors and goals to a global economic system.

“In the era of economic globalization, public health emergencies like Covid-19 may very well recur, and global health governance needs to be enhanced,” he said. “The Earth is our one and only home, to scale up efforts to address climate change and to promote sustainable development bears on the future of humanity. No global problem can be solved by any one country, alone. There must be global action, global response and global cooperation.”

Jinping went on to say that the way out of the problems facing the world is through ‘multilateralism’, that there must be ‘openness’ and ‘inclusiveness.’
He defined multilateralism as being about having international affairs addressed through consultation and everything decided for the world together. He gave his opinion that the building of small circles, the starting of  a new cold war that decouples supply chains and disrupts them, the placing of sanctions, and unilateral trade agreements as reasons why the world gets pushed into division and confrontation.

The president of the People’s Republic of China said the world must act on a “shared future for mankind, peace, developmental equity, justice, democracy and freedom, to make policies that are open and inclusive and safeguard an open world economy, by taking down barriers to trade and barriers to technology exchanges.” (China is well known for requiring access to intellectual property as condition of trade).

At its roots, Jinping said the world needs “structural reform and international rules based on the majority of countries agreement.” He also said the United Nations and international law rules — once made — should be followed by all.

Citing the pandemic, Jinping said: “Now is the time for major transformation.”

He said this transformation should stand by core values of multilateralism, improve global governance systems, give full play to the World Health Organization, International Monetary System, and World Trade Organization, including fulfillment of the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development regarding climate change.

It was at the conclusion of his remarks that the agenda seemed most clear, and chilling.

“China is on course … building the platform for a modern socialist country in a new development stage with a new development philosophy, fostering a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and with domestic and international circulation reinforcing each other,” Jinping said.

“China will work with other countries to build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity,” he concluded.-30- 

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Farmers question dairy checkoff leaders during 2020 meeting on Pennsylvania farm

By Sherry Bunting, published a year ago (pre-pandemic), Farmshine, March 11, 2020

PARKESBURG, Pa. — The promotion of fluid milk, especially whole milk, was top of mind for approximately 120 dairy farmers, many of them Amish, who gathered at a dairy farm near Parkesburg, Pennsylvania last Thursday (March 5) for a question and answer session with two top representatives of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) – Marilyn Hershey, DMI chairwoman and UDIA board member along with Lucas Lentsch, UDIA executive vice president.

DMI manages the national dairy checkoff and is the board that brings together the National Dairy Board and the federation of state and regional promotion boards that make up the United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) — under DMI’s unified marketing plan.

The farmers came equipped with information, questions and concerns around several key topics with much of the discussion centering on whole milk promotion. This was clearly at odds with DMI’s emphasis on cheese and other dairy products through a decade of “partnerships doing the advertising for us,” as it was explained.

Case in point, at the outset of the meeting, Marilyn Hershey stated that “consumers are not drinking dairy. Today, they are eating more of their dairy.”

Lucas Lentsch, who covers producer relations and oversees the federation of state and regional promotion boards under UDIA, stressed that “consumers can’t be educated to drink something. We have the consumer insights… and we have to move to where the consumers are.”

“These are tense times in the dairy industry, and we need to remain respectful,” said Simeon Beiler as he moderated the discussion. He and Melvin Stoltzfus and Steve Stoltzfus organized the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours and became heated at points when several key questions of fact, as well as questions of direction and board make-up and decision-making were left unanswered.

Also tense, were points at which Hershey and Lentsch — as well as other promotion board representatives in the audience — claimed that whole milk sales have been rising for years because of checkoff-funded efforts in research and in-store stocking and promotion programs. The checkoff leaders even questioned the impact of the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free campaign started by Nelson Troutman’s Milk Baleboards in January 2019 — going so far as to say that while they appreciate these grassroots efforts, the message is “confusing consumers.”

DMI chair Marilyn Hershey and UDIA executive vice president Lucas Lentsch take questions from farmers at the March 2020 meeting in southeast Pennsylvania.

Hershey told the group of her background growing up on a dairy farm and today operating a dairy with her husband in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She said she has enjoyed serving producers and feels DMI “can make a difference so that dairy farmers can do what we do best – produce milk.” She has been involved in dairy promotion for nearly seven years, today serving on the UDIA board, which led to becoming DMI chairwoman almost three years ago.

Lentsch introduced himself as growing up on a dairy farm in South Dakota, serving in the military and coming home to be appointed as the state’s secretary of agriculture. Then, four years ago, he became CEO of Midwest Dairy Association before taking the national job this year with UDIA. He talked about taking seriously “the servant leadership mindset” of “working for real people who make this country great.”

Lentsch repeatedly took note that there are facts and there are perspectives and that the perspectives in the room may be different, but he was “loving the dialog and wanting to do the work that benefits farmers.”

At several points, Hershey shared that the DMI board “doesn’t work that way” or the way people seem to think it does — in terms of how the goals and perspectives of the group of attending farmers could be met.

Lacking throughout the discussion was the ability to answer specific questions on points of fact as Hershey described the relationship dairy farmers have with the National Football League (NFL). For example, she said the NFL players are “invested” in the work of getting breakfast carts to hungry children and that the week spent at Super Bowl venues begins a year in advance raising money from other businesses to fund breakfast carts for schools in the host city.

When asked specifically about what Super Bowl perks and expenses are paid with checkoff funds for board members, Hershey avoided the question and picked up in a different aspect, saying $820,000 was raised for breakfast carts last year when the Super Bowl was in Atlanta.

A follow up question was asked about what the dairy farmers’ checkoff investment is in GENYOUth that leads to those monies being raised. That question was not answered either.

A second follow up question was asked about what the more than $5 million represents, which was paid by DMI to the NFL in each of at least two years of IRS 990 forms (2016 and 2017), listing only the top five independent contract recipients, NFL being one of the top five.

Hershey and Lentsch seemed surprised by the question, and neither could nor would answer it, saying they would find out. However, this question had been asked by farmers in the past and by at least one reporter in a previous meeting as well as in writing, with yet no answer.

Congruent to the Super Bowl and GENYOUth questions were those about why all milk promotion is focused on fat-free and low-fat. Farmers wanted to know why DMI cannot support the choice of whole milk in schools (more on that in a future article).

In fact, the very first question asked by moderator Simeon Beiler — who fielded written questions from the attending farmers as well as calling upon farmers to ask their questions directly – was this one: “Why do we not see DMI-financed promotion of whole milk?”

Lentsch stopped the answering of that question by first asking the group to pause and look at the history of the dairy checkoff, which was legislated as mandatory in 1983 when he said there were 500 warehouses full of cheese and butter bought by the government.

“They weren’t going to keep doing that,” said Lentsch, explaining that dairy checkoff was implemented so that dairy farmers could “be a voice for themselves in promotion and research.”

In those 35 years, U.S. milk production has gone from 140 billion pounds annually to 220 billion pounds, Lentsch said.

As the conversation continued, it became clear that dairy checkoff — rather than being a way for farmers to “be a voice for themselves” — could be more aptly described as a voice for the government and its partners.

Why? Because the answers on the whole milk promotion question were given in contradictory ways as Hershey and Lentsch each explained their understandings of the government’s oversight.

“A few years ago, USDA made a rule not to support whole milk and we (checkoff) are held under that jurisdiction, but we can do research,” said Hershey, adding that there are 63 research papers in support of whole milk. She said that they explain the value of whole milk for children, but that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are not wavering, and DMI “can’t get involved in political battles because it’s the preponderance of the evidence” that governs this.

Lentsch stated that it all goes back to the Dietary Guidelines, and he seemed to make a distinction about the difference between what can be promoted in general and what can be promoted in schools.

A follow up question was asked as to why Allied Milk Producers — a qualified milk promotion and research program based in Pennsylvania that can receive the dime for regional promotion nationwide – why they can put up “Whole Milk, whole nutrition, naturally” billboards and DMI maintains that it can’t do something similar.

Hershey stated that she sees these billboards when traveling, but that, “USDA never regulated Allied on this, but USDA could if it wanted to.”

From the audience, Mike Eby, a former Allied board member, stated: “It’s my understanding that Allied is under the same jurisdiction of USDA as any other checkoff organization.”

This is where Lentsch intervened to say there is a difference between whole milk promotion in schools, which he said the dairy checkoff cannot do, and whole milk promotion in general.

“USDA adheres to the Dietary Guidelines, and the science that you have funded (through checkoff) on early childhood nutrition shows whole milk is a huge bright spot,” said Lentsch. “That message is getting out, thanks to you for funding the research.”

But when the topic of the research was probed further by the audience, no specific research papers on whole milk were offered as examples. In fact, Hershey mentioned a CNN headline from that morning about a study showing whole milk reduces the likelihood of children becoming overweight or obese. The headline was about a study done in Australia that was similar to a study completed a few months ago in Canada.

The question was asked, specifically, did DMI fund the study in Australia or the one in Canada? Hershey’s answer was “no.”

Hershey also mentioned the 2015 Time Magazine cover “Eat Butter” as based on checkoff research and efforts to get the full-fat dairy message out, and that this changed the conversation on whole milk.

A member of the audience indicated that the Time Magazine article was explained by its author in the preface as being prompted by his review of Nina Teicholz’s international and New York Times best-selling book that year — “Big Fat Surprise” — and that Teicholz’s extensive bibliography only included two studies related to dairy checkoff on full-fat dairy (i.e. cheese and butter). The book mostly exposed the injustice of academics burying science for decades while the world latched onto the low-fat diet propaganda and made it law, so to speak.

