Dairy milk: The rest of the story on milk fat and fraud

Dairy milk consumption has two faces: nutrition and sustainability. Aside from a small percentage of healthy fat and more protein than the knock-offs, dairy milk is fresher than soy, almond, coconut, oat and other counterfeit ‘milks.’ In fact, it is so locally produced and bottled that it is also much better for the health of local economies and environment. Have you seen any almond, coconut or cashew trees on the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S.? As for oat beverage, most of the oats are harvested in Canada and processed in Asia. Here in the Northeast U.S., there are millions of acres of grasslands and croplands that provide habitat for wildlife, filter rainwater, hold soil in place, maintain open spaces, photosynthesize carbon from the air, keep something growing on the land year-round as cover crop and forage, and create jobs and economic stimulus that all begin with land being managed by dairy farmers. A dairy cow can eat grass, hay, whole corn plant silage, and other roughage grown on marginal lands. These forage crops are 50 to 70 percent of the dairy cow’s diet, and she will turn them into nutrients we can use in the form of nutrient-dense milk and dairy products we love. How cool is that?

By Sherry Bunting

We read about and see the growing number of choices in the dairy aisle that make a simple trip to the store for milk, one that can be quite confusing. There’s the thing about fat (all those different percentages) and the thing about fraud (all those plant, nut, and bean drink products calling themselves ‘milk.’)

First, the different “percentage milks” we know as skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole milk. The latter is confusing, is it 100 percent milk? Do some people think it is 100% fat?

Well, all dairy milk is 100 percent milk, no mater what the fat percentage… But, No: Whole milk is not 100 percent fat. It is not even 10 percent fat. It is standardized to 3.25 percent fat, and if you drank it straight from the cow it would be anywhere from 3 to 5 percent fat depending on breed of cow, time of year, and type of roughage fed.

And then there is protein. Did you know dairy milk provides a little over 8 grams of protein per 8 oz. serving? It packs quite a bit more protein-punch than almond ‘milk’ at a little over 1 gram of protein per 8 oz. serving.

Made like coffee, the crushed almonds are filtered with water. In fact, an 8 oz. serving of almond milk may be more like eating an almond and drinking a glass of water with sugar and thickeners added and a handful of other ingredients.

A common almondmilk brand label lists these ingredients the first being almondmilk defined as almond-filtered water: Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamine E Acetate, Zinc Gloconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2.

A typical dairy milk label lists these ingredients: Milk, Vitamin D3. Pretty simple to see that the calcium and vitamins on the milk label are already in the milk and that zero sugar is added and zero thickeners.

The freshness of REAL dairy milk can’t be beat going from farm to table in 24 to 48 hours. It comes naturally from the cow providing the natural proteins and calcium and small amounts of healthy fat that our bodies readily absorb and utilize.

In fact, the carb-to-protein ratio of chocolate milk is now shown to be one of the best sports-recovery drinks on the market today. Yes, plain ‘ole chocolate milk. Maybe if farmers call it by another name, consumers will take notice to what has been in front of them all along.

Still, for many consumers, the perception persists that whole milk is a high-fat beverage, when in reality it is practically 97 percent fat free!

At the bottling plant, milk is pasteurized and standardized. Cream is skimmed to package whole milk at 3.25 precent fat. The skimmed cream—along with additional cream skimmed to bottle the 1% and 2% and non-fat milks—is then used to make other products like butter, ice cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and dips.

The “standard of identity” for yogurt states it also contain a minimum of 3.25% fat—just like whole milk.

Even ice cream is not 100 percent fat. The FDA standard of identity is that it contain a minimum of 10 percent fat. Some of the richer, higher-end ice creams contain up to 14 percent fat. But along with that fat, comes some nutritional benefits. These are not empty calories.

Butter is high in fat because it is, after all, a fat. Even it ranges 82 to 84 percent fat. A tablespoon of butter in the pan or on your veggies is a smaller quantity serving than an 8 oz. glass of milk; so even though the fat content is much more concentrated at a higher percentage, no one sits down and eats a cup of butter (2 sticks)!

Furthermore, we have learned that the saturated fat in milk and meat are not bad for us and that when part of a healthy integrated diet may actually provide heart healthy ‘good’ cholesterol.

The fears ingrained over 50 years of low-fat dogma are being abandoned as a nutritional experiment that has failed miserably, even though the federal government continues to hang on to the failed lowfat experiment in the recent 202-25 Dietary Guidelines.

What a growing number of scientists have found is that we need not have blamed whole milk, butter—or beef for that matter—all of these years. In fact, the recent rise in obesity and diabetes is linked more to overconsumption of carbohydrates that have filled the energy-void after we collectively sucked healthy fat out of our diets.

