Grassroots efforts continue seeking solution to Class I formula change losses

While the buck is being passed, dairy producers are talking with lawmakers about the unintended consequences from the Class I mover change Congress enacted in the 2018 Farm Bill.

This illustrates the Class I mover formula since May 2019. Prior to that, the ‘higher of’ Class III or Class IV advance skim pricing factors was plugged into the first item under step 1 without the +74-cent adjuster to automatically be used as the Base Class I Skim Milk Price in the rest of the formula. Image Source: USDA

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Class I ‘mover’ is the subject of much discussion — two years after the averaging method plus 74 cents replaced the ‘higher of’ method to determine the base producer price of Class I beverage milk in May 2019.

A letter drafted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is gathering signatures from Senators and will be sent to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding financial assistance to cover direct and indirect losses borne by dairy farmers due to the formula change exacerbated by the pandemic.

“By allocating more direct payments through CFAP, USDA could take action to reduce the strain that dairy farmers are facing. Specifically, the agency should continue issuing payments to dairy farmers under CFAP, or through any further assistance programs that USDA conceives, including the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, for the first six months of 2021 and make these payments retroactive to January 1st,” the Senator’s letter states.

The American Dairy Coalition is urging producers to contact their Senators about signing onto the letter by end of day Monday, May 17. Senators should contact Dominic Sanchez at Senator Gillibrand’s office by email at Dominic_Sanchez@gillibrand.senate.gov

A transparent USDA hearing process was used 20 years ago to originally set the ‘higher of’ as the method when USDA rejected proposals for averaging Class III and IV due to depooling and negative differentials. However, in the 2018 Farm Bill, the Class I mover was changed from ‘higher of’ to an averaging method legislatively without hearings, without comment, without the producer referendum — without vetting.

Dairy groups are working to raise awareness among key lawmakers and USDA about the 24-month net loss of over $750 million in the Class I mover price from May 2019 through April 2021. In addition, these losses impacted orderly marketing and other factors, contributing to net losses exceeding $3 billion nationwide from inverted class price relationships that produced negative PPDs and led to depooling. In addition, dairy farmers had risk management losses when their milk was devalued, but they paid for risk management that failed because it was aligned with a “market value” they did not receive.

Sen. Gillibrand’s letter highlights the concern about the unintended consequences of the Class I formula change to averaging and away from ‘higher of’.

In the Northeast FMMO 1, for example, the Class I change, alone, accounted for a net loss of over $160 million in Class I devaluation over 24 months, and there were broader impacts of basis losses from reduced and negative producer price differentials (PPD) and depooling.

Northeast producer blend price losses are estimated to be $1.10/cwt, net, from May 2019 through April 2021. (Calculations are being done for other FMMO regions so stay tuned.)

Similar loss estimations can be made for broader impacts across the U.S., depending upon how cheese plants determined pay prices for farmers when the FMMO uniform blend prices were suppressed by $1 to $10 across 7 of the 11 FMMOs that report producer price differentials. These PPDs were severely negative from October through December 2019 and from June 2020 through April 2021.

These formula-related losses are expected to continue through most of 2021 due to current market factors affecting how the class pricing formulas, with the change to Class I, relate to each other and how this impacts depooling.

Producers from the Southeast U.S. also began circulating a letter to Secretary Vilsack this week highlighting the steep losses in the three Southeast FMMOs and seeking direct payments through Coronavirus stimulus funds.

The Southeast letter asserts that milk producers in FMMO 5, 6, and 7 (Appalachian, Florida and Southeast) disproportionately bore 21% ($155 million) of the lost revenue directly attributable to the Class I mover change, because the 21% of Class I value loss fell on dairy farmers shipping just 5.5% of total milk pooled across all orders in the U.S.

Southeast producer blend price losses are pegged at $1.25/cwt.

The Southeast letter states that the loss was not shared equitably among all dairy farmers, due to depooling, which the letter indicates made it possible for dairy farmers marketing milk to cheese plants (Class III) to receive the shortfall.

However, many producers whose milk was depooled from FMMOs did not receive that shortfall from milk buyers, unless they had milk contracts based directly on cheese prices. Many manufacturing class handlers use the FMMO blend price as the benchmark for paying producers outside of pooling.

Several industry sources observe that this change turned out to be a big benefit to processors at great expense to producers. The problem surfaced under market conditions before the pandemic and was made worse by market conditions since the pandemic.

Even National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has admitted as much, stating that the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) wanted this change in the first place. NMPF indicates they went along with it after studying some historical trends thinking the 74-cent adjuster to the average would produce a result that was “revenue-neutral” for dairy farmers.

It was anything but ‘revenue-neutral’ for dairy farmers, even before the pandemic. The pandemic impact simply magnified the severity of loss.

Proposals continue surfacing since NMPF announced its intention to seek a USDA emergency hearing with a proposal to tweak the adjuster to the average every two years.

Minnesota Milk Producers, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Edge Cooperative and the Nebraska State Dairy Association joined together with a concept to change the Class I mover to a Class III-Plus that would be based on Class III announced prices instead of advance prices.

FarmFirst Cooperative based in Madison, Wisconsin, announced it would put forward a proposal to return to the ‘higher of’ calculation — if USDA holds a hearing. However, to-date, no official FMMO hearing requests have been received by USDA.

The first few months of the new Class I mover formula in 2019 were net-positive to the Class I price, but this dissolved by July, almost a year before the pandemic, when the gap between the rising Class III price and the averaging method for the Class I mover narrowed because the spread between Class III and IV widened.

Government food box dairy purchases through the pandemic included more Class III products (cheese) than Class IV (butter/powder) or Class II (soft products that are priced by Class IV).

But food boxes included plenty of Class I (fluid milk). Trouble is, fluid milk is not ‘market valued’ except for the value of its components in manufacturing. Fluid milk is discounted as a ‘loss-leader’ by large supermarkets, especially those that process milk.

Another factor that contributed to the wide spread between Class III and IV pricing has been the difference in product inventory as a factor of production, exports and imports.

In 2020, butter inventory reached a 20-year high, while cheese inventory declined. Butter production increased, especially in the first half of 2020, to exceed the record-breaking production of 2018, making less cream available for cheese production. Meanwhile, cheese exports rose 16% while butter exports declined 5%.

On the flip side, cheese imports declined 10% while butter imports were the second largest on record, up 15% over the previous year for the first 7 months of 2020. The U.S. ended 2020 with butter imports 6% above 2019.

The Class I formula change made FMMOs even more vulnerable to massive depooling against this volatile and divergent backdrop of Class III vs. IV. As averaging reduced Class I pricing, and the Class III milk was depooled, the net result was blend prices that reflected a larger portion of the much lower Class IV (and II). Dairy farmers have been educated to produce milk with higher component levels of fat and protein as a method to improve profitability, but negative PPDs snub this value at the farm level.

Looking through USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order statistical bulletins, this reporter calculates over 70 billion pounds of milk were depooled across all FMMOs from July 2019 through March 2021 due to inverted class pricing.

PPDs reflect the difference between the Class III market value of components minus the blend price of all classes in the pool. When PPDs are negative, it reflects insufficient pool funds to pay that value).

The depooling of Class III milk and the negative PPDs (above) began on the West Coast in July 2019. By September through December 2019, all multiple component FMMOs had negative PPDs, that became more negative as volumes of depooled milk were noted in the central part of the country, moving east.

The four skim/fat pricing FMMOs in the Southeast and Arizona were quite negatively affected by lower Class I minimums in the fall of 2019 and for many of the months thereafter. Topsy-turvy All-Milk and Mailbox Milk prices reported by USDA are further proof of shrinking basis in producer milk checks affecting the performance of purchased risk management tools. Even those USDA-reported All-Milk and Mailbox prices do not tell the whole story because USDA states that “the value is in the marketplace” even if it is not equitably shared with producers.

In essence, the Class I mover change was made to give large global companies buying large volumes of milk a means of ‘hedging’ their risk through forward-contracting on the futures markets. But this ‘benefit’ has resulted in taking real money out of dairy farm milk checks and has made it difficult, in some cases impossible, for producers to manage their risk with tools they purchase in the marketplace and through USDA.

Interestingly, the nation’s largest Class I fluid milk company — Dean Foods — filed for bankruptcy sale and reorganization in November 2019 in the midst of the first appearance of negative PPDs and depooling pre-pandemic.

By January 2020, PPDs turned positive but narrow in comparison to prior history, so that’s still a loss. Then, in February, a month before the Coronavirus shutdown, negative PPDs and depooling again showed up in the Central, Pacific and California FMMOs.

By June 2020 — in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and one month after the bankruptcy sale of most of the Dean Foods Class I fluid milk plants to DFA — severely negative PPDs of -$1 to -$10, exacerbated by depooling, were prevalent across all FMMOs, most every month from June 2020 through the present.

Even in the Northeast FMMO, where statistics show positive PPDs in some months when other FMMOs were negative, the basis loss to Northeast producers is real because even the positive PPDs in FMMO 1 over the past 24 months are $1 or more below where they were just two years earlier.

As reported in Farmshine last week, Secretary Vilsack says it’s “complicated” and the industry is “divided” so no “significant” changes can be made “quickly.”

NMPF says it intends to request an FMMO hearing of its proposal to adjust the adjuster to improve equitable treatment of producers.

IDFA is publicly silent.

Other groups are floating a proposal that, if officially proposed in an emergency hearing, would turn the deal into a full and lengthy FMMO hearing.

During a Hoards Dairy Livestream session May 5 with Erin Taylor from USDA AMS Dairy Division, a little more was learned about how USDA handles ‘emergency’ FMMO hearings. Taylor said proposals can be put forward with arguments as part of the package, explaining the emergency to make a case for why the USDA should move quickly. USDA then typically responds and gives the industry a 30 day notice if a hearing is granted, but the statute only requires 15 days, and 3 days at a minimum — depending on the emergency conditions.

Like other FMMO hearings, testimony is taken, and if USDA agrees with the proposal based on the evidence, the department could do a recommended decision, receive public comment and then publish a final decision and conduct the producer vote. Or, the Secretary can do a tentative final decision for immediate producer vote while taking testimony concurrently. In such a scenario, USDA would come back and consider that testimony, and if a change to the tentative final decision is made — based on testimony and comment — then a second producer vote would be conducted.

Generally speaking, according to Taylor, a move to use a tentative final decision cuts about 4 to 5 months out of the hearing process, but this is not done without proponents showing good cause and when there is no opposition to the proposal.

And the Congress? They made the change from ‘higher of’ to ‘average-plus’ at the request of IDFA with agreement by NMPF in the last Farm Bill.

Many members of Congress don’t know what they did. Others are “blowing it off” as “pandemic-related,” when in reality the issues began in 2019.

Lawmakers are also being told the 2018 ‘average-plus’ deal was an historic agreement between “producers” (NMPF) and “processors” (IDFA), when in reality the grassroots in either of those categories had no opportunity to be heard, to testify, to comment, and producers were denied a referendum on the change. In addition, there was little industrywide discussion.

National and state dairy organizations have been collaborating on weekly calls facilitated by American Dairy Coalition to thoughtfully approach a solution from both the short- and long-term perspectives.