There was no answer. No citing of specific checkoff-funded studies on whole milk – as a beverage.

Lentsch stressed that, “The battleground is the Dietary Guidelines. We have the science and the influence to have conversations at the World Health Organization and those conversations are happening at the global scale, to make sure recommendations are science-based.”

“This is the United States of America,” said one Amish attendee. “We know we could be advertising whole milk. The Dietary Guidelines are not operating on true science.”

Lentsch added that checkoff is “promoting whole milk, just not in schools. We can speak of the science. USDA has oversight so at the national level we can only talk about the science.”

Jennifer Heltzel, a dairy producer from Martinsburg, Pa., rose to introduce herself as “your representative on the national board.” She talked about why farmers don’t see the advertising checkoff is doing. “We don’t see it driving down the road. It’s on social media where the consumers are. The Got Milk campaign was an award-winning campaign and it drove awareness, but it did not drive consumption,” she said.

Lentsch added that there are 80,000 SKUs of beverages now available to consumers. “In the 1990s, we saw an explosion of innovation in the amount of choices consumers have today. But the good news is that milk is in 94% of households. It’s the trip-driver so it is very important,” he said. “We work promotion through brands that are facing consumers.”

“We now work with partners like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Taco Bell and McDonalds and they do the advertising for us,” said Hershey. “Taco bell wanted to develop a taco made with cheese (a cheese shell in addition to cheese topping that will be launched this spring). We developed it with them in our kitchens.”

She said that $15 billion in advertising has been used by DMI’s partners since this partnership-style dairy promotion began in 2010.

“It’s a way for us to get our message out,” said Hershey, adding that MilkPEP, the fluid milk processors’ promotion organization is one of DMI’s partners. Fairlife is another example, and she said other dairy beverage brands are coming on as partnerships (more on that in a future article).

Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman (right) and retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey (second from right) stop for a photo while talking with Chester County dairy producers Stan and Cathy Guest as they arrived at the March 5 meeting organized by dairy farmers with two DMI dairy checkoff representatives on the farm of Levi Stoltzfus near Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.

Milk Baleboard originator Nelson Troutman spoke up: “So the government regulates what we can say in school, but what about our partners like McDonalds? You just try once to buy a whole milk at McDonalds. It’s not available. Why can’t that be something we do with our partners?”

Troutman said further that the milk at the local McDonalds in Lebanon, Pennsylvania is zero fat milk from Upstate in New York. “Fluid milk drives the farmer’s milk check,” he said. “Whole milk really drives it. That’s why we’re not happy. We don’t win until they taste the whole milk.”

Another farmer then asked: “Why are our partners doing our advertising?”

Times have changed,” said Hershey. “This is how we do our advertising now and why it looks different.”

Troutman replied that, “This is why the 97% fat free effort is working.”

He was asked by Lentsch, “What are you basing that on? I do see it in your area. I saw one of the round bales driving in.”

Beiler noted that through various means (including web and social media), the 97 Milk message has become national, even worldwide as the British dairy farmers have a similar effort, and farmers from South America have asked to borrow the idea.

Beiler then redirected to ask point-blank: “Are you asking our fast-food ‘partners’ to serve or offer whole milk?”

Lentsch explained that, “McDonalds targets their Happy Meals to shoot for calorie targets. Everything is predicated on what we are allowed to do. I know that sounds like an excuse, but it is a reality.”

Hershey added that all they can do is put the research in front of their partners. She tried to bring the conversation back to DMI’s positive message on cheese consumption. “That is what is helping us right now. Cheese and butter consumption are outpacing production. America loves cheese. We have to figure out how to deliver the cheese.”

“We are in the business of moving dairy consumption,” said Lentsch, noting that 10 pounds of milk make one pound of cheese, saying cheese uses a lot of milk.

This is the point in which the attendees made it clear that if checkoff was started so that producers could speak for themselves and increase demand to return profitability, then “we need to promote whole milk because it drives our profitability.”

“We don’t have big cheese plants here,” said Troutman. “Pennsylvania is a fluid milk state with 12 million people, not to mention cities in other states in our region. Fluid milk sales are what keep farms in business here. That’s why we are talking about fluid milk.

“I hear you,” Lentsch replied. “We are studying dairy innovation, the value of what you produce, and trying to introduce new products. We have consumer insights, and we do some education, but you can’t just keep telling people that milk has 9 essential nutrients.

“We can be mad about what is not happening, or we can move to where the consumers are,” said Lentsch. “You can’t educate them to drink something.”

To which Troutman replied: “Yes we can. And we are! We tell them whole milk is 97% fat free, and we have consumers confirming with us already that this is something they never knew and they want to know more. This is why they have to know what we are selling, to see the 3.25% fat on the label.”

-30-

‘Elevation’ of Holstein breed is foundation for today’s genetic tools

Looking back, and ahead, with George Miller (2011-13 interviews)
 
ARCHIVE STORY: By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 15, 2013
 
RICHMOND, Va. — It has been nearly 48 years since August 30, 1965 when the great bull “Elevation” was born in northern Virginia on the former Round Oak Farm of the late Ronald Hope, Sr. The farm — which has now given way to housing developments and asphalt near Philomont, Loudoun County, Virginia — will be remembered for this indelible mark on Holstein genetics and the overall dairy industry as breeding technology and the cleverness of debating cousins with sharp eyes for cattle converged to produce the “Bull of the Century.”
 
A suggested mating by one cousin — rooted in 25 years of foundation breeding by the other — yielded Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation: The bull’s phenomenal ability to transmit and intensify genetic progress converged with the wave of technological advances in semen collection and storage and the streamlined efforts of regional animal breeder associations working collectively.
 
For Ronald Hope’s cousin — retired breeder and marketer George A. Miller — those days seem like only yesterday.
 
During the 2011 National Holstein Convention in Richmond, Virginia, I sat down with George Miller for a breakfast interview that could most aptly be described as getting schooled in generations of Holstein genetics — past, present and future.
 
Miller grew up in the same Virginia hills as the great Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation. As a child, Miller spent as much time as he could at his Uncle Charles Hope’s farm, which he recalls was at first home to Jerseys and just a few Holsteins.
 
“By 1948, Round Oak was all Holsteins,” said Miller of how his cousin Ronald, Sr., began developing the herd.
 
Twenty-five years later, Elevation — known for that rare combination of superior production, conformation and longevity — ushered in an era of Holstein genetics that received international acclaim and resulted in more than 100,000 recorded offspring and over 8.8 million descendants, worldwide.
 
Miller retired from Select Sires Inc. some 20 years ago, and remains a seasoned fixture of the industry, doing some consulting work part-time. While northern Virginia was his home for over half of his life, Miller lives today near the Select Sires home-base of Plain City, Ohio, which is also where Elevation was laid to rest in 1979.
 
Several years ago, the Virginia Holstein Association erected a marker in Loudoun County to give the bull — and his birthplace — a proper landmark for perpetuity. Included in the inscription are these words: “In agricultural history, no other animal equals Elevation’s impact on the world.”
 
The story of Elevation’s rise to fame had the humblest of beginnings, Miller relates: “Round Oak was a little farmer herd with a solid breeding foundation.   The string of cows was milked on official test three times a day.”
 
Back then, semen was extremely limited as a means of developing a herd’s genetics. Round Oak Farm acquired a number of animals from Clarence S. Harvey Brackel Holsteins, Cincinnatus, New York, and many were Montvic Chiefton 6th daughters. They purchased a Montvic Pathfinder son Prizetaker from the Harveys. 
 
The Hopes made another purchase from the Walkup Holsteins of Daniel Myers: Pinelee Posch Millie Girl made a national production record and graced the cover of the Holstein World for the 1952 National Convention.
 
But it all started with the Hope family’s interest in the line-bred Rag Apple family of Mount Victoria in Quebec, Canada, where they purchased animals, Miller recalls. The line descended from owner T.B. McCauley’s purchase of Johanna Rag Apple Pabst in the 1920s, making him the grandsire of many Holsteins, including Elevation.
 
Miller worked for his elder cousin Ron and attended Virginia Tech with a major in dairy science during these early years in which the Round Oak herd foundation was being developed — 20 years before Elevation was born.
 
Miller also worked for the Virginia Tech dairy and went on to get his masters degree there. He then became a fieldman for Virginia Animal Breeders, and served as the organization’s manager for eight years. By 1969, Virginia Animal Breeders merged with Select Sires, and Miller later became director of market development for this growing federation of organizations — a post he held for over 17 years.
 
But 10 years prior to the merger, Miller recalls the advent of the bull Osborndale Ivanhoe in 1958. He was purchased by the Southeast Pennsylvania Animal Breeders Cooperative (SPABC) before that organization became Atlantic Breeders.
 
“Our group was on the way to the National Convention that year in Boston, and we stopped at SPABC in Lancaster, Pa.,” Miller reflects. “Ivanhoe was the most extreme bull we ever saw. He was taller and longer… a breed-changer in my opinion. My cousin bought 100 units of Ivanhoe that day for that very reason.”
 
Miller explained that his cousin had been using two bulls from the Glenafton farm in Canada. One was Glenafton Gaiety.
 
“I suggested they breed  Gaiety daughters to Ivanhoe,” Miller related. “As those Ivanhoe daughters started freshening, they were impressive.”
 
A result of that mating — Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve — would later be the dam of Elevation.
 
“We were reading most every breeding magazine and became impressed with the kind of cattle they were breeding in Kansas. We also started looking at Tidy Burke Elevation,” Miller said.
 