Saturated fats are not the enemy, the “new” science shows. However, the science is really not new. Long-time observers, investigative reporters, and scientists note that the very science supporting the health benefits of saturated fats found in milk and meat has been around for decades, but was ignored — even buried.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer demand for butter has been expanding, and worldwide demand for U.S.-produced ice cream and yogurt has grown as well. Dairy foods and snacks that offer an energy boost with a healthy protein-to-energy ratio—such as yogurt, whole milk, and even ice cream—will be particularly in demand in nations where busy, on-the-go consumers look for reviving options.

Healthy, natural fat and protein from milk and meat keep food cravings at bay to prevent binge-eating on empty-carb snacks. Enjoyed as part of a healthy integrated diet, dairy products—even ice cream—are satisfying, nutrient-dense, carb-moderating foods that can even be the dieter’s best friend.

Go real, go natural. There’s no reason to fear real milk, dairy and beef products from cattle. Contrary to what the activists say and contrary to government ‘guidelines’ that refused again to consider all the science, nutrient-dense full-fat dairy foods and meat are good for us, and yes, good for the planet.

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Electronic trading brings anonymity. Understand how CME dairy spot markets function

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, February 9, 2018

CHICAGO, Ill. — The CME dairy spot markets have been evolving since arriving in Chicago after a tumultuous past on the Green Bay Cheese Exchange, writes Ronald K. O’Brien, II, a dairy market risk specialist and geostrategist. He is director of global derivatives for Interfood, multidimensional global dairy risk managers using physical and financial global dairy markets to offset internal sales and inventory risk.

CME(RonOBrien).jpgRecently, Farmshine interviewed O’Brien to better understand from a trader’s perspective how the dairy spot markets function since the transition from live floor trading to electronic trading in the second half of 2017. We also gained insights on some differences between the global and domestic trading platforms.

This conversation matters because the daily price at which those 15 minutes of CME trading close — whether bid, offer or trade — helps set pricing for the weekly USDA National Dairy Product Sales Report for cheese, whey, butter and nonfat dry milk (NFDM), which in turn sets the monthly commodity prices that are plugged into the Federal Order formulas that form the basis for how dairy farmers get paid for their milk.

O’Brien points out that markets are based on the “who” and the “what.” That’s as much true about CME dairy spot markets as it is about cattle auctions. People want to know, in the moment, where the auction is going in price, but also who is buying and who is selling, to infer a sense of market demand and resistance at those positions.

“Fundamentally, we have the same participants on the dairy spot markets, and it is still like coming to an auction,” says O’Brien of how bids, offers and trades occur on the electronic platform today, just like when it was live on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). “The difference, now, is the anonymity. This requires you to participate if you want to know what is going on. This brings a little more interest to those 15 minutes of spot trading.”

The anonymity also creates a situation where the largest market leaders know more because they know the buyer or seller once a trade is completed; whereas before, others outside of that transaction could observe and speculate based on which brokers were trading.

O’Brien observes that when the CME dairy spot markets traded live on the floor, analysts would not precisely know who was buying and selling; however, they knew the brokers and who they typically bid or cleared for.

CME(lastOpenOutcryDAIRY)For example, in past years, the largest physical producers and end users in the United States would regularly use the same clearing broker for their spot transactions, resulting in the majority of market participants acting on this inferred knowledge in real time. A single bid or offer from certain brokers would set distinct levels of support and resistance, and this was coveted as the most prolific dairy information of the day.

The electronic platform “made this all disappear,” says O’Brien. “Spot traders know who is trading when a transaction is complete, at the end of the auction, if they are involved in that transaction, but they have no clue about who else was involved during the session.”

Thus, he says, “it is now more difficult to sense how strong the support is or how heavy the resistance because (with electronic trading) you don’t know if the buyer in a session was the largest end user, or your grandmother taking a position.”

In fact, anyone with eligible product in a warehouse, a CME auction account and a funded futures account can sell on the CME dairy spot market.

This is different from the Global Dairy Trade (GDT), which is run by Fonterra of New Zealand. In the GDT biweekly internet auction, not just anyone can bring product to that exchange. “They have to be vetted and approved to offer product on the GDT, and selling is limited to processors,” O’Brien notes.

For this reason, the CME is more of a “natural and price transparent marketplace,” he explains.

He calculated the trade volume for the 12 months leading up to the change from floor trading to electronic trading, noting that 38,000 tons of 40-lb blocks and barrels were traded on the CME during the second half of 2016 and first half of 2017.

Trade volume on 40-lb Cheddar blocks has increased 16% and on barrels 38%. O’Brien points out that the amount is still relatively small considering that the U.S. produces 5.5 million tons of cheese annually, which is essentially priced off the CME session trades, bids or offers.

“We were trading 7/10ths of one percent of total cheese production on the CME spot market,” says O’Brien. Since the change to electronic trading, this has increased slightly to just shy of 1%.

The volume of CME spot butter trades, on the other hand, has increased 138%, while NFDM has been flat.