While most would agree hearings on long-term FMMO reforms are needed, the short-term fix for the unvetted Class I formula change by Congress could be undone with legislation reverting to the previous formula, or through an expedited FMMO hearing as the flaws of the new formula have been revealed in both the pre- and post-pandemic markets by this average-plus change that was not vetted.

Grassroots efforts seek to raise awareness in Congress to move something forward legislatively.

While the Congress has always said it does not want to set precedent for making milk price formula changes outside of the vetting process of an FMMO hearing, and while the Congress rebuffed numerous requests for a national FMMO hearing in every Farm Bill since 2008, the Congress did go ahead and set that formula-changing precedent in 2018 by passing language in the Farm Bill to change the method for determining the Class I mover from the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV to ‘average-plus’… and here we are.

Producers can point this out when talking with lawmakers, to let them know that the current situation is unsustainable. Producers can explain to their legislators how this impacted them, to help them understand there is more to this story than “it’s the pandemic and you’ll be fine.”

If nothing is done, several industry observers see dairy farm exits rising at a faster rate in the coming year.

In short, the Class I mover change in the 2018 Farm Bill:

— was not vetted through a transparent hearing process,

— disrupted orderly marketing,

— undermined Federal Order purpose,

— created NET losses for producers of $751 million in Class I value (May 2019 through April 2021), and contributed to a net loss of over $3 billion in negative PPDs and depooling,

— created additional losses for producers in the failure of risk management tools not designed for inverted pricing, and

— undermined performance of the DMC safety net due to basis loss.

While the American Dairy Coalition continues to facilitate grassroots producer discussion and seeks a seat at the table for producers with NMPF and IDFA, ADC has also sent an email to dairy producers and organizations with a letter they can provide to lawmakers.

The most important thing is for lawmakers to understand how the pricing change, and the domino effect of negative PPDs and depooling have affected their already struggling dairy farm constituents over the past two years.

To locate the Senators and Representatives for your state, visit https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members

Proposals, hearing requests, grassroots outreach to lawmakers as Class I ‘mover’ debate heats up

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 30, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) announced Friday, Apr. 23 a Class I mover reform proposal and intention to request a USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) hearing that would be limited to proposed changes to the Class I mover, after which USDA would have 30 days to issue an action plan that would determine whether the department would act on an emergency basis.

According to NMPF, their proposal would “modify the current Class I mover, which adds $0.74/cwt to the monthly average of Classes III and IV, by adjusting this amount every two years based on conditions over the prior 24 months, with the current mover remaining the floor.”

This adjuster change, if done today for the next two years, would pencil out above the current 74 cents (estimated $1.63).

The NMPF action comes after eight weeks of discussion by grassroots dairy producers and state and national dairy organizations seeking a seat at the table to address lost income and risk management disruptions influenced in part by the Class I mover change that was passed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill and implemented by USDA in May 2019.

While NMPF and IDFA have reportedly had conversations on the issue, IDFA has not yet publicly-announced a position.

On Tuesday (April 27), another proposal — called Class III Plus – was announced by a collaboration of state dairy groups in the Midwest. This proposal would also end Class I advance pricing factors.

Seasoned dairy policy analysts and economists suggest more proposals may be forthcoming.

USDA “will do the things it knows it can do to impact the (milk income) concern by providing better market opportunities, new market opportunities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack answer questions from North American Ag Journalists Monday, calling FMMO reform a “tough issue.”

On the specifics, though, the Secretary said simply that USDA would look to the industry “to work with them on the changes that need to take place.

“It’s a very very complicated issue, and not one that should be easily characterized. Anyone that tries to do that doesn’t understand the complexity of that particular topic. It’s very complex,” Vilsack explained. 

He acknowledged that conversations are occurring within the dairy industry, but said: “Those conversations need to mature a bit more before anybody makes a decision that there’s going to be a significant change.”

However, in contrast to the Secretary’s observations, a “significant change” has already been made across all FMMO’s, legislatively, and it was done without hearings, without comment, without a producer referendum, without much conversation and without the knowledge of many dairy producers.

So here we are. The buck is being passed as the ball is being volleyed between industry, legislative and administrative. The volley started when NMPF and IDFA proposed the mover change in 2017-18. Congress then passed it, thereby replacing the mover that had been set by administrative hearing process 20 years ago, when USDA chose the higher of instead of an averaging method and documented disorderly marketing, negative differentials and depooling, back then.

Now, the volley is open again for what looks to be a toss from legislative to industry to administrative hearing requests.

For its part, NMPF states that the current mover was “intended to be revenue neutral while facilitating increased price risk management by fluid milk bottlers. The new Class I mover contributed to disorderly marketing conditions last year during the height of the pandemic and cost dairy farmers over $725 million in lost income.” 

Analysis by various industry experts, including Farm Bureau’s Market Intel, peg the broader net farm losses at $3 billion when the change influenced a domino-effect of negative producer price differentials (PPDs) and massive depooling.

In the three fat/skim pricing FMMOs of the Southeast U.S. where PPDs are not shown, Calvin Covington calculates dairy farmers in FMMO 5, 6 and 7 collectively had net loss of $1/cwt off the blend price for 23 months due to the mover change from higher of to average-plus.

NMPF’s proposal is described as helping “recoup the lost revenue and ensure that neither farmers nor processors are disproportionately harmed by future significant price disruptions.”

A Penn State Ag Law Center webinar already planned on FMMOs this week, turned into a hot topic. Brook Duer, staff attorney for the center and moderator asked webinar guest Dr. Andrew Novakovic, Cornell professor emeritus about the specifics of the NMPF proposal.

“This proposal would recalculate the adjuster every two years, except the adjuster can never be less than 74 cents,” Novakovic said. “They are not talking about changing the ‘average of’ back to the ‘higher of.’”

In weekly producer conference calls facilitated by American Dairy Coalition after a letter was sent to NMPF and IDFA signed by hundreds of dairy farmers and organizations, a return to the higher of was identified as a short-term option while long-term proposals are vetted. American Dairy Coalition, and the grassroots groups who have been part of the conversation since February, sent emails with talking points, urging producers to contact key lawmakers and talk to them about the situation.

Proponents of a return to the higher of point out it was already vetted by USDA hearings, whereas the current average plus 74 cents was not.

“As the COVID-19 experience has shown, market stresses can shift the mover in ways that affect dairy farmers much more than processors. This was not the intent of the Class I mover formula negotiated within the industry,” noted Randy Mooney, chairman of NMPF’s Board of Directors in a press release. “The current mover was explicitly developed to be a revenue-neutral solution to the concerns of fluid milk processors about hedging their price risk.

“Dairy farmers were pleased with the previous method of determining Class I prices and had no need to change it, but we tried to accommodate the concerns of fluid processors for better risk management,” Mooney stated further. 

“Unfortunately, the severe imbalances we’ve seen in the past year plainly show that a modified approach is necessary. We will urge USDA to adopt our plan to restore equity and create more orderly marketing conditions.”

Modifying the adjuster every two years is backward-looking for forward-adjustments. 

The current mover is already challenged by timing between Class I advance-pricing and Class II, III, IV announced prices as well as the higher protein production on farms in a system that prices protein in manufacturing classes but prices fat and skim solids in the fluid class.

In the Class III Plus proposal jointly announced by Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Minnesota Milk Producers Association and Nebraska State Dairy Association, advance pricing of Class I would also be ended.

The mover would be linked to the Class III announced skim price, not the advance skim pricing factor. The proposal includes an adjuster that would be revised annually in September by USDA for the forthcoming calendar year. It would equal the average of the monthly differences between the higher of Class III and IV skim milk prices, and the Class III skim milk price during the prior 26 months. 

This adjuster would be floored at 36 cents just for the 2021-25 period “to facilitate faster convergence toward revenue-neutrality after COVID-19,” according to the announcement.

For its part, NMPF states that, “The significant gaps between Class III and IV prices that developed during the pandemic exposed dairy farmers to losses that were not experienced by processors, showing the need for a formula that better accounts for disorderly market conditions.”

To be sure, all FMMOs also saw gaps and inversion for three to six months in the pre-pandemic summer and fall of 2019.

When asked about the FMMO purpose and the ‘mover’ being set at the higher of to move milk to Class I use, Novakovic said USDA would have to look at the actual effect of the ‘average of’ on that purpose.

“Do we see any problem getting milk into Class I markets? Are they complaining there is not enough milk going to Class I?” he asks. “Probably the opposite direction is more true.”

Moving milk to Class I may be more of a discussion for the high fluid utilization areas of the Southeast, where producers end up indirectly ‘paying’ to bring milk in during deficient times of the year. This can be costly when there are price gaps and inversions as documented in the fall months of both 2019 and 2020.

When asked what recourse dairy producers may have in this, Novakovic indicated that lobbying the legislature is “theoretically possible” but that a legislative change is not likely apart from the next Farm Bill, which is three years away.

He also speculated that if someone put forward a proposal to return to the higher of for the next two years — and referred to the reasons given by USDA in its 2000 hearing decision – it’s “not inconceivable” that USDA could say they like what they had better than what Congress made them do, and perhaps like it better than changing adjusters or other ‘new’ proposals that would require a more lengthy hearing process if the industry is divided.

Novakovic was also asked how the Class III Plus proposal from the Midwest would affect Pennsylvania, given the state’s mostly Class I and IV utilization.

He responded to say Pennsylvania is part of FMMOs that include Class III (Northeast Order 1 and Mideast Order 33). He did not see any particular effect for the Northeast markets.

“Class IV would still be Class IV and II will be driven by IV values, and III would be unaffected, so the only question is what you would see happening with Class I,” said Novakovic. “The only way I see this proposal being viewed as a surprise is on the occasions when IV is higher than III, and that has occurred with some frequency in the past.”

The Northeast FMMO has seen a decline in Class III percentage relative to increase in Class IV and II over time. Class I sales also declined precipitously over the past decade but stabilized in 2019 and 2020 with rising sales of whole and 2% milk.

Novakovic confirmed that part of the problem in pricing Class I is the lack of beverage milk market indicators to do so.

As mentioned previously in Farmshine, Class I is required to participate in FMMO pooling, other classes are voluntary. Class I also has regulation at some state levels. On the other hand, in most states, beverage milk is used as a loss-leader in supermarkets, especially as large processing retailers dramatically cut the gallon price to compete for shoppers.

Under these factors, there is no way to gauge a ‘market value’ for Class I beverage milk apart from piggy-backing the other classes that value milk’s components in the manufacture of cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey.

The issue at hand is how to do that, now, in hindsight, after a significant surgical change was quietly made, and failed, and in the future within the context of FMMO reform.

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From DMI to NZI to DS4G: Harper, McCloskey explain how scale will drive dairy to net zero

Author’s Note: This is part one in a multi-part series about DMI’s Dairy Scale for Good piece of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Net Zero Initiative.

By Sherry Bunting, updated from publication in Farmshine, April 23, 2021

ROSEMONT, Ill. — “Looking at the past 50 years of impressive achievement, everything ladders up to milk efficiency. It’s less land. It’s less manure. It’s less water and less carbon, but it’s all about that milk,” said Caleb Harper, executive director of the Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G) piece of the DMI Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Net-Zero Initiative (NZI).