Tidy Burke Elevation was a descendent of the Holstein line at the Pabst Farm in Wisconsin, where they were experimenting with artificial insemination as early as 1931.
 
Miller recalls that his cousin was very interested in following the Rag Apple bloodlines. “But I convinced him to try Tidy Burke Elevation,” he said.
 
It would be Round Oak’s first significant outcross in 20 years, and it was that suggested mating of Tidy Burke Elevation to Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve – an exceptional dam with that Rag Apple foundation — that resulted in Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.
 
When the bull was born in the summer of 1965, Miller was manager of the Virginia Animal Breeders. “One of our directors and fieldmen encouraged us to consider the young Elevation calf. Some on the sire committee liked the dam Ivanhoe Eve and they also liked Ivanhoe Lady. This put their attention on Round Oak,” he said.
 
The Virginia Animal Breeders sire committee went to look at the bull, and they ended up buying him. “The organization never paid over $1000 for a young calf from a Virginia breeder,” Miller recounts. “But they purchased Elevation for $2800, and the rest — as they say — is history.”
 
Round Oak retained some semen rights in the deal, and they showed him as a yearling in 1966, according to Miller. In fact, the Bull of the Century, “took second place at both shows, he was never first.”
 
Though he never placed first in a show, Elevation was co-sampled by MD-WVA Bull Stud prior to the Select Sires merger. “They decided they wanted to use him, and it’s been said that Elevation really built the barns at Sire Power and Select Sires.”
 
That may explain why he was laid to rest in the front lawn of the Plain City, Ohio stud in 1979.
 
But in those early days, the new federation of organizations was struggling with the enlarged pool of genetics and young sire programs. Select Sires moved everything to Michigan and Ohio and an organizational structure was created.
 
Miller recounted how industry greats like Dr. Jim Nichols and Dick Chichester steered Select Sires as a federated organization. But it was Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation “that financially pulled Select Sires together and helped solidify it as an organization.
 
“Elevation helped identify who is Select Sires, which was made up of organizations serving 18 states,” Miller explained. “We were working to develop a market throughout the United States.”
 
As the organization expanded its territory, Elevation’s daughters were starting to produce. “They were exceptional for production and type,” said Miller. “His first proof was +800 and his second proof was +1000 and his type and pattern were outstanding, which he was becoming recognized for at that point. This was a great leap for production and uniformity and good type, which brought on the clamor beyond what anyone would have dreamed.”
   
Producing the NoNaMe Fond Matt family, which included Kanza Matt Tippy earning All-American and Supreme Champion at World Dairy Expo, certainly helped with that national name recognition. Several famous sons — Mars Tony, Pete, Sexation, Starbuck and Tradition — added to his noteworthiness .
 
As Select Sires became affiliated with Bill Clark’s Worldwide Sires, Elevation both provided and rode the wave of interest — and the continued improvements in the technology of freezing semen — that took the organization to international acclaim.
 
“I’ve always believed — looking at the genetics end of the dairy business — if we fully use the better sires and have them priced right, every dairyman can profit,” Miller observes.
 
On the subject of genomics – which has exploded since this June 2011 interview – Miller noted that it does “offer dairymen some opportunities today that they never had before… if the genetics are right.”
 
“Genomics have changed the industry practically overnight,” he explained. “We’ve come through an era where a national convention sale had to have animals from the Carnations, Elmwoods and Pabst — the nationally known prefixes. With genomics, the playing field has changed.
 
  “With good management, dairymen can buy genomics and be in business using that pattern,” Miller observed. “But we have to wait a few years to see where the genomics take us. At this point, it’s the ‘in’ thing. it is a new frontier as was embryo transfer and more recently the use of sexed semen. ”
 
That’s why Miller holds true to the belief that “type will always prevail. With good management practices and improved cow comfort, unprecedented levels of production are achieved with the genetic potential made possible by the genetic progress of bulls like Elevation on the breed.
   
Genomics actually began with the sequencing of information toward figuring out how genes work. According to a Smithsonian article on the subject, this is the foundation for understanding complex interactions that result in economic traits and that the cow representing all Holsteins in the early draft of the bovine genome is Wa-del Blackstar Martha , a fourth-generation daughter of Elevation . Elevation is one of 96 bulls from all breeds to have complete DNA sequencing.

The idea that each species has a genome is an “average value” and that in nature all genomes are individual with no two being exactly alike (not even twins). Part of the sequencing that led genomics to this point, according to the Smithsonian Museum’s account, began by “opening livestock husbandry’s greatest treasure chest, in part with the key of America’s greatest animal.”
Miller explains it this way: “We can do this now because we’ve had an Elevation. Breeding registered cattle is often called the romance of the industry, and there is also the bottom line for the future that the upcoming dairymen have to be realistic.”
For Miller, however, a life and career in dairy cattle breeding come down to more than the resulting cows. “It’s the people — so many wonderful people in this industry — I’ve known through three and four generations, and seeing what the new generations are able to achieve… That’s what it’s all about,” said the lifetime member of the Virginia Holstein Association with a broad grin as he cites Virginia’s own Hardesty family of Harvue Roy Frosty fame as an example.
   
Miller appreciates the chance to have worked with Select Sire member staffs and representatives in other regions as the organization grew. “The chances people like my friend Mark Comfort (who founded what became Select Sires / Canada) took to start out; there are so many people breeding good cattle, not just the elite. The opportunities and tools are there now for the aspirations of young people to be involved,” he said.
 
I don’t feel that I have enough analysis to say more at this point. There is no question that most of the better sires that we see at the top were good sires to start with. It looks like we are going in the right direction, and we are at the point, now, where more information will be coming out and more analysis and opportunities to really evaluate it.
 
Miller appreciates the chance to have worked with Select Sire member staffs and representatives in other regions as the organization grew. “The chances people like my friend Mark Comfort (who founded what became Select Sires / Canada) took to start out; there are so many people breeding good cattle, not just the elite. The opportunities and tools are there now for the aspirations of young people to be involved,” he said.
 
I don’t feel that I have enough analysis to say more at this point. There is no question that most of the better sires that we see at the top were good sires to start with. It looks like we are going in the right direction, and we are at the point, now, where more information will be coming out and more analysis and opportunities to really evaluate it.
   
Miller also has appreciated mentors like Professor Paul Reaves and Holstein breeders Leonard Crowgey and Nelson Gardner and Harold Craun — along with his uncle and cousin Charles and Ronald Hope of Round Oak Farm.
 
“I appreciate the opportunities they gave me to become involved in the progress of their expanding herds,” Miller reflects. “It was a great opportunity for a youngster in school.”
 
Apart from seeing the development of Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation, a sire whose ‘career’ was inextricably intertwined with his own, Miller says a very rewarding part of his more-than-a-half-century career in cattle breeding and marketing was to develop these markets for Select Sires.
 
“I have always enjoyed working with the family-sized herds. And I’m proud to have lived long enough to see what is happening in the breed today,” Miller relates. He cites several books that chronicle the progress and history of the Holstein breed very well and are enjoyable to read: Horace Backus’ series of Holstein breed histories, Pete Marwick’s The Chosen Breed and The Holstein History and Phil Hashiders’ Creating Balance Between the Form and Function.
 
Among other recognitions, George A. Miller was the recipient of the National Association of Animal Breeders Distinguished Service Award in the early 1990s and more recently the 2012 Virginia Dairy Industry Achievement Award.
——————-
 
PHOTO CAPTION:
 
George Miller has a lot of Holstein memorabilia, including portraits and catalogs that he continues to market as keepsakes to colleagues in the industry. That includes more than 2000 pictures of Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation’s Excellent daughters, and the portrait of Elevation pictured here on his computer at the Select Sires booth during the trade show when the 2011 National Holstein Convention was held in his home state of Virginia. At age 86, George lives near Columbus, Ohio since retiring after decades as a breeder and marketer first with Virginia Animal Breeders and then with the Plain City, Ohio-based Select Sires after they merged.

 






Heartbreaking, heartwarming: Joshua Heisey, 12, mourned and celebrated with profound faith

LEBANON, Pa. — Christmas is a time for giving, for sharing, and most of all for spiritual renewal as we celebrate the true gift of life everlasting through the Son of God born to us, a child, laid in a manger.

For Joel and Karen Heisey and their children, the journey last week has been one of loss, as well as of giving. It has been a time of heartbreak and mourning as well as a time of purpose and of miracles as 12-year-old Joshua Heisey passed away December 17, five days after an accident at home on the dairy farm. He never regained consciousness.

With God’s grace and peace, Joshua and his family anointed others. “Joshua will continue to touch and change lives… We believe that God wants to use Joshua to bring physical and spiritual salvation to others,” wrote his mother Karen in a facebook post that evening (Dec. 17).

The very next day, Friday, Dec. 18, was the Lebanon-Berks Christmas Type and Production Sale, dispersing 40 dairy cattle from the Heisey family’s Hy-Hill Holstein herd near Lebanon, Pennsylvania. 

The sale had been set for weeks. The preparations had been in place, and the auction and farming community were eager to support the family — to see the sale through.

“Our hearts go out to the family. May God sustain you during this time of grief and loss. Your testimony of faith is truly remarkable,” wrote the crew at Triple Hil Sires in a facebook post Friday morning as the sale got underway. The Heiseys bred and own 525HO125 Wonderboy, a service sire at Triple Hil.

In the hours before the sale, many reached out wanting to honor Joshua’s memory and to give back to the family in a tangible expression of love and support as they had been praying for Joshua and following his journey.