With more trades, one can argue that the CME spot markets have become a better price discovery mechanism via electronic trading, particularly for butter. For the 12 months prior to going electronic, the CME traded 1.44% of the total U.S. butter production, compared with trading 3.7% of total production in the past six months since going electronic.

“That is a dramatic jump in the price discovery for butter,” says O’Brien.

The CME spot market for cheese has some product specification differences from butter and powder. “It is a fresh cheese market,” O’Brien points out. “Sellers cannot bring product older than 30 days to the CME, so we can have 400 million pounds of cheddar in inventory, but if there are no sellers of fresh cheese, and if buyers have a need for fresh cheese, we get these massive short-squeezes.”

He notes that the CME could price fresh cheese at $1.60/lb on the spot market, but cheese that is 31 days old or older could be trading through normal distribution channels at discounts as great as 20 cents per pound.

In that sense, the CME gives dairy farmers hope — when they see Cheddar up 10 to 20 cents on the CME spot market — but then the rally erodes in real time as the “short-squeeze” on fresh product passes, and the CME spot market falls.

This volatility is often seen from week to week, and cheesemakers can get caught when their input cost for milk does not align with their output sales of cheese that is older than 30 days.

On NFDM, the product age window is 6 months, and for butter it is one year, making those spot markets more reflective of supply and demand in terms of stored product realities.

“We could have a better marketplace (for cheese), but at the moment, these are the boundaries that participants are forced to operate within, regardless of the increased volatility that results from them…volatility greases the track and gets things moving,” observes O’Brien.

His experience with dairy market risk over the past two decades gives him insights into many sectors of the dairy industry. He suggests that dairy farmers need to be aware of their options and be realistic about their cost of production.

“Everyone is in same boat (in terms of market risk), but for dairymen, it is different because they are mostly price takers, while physical trading houses and other market participants that have risk management departments can be price makers,” he says. “Physical traders incur risk when they can manage it, and if they cannot, they immediately offset it or avoid it altogether, whereas dairy producers make milk and work hard and do some things about risk on their inputs but neglect fixing the price of milk outputs.”

O’Brien notes that with the farm milk price based almost completely off the CME spot markets, this is also affected by delays. The CME spot market can be going up while the USDA weekly National Dairy Product Sales Report can be going down in the same window of time. Meanwhile, the CME spot dairy markets, especially on cheese, remain a “market of last resort” with limited participants on the processing side.

While there is increased activity of end-users coming to the spot market directly to buy — especially for butter — the spot market is mainly selling more product with the same participants. There are still a limited number of butter sellers — traders fulfilling contracts and a handful of processors that make butter.

The large processors and cooperatives focus on allocating the bulk of their sales for the year and make inventory based on those allocations. Global dairy traders, on the other hand, have ever-changing risk profiles, which forces them to buy, sell and arbitrage to survive.

“We don’t operate under the luxury of make allowances,” says O’Brien of the role of market participants such as themselves.

Meanwhile, market dynamics are changing in the cheese industry where cheese plants are being built as much for the cheese as for the whey stream valorization. This creates a supply of Cheddar barrels that can build up and are seldom exported.

U.S. processors continue to produce yellow Cheddar blocks and barrels, but few globally have the equipment to break down the barrels, so they are not exported. The industry makes what it wants — what milk is priced from — but is that reflective of the market?

There are certainly inefficiencies in the current commodity market pricing systems that underpin the Federal Order milk pricing. Can a case be built to improve this?

Could inclusion of more indexes built off more pricing points (products) bring better market transparency?

Meanwhile, the four basic commodities from CME to Federal Order set the allocation pricing barometer for dairy processing as well as both the spot milk and milk futures markets.

Looking overseas, O’Brien suggests that the countries of the EU “would love what we have in the ability to lock in a milk price for up to two years (via a mechanism like the CME futures markets). For the most part, farmers in Europe are paid on what milk-derived sales their co-op or processor can attain. Their pay price does not float with the market. But farmers in Europe have the intervention program — similar to the former dairy product price support program the U.S. eliminated in the 2014 farm bill,” O’Brien relates.

Volatility in the marketplace provides opportunities to manage risk, but it is easier said than done. For example, there must be access to funds to hold positions (through the margin calls when the market goes against their positions).

On the processing side, says O’Brien, “Deferred positions of just 5 months can move against you as much as 70% for products such as NFDM or Cheese and as much as 100% for butter.”

As for dairy farmers, he observes that there were opportunities during late 2008 to lock in $20 Class 3 milk prices during 2009.

“But most dairy farmers didn’t do this. A super majority operate without safeguards, eternally optimistic. Dairy production is not a pastime, and survivability is not certain,” he suggests. “The future is managing risk. The multinational companies do it, and traders do it. Successful farmers will have to do it also.”

Ron O’Brien can be followed @rko2milk on twitter and at milkfutures.com

Check out the final open outcry live CME dairy spot market auction from June 2017 here

 

 

check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si2vVdOQemo&t=35s