“For the next 50 years, what if it was all about everything other than the milk. As we continue to advance toward yield of milk… you’ll start to see a rise in the importance of everything else,” said Harper, posing a “value proposition” for the dairy industry.

Harper, along with Dr. Mike McCloskey, of Fair Oaks Farm, Fairlife and Select Milk Producers, talked about NZI and DS4G in an online Balchem ‘real science lecture series’ earlier this month. McCloskey is an officer on the board of National Milk Producers Federation and has chaired the DMI Innovation Center’s Sustainability Initiative since inception.

The future being created, according to Harper and McCloskey, is one of dairy being recognized as an “irreplaceable ecosystem asset — an environmental solution — inside a comprehensive management plan for emissions reduction inside of animal ag livestock.”

Citing the Nestle and Starbucks sponsorships and others coming on near term, Harper said the pilot projects associated with each company will be located in separate supply chains. The sponsorships are being made, he said, because these companies have made big commitments to reducing carbon.

“As checkoff, one of our limitations is the ability to do on-farm work, especially around technology acquisition or measurement, so we need these third-party dollars to come in and be the catalyst to get living laboratories set up,” Harper explained.

Before Harper’s presentation about how the Net Zero Initiative builds-out the ‘everything else’ pieces, McCloskey gave historical context about the birth of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2007.

“The trajectory (since 1940) is just phenomenal when you lay out the statistics,” said McCloskey. “We came together – National Milk, DMI, USDEC – and had a great meeting of the minds (in 2007). We said this natural sustainability progress will continue, but we need to accelerate it and be catalytic in how we can become the organization to drive this at a faster speed to net-zero.”

According to McCloskey, 80% of the nation’s milk is represented at this NZI table, and the dairy industry is the one to “really come out of the gate on this.”

The whole value chain from distributors to processors to retailers and companies that create packaging (are represented), so we have a really good understanding of the entire value chain and can focus on how to eliminate carbon footprint to bring it to net-zero,” he said.

The baseline life-cycle assessments (LCA) were the first steps 10 to 13 years ago to figure out “exactly where” the carbon was coming from, and the April lecture discussion focused field to farm, noting that the processors have a separate working group looking post-farm through consumption.

McCloskey said the LCA categorized carbon in 4 areas:

1) Farming (feed production) practices
2) Manure management
3) Enteric emissions from cows
4) Energy intensity of the operation (including renewables)

“Once we knew where the carbon was coming from, we started initiatives to find processes and technologies to innovate and accelerate the process to net-zero even faster,” said McCloskey, explaining the heavy participation from companies serving on committees and through initiatives these past 13 years.

Then, a year and a half ago, “we committed to the term net-zero,” he said. “That was a big jump.”

This bit of history set the stage for Harper to talk about the part of the Net Zero Initiative he heads up: Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G).

Harper was hired by DMI last May for the DS4G position just weeks after exiting M.I.T.’s Media Lab April 30th, after his OpenAg Initiative there came under scrutiny and was quietly closed.

“Caleb is looking at the four areas and how we can take technologies and processes and innovate them into DS4G,” said McCloskey.

Harper noted that dairy and agriculture are not operating in a vacuum. He said the first “bold commitments” to net-zero time frames between now and 2050 were made by big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, followed by food brands, companies across the food value chain, and then the agricultural input sector.

Throughout his presentation, Harper referenced the Biden administration policies the work hinges on, using much of the same coordinated language that surfaces via the World Economic Forum Great Reset and United Nations Food Systems Summit and what is called “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” in which technology is already rapidly accelerating.

“We’re seeing a shift in philosophy and it’s being driven by all of these commitments,” said Harper, insisting that, “It’s being driven, of course, by consumers.”

He showed pre-Covid poll statistics from the Hartman group. One in particular noted that 88% of consumers surveyed “would like brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily lives.”

“Dairy has made the commitment to being an environmental solution,” said Harper, which means becoming carbon neutral or better, optimizing water use while maximizing recycling, and improving water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients.

Three working groups or initiatives were formed within the field-to-farm Net Zero Initiative: 1) Research, analysis and modeling; 2) Viability study, which is DS4G headed by Harper; and 3) Adoption for collective impact.

The Adoption piece will distill and disseminate across the industry what is learned through research, modeling and Harper’s DS4G work.

It is all about driving consumer choices under this net-zero mantra. Industry consolidation also figures into this equation to “scale the process and drive out the risk,” said Harper.

Many of the numbers in Harper’s presentation were taken directly from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) white paper An Environmental and Economic Path Toward Net Zero Dairy Farm Emission.”

Harper cited environmental pressure and animal activism pressure on the U.S. dairy industry. He said: “This program (Dairy Net-Zero) is being supported by the World Wildlife Fund and others in the environmental space as a path towards a solution on all of these issues.”

Insisting that the Net Zero Initiative and DS4G operate with a “counter-balance” of environment and economics, the examples discussed by Harper included estimates for what producers may expect as returns for various environmental products and services.

Illustrating carbon footprint for a gallon of milk across all sectors from field to consumer, Harper and WWF maintain that the field-to-farm portion represents the largest potential (70%) for reducing CO2 equivalent emissions more than retail, consumption, processing and distribution combined. Harper said he sees this as work and opportunity. McCloskey had noted earlier that the processors have their own working group looking at emissions from farm to consumption.

The WWF white paper lays out the “business case” for the Net Zero Initiative, based on a 3500 cow dairy (a Fair Oaks site with 3000 milking and 500 dry). In fact, Harper’s DS4G work will exclusively pilot and model on dairies of this size.

“This is to make maximum impact on the supply of milk in the short-term,” he said. “If we look at the kind of consolidation going on in the industry, the herd sizes above 1000 cows are a small percentage of the total herd; however, (they account for) 55% of the milk production.”

Harper explained the DS4G concept this way:

“The idea is to use scale to address these (net-zero) issues so we can drive down the risk of adoption, the risk of market-building, the risk of technology… to bring that down to a level and spread it across the industry, across the milk.”

Walking through the technologies and processes that the checkoff-funded DS4G is “thinking about,” Harper indicated that this is “evolving”, and all revenue potential figures are “approximate”.

He mentioned a billion dollars of investment in digesters over the last few years from private equity funds, pension funds, and venture investors, with digesters representing — “rule of thumb” — one-third of the revenue potential of net-zero going forward. The new market opportunities driving that revenue potential, he said, are natural gas prices and the increasing value of the low-carbon renewable fuel credit price. The combination is what is attracting investors, according to Harper.

Harper said he has visited 100 dairy farms in 17 states in his first 11 months as the dairy-checkoff employee heading up DS4G. Of the dairies he has visited with more than 2500 cows, he said not one did not either have a digester or was breaking ground for a digester or in the process of planning a partnership around one.

He also talked about feed additives to address enteric emissions, cropping practices, and manure management technology, including ultrafiltration of manure as part of a “technology train” for the future. To be continued

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(Author’s Notes: The WWF Markets Institute released its dairy white paper Jan. 27, 2021. A mid-February Farmshine report revealed the WWF mathematical error that had inflated the magnitude of CO2 equivalent pounds contributed by all U.S. milk production. WWF on Feb. 25, 2021, corrected this baseline to show the much smaller collective impact of 268 billion pounds CO2 equivalent (not 2.3 trillion pounds). Both Harper and McCloskey serve on the WWF Market Institute’s Thought Leadership Group. Harper also served as a board member of New Harvest 2017-19, a global nonprofit building the field of cellular agriculture, funding startups to make milk, meat and eggs without animals. DMI confirms that dairy checkoff had an MOU with WWF from the inception of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy around 2008 through 2019. McCloskey has chaired the Innovation Center’s Sustainability Initiative since 2008. In 2008-09, two MOU’s were signed between DMI and USDA via former U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack — the Sustainability Initiative and GENYOUth. At the end of the Obama administration, Vilsack was hired by DMI dairy checkoff to serve as president and CEO of USDEC 2016-2021, and earlier this year he became Secretary of Agriculture again after President Joe Biden said Vilsack ‘practically wrote his rural platform and now he can implement it.” McCloskey and Harper also have another connection. According to the Sept. 2019 Chronicles of Higher Education, Caleb Harper’s father, Steve Harper, was a grocery executive. He was senior vice-president of marketing and fresh product development, procurement and merchandising from 1993 to 2010 for the H-E-B supermarket chain based in Texas. According to a 2020 presentation by Sue McCloskey, H-E-B was their first partner in the fluid milk business in the 1990s, followed by Kroger. According to the Houston Chronicle, the McCloskeys also partnered with H-E-B in 1996 to produce Mootopia ultrafiltered milk, an H-E-B brand. This was the pre-cursor to fairlife, the ultrafiltered milk beverage line in which DMI invested checkoff funds through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy partnering with the McCloskeys, Select, and Coca Cola.)

Congressman: ’97 Milk is leading the way’

“This is more than an organization, it is a movement, and I love that,” said Congressman Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson, speaking to dairy producers and enthusiasts at the 97 Milk meeting in Lancaster County, Pa.

By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine April 2021

EPHRATA, Pa. – “This organization is getting it done,” said U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.-15th). Thompson is the Republican leader of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and he gave the efforts of 97 Milk LLC and the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee two thumbs-up. Rep.

Thompson was a special guest addressing the group of mostly dairy farmers attending the 97 Milk reorganizational meeting at Mt. Airy Fire Hall near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021.

The groups’ efforts were formed in early 2019, after Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman painted his first round bale with the words: “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free”.

Nelson Troutman of Pennsylvania and Ann Diefendorf of New York talk ’round bale’ painting technique after the meeting — comparing notes.

At the 97milk.com and facebook page @97milk, are the words: “We believe… in supporting local dairy farmers. We believe we can make a difference by sharing facts, benefits, and the good taste of whole milk so consumers can make informed decisions.”

According to Congressman Thompson, the battle to improve milk demand and to legalize whole milk choice in schools has two fronts – legislative policy and milk messaging.

“97 Milk is leading the way in the nation on messaging. Going from bales and beyond, what you have done is just incredible,” the Congressman said. “Keep doing what you are doing with the well-designed combination of influencing, marketing and providing factual information.”

In fact, Rep. Thompson took home and now proudly displays a “Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard sign in his front yard.

Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee chairman Bernie Morrissey has been printing and distributing hundreds of these yard signs with the donations of area agribusinesses, other organizations and individuals.

Rep. Thompson represents 24% of Pennsylvania’s land mass across 14 counties. Even before becoming the lead Republican in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, dairy has always been a key farm focus for him, and bringing the choice of whole milk back to schools a key issue. As Ag Committee Ranking Member, he now also represents all of agriculture with responsiveness across the nation.

He reported that “progress is being made. But we are starting in the hole, not from a neutral position. We have lost a generation of milk drinkers since whole milk was demonized and removed from schools in 2010.”

His bill, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, could change that. H.R. 1861 is a bipartisan bill that has been reintroduced in this 2021-22 session of Congress with cosponsor Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from New York. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors.

In fact, among those attending the meeting in Pennsylvania was a contingent of folks from upstate New York looking to start a 97 Milk chapter there.

Also in attendance was David Lapp of Blessings of Hope. He confirmed that their partnership with 97 Milk was “a big success,” raising over $70,524 of which $16,000 remains for processing and buying milk. So far, those funds processed or purchased 45,000 gallons of whole milk for those in need, and over 20,000 packaged gallons were additionally donated during the pandemic.