As part of the sale crew, Daniel Brandt had been receiving many inquiries and offers to donate fundraising lots to auction that day. The sale staff decided to choose one donation and raise funds to purchase the package to give both the package and all funds raised to the family.

Jarrod Burleigh offered two embryos from his top-production leading Red and White Holstein, with Rusty Herr offering to implant them free of charge. Funds were then raised from over 60 additional families and individuals to purchase the package during the auction so that the sale crew could give the funds plus the embryo package to the Heisey family.

“In all, $9000 was raised for this purpose,” Brandt reported in an email Monday.

“I personally have been inspired by the Heisey family’s tremendous faith and strength through this tragedy,” Brandt added, echoing what so many have said this week. He and his wife Rebekah will deliver the check and a card with all the names to the family this week.

The sale Friday was attended by the Heisey family as they watched 40 of their selected Hy-Hill cows be sold. Joel, himself an auctioneer, did auction the last lot of the day, with an expression of gratitude to the community surrounding them.

Earlier at the start of the sale, Brandt made an announcement, but most everyone in attendance already knew of the tragedy in their midst.

“The community was very supportive, with people coming from everywhere to bid and to buy one of their animals. Many of the cattle stayed local,” said Amy Bickham, aAa analyzer and cow-breeder. In addition to the pedigrees and worth of the cows, was the feeling of appreciation for and connection with the Heisey family, and to remember their son.

“Joshua was interested in a lot of things, and he did have a strong interest in animals — and insects — and studying so many of these things,” said his father Joel by phone this week.

“Joshua had a cow he had decided not to sell, and so we still have her,” Joel added.

While the family was planning the service for their son, so many thoughts ran through their minds of what happened, how to make sense of it, how to open hearts and minds to God’s peace that passes all understanding, which they say is sustaining them.

In the words written by his mother: “Joshua was pronounced deceased at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday December 17th after a final verification of brain death. He remains at Penn State Hershey Medical Center where he will undergo recovery surgery for organ donation. We left the building this evening with broken hearts, but filled with peace and hope, and the confidence that this is what God wanted for Joshua. May God be glorified as Joshua continues to touch and change lives. Your fervent prayers are being answered, you have blessed our family through your unconditional support, and we are forever grateful.”

Later, it was learned that the miracle so many prayed for would be as his mother described it, “more than one.” Through organ recovery, Joshua will bring miracles to as many as 100 people. Some will be children, others adults.

But to his family and those close to Joshua, there will be a time of remembrance and of grief. A time to share stories and to lift each other up. A time to celebrate a child’s life on earth even as he has been called so young to his heavenly home.

For those acquaintances casually intersecting with the life of 12-year-old Joshua Heisey or his family — or simply reading this article not having known the family at all — it is the Word of God his family brought forward in their journey last week that holds real power to lift others and change lives:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

— By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, Dec. 25, 2020

PHOTO CAPTION: Last summer, five months before his passing, Joshua Heisey is pictured here with 2-year-old Hy-Hill Wonderboy Maxie when Triple Hil had come out to the farm to photograph Wonderboy daughters. Photo courtesy Triple Hil Sires

Joshua’s obituary and service information at this link Joshua Heisey Obituary (2020) – Lebanon Daily News (legacy.com)

PA herd first in nation to make ‘Naturally Better Omega-3’ milk

New labels are on, and new signage is up in the dairy case at the Oregon Dairy family-owned grocery store. While other brands of milk are sold here, like in any grocery store, the buzz is all about the milk with “mooore” — Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk. Since omega-3 is a healthy fat, the benefits are only available in milk products containing fat — whole milk, whole chocolate milk, 2% milk and cream.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 11, 2020

LITITZ, Pa. — Whole milk sales are rising. Consumers are returning to fat, and they are looking for healthy, local foods. These trends were underway well before Covid-19 and have only accelerated since. At the same time, dairy farms look for growth in diversification or getting closer to the consumer, rather than expanding cow numbers.

For Oregon Dairy, Lititz, Pennsylvania, those paths intersected. They downsized the dairy herd from milking 500 cows to 60 in July 2019, which was the first step to becoming first in the nation (likely first in the world) to produce and market milk with “mooore omega 3” – naturally. The marketing began recently in November 2020.

“We are very proud of our milk. We have always been tied to the story of our milk from the farm to the store. But we are also looking to go to the next level in differentiating it,” says Jon Hurst, center store manager. “Now we have a story to tell about our Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk.”

In fact, shoppers at the family-owned grocery store can scan a QR code on the cap of the milk jug that takes them directly to a video about how the cows are fed to naturally produce milk with more omega 3.

The video talks about healthy omega-3 fat found in dairy foods (and fatty fish).

Therefore (as noted on the dairy case signs below), the higher omega-3 levels pertain to the whole milk (57 mg), whole chocolate milk (53 mg), 2% milk (28 mg) and cream.

While there are other milk brands that increase omega-3 by adding fish oil or algae derivatives directly to the milk in the form of additives, what Oregon Dairy has done is to feed the cows a supplement that balances the ratio between omega 3 and 6, so the cows naturally produce milk with consistently higher levels of omega-3 – and do it within a conventional dairy setting.

The distinct businesses of Oregon Dairy near Lititz, Pennsylvania include the farm, bottling at the grocery store, restaurant, ice cream shoppe and agri-tainment with four brothers, George, Willie, Curvin and Vic, owning different segments. As they partner with the next generation of siblings and cousins, communication has grown closer on a farm-to-table vision that has always had the dairy cow front and center.

Celebrating the ‘Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk’ in front of the model cow painted to show her unique digestive capabilities are family members involved in the distinct businesses of Oregon Dairy (l-r), Willie Hurst, Krista Martin, Jon Hurst, Maria Forry, George, Brent and Curvin Hurst. Absent from photo are Vic and Chad Hurst.

Like any grocery store, other big-name brands are sold, but the focus is to continue highlighting local through what they do at the farm and other enterprises under the Oregon Dairy umbrella, as well as partnering with other local farms and businesses in the community.

Before downsizing, the farm — co-owned by George Hurst and his son Chad and daughter Maria and her husband Tim Forry — sold 90% of their milk through a cooperative in the commodity market and just 10% was purchased by the store and restaurant as needed.

Now, the various branches of the Hurst family and sector managers must communicate more directly about milk supply and marketing — putting them in the position to tailor what they do at the farm level to differentiate the milk at the store level.

With 18,000 followers on Oregon Dairy’s social media platforms, Jon has become a promotion powerhouse with the “farm fresh family fun” tagline, producing videos and contests and in-store partnerships that began before the Coronavirus disruptions and have given shoppers something to look forward to — with humor and sincerity — during this Covid-19 era.

For generations, they’ve been just bottling milk at the store and having their cream turned into ice cream by another manufacturer. But Jon and his cousin Maria, see a future of possibilities.

The Naturally Better Omega 3 (NBO3) Oregon Dairy Milk opens opportunities, but it really starts at the basic cow level, where the total mixed ration is balanced for omegas by feeding greatOPlus, an omega-3 nutrient supplement in the TMR mineral pack from Sporting Valley Feeds.

Their longtime nutritionist and veterinarian Dr. Robert Stoltzfus of Lancaster Vet Associates suggested the product last fall — a few months after the cow herd was downsized.

Across species, feeding flaxseed is nothing new, but it is the supplement’s algae derivatives that add additional properties for animal performance and transfer a more optimal omega balance to the meat, milk and eggs the animals produce.

“The benefits are on two levels,” says Paul Rosenberger, a consultant with NBO3, maker of greatOPlus and the largest algae producer in the country. We spoke with him by phone this week to understand the process.

“By balancing the ratios of omega 3 and 6, we get the benefit of omega-3, and in bypassing the rumen, we improve the conversion of that balance to the milk,” he explains about the natural feed nutrient.

Omega-3 has attracted attention as a healthy fat in the human diet, including reducing stress and inflammation, as well as heart health and other benefits the long chain fatty acids provide.

Oregon Dairy is one of a couple dairies Rosenberger is working with to introduce the product and acquire data.

Through Kansas State University, the Manhattan, Kansas-based NBO3 company has already received over 8000 data points from beef herds, poultry (eggs), swine, and now milk from dairy cows.

“In beef cattle, our data show improved marbling and color of the meat. In dairy cattle, there are performance benefits, but what we’re looking at with Oregon Dairy are the ratios of omega 3 and 6 in the milk,” he explains. “They are a natural for us with their retail connection providing so many attractive possibilities.”

Jon and Maria confirm the milk looks and tastes the same. (We took some home and agree, the milk is delicious as always with no difference in taste.) The difference is on the label in the milligrams of omega-3. Getting to that point took nine months of testing.

Maria explains: “We started feeding (the supplement) to our cows at a half a pound per cow in the ration, then tested, then increased our feeding rate until our tests showed we reached the omega-3 levels in the milk and were holding at those levels for months.”

Today the TMR inclusion rate is at about one and a half pounds, and the testing through NBO3 incorporates three prongs: the K-State university system, their own company labs and a third-party verifying lab.

“Once we got to the level of omega-3 in the milk and could sustain it, that’s when we got involved in the marketing and telling the story,” says Jon.

George explains that some producers are feeding the omega-balancing product to improve cow health, fertility and performance. He says they weren’t looking for specific herd improvements, but rather to improve the milk the cows produce.

Tim says the performance of the cows has been quite good in production, SCC and fertility, but again, their goal is what transfers to the milk.

Tim and Maria Forry are flanked on the left by the downsized dairy herd of 60 milk cows and on the right by the new group of 180 beef heifers being fattened for market next spring.

“We want to niche our milk,” George relates. “Downsizing the herd was never a question of not producing milk. It was a business decision on the farm side because of the dynamics of the milk market and dairy pricing. We chose to downsize and diversify.”

The farm has gotten into custom work and a seed dealership. “We went from being 40% overcrowded to having less than 50% of our freestall capacity used, that changes a lot of things,” says Tim.

One thing it changed is feeding the methane digester that has been integral on the farm since the 1980s, so they’re fattening 180 beef heifers that go to commercial markets, along with a small number of pasture-raised Angus cattle, owned by the store, that are finished at the farm. 

The beef cattle help keep the digester fed and stable to receive the other waste, to generate electricity and be part of the composting business they started over a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the store was also looking to diversify and capitalize on direct relationships with consumers.

“I go back to the concept of doing what you are good at, and this is what we are good at,” says Jon. As part of the next generation bringing their perspectives to the business, he sees local, natural, family and fun as what Oregon Dairy is good at. This omega 3 niche allows them to envision more about the future. 

“We want to be thinking outside the box of how to handle the amount of milk produced and needed,” Jon observes. 

“It all ties back to the consumer and the cows. Through our agri-tainment and corn maze and events, we hear consumers talk about health, we talk to consumers about milk and health. I talk to my own friends and family about cows and milk, but it always comes back to a health discussion,” Jon explains. “People in my generation want natural and local, and this is natural and local. Those two words capture carbon footprint and health, and it’s part of our story.”

“I think what is encouraging for other farms to take from this is to look for opportunities to diversify and differentiate within your sphere — to pursue and collaborate with others even in a small way, to find the opportunities whether producing milk, meat or eggs,” George reflects, adding that the beef industry seems to have a better handle on dealing with plant-based competitors where the dairy industry is playing catch up.

Differentiating Oregon Dairy’s milk with “mooore omega 3”, provides new ways to reach consumers with positive messages about the benefits of milk — things you just can’t get from plant-based lookalikes.

For Oregon Dairy, the bottom line in this first-ever product is to provide the same great milk from the same great cows at the same great price with the same local story, the same great health information – but now with a little more to show and tell.

The marketing is so fresh, Jon and Curvin Hurst don’t have a handle yet on how much their sales have increased, except that the omega 3 message dovetails with the trend they already see of consumers buying the higher fat milks.

“Whole milk sales, in general, are higher,” says Jon. “We have seen that shift increase in the last two years. Whole milk is number one now.”

That trend made this possible, because without the fat, there’s no omega 3. 

Cousins Maria Forry and Jon Hurst demonstrate how shoppers can instantly pull up the video about Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk when scanning the QR code on the bottle cap with a smart phone.

At the store, the staff is trained to answer questions, the QR codes are on the bottle caps, the omega 3 milligrams are on the new labels, the ‘Don’t forget mooore milk’ signage is up with information about omega 3 health benefits, and free milk giveaway contests have been done on facebook, along with celebratory videos launching the message.

Much planning went into the launch, which they never dreamed would happen during a pandemic.

But that really doesn’t matter.

“We are already hyper-local, and now we have this extra step to further differentiate our milk,” says Jon. “As always, our story, even this new story, starts with the cows. Yes, we are proud of our milk.”

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Did you get a ‘Dean estate’ demand letter from ASK LLP? Respond with this simple, approved ‘Declaration’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 18, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. — U.S. Dairy producers and haulers who received letters from ASK LLP — the Dean Foods estate trustee seeking money back from producers and haulers paid prior to Dean’s bankruptcy filing Nov. 12, 2019 — should not pay, but will need to act on those letters. Many of the letters were received right before or after Thanksgiving and had deadlines of December 19 or 24.

Dairy producers and milk haulers have an air-tight defense, and now there is a simple one-page Declaration Letter any producer or hauler from any state can use as their response to ASK LLP. Explanation and form are downloadable at the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) website at www.mmb.pa.gov or call the PMMB at 717-836-3115. (See below also.)

The Declaration Letters — one for producers (here at this link and pictured below) and one for haulers (here at this link) — were designed by PMMB chief counsel Doug Eberly — working with the state Attorney General’s office and verbally approved by ASK LLP for use by producers and haulers in all states.

“Please, please, please complete this Declaration Letter because it gets you off the hook. You will complicate matters if you don’t send them back,” said PMMB chairman Rob Barley in a Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call December 10. “It will release you from this if you fill it out. We know it is an inconvenience, but if you don’t fill out the Declaration, you could risk losing that money.”

With hundreds of farmers on the Dec. 10 call, Eberly and others gave updates and answered questions. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Dairy farmers and milk haulers have an air-tight defense.

2. The Declaration Letters developed by PMMB for use in all states demonstrate this defense. Just fill in the blanks about how often milk was picked up and how long you shipped milk to Dean Foods, sign it and email or fax it back to ASK LLP.

3. The Declaration describes how payments for milk and transport are “ordinary course” of business.

4. The legal letters sent by ASK LLP to dairy farmers and haulers are ‘avoidance claims.’ These arise when a business nears the end of a bankruptcy proceeding. All payments made to creditors — including vendors and suppliers — in the 90 days prior to filing are liable for recovery, unless the recipient can show the payments they received were not preferential.

Eberly explained the theory is that some creditors of Dean Foods could have had bargaining power to get money pre-bankruptcy that was not available then to other creditors. This is known in bankruptcy law as “trustee avoidance.”

Bottomline: “ASK needs some kind of documentation from you because they have an obligation to the bankruptcy court to show — pursuant to the bankruptcy code — the things they are charged with doing as the trustee have been done,” said Eberly.

“Farmers kept shipping milk in good faith and kept getting paid for the milk in order for Dean to stay in business,” said Eberly. “If you are a producer or hauler, you received payments in ordinary course of business with Dean. They picked up your milk every day or every other day or you shipped it to them … and they paid you twice a month as the Federal and State Milk Marketing Orders specify. We wrote this in the Declaration that you can fill out, sign and send back to ASK LLP. Doing this, you will demonstrate to the trustee that you do not owe this money back because you were not paid in any preferential way when you got paid.”

In addition to the state Attorney General’s office, PMMB worked with the Pa. Secretary of Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence, American Farm Bureau and organizations and individuals from other states.

“ASK LLP has taken a lot of heat on this, and they want to get this behind them because farm groups came together to back the farmers,” said Barley. “We’ve worked with anyone who is able to help as we reached out to other states and they reached out to us and this helps them as well. We are unique to have PMMB in Pennsylvania, and this is a time it has shown brightly to have this in Pennsylvania.”

Eberly noted the insurance bond held by Dean, as is law in Pennsylvania, has already been exercised during the bankruptcy to pay producers, so it would not have been available to help farmers in this situation.

Pa. State Representative Frank Ryan of Lebanon County was also on the call. He specialized in bankruptcy as a certified public accountant before being voted into the state legislature. “These types of ‘demand letters’ are common in bankruptcies,” said Ryan. “They are trying to determine a ‘preference period’. I can’t imagine that any dairy producer got any preference payment or was treated better than someone else (ahead of the bankruptcy).”

Ryan gave an example: “Say I am owed money by Dean for services (as a CPA) on a 90-day invoice. And say you as a farmer did a contemporaneous exchange of something of value (milk) for payment and you are paid every 14 days. You get preference over me. That’s ordinary business. But, if Dean paid me ahead as a CPA for a 90-day invoice instead of you for that contemporaneous exchange of milk for payment, then the trustee would come back to me for payment.

“The Declaration Letters are intended to help producers demonstrate that they do not have to pay that money back,” he said.

If someone went ahead and paid the settlement offer in the ASK LLP letter, Ryan said it may be difficult to get that money back. Using the Declaration and hiring an attorney might be successful to get a settlement payment back. American Farm Bureau and others are looking into this to determine if any producers paid the settlement offer in the letter.

Specific questions and answers handled in the group call Dec. 10 include:

Q.  Do the documents on the PMMB website at www.mmb.pa.gov only apply to Pennsylvania, or can other farms from other states send them in?

A. “It is very important that everyone know about these forms because farmers and haulers from other states can use them,” Barley answered.

“We did not make these forms PA-specific,” said Eberly, noting that he has talked with folks from the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, Vermont Attorney General’s office, Michigan Department of Agriculture, and AgriVoice on behalf of several entities in Tennessee.

Q. If I filed a critical vendor contract with the bankruptcy court to be paid during the bankruptcy, is that enough to prove I did not get preferential payments before the bankruptcy?

A. Short answer: No. Eberly stated he is not giving legal advice; however, the critical vendor agreements signed by dairy producers and haulers were standard forms that do not address the points ASK is asking for. On the other hand, the Declarations PMMB got approved are specific to the way milk plants do business with farmers and haulers.

“If you are a dairy producer, the way you prove you did not get preferential payments is you either send all the records that ASK LLP has asked you for, or you send in the Declaration Letter we put together to take care of it. This Declaration Letter is the most efficient way to do that,” said Eberly.

Q.   Do the Declaration Letters PMMB provided need to be submitted by an attorney?

A.  The Declaration Letter is designed in a way that a dairy producer or hauler can simply fill it out and send it back by email, fax or postal mail — on their own.

Eberly explained that while a person or corporation can’t really represent itself in bankruptcy court, only through an attorney, these Declaration Letters are not going directly to the bankruptcy court. They are going to the law firm (ASK LLP) and will be part of what they show as fulfilling their obligation with the court as trustee.