Blessings of Hope was also involved in the Farmers to Families Food Box program through USDA, distributing a million gallons since May, of which Lapp said, 90% was whole milk!

GN Hursh, a Lancaster County dairy farmer and 97 Milk chairman, thanked everyone for doing their part to educate and promote whole milk. Referring to Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman as “the seed” of the 97 Milk movement painting the first round bales with Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free, he asked Troutman to introduce the Congressman during the meeting — an honor Troutman put in the way only he can: “I never thought I would be introducing the Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee in ‘downtown’ Mt. Airy.”

That got a laugh from the group sitting in the rural town fire hall of northern Lancaster County.

The humble and persistent work of 97 Milk and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee took root in southeast Pennsylvania, but is also being joined-in by dairy producers and supporters across the state and nation, noticed by dignitaries and officials in policy and legislative arenas and reaching every-day families and consumers across the nation and around the world.

The needle is being moved.

Marketing manager Jackie Behr said the key is to keep bringing ideas forward for the website, social media and events. She took the attendees through 97 Milk’s digital presence step by step and showed how the goal is to keep things fresh and keep bringing information and facts to the eyes of the growing traffic coming to the website.

Behr showed how the website and social media together give facts about whole milk, fun activities, recipes, and a personal connection of consumers to farmers.

“We always want to have new facts and something fun,” said Behr. “We rely on you to send us news articles and ideas that we can put on the website and post. We also rely on farmers to send in photos and thoughts and stories to keep it fresh.”

She reminded everyone that the website has a download section to download and print things, as well as a store to buy banners, t-shirts, hats and more. The store also has new items coming in to keep it fresh.

The Dairy Question Desk has been popular. “We want to be transparent and we want people asking questions,” said Behr.

While website visits are up, store purchases of promotional items and donations to 97 Milk are down. The 97 Milk board, including Behr, and others who assist at times with the social media work, as well as everyone doing events and other campaigns, are volunteers.

In the past 28 days, alone, the website had 1044 users and 2054 page views – 77% of them are new users. Businesses that have mentioned 97 Milk on their websites have driven traffic to 97milk.com as well. 

This is something Behr wants more agribusinesses to consider. It’s an easy way to support the movement, just by putting a link to 97milk.com on a business website to support dairy farmers and milk education. This improves searchability for 97milk.com when people look for information about milk.

The top referral sites over the past year were Farmshine, FM Browns, Lotus Web Designs, R&J Dairy Consulting, Sauder Brothers, and Sensenig’s Feed Mill.

Social media data show that every age group is represented in the traffic, and followers are 60% women, 40% men, with over 400,000 people reached in the past 28 days. Some months the million-mark has been reached!

“This is all free advertising,” said Behr about the posts done six days a week. She said 97 Milk has not paid to “boost” any social media posts.

A good post about something people are interested in and don’t know about, attracts that wider reach, according to Behr. 

Jackie Behr of R&J Dairy Consulting serves on the volunteer board of 97 Milk as marketing director. She talked about the impact and statistics showing how consumers are being reached through the 97milk.com website and social media platforms.

“We are making connections and keeping the message positive,” she said. “People are responding. Since the pandemic, we see opportunity in expanding our reach because people want to support local farms and small businesses. We are giving them the simple facts that they don’t know and aren’t getting anywhere els.”

It was reported during the meeting that whole milk sales nationwide were up 2.6% in 2020 and up 1% in 2019. Flavored whole milk was up over 8% in 2019 and off by 1% in 2020, perhaps as a function of offerings more than demand. It’s important to note that whole milk sales are the largest volume category and these are USDA volume statistics, and 2% reduced-fat milk is the second largest volume category.

On a value basis, other reports put the whole milk increase at more than 5% over two years. In addition 2% milk sales have gained, but whole milk is still number one for 2019 and 2020. In the Northeast Milk Marketing Area, 2% milk sales grew by 7%, while whole milk grew 2.6%.

In the heart of the area in Pennsylvania where the 97 Milk movement started, at least two large supermarket chains have confirmed a 10 to 14% increase in whole milk sales in 2020. This shows the potential a wider reach can have as the 97 Milk movement grows.

These gains in whole and 2% milk sales volume have helped stabilize the overall fluid milk volume decline that was steepest from 2010 through 2019, after the choice of whole milk was prohibited in schools.

While talking about his Whole Milk for Health Kids Act legislation, Thompson referenced this concern also, saying that the removal of whole milk from schools resulted in losing a whole generation of milk drinkers, and some of that generation are or will soon be raising the next generation.

Both he and Behr mentioned “ripple effects.” This is an opportunity where whole milk education can impact whether the ripple effect is positive or negative for farmers and families.

When asked about current Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s position on getting whole milk back in schools after Vilsack was Secretary when it was removed, Thompson explained that Congress should take most of that blame. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 when Speaker Pelosi was Speaker of the House. He said Michelle Obama had little to do with this move. He also noted that he has had discussions with Secretary Vilsack before he was confirmed by the Senate.

“The Secretary knows my priorities,” said Thompson. During his time bringing news from Washington, he touched on milk identity labeling, Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing, and other dairy-related policy, but focused on the issues around legalizing whole milk choice in schools.

He also explained that any legislation on school nutrition must come through the Education and Labor Committee.

Legalizing the choice of whole milk in schools is a federal and state issue across the country.

“I wish school nutrition legislation was in our Ag Committee jurisdiction. We would have fixed it by now. That’s something we can look into,” said Thompson, blaming bad science and those on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) Committee with an agenda. He talked about working toward Congress having a way to approve DGAs, and his desire for hearings on the DGA process.

“To get things done and make them last, we have to work on both sides of the aisle,” the Congressman said, noting how tight the votes are between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Already, the list of cosponsors this session show interest among members of the Education and Labor committee.

Thompson also mentioned looking at other ways to legislatively approach the school beverage issue.

When asked what producers can do to help move the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act forward, Thompson said: “Keep doing what you are doing.”

In the business portion of the 97 Milk meeting April 6, chairman GN Hursh talked about how the group has navigated the pandemic to reach the public with the good news about whole milk.

Operated by volunteers and funded by donations and the 97milk.com store, 97 Milk accomplishes a lot with a little.

Treasurer Mahlon Stoltzfus reported income of $11,000 matching expenses of $11,000 and noted that donations have slowed even as progress in the group’s mission has increased.

Hursh asked producers to get involved. He noted that with all of the positive things happening, the key to keeping the momentum going is producer involvement.

Behr explained how important it is for dairy farmers to send in pictures and stories from their farms and ideas for social media posts.

For example, one idea that came from a farmer was to simply picture a red-cap gallon jug of whole milk and ask: “Reach for the red cap. Drink whole milk.” The post has been extremely popular and widely shared both times it was used.

From left are the 2019-20 97 Milk LLC board, GN Hursh, chairman; Lois Beyer, secretary; Mahlon Stoltzfus, treasurer; Jordan Zimmerman, campaign manager; Jackie Behr, marketing manager.

During the meeting, board elections were conducted. Remaining as chairman is Hursh of Ephrata, with Stoltzfus of Bird In Hand remaining as treasurer. Outgoing secretary is Lois Beiler of Lititz, and incoming secretary is Chris Landis, Stevens. Outgoing campaign coordinator is Jordan Zimmerman of East Earl, and incoming campaign manager is Mark Leid, New Holland. Jackie Behr of R&J Dairy Consulting will remain on the board as marketing manager.

“This effort is not about just one person. It’s everyone doing their part,” said Hursh.

“There are three parts to this organization: website and social media; promotional materials and events; and the third is the key that could be missing,” he said, passing around a mirror: You.

To send photos, farm stories and to share ideas, email 97wholemilk@gmail.com

To donate to the 97 Milk efforts, visit 97milk.com/donate/ where there is a paypal option to donate online. Or mail donations to 97 Milk LLC, PO Box 87 Bird In Hand, PA 17505

Covington: Class I change cost producers ‘real money’

Lack of vetting cited as impacts of negative PPDs continue

By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, April 16, 2021

EAST EARL, Pa. — Federal Milk Marketing Orders have been the subject of discussion at many intervals in Farm Bill history. The last time a major reform occurred was in the 1996 Farm Bill, which became effective in 2000 after going through a four-year period of administrative hearings, widespread opportunity for industry and public comment, a thorough vetting.

Back then, the USDA AMS Dairy Division cited concerns about negative differentials (today we call them PPDs) and massive depooling in 1995-98.

Using the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV advance pricing factors for the skim portion of the Class I ‘mover’ formula was decided to be the way to help mitigate this negative situation and fulfill the purpose of the Federal Orders.

Fast forward to the 2018 Farm Bill: A new Class I pricing method was implemented in May 2019 using the average of Class III and IV advance pricing factors (plus 74 cents) — instead of the ‘higher of’ — as the starting point for the Class I ‘mover’ calculation. This was inserted into the 2018 Farm Bill without hearings, without public comment, with very little industry discussion, and no vetting process

The change was not stress-tested, and producers did not have a seat at the table when National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) agreed to ask Congress to legislatively make this change.

During 23 months of implementation, the result has been disastrous for dairy farmers, and the Farm Bill language calls for the opportunity to amend after the first two years of implementation. We are at that two-year mark right now, and discussions are rippling forward.

For example, a letter to NMPF and IDFA, organized by American Dairy Coalition (ADC) and signed by hundreds of producers and associations, points out the concerns and seeks a seat at the table for an immediate solution. It also identifies the hearing process as allowing inclusive participation.

In a phone conference call Monday (April 12), after months of discussion, the broad coalition of producers involved in the letter from coast to coast agreed. They are looking for an immediate temporary fix by going back to the vetted method — the ‘higher of’ — at least until a vetted decision can be made for the long-term. On Tuesday (April 13), the ADC board reportedly also took a formal position after listening to farmers from different regions across the U.S. to support an immediate temporary return to the ‘higher of’ while continuing to listen and participate in efforts to reach a vetted, viable solution for the dairy industry.

While the Class I change in the 2018 Farm Bill is one aspect contributing to the severely negative PPDs and massive depooling of milk leaving shorfalls in Federal Order revenue sharing in three months of 2019, seven months of 2020 and continuing in 2021, it is an important factor and the only factor that is the result of a change made legislatively without hearings.

Add to this the predominance of cheese in the government purchase programs throughout the pandemic, and the result has been a huge range in all-milk prices across the country and neighbor to neighbor of $8 to $10 from top to bottom.

Add to this the negative PPDs and depooling creating poor performance of risk management tools and the DMC safety net that dairy farmers pay premiums for. These tools were not designed to function in the inverted pricing situation over 13 of the last 23 months that has led to a NET loss of nearly $750 million in Class I value and over $3 billion in FMMO losses to producers via negative PPDs and depooling.

Calvin Covington has a unique combination of experience and insight into the problem. He was CEO of American Jersey Cattle Association when component pricing was developed and used in the last major reform of Federal Orders. He also spent many years after that as the CEO of a milk cooperative in the fluid milk markets of the Southeast. Retired today, he continues writing dairy market columns and consulting.

In a Farmshine interview last Friday, Covington shed some light on the Class I pricing change, negative PPDs (Table 2) and depooling.

“What I tell producers in the Southeast: If you took last year, for example, take the three Southeast Federal Orders (5, 6 and 7), this lowered the blend price about $1.00 per hundredweight. That’s real money,” said Covington. “That’s a dollar right out of producers’ pockets.”

That $1 blend price loss he is referring to is the NET loss across all pounds of milk in the Florida, Southeast and Appalachian FMMOs across the 23-month history of the new Class I pricing change.

In fact, similar losses were sustained in other Federal Orders as well. Table 1 shows how the Class I change, alone, affected Class I price over the past 23 months, for a net loss of 86 cents per hundredweight on all Class I milk pounds nationwide.

Difference in Class I ‘mover’ under old vetted and new unvetted Class I pricing method, gain/loss per hundredweight and total x volume of Class I milk (before PPDs, depooling impact added).

In fact, similar losses were sustained in other Federal Orders as well. Table 1 shows how the Class I change, alone, affected Class I price May 2019 through April 2021, for a net loss of 86 cents per hundredweight on all Class I milk pounds nationwide.

At 28% utilization, this translates to 23 cents per hundredweight across all milk pounds before depooling is factored in. Results vary between FMMOs depending on utilization and depooling. Either way, this net loss means the months where the new method provided any positive impact on the blend price were weighed against the many months where the impact was negative.

Covington and others point to the government cheese purchases as a primary reason for the “big divergence” between Class III and IV. He figures the government purchases during the pandemic represented the equivalent of 1.65% of all milk production in the U.S., and 70% of it, he says, was cheese.

When the divergence in Class III and IV advance pricing factors is larger than $1.48, the impact becomes progressively more negative on the Class I base price, or ‘mover,’ which then impacts the blend price. In the seven multiple component pricing Orders, this contributes to negative PPDs (producer price differentials) by lowering the blend price relative to Class III. If Class IV is already that much lower than Class III, and now the new Class I method averages-in that lower Class IV value, the Uniform Price (blend) minus Class III price becomes a negative number.

Table 2 shows the producer price differentials (PPD) for all 7 multiple component pricing Federal Orders during the 2-year implementation of the new “averaging” Class I pricing method from May 2019 to March 2021. PPD values are normally positive. According to the Northeast Market Administrator: “When the total
value of producer components exceeds the pool’s classified value, the result is a negative PPD since money out of the pool at producer component values plus the PPD must equal money in the pool’s classified value (pool revenue).

When we have basically 10 months of consecutive negative relationships, then Class III handlers have an easy decision: depool the milk to keep that higher price. Class III handlers are accustomed to receiving a check from the FMMO pool. They voluntarily participate in FMMOs to share in the Class I differential. But writing a check to the pool when Class III is higher? That’s a different story.

So, if Class IV represents largely exported, or clearing, product of nonfat dry milk on the skim side of the Class I averaging equation under this new averaging method, why not just make the Class III advance pricing factor the base skim price for the ‘mover’ formula?
“We’ve got to remember that we have had it the other way around, though not this extreme,” says Covington. (continued)

“In the last half of 2013 and into 2014, we had Class IV higher than Class III.”

Covington makes this observation: “With the kind of volatility we are in now… Exports can be going up or down, who knows. There is the possibility this could happen again (IV over III), and also the possibility if the bottom falls out on the powder exports while cheese is strong (III over IV).”

Either way you flip the what-ifs and wherefores, the point is clear: The USDA AMS Dairy Division vetted the ‘higher of’ to be the way to help assure the Federal Orders function for their primary intended purpose: 1) assuring an adequate supply of milk for Class I fluid use, and 2) orderly marketing.

“I am stubborn on the issue. I admit that right up front,” says Covington. “There is a reason we have the higher of. The Dairy Division did a real good job of explaining this (in 2000). The purpose of the Federal Orders is to get milk to fluid use to make sure consumers have an adequate supply. The ‘higher of’ accomplishes that. Now we are getting away from the purpose.”

So, things have changed, right? People are drinking less milk and eating more cheese than in 2000 when major FMMO reform last took place. That matters if all we are looking at is the revenue sharing function of the Federal Orders — the pouring of revenue from the Class I glass into the receipts of Class II, III and IV handlers.

Covington takes a deeper view into the more basic purpose of the Federal Orders that vets these things in hearings, usually, to play out the scenarios.

“Any time there’s less incentive to move milk to fluid use — and that happens when Class III price gets closer to the blend or Class I price, or like last year Class III was higher than the blend or Class I price — why should the milk move if it is going to receive less money?” he explains. “Likewise, if processors need that milk and go into an area of Class III, they pay a larger give-up number to get that milk (to Class I).”

In short, says Covington, the new ‘average + 74 cents’ method for determining the advance base skim price for the Class I mover “presents the opportunity for this to happen.” In other words, it presents the opportunity for the Federal Orders to become dysfunctional and not fulfill their identified purpose.

Going back to the 2000 decision during Federal Order Reform, the USDA AMS Dairy Division, in their own words, explained why the ‘higher of’ would be used.

Citing this about the situation in 1995-98, the AMS decision stated: “Recent increased volatility in the manufactured product markets has resulted in more instances in which the effective Class I differential has been negative, especially in markets with low minimum Class I differentials. In the past when price inversions have occurred, the industry has contended with them by taking a loss on the milk that had to be pooled because of commitments to the Class I market, and by choosing not to pool large volumes of milk that normally would have been associated with Federal milk order pools. When the effective Class I differential is negative, it places fluid milk processors and dairy farmers or cooperatives who service the Class I market at a competitive disadvantage relative to those who service the manufacturing milk market. Milk used in Class I in Federal order markets must be pooled, but milk for manufacturing is pooled voluntarily and will not be pooled if the returns from manufacturing exceed the blend price of the marketwide pool.”

The USDA AMS vetted decision in 2000 goes on to explain how the situation then was “inequitable … where milk for manufacturing is pooled only when associating it with a marketwide pool increases returns.”

AMS Dairy Division also wrote in the 2000 decision about how the class price inversions were made worse (1995-98) by depooling and cited the tens of billions of pounds of milk involved. The 2000 decision to use the ‘higher of’ was explained in a way that holds relevance for the 2019-21 situation.

USDA AMS stated in 2000: “Because handlers compete for the same milk for different uses, Class I prices should exceed Class III and Class IV prices to assure an adequate supply of milk for fluid use. Federal milk orders traditionally have viewed fluid use as having a higher value than manufacturing use. (This) Class I price mover reflects this philosophy by using the higher of the Class III or Class IV price for computing the Class I price. In some markets the use of a simple or even weighted average of the various manufacturing values may inhibit the ability of Class I handlers to procure milk supplies in competition with those plants that make the higher-valued of the manufactured products. Use of the higher of the Class III or Class IV price will make it more difficult to draw milk away from Class I uses for manufacturing.”

In essence, the new Class I pricing method has shown over the past 23 months that not only is the potential there for FMMOs to be in disarray, there is proof that it is happening.

Covington and others point to the hearing process — the normal vetting process for proposed FMMO changes. In this current situation, Congress made the decision to do what NMPF and IDFA asked, without hearings. Dairy farmers did not have a seat at the table. There was little industry discussion, and other organizations were assured that producers would be “held harmless” because the history showed the new method would be “revenue neutral.”

It became law without vetting, hearing, or comment, and has not been revenue neutral.

Covington is among those who strongly favor the hearing process and was concerned in 2018 that it was not being used to vet this Class I pricing method change.

“IThe administrative hearing avenue lets everyone have a seat at the table, to hear every side, put forth every possibility,” he says. “But this wasn’t done. It went through Congress. It was done quick. A hearing process gives time to study the outcome of a proposal. The things we are talking about now would have come out, and people would have said, ‘oh, we better think twice.’”

Not getting as much attention is what this change has done to risk management tools purchased by dairy farmers, which extension educators, consultants, government, everyone, have been urging producers to adopt.

The irony is that the change from ‘higher of’ to ‘average + 74 cents’ was done because NMPF and IDFA convinced Congress it was necessary so that milk buyers could manage their risk through forward contracting and hedging on the futures markets. But the result for dairy farmers — milk producers — is that their risk management has had a huge monkey wrench thrown into it and no good tools to address a new kind of risk in their blend price equation.

“Look what it did to risk management for dairy farmers,” Covington observes. “There is basically 25% of the milk sold in Class I. That’s 47 billion pounds last year. How much of that even participates in risk management? Is it 1%, 5%, 10%? My guess is a small amount. We need to look at the cost vs. benefit. Maybe some used it, but look at what it has done to dairy farmers and the incentive to move milk to Class I. What’s the trade-off?

“How many things are done to look at one small segment at risk of everyone else?” he asks. “It lowered the Class I price. That’s obvious. How much of that was passed on through at retail? When we look at retail, we get the highest retail milk price in Kansas City and the lowest in Wichita, and they are both in the same Federal Order. So, you can’t make rhyme or reason to it.”

Talking through some of the elements of how Class I sales to retail work, with most milk being sold private label, Covington’s involvement and experience is valued.

“It seems like the industry loses focus. We look at the newest thing out there, or the newest group, and forget about the majority. Most of the milk sold in this country is white milk in gallon jugs sold private label,” he observes.

Covington suggests that future Federal Order reform will come, and that even though the methodology of end-product pricing is sound, some of the factors going into it are at a point where evaluation is beneficial.

He weighs the difference between whether changes in Federal Orders are made through an administrative hearing process or through Congress, or a combination of the two, and suggests that the hearing process be included because it is how proposals are vetted.

“A good example is what is happening right now where the issue was not thoroughly heard and analyzed, and it happened so fast,” Covington relates. “How many people in Congress really knew what they did? If it can happen with something like this, what else can it happen to?” -30-

Market Moos – Apr. 7, 2021

By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, April 9, 2021

Class III futures gain big,
Cl. IV modest, spread widens

CME Class III and IV milk futures made a strong turnaround last week and continued to rally higher this week — especially on the Class III where $19s returned to the board for May through August and new contract highs were set all the way across the board.

The big gains on Class III vs. smaller gains on Class IV widened the Class III / IV spread that is currently averaged to determine the Class I base price, which affects PPDs and de-pooling.

The spread between the 12-month averages expanded to $1.75 over the next 12 months, with May through September contracts showing the potential for a $2 to $4 spread between Class III and IV.

On Wed., April 7, Class III milk futures for the next 12 months averaged $18.43 — up 32 cents from last week and almost $1.00 higher than two weeks ago. (Additional gains were made through Fri., Apr. 9.)

Class IV milk futures for the next 12 months, on the other hand, averaged $16.68 on Wednesday — up just 8 cents from last week and 75 cents higher than two weeks ago

CME cheese, powder higher,
whey firm, butter melts off early gain

On the spot dairy product markets via the CME this week, cheese had big gains, powder put on a penny, whey stayed firm at last week’s higher levels, and butter advanced early before erasing the advance at midweek to be a fraction of a penny lower than a week ago.

By Wed., April 7, the 40-lb block cheddar price was pegged at $1.80/lb, up 6 cents from a week ago with 4 loads trading; 500-lb barrel cheddar was at $1.58/lb, up a full dime from a week ago with 3 loads changing hands.