Q. Who, specifically should the Declaration be sent to?

A. At the top of every demand letter received from ASK LLP is the name, phone number and email address for the paralegal to which your file number has been assigned. Different letters have different names their ‘matter’ has been assigned to. Email your signed Declaration to that person, said Eberly.

There is also a fax number on your packet. That number is 651.406.9676. “Be sure to put the fax to the attention of the paralegal that has been assigned to your particular file,” said Eberly. (If using postal mail, get delivery confirmation or certify the letter.)

Q. Who should sign the Declaration?

A. Whomever has authority to sign on behalf of the farm or hauling business — whether as a single-family sole proprietor, multi-owner LLC or incorporated business — should sign the Declaration.

In general, said Eberly, if three members of an LLC sign other documents for the farm, then they would sign this. If one person for an incorporated farm signs other types of documents, then that’s the person who would sign this. If a farm received separate letters for separate farm locations, return a Declaration Letter in response to each letter received from ASK LLP.

If more than one person legally signs documents for the farm, just cross out ‘I’ and write in ‘we’ with a pen. Do not retype the Declaration, according to Eberly.

Q. Do I need to send anything with the Declaration?

A. The PMMB’s understanding is that filling out the one page Declaration Letter, alone, is sufficient.

Q. What happens if we do not respond to the letter from ASK LLP? Is it possible the entire claim will be dropped on its own?

A. Everyone on the call stated that ignoring the letter is unwise and risky.

“I would caution you not to ignore the letter,” said Rep. Ryan. “Absent the response with this Declaration, it will be in the hands of the court. If you ignore it, and they determine you owe the money, you will get an immediate judgment against you and they (the bankruptcy court) have incredibly powerful ways to get those funds.”

With the Declaration available, there’s no reason to ignore this. Dairy producers and haulers have an efficient, simple way to take a big step to put this behind them.

Q. What is the deadline to submit the Declaration Letter?

A. Submit it by the date on your letter from ASK LLP. Some say Dec. 19, others Dec. 24. Whatever your date is, submit your Declaration by that date. As Dean estate trustee, ASK LLP, will begin filing these claims with the bankruptcy court in January.

Q. Do I need to submit a Declaration Letter if I provided a paralegal with their requested information already?

A. “I would call the paralegal and ask if they had a chance to look at it and make a determination, and I would also submit the Declaration Letter just to be on the safe side,” said Eberly.

Q. What should lenders and others do who received assignments from milk checks direct from Dean Foods if they received these letters?

A. Since everyone is operating under the belief that producers won’t owe money back, then their assignees should not owe money back either because the assign would not have been paid except for the farmer getting paid.

Eberly noted that lenders have access to legal people and accountants to answer questions for them, but producers who had money paid directly to someone out of their milk check should contact them to see if they got a letter and tell them what is being done. Contact the paralegal listed on the ASK letter and let that person know your assignee got a letter and to piggyback your Declaration to cover them as an assignment from your milk check.

A longer version of this article appears here.

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Announcing Vilsack as Ag Sec pick, Biden admits: ‘He helped develop my rural plan’

Tom Vilsack is pictured here testifying before the Senate Ag Committee in spring 2019 announcing ‘It’s time to get to net-zero.’ He was testifying then as a dairy checkoff executive for DMI serving as president and CEO of USDEC and defacto leader of DMI’s Innovation Center. This week he was officially announced by President-Elect Joe Biden to come back for another term as U.S. Agriculture Secretary, where ‘It’s time to get to net-zero’ is the Biden rural plan Vilsack helped develop while pulling a $1 million salary from mandatory dairy farmer checkoff. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, Friday, December 18, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — President-elect Joe Biden this week officially nominated former Iowa Governor and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a lawyer by trade, to return as Ag Secretary in his administration. This nomination will likely be a fast walk through Senate confirmation, given the supportive words this week from American Farm Bureau and prominent Ag Senators from both sides of the aisle. 

But some responses from a few organizations and grassroots efforts, as well as some Senators, are less than supportive or outright aiming to stop the confirmation. Some, because they see the choice as one that does not make diversity, equality, and feeding programs a priority. Some, because he talked about antitrust issues but did nothing when Secretary under Obama. Others, because they remember Vilsack’s role in removing whole milk (and 2% milk and 1% flavored milk) from school menus and prohibiting it from a la carte offerings. 

Still others, are being more methodical in thinking through how to deal with a third round of Secretary Vilsack.

Throughout the Biden-Harris campaign for the presidency, Biden made it clear that his slogan — Build Back Better — had as much to do with climate change and new farm and energy policy as anything else. In several stump speeches, Biden drew from the rural policy he admitted this week was in part developed by Vilsack, himself, to talk about paying farmers to put land in ‘land banks’, now being referred to as ‘conservation’ and to plant crops ‘we want you to grow,’ now being called ‘cover crops.’

The terms ‘conservation’ and ‘cover crops’ are familiar terms that put farmers at ease. They plant cover crops already to stabilize ground between main crops and to produce grazing or harvested forage for dairy cows and livestock. Farmers know what payments to idle land can mean for landlords retired from farming. But what does it mean for dairy farmers renting that land? I guess we will soon find out.

Here’s the deal. While introducing Vilsack as his Ag Secretary pick, Biden stated publicly that, “(Vilsack) helped develop my rural plan for rural America in the campaign, and he now has the dubious distinction of having to carry it out,” said Biden with a laugh. “It’s a good plan that includes making American agriculture the first in the world to achieve net zero emissions and create new sources of income for farmers in the process.”

Wait a minute, Tom Vilsack helped develop president-elect Biden’s rural plan for rural America while he was being paid a million dollar salary through mandatory dairy farmer checkoff? 

When farmers have asked him to say even one positive word about bringing whole milk back to schools during his private citizen tenure with producer-funded dairy checkoff, the response from DMI was: ‘Sorry, we can’t lobby on government policy.”

But did we just hear Biden properly? We did. He said the top-paid DMI executive Tom Vilsack “helped develop” government farm policy for a partisan presidential campaign candidate who is now president-elect Biden. This policy at the Biden campaign website states ‘the Green New Deal is the framework’. It is policy that aligns directly with what the global, multinational food corporations want. These companies  pay membership into the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) of which Vilsack was president and CEO since January 2017.

In fact, as Biden and Vilsack shared the podium Tuesday, when the Ag Secretary pick was announced officially, they described a USDA and rural plan that fits within the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset (which also uses the Build Back Better tagline).

At the core of the Great Reset are the same huge global food manufacturers and purveyors who are part of USDEC (adding their membership fees to the mandatory producer checkoff funds to have influence). The USDEC, which Vilsack oversaw the past four years is joined at the hip with DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which was founded by checkoff in 2008 when then Sec Vilsack struck Memorandums of Understanding between USDA and DMI to chart a course for sustainability and to start the low-fat dietary indoctrination of children via GENYOUth.

This train of globalism has been rolling. It slowed down a bit the past four years when the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Treaty and nixed the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, called out China, and revamped NAFTA.

But the consolidating globalist food transformation train does keep rolling no matter which political party is in power.

“The one bipartisan thing getting done in Washington is this: their ability to work on and move forward the globalization of food and agriculture,” said Mike Eby, a Gordonville, Pa. farmer and executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM).

 He notes the concern of OCM and others that Vilsack has a track record of doing nothing on the antitrust and anti-competitive market issues in agriculture, that he could ignore checkoff referendum requests that will be brought to USDA with the appropriate number of signatures in the next year, just as he ignored the law while Secretary and did not forward the annual reports about the dairy checkoff to Congress for four years. Another concern is that Vilsack’s return to USDA brings an entrenched globalization end-game with no path forward for country of origin labeling.

“Under Republicans, we saw a push toward consolidation, but under this Democratic rural policy developed by Vilsack and now to be fulfilled by Vilsack, we see the choke point at the center of food production through qualifications of standardization determining who can participate and how,” says Eby, who also serves as chairman of the National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO) and on the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee that is active in the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free campaign.

“With a net zero or environmental choke point in place, and specific benchmarks, consumers may only have the ability to purchase from the middleman that says the milk or beef meets the ‘net zero’ standard,” Eby continues. “It is a linear goal, either way, that makes it difficult for competitive markets and independent producers to survive.”

Vilsack’s own words in accepting the President-elect’s nomination to return him to his former post as Ag Secretary paint a bit of a picture: “One of our first orders of business is to do all that is possible at Department to aid in the pandemic response, reviving rural communities and economies, addressing dire food shortages and getting workers and producers the relief they need to hang on and come back stronger,” he said.

But read what he said next: “When we emerge from this (pandemic) crisis, we will have an incredible opportunity before us — to position U.S. agriculture to lead our nation and the world in combating climate change. Reaping new good-paying jobs and farm income will come from that leadership.”

He touted Abraham Lincoln’s words when he first established the USDA. Lincoln called it “The People’s Department.”

But in essence, Tom Vilsack is part of an elite class that believes they know best for the people. Through pandemic and climate fear, they are counting on the masses to be scared into submission about food and jobs so systems for the food transformation can be redesigned the way the global organizations, billionaire tech sector investors and multinational companies are planning.

The agenda was crystallized and set in motion in the 2007 to 2009 time period. First, importers were given influence in dairy and beef checkoff messages by including them in the checkoff deduction. Next, the MOU’s between USDA and checkoff etched in stone a path of transformation that throws competitive markets and country of origin labeling to the side in favor of farmers conforming to certain standards. It all begins with things farmers already do and as they get comfortable, the vice their own money places them in starts to squeeze.