Dry whey on the CME spot market remained firm at last week’s advance, pegged at 66 cents/lb again Wed., Apr. 7 with zero loads changing hands.

Butter gained its way to $1.83 by Tuesday before losing almost 2 pennies Wed., April 7 when 9 loads traded, and the CME spot price was pegged at $1.8150/lb — a fraction of a penny lower than the previous Wednesday’s spot butter price.

Nonfat dry milk gained a penny this week. On Wed., April 7, the spot price for Grade A NFDM was pegged at $1.1925/lb with 2 loads changing hands.

March protein question answered

Last week in this column, the March Class and Component prices announced by USDA last Wed., March 31 were reported, and the protein price at $2.6954/lb — down about 30 cents from February — seemed to be a “head-scratcher” given the fact that all end-product prices were higher, and the Class III, IV and II prices also ended up higher.

Reaching out to USDA questioning whether this was correct or a typo, here’s how a USDA source explained the interaction of the fat and skim as a sort of ‘snubber’ or offset for protein vs. fat when butter gains are larger than cheese gains in value in the wholesale market as reflected by by end-product pricing, with fat and skim yields applied. (There’s a story to this phenomena, stay tuned for another edition explaining the how and why this ‘snubber’ came to be.)

Meanwhile, USDA referred me to this formula for the protein price calculation on page 5 of the monthly Class and Components announcement:

Protein Price = ((Cheese Price – 0.2003) x 1.383) + ((((Cheese Price – 0.2003) x 1.572) – Butterfat Price x 0.9) x 1.17).

The USDA source explained in an email as follows:

“The protein price is a function of both the cheese price and the butter price. If you look at page 5 of the report ‘Announcement of Class and Component Prices’ for March 31, 2021, you will find the formula for the protein price. In that formula, you will note the use of both the cheese price, which is the weighted average of both block and barrels, and the butter price. Please note that the use of the butter price has a negative sign, i.e. as the butter price goes up everything else held the same, the protein price goes down. So, while both the cheese price and butter price went up; the increase in the butter price for March compared with the February price was much larger than the (increase for the) cheese price, so the protein price declined.”

The USDA explanation continues:

“The Class III skim milk price is down in March about 60 cents per cwt ($0.0060 per pound) when compared with February, i.e. using the lower protein price of about 30 cents per pound times 3.1 pounds plus a small increase of about 5 cents in the in the other solids price times 5.9 pounds results in the decline of about 60 cents per cwt ($0.0060) for the Class III skim milk price. The Class IV skim milk price in March is about unchanged, up 1 cent per cwt ($0.0001 per pound) as the nonfat dry milk price was up only $0.0005 per pound.

“Both the Class III and Class IV prices are equal to 96.5 pounds of skim milk times the skim milk price for each class plus 3.5 pounds of butter times the same butterfat price. So, with the Class III skim down 60 cents per cwt ($0.0060 per pound) but the butterfat price up $0.28 per pound. The Class III and Class IV prices both increase. The gain in Class IV was $0.99 per cwt while the Class III price was up 40 cents per cwt.”

USDA reports Feb. All Milk price at $17.10, DMC margin $6.22

February’s All Milk price was announced last week at $17.10 and based on an national average butterfat of 4.10%. This was 40 cents lower than the January All Milk price at the same time that feed costs went higher.

The combined result was a Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) margin for February announced this week at $6.22/cwt, the lowest since April and May 2020 when at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic shut down, the DMC margin was calculated at $6.03 and $5.37, respectively.

Letter signed by producers, groups, seeking remedy for failed Cl. I formula makes its way to NMPF / IDFA

On Federal Milk Market Order pricing — namely the failed change in how the base Class I price is formulated — National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) are at the table, according to U.S. House Ag Committee Ranking Member G.T. Thompson.

Sources indicate they are discussing various proposals and approaches. Meanwhile grassroots organizations representing dairy producers are continuing their almost weekly group conference calls and seeking a seat at that table.

Farmshine readers are aware that dairy producers from across the U.S., along with many state dairy associations and the American Dairy Coalition, came together in early March to compose a letter to NMPF and IDFA, addressing the impact of massive depooling in relation to large negative PPDs for dairy farmers across the U.S.

The letter specifically identifies the change in how the Class I base price is calculated, which NMPF and IDFA put forward, Congress passed in the 2018 Farm Bill, and USDA implemented in May 2019. The letter, signed by hundreds of producers and many producer organizations, will be officially sent to NMPF and IDFA by the end of this week (April 9), according to the ADC.

Specifically, the Farm Bill language states that the Class III / IV averaging method + 74 cents – instead of the previous “higher of” method – was to be implemented in 2-year periods. This suggests we are now at the point in time where something can be done to adjust this formula before the next 2-year period of implementation begins.

Meanwhile, dairy economists are being featured in webinars, zoom conferences and other venues to explain and ‘educate’ producers on PPDs, what impacts them, and how other aspects of Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing formulas, rules and provisions all work. All of it has become a hot topic since the new Class I formula implemented May 2019 leaves in its wake over $700 million in NET losses on Class I value, alone over 23 months, and upwards of $3 billion when negative PPDs and depooling are factored in.

While the change assisted in the idea of risk management for milk buyers, it has introduced significant and costly basis risk for milk producers, interfering with producer risk management tools, and has led to staggering net value losses by most dairy producers over 23 months since implementation, also undermining the purpose of the FMMOs with regard to the orderly marketing to assure milk moves to Class I fluid milk use.

Education is good. Solutions are better. Remember, the selling point to Congress for making the Class I formula change from ‘higher of’ to average + 74 cents in the 2018 Farm Bill was that dairy producers would be “held harmless”… Instead, they are being robbed. Stay tuned.

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Transformative words, policies, what will they mean for farms, families?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 9, 2021 (expanded)

Resilience and Equity are the two words of the year when it comes to almost every legislative policy discussion and presidential executive order, and filtering down through the briefings given to members of organizations by those who represent them, walking the halls of Congress.

Great words. Great ideals. But a little thin on definition.

That’s par for the course on many of the terms used in the USDA press release announcing the newly-named programs under USDA from stimulus legislation — Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) — as well as details on the held funds for 2020’s CFAP 2.

It is difficult to make sense of much of the language in the press release because of terms thrown about and not defined. “Cooperative agreements” are mentioned as the way to grant nonprofits (yes, DMI would qualify), funds to help “support producer participation” in the assistance being offered. Broadened assistance for ‘socially-disadvantaged’ producers is mentioned, but no definition is given.

What will be attached in this approach within the context of transforming agriculture and food under the auspices of climate action, given the administration’s 30 x 30 plan, widely referred to as a “land grab”?

The 30 x 30 plan is part of a climate action executive order signed by the President within hours of inauguration. It aims to protect 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.

Specifically, Section 216 of the executive order states:

Sec. 216.  Conserving Our Nation’s Lands and Waters.  (a)  The Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall submit a report to the Task Force within 90 days of the date of this order recommending steps that the United States should take, working with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders, to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

The Lincoln Sentinel in Nebraska reports that meetings are taking place in April in the western U.S. to explain to landowners what 30 x 30 entails.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, currently the U.S. protects 12% of its land. “To reach the 30 x 30 goal, an additional area twice the size of Texas, more than 440 million acres, will need to be conserved within the next 10 years,” the Lincoln Sentinel reported this week.

A bill in the U.S. House would create new “wilderness” declarations, land that will not be managed or accessed — including a complete ban and removal of all agricultural use from these “conserved” land areas taken to meet the 30 x 30 goal.

A push is happening in Washington to incorporate 30×30 ‘land grab’ principles into the massive infrastructure bill and in the COVID-19 relief stimulus package that was passed.

The slippery slope toward larger and hotter wildfires and against private property and generations-old land use rights has begun. And the Nature Conservancy, already a large land owner / controller, is already looking ahead to the 2023 Farm Bill to include certain conservation provisions in the final product. They also look to the National Defense Authorization Act to include public land designations.

Tom Vilsack — whom President Joe Biden stated upon nomination to the post of Agriculture Secretary — helped develop the Biden rural plan for rural America and now has the job of implementing it, is on record pledging to use every opportunity within existing and new USDA programs to meet transformative sustainability goals.

This is all aligned and consistent with the Great Reset. Farmshine readers may recall several articles over the past year pointing out the ‘land grab’ goals of World Economic Forum’s Great Reset and with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) ahead of this summer’s UN Food System Transformation Summit. The UN documents use the same “resilience” and “equity” buzz words without much definition.

Remember the awkward moment at a Biden town hall meeting in Pennsylvania during the presidential campaign when a potato farmer and Farm Bureau member asked about his positions on environmental regulation, such as the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) implementation.

Then candidate Biden’s telling response described “the transition”:

“We should provide for your ability to make a lot more money, as farmers, by dealing with you being able to put land in land banks and you get paid to do that to provide for more open space, and to provide for the ability of you to be able to be in a position so that we are going to pay you for planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air,” he said, also referencing manure and setting up industries in communities to pelletize it.

“That’s how you can continue to farm without worrying about if you are polluting and be in a position to make money by what you do in the transition,” then candidate Biden said.

Though Biden stated at that time that his climate policy was not the Green New Deal, the overlaps in language were hard to deny. The Green New Deal included such references to “land banks”, described as government purchasing land from “retiring farmers” and making it available “affordably to new farmers and cooperatives that pledge certain sustainability practices.” (The short way of saying the answer he gave above).

The $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan includes land use and protection provisions as well as the STEP Act to help pay for it. That’s a proposal to raise estate and capital gains taxes to begin taxing asset transfers between generations during the estate-planning ‘gifting’ process and lowering the amount exempted on land and assets of estates transferred before and after death. This could have a big impact on how the next generation in the farm business pays the taxes to continue farming.

As one producer put it in a conversation, the plan is tantamount to selling one-fourth or more of a farm in order to pay the ‘transfer tax.’ (But, of course, the government then has the perfect setup to come in and pay the farmer to land-bank it, and then give it to another entity that contractually agrees to grow what the government wants, or to re-wild it.

Think about this, as we reported in October, most of us don’t even know what’s being planned for our futures. Big tech, big finance, big billionaires, big NGO’s, big food, all the biggest global players are planning the Great Reset (complete with land grab and animal product imitation investments) in which globalization is the key, and climate change and ‘sustainability’ — now cleverly linked to pandemic fears — will turn the lock.

The mandatory farmer-funded dairy and beef checkoffs — and their overseer USDA and sustainability partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — have been at this global food system transformation table since at least 2008 when DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was formed and Tom Vilsack was starting his first eight years as Ag Secretary before spending four years as a top-paid dairy checkoff executive and is now again serving as Ag Secretary.

So much of the groundwork for this pattern is consistent with the work of DMI and its sustainability partner WWF toward the Net Zero Initiative, and key WEF Great Reset global companies have joined in with funds for NZI piloting.

Perhaps what brings it home for me is reading what National Milk Producers Federation’s lobbiest Paul Bleiberg includes and omits in his piece for Hoards online Monday, where he talks about how fast things are moving in Washington and how the Biden administration and the 117th Congress are advancing ambitious plans to stimulate the U.S. recovery that, “encompasses key dairy priorities, including agricultural labor reform, climate change, child nutrition, and trade.”

He notes that as Congress and the administration have begun to dive into climate and sustainability, NMPF has outilined a suite of climate policy recommendations. He writes that “primary among (NMPF’s) goals is for Congress to consider modernizing conservation programs and provide new incentives to dairy farmers to build on the significant sustainability work they are already doing.”

For those paying attention to the WEF Great Reset and WWF’s role in food transformation, it is obvious that the anti-fat Dietary Guidelines are a key cog in the food and agriculture transformation wheel.

Bleiberg mentions childhood nutrition as a key dairy priority, but puts all of his emphasis on “urging the Senate Ag Commitee to maintain the flexibility for schools to offer low-fat flavored milk.” No mention is made of expanding flexibility to include the simple choice of whole milk. This, despite citing the DGA Committee’s admission that school-aged children do not meet the recommended intake for dairy.

Giving schoolchildren the opportunity to choose satisfying whole milk would certainly help in this regard, but that choice would interfere with the long-planned food transformation goals of the global elite — the Great Reset.

We all need to be aware of the transformational elements within policy discussion, find out the definitions of terms and nuts and bolts of program changes, be aware of how our youth are being used as change-agents, and be prepared to speak up for farmers, families, and freedom.

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Time is short for short-term fix of failed Class I pricing change

FMMOs in disarray

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 2, 2021

The efforts continue in hopes of addressing and rectifying the hundreds of millions of dollars in Class I value losses to dairy producers (net) over the last 23 months — due to the new Class I pricing method. But the window for a short-term fix is closing fast.

While the overall problem of severely negative PPDs has multiple reasons and resulted in well over $3 billion in milk payment shortfalls across 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMOs), the loss attributed solely to the change in Class I pricing method is pegged at $732.8 million, NET, from May 2019 through April 2021, and looks to continue through most of 2021.

That is, unless a change is made – quickly – before the May Class I price is announced in a few weeks.

Farmshine readers are aware that dairy producers from across the U.S., along with many state dairy associations and the American Dairy Coalition, came together in early March to compose a letter to NMPF and IDFA, addressing the impact of massive depooling in relation to large negative PPDs for dairy farmers across the U.S. The letter specifically identifies the change in how the Class I base price is calculated, which NMPF and IDFA put forward, Congress passed in the 2018 Farm Bill, and USDA implemented in May 2019.

Specifically, the Farm Bill language states that the new Class III / IV averaging method + 74 cents – instead of the previous “higher of” method – was to be implemented in 2-year periods. This suggests we are now at the point in time where it can be amended to tweak the formula before the next 2-year period of implementation begins.

Recall that this change was legislated without hearings, was implemented without a regulatory comment period, and was put through with very little discussion under the auspices of giving processors a way to “manage risk” even as the result has grossly interfered with producer risk management tools.

Considering that this policy has been a complete failure under the stress test of a major event, Congress and USDA should be on notice to fix it before the next 2-year period commences. But time is short.

Producers — through this letter and other efforts — are asking NMPF and IDFA to put their proposals on the table officially for how to remedy this failed change before the next 2-year implementation period begins in just a few weeks.

Discussions among producers and organizations have ensued for weeks now — talking about averaging vs. higher of. In fact, those with greatest firsthand knowledge of the purpose and workings of FMMOs state that the higher of method fulfilled the lawful purpose of the FMMOs, the averaging method does not.

Put simply, the FMMOs are in disarray during this time of market stress that pushed Class III and IV widely apart. A $2 to $10 spread between Class III and IV – along with the new “averaging” method for Class I – have together disrupted the function and purpose of the FMMOs.

NMPF and IDFA told the U.S. Congress that producers would be “held harmless” by the change when it passed in the 2018 Farm Bill. But, in fact, producers have lost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in value out of their milk checks over 23 months. The averaging method was never “stress-tested.”

NMPF leaders have reportedly referenced the idea of adding $1.63 to the simple average, instead of 74 cents, but this reporter has not seen the proposal put forward as an official ‘ask’ of the USDA Secretary to be part of the next 2-year implementation that begins shortly. Probably NMPF and IDFA will have to agree on this as the Class I pricing change was their agreement in the first place at the time it was passed in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Dairy producers cannot afford to see the drive for a solution stall out until the next Farm Bill. They cannot afford to roll into the next 2-year implementation using the current average + 74 cents formula. Meanwhile, dairy farmers can contact their milk buyers or cooperatives and ask their leaders to encourage NMPF and IDFA leadership to bring the discussion forward for implementation of a short-term solution beginning with the May 2021 Class I price. If this doesn’t happen, producers will be stuck with a failed pricing policy for at least two more years.

A feature in the March 5 edition of Farmshine discussed the letter, the background, and included a copy of the letter, itself.

The deadline for dairy producers and/or their state, regional and national organizations to sign has been extended again until Mon., April 5, 2021. Visit this link to view and sign electronically through the automated short form.

In the letter, dairy producers ask NMPF and IDFA to work with them for a solution that is a fairer distribution of dairy dollars in the long term, but also want to support a short-term fix, now.

Time is running out for this to happen. Dairy farmers do not have two to three more years to wait for the 2023 Farm Bill as the formula losses add financial burden to their already distressed economic situation. They can’t afford to lose hundreds of millions, if not billions, over the next two years as has been their net loss over the past two years. Look for an update next week.

Check out this primer on understanding milk prices basics and PPD.

Hot topic: Understanding milk pricing basics and PPD

Gratitude to Blimling and Associates for this flow chart illustrating the complexity of USDA milk pricing

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 26, 2021

I challenge anyone to find a pricing system on anything in the universe as complicated as the pricing of a hundred pounds of milk (See Fig. 1).

The Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) system goes back to the 1930s Ag Marketing Law.  In 2000, changes were made to use end-product pricing formulas for four base commodities – Cheese (block and barrel Cheddar average), Butter, Nonfat dry milk (NDFM) and Dry Whey.

Today, these four commodities trade daily on the spot cash market at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), where less than 1% of volume, closer to 2% on butter, is sold. Since 2018, this 10-minute daily spot auction is done completely as an electronic auction.

The CME spot market sets the pace for actual sales reported weekly to USDA by around 100 processors. From these weekly-reported prices, a weighted average for each of the four commodities is calculated by USDA. The weighted averages are used in formulas that account for yield and deduct specific “make allowances” (See Table 1) to then calculate Class and Component prices.

But first, these weighted price averages for just the first two weeks of each month are plugged into a multi-step formula to determine an Advanced Skim Pricing Factor for Class III (cheese/whey) and Class IV (butter, NFDM). The adjusted butter price is also used to calculate the Advanced Butterfat Pricing Factor.

Effective May 2019 — as a result of a change agreed to by National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association and then passed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill — the 2-week Class III and IV Advanced Skim Pricing Factors are averaged together, plus 74 cents to calculate the Base Skim Price.

Prior to May 2019, the Base Skim Price was simply the “higher of” either the Class III or the Class IV Advanced Skim Pricing Factor.

(Author’s Note #1: The previous ‘higher of’ method was the way the FMMOs could make sure Class I always brought the highest price to fulfill the purpose of the Federal Orders – assuring fresh milk supplies – and to keep other handlers invested in pooling their milk. We can’t lose sight of the fact that the fluid milk sales (Class I) have no market transparency as to their value – at all. In some states there are loss-leader laws or minimum pricing provisions, but in most states, Class I fluid milk sales are treated as a base commodity by large retailers like Walmart and Kroger. They loss-lead the retail consumer price of fluid milk to extreme low levels, even as low as $1 per gallon, to win shoppers. They do this because supermarket data show fresh fluid milk is in over 94% of consumer shopping carts! Because it is treated as a loss-leader in some states, and regulated with minimum pricing in other states, it’s impossible to know the real market value of Class I fluid milk apart from the value of its components in making other products.)

Next, the Base Skim Price is multiplied by a yield factor of 0.965 and the Advanced Butterfat Pricing Factor is multiplied by a yield factor of 3.5 and then added together to become the Base Class I Price. This price, known as the Class I ‘mover,’ is announced before the 23rd of each month but is used in the following month.

The various location differentials throughout the 11 FMMOs are next added to this Base Class I Price.

Whew! Now back to those weekly-reported commodity prices, yield factors and make allowances… Announced around the 5th of the next month, the other class prices are a function of the component values based on average weekly prices for the four commodities for four weeks: Component Value = Yield x (Commodity Price – Make Allowance).

In Multiple Component Pricing FMMOs like the Northeast (FMMO 1) and Mideast (FMMO 33), a Statistical Uniform Price (SUP) is calculated from these Class and Component prices according to how the milk in the FMMO was utilized. The SUP is announced around the 11th of the next month before settlement checks are paid for the previous month’s milk.

(Author’s Note#2: Another wrinkle… did you know that an uptrending cheese and butter price can leave producers with a lower protein price? It happened in March 2021. Every end-product — butter, cheddar, nonfat dry milk and dry whey — was higher in March than February, and Class III, IV and II pricing were also higher, but the uptrending butterfat portion of the cheese price creates a ‘snubbing’ effect on the ability of protein to rise within the skim portion. Yes, it’s complicated, and the answer from USDA is a story of its own in the future.)

The FMMO SUPs are based on a 3.5% Butterfat test, but the FMMOs also report for information purposes a uniform price based on the average actual fat test. Your price will differ in your milk check based on your fat, protein, and other factors. In general, producing protein and butterfat above the statistical level nets a higher price, under normal conditions. Lately this has not held out because of negative PPDs.

What are PPDs? Along with the SUP, the FMMO calculates a Producer Price Differential (PPD). This shows how money remaining in the producer settlement fund is divided across the qualified hundredweights of milk, after all components are paid. Sometimes this is a negative number, meaning there was not enough money in the producer settlement fund to pay all of the actual component value after the location differentials on Class I were paid. A negative PPD represents spreading the shortfall across qualified milk in the pool. Severely negative PPDs represent unpaid component value.

The PPD is calculated by subtracting the Class III price from the average of all classes together: PPD = SUP – Class III. In the Northeast and Mideast FMMOs, this PPD has typically been a positive number but has been shrinking in recent years and has been negative for 13 of the past 23 months.

Negative PPDs happen for any or all of four main reasons:

1) When a rapid rise in commodity price(s) is not captured in the 2-week Advanced Pricing Factors.

2) When Class II and IV are far below Class III.

3) When Class I price falls below Class III because of the new averaging method when the spread between III and IV is greater than $1.48/cwt. Half of the months from May 2019 through December 2020 had a lower Class I Base price under the new method, representing a net loss of over $700 million on Class I pounds across all FMMOs. (See Table 2)

4) When handlers de-pool Class III milk because it is higher — to avoid paying into the pool.

Only Class I handlers are required to pool all of their milk. Other handlers can choose what non-Class I milk to pool or not pool based on what is financially advantageous. De-pooling is more likely when multiple months have negative PPDs because of wait times to re-qualify milk for the pool. Some FMMO pool-qualifying requirements are more stringent than others, and the rules have been loosening in recent years because handlers say they need more flexibility to meet fluctuating fluid milk needs.