The agenda was perpetuated when Dietary Guidelines – the tip of the food transformation iceberg – were adopted in 2015 without full consideration of the science on fats. Again for 2020, the low fat and fat free vegetarian style eating patterns continue, even though current Secretary Sonny Perdue has not yet rubber-stamped them. Vilsack will, of course.

With the low-fat / fat-free emphasis of the DGAs, the new Bioengineered labeling rules, and the FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy, the dilution of animal proteins with plant- and lab-based lookalikes has an easy road.

Without country of origin labeling, globalized food supply chains are created and sustained to give a few large multinational corporations control. 

With dairy and beef checkoff programs continually funded by farmers with importers paying something to be at the table to douse domestic marketing, these global companies are able to sit at a secret, or proprietary table where pre-competitive ‘innovations’ are hatched and the ‘choke points’ of farming practices and production standards in “producer programs” like FARM are decided.

Vilsack’s replacement to head the USDEC (as well as defacto head of the various global partnerships that make up the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy) is Krysta Harden. DMI announced this week that Harden will be promoted to Vilsack’s vacated post from her current role as DMI’s executive vice president of global environmental strategies.

Harden and Vilsack worked together on the Net Zero Initiative for two of the past four years, and they worked together before that at USDA. When Vilsack was previously Ag Secretary under President Obama, Harden was installed as Deputy Undersecretary for 2013 through 2016.

One thing Biden said Tuesday that really sinks in: “I asked (Tom Vilsack) to serve again in this role because he knows the USDA inside and out. He knows the government inside and out. We need that experience now.”

He might have easily added that Vilsack knows China inside and out as well. While USDA Secretary, Vilsack participated in the joint commission on commerce and trade between the U.S. and China, meeting in 2015 in Chicago. He flowed that right into USDEC with the dairy industry global supply chain companies and will flow them right back to the USDA as he goes back to being Secretary again.

Yes, dairy and agriculture relationships with China are important, but so too is the concept that free trade needs to also be fair trade. Global supply chains don’t care whether U.S. family farms make it. They have an agenda and are using climate-change ‘philanthropy’ to achieve it.

Biden and Vilsack talked about new possibilities, new revenue, new jobs, via a ‘new’ charter for USDA as a climate agency.

With a four-year interruption in the so-called climate agenda seeking farm, food, and energy transformation that was begun 12 years ago, we can expect things to move fast – very fast – on the globalization and transformation of food once Vilsack resumes his former USDA post, especially if the Democratic party gains control of the Senate in addition to already having control of the House and the incoming office of the President of the United States.

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Milk producers, haulers, MUST respond to ‘Dean’ letters; PMMB Declaration Letters can be used by those affected in ALL states

By Sherry Bunting

There is good news for dairy farmers and milk haulers who received the notices of intended litigation and settlement offers from ASK LLP, a Minnesota law firm representing the Dean Foods estate. The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB), working with the State Attorney General’s office, and the American Farm Bureau, working through internal and external attorneys, are heroes in bringing resolution to this troubling issue reported on extensively here at the AgMoos blog as well as in Farmshine and at the Milksheds Blog

BUT… Don’t ignore the letters. Dairy producers and haulers will still need to act on these letters. 

The good news is, they can simply fill out the one page DECLARATION LETTER developed by PMMB’s chief counsel Doug Eberly with help from the state Attorney General’s office and verbally approved by ASK LLP. 

According to Doug Eberly, chief counsel for PMMB, the Declaration Letters were approved by ASK LLP after a conference call last Friday and can be used by affected dairy producers and haulers from ALL STATES — not just Pennsylvania. There are two separate declaration forms – one for producers and one for haulers. 

An explanation of the forms, with instructions can be read and downloaded at: Avoidance Claim Declarations Explanation.pdf (pa.gov) .

A copy of the Producer Declaration Letter appears below, and it can also be downloaded from this direct link: Farmer Declaration Nov 12.pdf (pa.gov) .

A copy of the Hauler Declaration Letter can be downloaded at this direct link: Hauler Declaration November 12.pdf (pa.gov) .

“Please, please, please complete this Declaration Letter because it gets you off the hook, you will complicate matters if you don’t send them back,” said PMMB chairman Rob Barley in a Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call December 10. “The (Declaration Letter) will release you from this if you fill it out. We know it is an inconvenience, but if you don’t fill out the Declaration (or handle this your own way with your own attorney), you will risk losing that money.”

Barley said it was the hard work of many people to bring this to resolution.

“We emphasize that it is vitally important that farmers and haulers return the completed declarations to ASK LLP as soon as possible,” the PMMB urged in a press statement Wednesday, Dec. 9, two days after releasing the explanation and the forms at its website https://www.mmb.pa.gov/

American Farm Bureau has sent a letter from attorneys to ASK LLP demanding the letters about preference claims be reversed and withdrawn within 10 days. This an important backstop to the PMMB action in order to be sure no farmers or haulers pay money the Dean estate has no right to. Farm Bureau called the move a “predatory shakedown in legalese.”

Attorneys for Farm Bureau have threatened legal action against ASK LLP if the letters are not withdrawn. However, there is no indication that ASK LLP will withdraw the letters, nor that they can withdraw them because of their trustee obligation to the bankruptcy court.

PMMB’s Eberly says he will be glad when every affected farmer has sent in the Declaration and receives absolution back in writing from the Dean estate trustee ASK LLP. 

During a Center for Dairy Excellence call Thursday (Dec. 10) with hundreds of farmers on the line, Eberly and others from the PMMB board and staff gave an update and answered questions.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Dairy farmers and milk haulers have an air-tight defense.

2. The Declaration Letters developed by PMMB for use in ALL STATES show this defense by filling in the blanks regarding how often your milk was picked up and how long you shipped milk to Dean Foods.

3. The Declaration Letter describes how milk payments are “ordinary course” of business.

4. The PA Milk Marketing Board made the Dean trustee letters a priority for the board and the staff to get taken care of, and they have been working as fast as they can to do so.

5. The letters received by dairy farmers and haulers are ‘avoidance claims.’ These arise when a business files for bankruptcy protection. All payments the business made to creditors – including vendors and suppliers – in the 90 days immediately prior to filing are liable to be recovered in order to be used to pay other creditors.

PMMB chief counsel Doug Eberly stated that the PA State Attorney General’s office has the expertise on bankruptcy law and has been involved in the Dean Foods bankruptcy for 13 months because of the seven Dean Foods milk plants that are regulated by PMMB to receive milk from PA farms. They have explained the situation and they have interceded in a way that will help all affected dairy farms and haulers from ALL STATES.

Eberly explained the theory behind these letters from ASK LLP is that some creditors of Dean Foods could have had bargaining power to get money from Dean pre-bankruptcy that was not available then to other creditors.

The Declaration Letters producer can send in show that the payments they (and haulers) received were NOT preferential but represented “ordinary course of business.”

“Farmers kept shipping milk in good faith and kept getting paid for the milk in order for Dean to stay in business,” said Eberly.

“If you are a producer or hauler, you received payments in ordinary course of business with Dean. They picked up your milk every day or every other day or you shipped it to them every day or every other day and they paid you twice a month as the Federal and State Milk Marketing Orders specify,” Eberly explained. “We wrote this in the declaration that you can fill out, sign and send back to ASK LLP – without all of the other things the letter you got was asking for.”

BOTTOM LINE, said Eberly: “ASK needs some kind of documentation from you because they have an obligation to the bankruptcy court to show — pursuant to the bankruptcy code – the things they are charged with doing have been done.”

Sending the Declaration Letter back to ASK LLP shows the unsecured creditor committee that as a farmer or hauler, “you have demonstrated to the trustee that you were paid in the ordinary course of business and do not owe this money back, because you weren’t paid in any preferential way when you got paid.”

PMMB chairman Barley, thanked Eberly for the work he has done. “He took the lead on this and reached out to whoever he needed to and brought this to a quick resolution,” said Barley, noting that the PMMB worked with the state Attorney General’s office, the Secretary of Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence, American Farm Bureau and organizations and individuals from other states.

“ASK LLP has taken a lot of heat on this and they want to get this behind them because farm groups came together to back the farmers (and haulers),” said Barley. “We’ve worked with anyone who is able to help as we reached out to other states and they reached out to us and this helps them as well. We are unique to have PMMB in Pennsylvania, and this is a time it has shown brightly to have this in Pennsylvania.”

Eberly noted that the insurance bond held by Dean in the state of Pennsylvania is gone. It has already been exercised during the bankruptcy to pay producers, so it would not have been available to help farmers in this situation.

Eberly’s phone rings a lot these days, but he is diligent to get back to everyone. His phone number is on the explanation page with the Declaration Letters and he freely gives it out.

“You can call me at 717.836.3115. I am getting a lot of phone calls but I will get  back to you as soon as I can,” he said.

BELOW ARE SPECIFIC QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS handled on the group call Dec. 10. (Recording is also available here)

Q. If I filed a critical vendor contract with the bankruptcy court to be paid during the bankruptcy, is that enough to prove I did not get preferential payments before the bankruptcy?

A. No. Eberly stated he is not giving legal advice; however, the critical vendor agreements signed by dairy producers and haulers were standard forms that had ways to modify them so they don’t address the points ASK is asking for. The declaration forms PMMB has gotten approved for farmers and haulers are specific to the way milk plants do business with farmers and haulers.

“If you are a dairy producer, the way you prove you did not get preferential payments is you either send all the records that ASK LLP has asked you for, OR you send in the declaration letter we put together to take care of it, and this declaration form is the most efficient way to do that,” said Eberly.