Occasionally, when cooperatives or plants de-pool Class III milk, some will pass the higher value they withheld from the pool directly to their own producers. In most cases, however, this did not happen in 2020. Additionally, the severity of negative PPDs across FMMOs varied and this created a wide range of milk check pricing of $8 to $10 from top to bottom, when normally this range is $2 to $3, maybe $4. USDA relates that the value is still in the marketplace, so even when the PPD goes negative, some of that value is attributed to the All Milk price used in Dairy Margin Coverage margins because the value is in the market even if it is not in the “pool.”

In addition, for Pennsylvania dairy producers, all Class I milk from Pennsylvania farms that is bottled in Pennsylvania and sold in Pennsylvania stores receives the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) over-order premium, which currently stands at $1.00/cwt. Processors can reduce this obligation by selling and sourcing milk from in and out of state as well as other methods.

Cooperatives are producers under the Pennsylvania law, so they collectively receive this premium also, where applicable, and have the ability to disburse the premium to members as they see fit.

Every farm’s mailbox price is further affected by premiums, such as quality bonuses, and deductions, such as trucking cost and marketing fees, which all vary across cooperatives and milk buyers.

This ‘primer’ just scratches the surface of current milk pricing issues. A related topic affecting many producers since May 2019 is how the new Class I pricing method, and the negative PPDs and depooling that can result when Class III and IV are so divergent, affect the way price risk management tools work, creating additional losses in many cases.

(Author’s Note #3: This article has been updated since it was previously published in R&J Dairy Consulting’s customer newsletter.)

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Bipartisan Whole Milk bill introduced in U.S. Congress

U.S. House Ag Committee ranking member G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) is pictured here at a listening session in the summer of 2019. At that time, he mentioned the work of the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk as one of the best things happening in dairy. Last week, he reintroduced his bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2021, H.R. 1861.

Will third time be charm? Will Penna. and N.Y. consider state legislation?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (Pa.-15th) wasted no time reintroducing the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in the 117th congressional session. Although the official text of the bill introduced last Thursday, March 11 is not yet available, Thompson noted in February it would include a few structural improvements over the earlier versions.

Thompson is now the Republican Leader of the House Agriculture Committee, and he cosponsored the bipartisan whole milk bill, H.R. 1861 with Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19th), a Democrat.

Essentially, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act allows for unflavored and flavored whole milk to be offered in school cafeterias. This choice is currently prohibited under USDA rules of implementation from the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that Congress passed 11 years ago to tie school lunch and other USDA food nutrition services more closely to the low-fat and fat-free stipulations from decades of USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines. These DGAs continue to ignore the science about milkfat and saturated fat – especially where children are concerned.

“Milk provides nine essential nutrients as well as a great deal of long-term health benefits. Due to the baseless demonization of milk over the years, we’ve lost nearly an entire generation of milk drinkers, and these young people are missing out on the benefits of whole milk,” said Rep. Thompson in a statement last Friday.

“It is my hope the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will give children a wide variety of milk options and bolster milk consumption — a win-win for growing children and America’s dairy farmers,” Rep. Thompson stated.

Rep. Delgado added: “The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will help young people maintain a healthy diet while supporting our upstate dairy farmers and processors. I am proud to lead this bipartisan effort to provide more choices for healthy and nutritious milk in schools. This legislation is good for young people and good for our dairy producers in today’s tough farm economy.”

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk are hoping the third time is the charm for this legislation. Last month, they met virtually last month with Rep. Thompson, and last fall on school milk and other dairy policy concerns. Congressman Thompson has made the Whole Milk for Healthy Kid Act a high priority over the past four years during the past two legislative sessions. Some members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk have been working on the school milk issue for a decade or more, and on the issues surrounding the flawed DGAs for even longer. 

Arden Tewksbury of Progressive Agriculture Organization has been working on this issue for many years. In addition to dairy advocacy, the retired dairy farmer is also a decades-long school board director in northern Pennsylvania.

Rep. Thompson indicated last month that he would restructure the proposed legislation for reintroduction this session, with some tweaks that should make it more workable for school foodservice directors.

He explains that in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which amended nutrition standards in the School Lunch Program. Among the changes, the law mandated that school lunches and other government-supported feeding programs be tied directly to the DGAs. The USDA at that time promulgated rules requiring flavored milk to be offered only as fat-free, and that unflavored milk could only be fat-free or 1% low-fat milk. 

Schools are audited by USDA for dietary compliance, and their compliance record affects not just their school food reimbursements, but also the educational funds a district receives for federal mandates.

USDA, in 2017, allowed schools to offer 1% low-fat flavored milk. This was a small positive change after statistics showed schools served 232 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2014 to 2016, and school milk was among the most discarded items in school waste studies conducted by USDA and EPA in conjunction with other organizations.

In fact, a Pennsylvania school — working with the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — offered milk at all fat levels to middle and high school students in a 2019-20 school year trial. Their findings showed students chose whole milk 3 to 1 over 1% low-fat milk. During the trial, the school’s milk sales grew by 65% while the volume of discarded milk declined by 95%. This meant more students were choosing to drink milk, and far fewer students were discarding their milk and buying something else.

Tricia Adams, a member of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, sees firsthand the response of children and teens when offered whole milk. “When we have school and community tours at the farm, we offer whole milk. The children call it ‘the good milk!’” said Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County, Pa. “We thank Congressman Thompson for his tireless efforts on this issue. As dairy farmers, we work hard to produce high quality, wholesome, nutritious milk, and as parents, we want kids to be able to choose the milk they love so they get the benefits milk has to offer.”

Jackie Behr, of 97 Milk, also sees the support for whole milk through the organization’s social media platforms. “We know how good whole milk is, especially for children,” said Behr. “We see the support in emails, comments and messages from the public. The science shows the benefits of whole milk, and today, more families are choosing whole milk to drink at home. Children should have the right to choose whole milk at school.”

Whole milk choice in schools has been an important signature piece of legislation for Rep. Thompson because of the triple-impact he said he believes it will have on the health of children, the economics of dairy farming and the sustenance of rural communities.

The bill’s predecessor in the 2019-20 legislative session garnered 43 cosponsors in the House.

Starting anew in the 2021-22 congressional session, the bill will need to amass cosponsors in the coming months. A companion bill in the Senate would also be helpful because the school lunch rules come legislatively through the Committee on Education and Labor in the House and through the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs in the Senate.

What’s new this time is that the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat published a feature story Friday about the 2021 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and the School Nutrition Association made this the top story in their weekly newsletter to school foodservice director members this week. That’s good news.

Additional good news came with the official public support voiced by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). In a press statement released by Rep. Thompson’s office last Friday, March 12, leaders of both organizations commented.

“The recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans reaffirmed dairy’s central role in providing essential nutrients, including those of public health concern. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that 79% of 9-13-year-olds don’t meet the recommended intake for dairy,” stated NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern. “We commend Representatives Thompson and Delgado for introducing the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act. Whole milk provides a valuable way for children to obtain dairy’s nutritional benefits as part of a healthy eating pattern. This bill will help provide our children the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.”

On behalf of IDFA, CEO Michael Dykes DVM thanked the representatives for their leadership on this bill “to allow schools more flexibility in offering the wholesome milk varieties that children and teens enjoy at home. Expanding milk options in schools helps ensure students get the 11 essential nutrients daily that only milk provides, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and potassium,” Dykes said.

A petition organized and promoted by Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk — in direct support of the earlier versions of this legislation to ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ — garnered over 30,000 signatures in 2019-20 – over 24,000 electronically online as well as over 6,000 by mail through Farmshine.

In recent weeks, the online petition has picked up new life as it has been mentioned in hearings and informal conversations with state lawmakers — especially in Pennsylvania and New York — and has been mentioned recently by food, nutrition and agriculture advocates on social media.

The whole milk petition effort has also gathered over 5000 letters of support in addition to the 30,000-plus signatures in 2019-20. These letters and submitted comments, online and by mail, came from school boards, town boards, county commissioners, school nurses, doctors, dieticians, professors, veterinarians, teachers, coaches, athletes, school foodservice directors, parents, students, and citizens at large.

The entire bundle of signatures, comments and letters were previously digitized by the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk and uploaded at each public comment opportunity during the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process. Petition packets were also provided digitally and in hard copy to key members of Congress as well as the USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary in fall 2019 and spring 2020.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk plan to revitalize the petition as an effort to amass even more public support for whole milk choice in schools. Interestingly, this is a difficult undertaking given that the majority of Americans do not even realize — and sometimes disbelieve — that their children and grandchildren currently do not have a choice and are forced to consume fat-free or 1% low-fat milk as their only milk options because whole milk cannot even be offered ‘a la carte’.

During a New York State Senate Ag Committee hearing last month, agricultural law attorney and dairy producer Lorraine Lewandrowski asked New York State Senators to consider state-level legislation to make it legal to offer whole milk in schools as a starting point vs. federal jurisdiction. Her request was met with dumbfounded shock that this was even an issue, and some indication that it was worth taking a look at.

This week, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey — chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee — met with leaders in the Pennsylvania State Senate. He reports that state legislation to allow whole milk in schools was a top priority in that discussion.

In fact, Nelson Troutman, originator of the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales has urged states to get involved on this issue from the beginning.

“We can’t fix everything at the national level, we have to save Pennsylvania,” said Troutman, a Berks County, Pennsylvania dairy farmer.

The 97 Milk education effort that became a grassroots groundswell after Troutman painted his original round bale initially focused on Pennsylvania. However, the online and social media presence of 97milk.com and @97Milk on facebook since February 2019 has become nationwide, even global, in reach and participation.

For two years, Morrissey has garnered agribusiness support for various banners, yard signs and other tangible signs of support for whole milk in schools. Requests have come in from other states. The 97 Milk group also operates solely on donations and offers several options for showing support at their online store, where purchase requests come in from across the country as well. In addition, farm photos and ideas have come into 97 Milk from producers across the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West.

In much the same way, the 30,000-plus petition supporting the choice of whole milk in schools has had heavy participation in Pennsylvania and New York. However, signatures, comments and letters have been received at various levels from all 50 states. (A small portion of signatures even came from Canada, Australia, Mexico, England, Japan, India and the continent of Africa. Those, of course, had to be removed from the packets provided to USDA. However, it is telling that the simple concept of children being able to choose whole milk is a global concern.)

Likewise, Tewksbury with Progressive Agriculture Organization has long supported the right of children to choose whole milk at school. Several petition drives by Pro Ag have also amassed the tangible support of citizens, and those petitions were provided to USDA in previous years — delivered physically in boxes.

In February, Thompson stated that there are members of the House Ag Committee who want to elevate this issue of whole milk choice in schools. Thus, now is the time for organizations to come together and issue strong position statements supporting H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and for citizens to contact their elected representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress asking for their support of the House bill and in support of a champion to come forward with a companion bill in the Senate.

The ‘bring whole milk choice back to schools’ online petition still references the earlier H.R. 832 and S. 1810 bills, and will be updated when official links to the reintroduced bill text for H.R.1861 become available.

Stay tuned for updates, and for those who have not previously signed this petition, go to https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools 

Bernie Morrissey continues working with producers and agribusinesses to print and distribute these yard signs of support for Whole Milk as a school lunch choice. To read more about the sign efforts taking root across PA with calls coming in from other states… click here.