Q.   Do the Declaration Letters PMMB provided need to be submitted by an attorney or how does a dairy producer or hauler submit them?

A.  The bottom line is that the PMMB with the help of the Attorney General’s office worked with ASK LLP to set up these Declaration Letters in a way that a dairy producer or hauler could simply fill it out and send it back by email, fax or postal mail – ON THEIR OWN.

Eberly explained that while a person or corporation can’t really represent itself in bankruptcy court, only through an attorney, these Declaration letters are NOT going to the bankruptcy court (on their own). They are going to the law firm (ASK LLP) that is trustee for the Dean estate and will be part of what ASK shows as fulfilling their obligation with the court on seeking preferential payments.

As for who signs the Declaration Letter? Anyone with authority to sign something on behalf of their farm or hauling business – whether as a single family sole proprietor, multi owner LLC or incorporated business – can sign the Declaration Letter.

“It never hurts to have a lawyer to check with to make sure what you are doing is the right thing to do,” said Eberly. But in general, he said, if three members of an LLC sign other documents, then they would sign this. If one person for an incorporated farm signs other types of documents on behalf of the farm, they would sign this. If a farm received separate letters for separate farm locations, return a Declaration Letter in response to each letter received from ASK LLP.

Q.  Do the documents on the PMMB website at www.mmb.pa.gov only apply to Pennsylvania, or can other farms from other states send them in?

A. PMMB chairman Barley said “It is very important that everyone know about these forms because farmers and haulers from other states can use them. We want to get this information out to every farmer or hauler who received a notice from Dean through ASK LLP so they can use this form. We have shared the forms with other state organizations and with Farm Bureau.”

Eberly earlier stated in an email to Farmshine that ASK LLP will accept these Declaration Letters from producers and haulers in ALL STATES, even though PA Milk Marketing Board is the entity to have constructed them, working with the Attorney General’s office and ASK LLP.

“We did not make these forms PA-specific,” said Eberly, noting that he has talked to the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, the Vermont Attorney General’s office, the Michigan Department of Agriculture, and AgriVoice on behalf of several entities in Tennessee. He said that private individuals have called and are sending the Declaration Letters around and that Farm Bureau is contacting people as well.

Q.  In talking with ASK LLP, is there a way to get a list of all the producers and haulers who got Avoidance Claims letters from ASK so they can be directly contacted and informed to use the Declaration Letters?

A.  Carol Hardbarger, PMMB executive secretary, said that their office has a spreadsheet of producers who shipped milk to the former Dean Foods that represented 125 to 150 names. She said nationwide the number could be 1000, but that they don’t have such a list. She said it is possible that some producers and haulers many have already paid the settlement offer in the letters from ASK LLP.

“We can send information out to individuals on the list we have for Pennsylvania, but we don’t have names from other states,” she said.

PA Representative Frank Ryan (a former CPA who specialized in bankruptcy, now a state lawmaker) noted that a list of all creditors, and those the trustee is asking for money back would be at the Dept. of Justice website. He said a state Attorney General’s office would be able to access that list to determine who needs to be notified in their state.

Meanwhile, many efforts are being made to get the word out through farm media and word of mouth.

Rep. Ryan stated that while he is not an attorney, he did specialize in bankruptcy as a CPA before being voted into the PA state legislature. “These types of ‘demand letters’ are common in bankruptcies,” said Ryan. “They are trying to determine a ‘preference period’. I can’t imagine that any dairy producer got any preference payment or was treated better than someone else (ahead of the bankruptcy).”

Ryan explains: “Say I am owed money by Dean for services (as a CPA) on a 90-day invoice. And say you as a farmer did a contemporaneous exchange of something of value (milk) for payment and you are paid every 14 days. You get preference over me. That’s ordinary business. But, if Dean paid me as a CPA instead of you for that contemporaneous exchange of milk for payment, then the trustee would come back to me for payment.”

He gave this example to further show that it is hard to imagine a case where a dairy producer, or milk hauler, would be liable for paying back this money because they continued to ship milk and be paid.

“In all likelihood, a farmer or hauler should not have to pay any money back. The Declaration Letters are intended to help those producers demonstrate that they do not have to pay that money back,” he said.

Now, if someone went ahead and paid the settlement offer, Ryan said it may be difficult to get that money back. But he said using the Declaration Letter and hiring an attorney to get it back might be successful.

Q. Who, specifically should the Declaration Letters be sent to?

A. At the top of every demand letter sent by ASK LLP is the name, phone number and email address for the paralegal to which your file number has been assigned. That is who you email your signed Declaration Letter to. If using postal mail, get proof such as delilvery confirmation or certify the letter. There is also a fax number on your packet. That number is 651.406.9676. Be sure if faxing to put the name of the paralegal assigned to your file on cover sheet with your Declaration Letter when faxing. Your Declaration Letter has a spot to fill in your File Number so they can handle your case quickly.

Eberly explained that the letters from ASK LLP to producers and haulers “have a paralegal assigned to your file. That is the name and email address to send to, and it will be different for different farmers.”

Eberly notes that some farmers who don’t have email can fax the Declaration letter back. The ASK LLP fax number is on the letterhead. It is 651.406.9676. Be sure to put the fax to the attention of the paralegal that has been assigned to your particular file, says Eberly.

“On your letter from ASK, it will say ‘this matter is assigned to’ and then a name of a person and their phone number and email. This is the person you want to get your Declaration Letter to,” said Eberly. “Get it to the person you are assigned to so that you hear back faster. Until you hear back from them, you will still be wondering about this, and we want to get you to not wondering as quick as we can.”

Q. Do I need to send anything with the Declaration?

A. Eberly said it is their understanding that the Declaration Letter, itself, is sufficient.

Q. Should the dairy producer retype the Declaration to reflect their operation or just fill in the blank? For example, should we retype to change “I” to “We”

A. According to Eberly, there is no need to retype. In fact, don’t retype. Just cross out “I” and write above it “We”. He said “do it with a pen.”

Q. What do I do if I sold milk to Dean for 30 years through a cooperative and 7 years as an independent? Which number do I put down for the number of years?

A. Eberly said in a case like that, just put what is recent. If you shipped milk for the past 7 years as an independent producer and the letter is addressed to you, enter 7 years on that line. “Seven years is good enough. As a dairy farmer, you are not in the position to bargain for special treatment (prior to bankruptcy) so what you are showing in this Declaration is that your treatment in those 90 days before Dean filed bankruptcy was no different than your treatment by Dean at any other time in the course of your relationship with Dean Foods.”

Q. What happens if we simply do not respond to the letter we received from ASK LLP? Is it possible the entire claim will be dropped on its own?

A. Everyone on the call from Eberly to Barley to Ryan stated that ignoring the letter is unwise and risky. “I would caution you about not answering the letter,” said Rep. Ryan. “Absent the response with this Declaration Letter, it will be in the hands of the court. If you ignore it, and they determine you owe the money, you will get an immediate judgement against you and they (bankruptcy court) have incredibly powerful ways to get those funds, so I caution you not to ignore the letter.”

With these Declaration Letters developed by PMMB and approved by ASK LLP, there’s no reason to ignore this. Dairy producers and haulers have an efficient way to take a big step to put this behind them.

Q. Does the American Farm Bureau have standing to bring legal action if Dean does not meet their demand to retract these claims?

A. No one on the call wanted to really address that, except to say that in Pennsylvania, even with the state Attorney General’s office being involved in navigating this issue, a state AG can only take a case and pursue it under certain circumstances.

Instead of waiting for some sort of court action when bankruptcy courts have so many powers we don’t understand, the easiest thing to do to put this behind us is fill out the Declaration Letter and be done with it. Obviously, if producers and haulers do this, and end up still having a problem, that meets a higher threshold for others to get involved in representing farmers at a higher level.

“If you fill out the Declaration Letter and send it back in, that will provide your defense and you should not need further action,“ said Barley.

Q. What is the deadline to submit the Declaration Letter?

A. Best answer is: Submit it by the date on your letter from ASK LLP. Some packets say December 19, others December 24. Whatever your date is, submit your Declaration by that date.

That said, Eberly noted that for those wanting their attorney to look at it, they do have a little flexibility on that date because the trustee (ASK LLP) will not begin filing these claims with the bankruptcy court until January, and those they believe to be farmers will not be in the first group they file.

You see, this is why Declaration Letters are needed and must be sent back quickly. ASK LLP as trustee will file with the court any entity that was paid in that 90 days for the bankruptcy court to take action against. Your Declaration Letter protects you and it protects the Dean estate trustee by showing that they contacted you about the money you were paid and you exercised your defense in this efficient manner.

“You are not being asked to compile all the records that were in that letter from ASK, you just have to download this form, fill it out and sign it and email or fax it back and be done with it,” said Eberly.

Q. Do I need to submit a declaration letter if I provided a paralegal with their requested information already?

A. “I would call the paralegal and ask if they had a chance to look at it and make a determination, and I would also submit the Declaration Letter just to be on the safe side,” said Eberly.

Q. What should lenders and others do who received assignments from milk checks direct from Dean Foods if they received these letters?

A. Since everyone is operating under the belief that producers and haulers won’t owe money back, then their assignees should not owe money back because the assign would not have been paid except for the farmer getting paid.

Eberly noted that lenders have access to legal people and accountants to answer questions for them. But if you are a producer who has money paid directly to someone out of your milk check, contact them to see if they got a letter and tell them what you are doing. Contact the paralegal listed on your letter and let them know that your assignee got a letter too and piggyback your Declaration Letter to cover them by having that conversation.