Buy back and give? Sell cheap and dump? You decide.

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Cheese was loaded recently for Hunger Task Force, based in Wisconsin and part of the Feeding America network. Changes in USDA feeding programs are making Food Banks a more vital food access point for the poor. Farmers rise to the occasion when it comes to feeding the hungry. Dairy Pricing Association seeks to work continually with farmer funds to see that paying forward helps give back as times are very tough today on dairy farms across America. Facebook Photo: Dairy Pricing Association

Commentary, by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 19, 2017

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Buy back and give? Or sell cheap and dump?That is the question.

“Just imagine what we could accomplish if there was a groundswell of farmers coming on board to fund this process to clear excess milk and dairy products and help others in need at the same time,” notes Amos Zimmerman of Dairy Pricing Association, Inc.

Zimmerman lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and works with farmers here and in the Midwest on behalf of Dairy Pricing Association. He and others involved are excited about the organization’s track record and the new projects that are starting up that are funded by voluntary assessments. Dairy farmers sign up because they believe in the power of helping to clear the overloaded milk system of excess while helping people in need as the ultimate form of promotion.

Founded initially in Taylor, Wisconsin, the farmer-funded organization operates nationwide to help balance dairy plants across the country.

Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) does not disrupt the flow of milk. Instead, DPA uses the funds contributed by dairy producers to buy dairy products for donation to feeding programs in a way that has begun making a difference and has the potential to do even more.

Disappearance positively affects price, according to DPA literature. However, this is not milk ‘dumping,’ this is dairy giving. DPA’s activity in the marketplace is one that values the hard work of the dairy farmers while recognizing the pain and suffering caused by hunger in the world. DPA purchases dairy commodities and donates them for humanitarian purposes, for a two-fold benefit.

These and other donations show the heart of this dairy industry we are all proud to be a part of. Though it has been around for more than a decade, DPA is a lesser-known entity that is out there buying and donating milk and dairy products, not just at the holidays, but consistently throughout the year.

Buying excess dairy for donation is something Dairy Pricing Association has been expanding upon since its inception gathered steam in 2009 when a call to action by founder Robin Berg of Wisconsin led to a more systematic method. Farmers designate voluntary milk check assessments by signing up. Now others can also donate through a joint effort between Dairy Pricing Association and Hunger Task Force.

Tom Olson, DPA vice chair, tells of this history: “After the second meeting we could see that no one in the industry was going to help get this started. We were going to have to start this at someone’s kitchen table.”

With private donations for startup costs, Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. was born.

Today, their work is supported by dairy farmers who sign up to pay a voluntary assessment for the expressed purpose of buying excess milk and dairy products and channeling it to feeding programs that are the only option for poor consumers. The base of operations has expanded from the Upper Midwest into California and the Northeast as more farmers in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Indiana have come on board to provide the necessary funding.

Dairy Pricing employee Amos Zimmerman of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is excited about the organization’s track record and the new projects that are starting up. In a phone interview with Zimmerman, Farmshine learned that dairy farmers can tailor the amount and purpose of their voluntary assessment to participate in this double-goal: To help clear the overloaded milk system of excess and help those in need as the ultimate form of promotion.

Every three months for the past two years, Dairy Pricing has been buying block cheese for donation to feeding programs. “We have gotten into a routine and the industry is starting to predict our purchases,” said Zimmerman. “We are changing things up and working on new projects for next year to start in January.”

One new project Dairy Pricing is working on is to satisfy the desire of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to have cheese donations coming every month of the year, not just at certain intervals, with the Food Bank paying half and DPA paying half.

“Central Penn Food Bank came to us to talk about a monthly arrangement,” Zimmerman said. With this in mind, Dairy Pricing is looking at a plan with Pennsylvania milk, processed in Maryland, but then cut to consumer package size by a Pennsylvania firm. DPA would purchase the cheese and Central Penn Food Bank would pay wholesale price for half of it, delivered in retail-size, pantry-ready.

Back on the bulk cheese purchases in the Midwest, recent loads of block Cheddar include one in October at 41,592 pounds, purchased by Dairy Pricing for donation to the Houston Food Bank for their needs after Hurricane Harvey.

The first load of blocks were purchased in 2016, when 30,588 pounds were bought at $1.65/lb for the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee. That was followed by a $1.90/lb purchase of 41,604 pounds in December 2016 for Hunger Task Force and 41,860 pounds at $1.65 in April 2017 for Hunger Task Force. In July 2017, 39,662 pounds were purchased at $1.61 for Ruby’s Pantry in North Branch, Minnesota, followed by the October purchase of 41,592 pounds at $1.84/lb for the Houston Food Bank of Houston, Texas.

Dairy Pricing will be trying to do both the bulk purchases in the Midwest and the new programs in the Northeast and Midatlantic region, with the money available through dairy farmers’ voluntary assessments, according to Zimmerman.

Similar milk balancing through cheesemakers for feeding programs has also been happening in the Midwest, including recent milk to cheese through Lynn Dairies to The Community Table in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Another new startup project is coming about through inquiries by dairy farmers wanting to be involved in dairy donations through Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ephrata, Pa.

“They only handle powder because it goes overseas,” said Zimmerman. People who want to be involved in that project can sign up for a voluntary 15-cent/cwt assessment.

The powder project will be 100% whole milk powder to a host of oversees destinations where hunger is prevalent.

“Whatever we buy or donate, it has to be the whole milk product, not just the skim,” says Zimmerman, who spends his days on the road talking to farmers and attending meetings. He does a conference call with farmers every Monday night, attracting 100 to 150 people, and he serves as the boots-on-the-ground contact person for Dairy Pricing here — covering the whole East Coast and spending time in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Wisconsin.

He also works with farmers and farm groups on the side to help them with local processing start ups and other marketing solutions. He has been involved in the dairy industry his whole life, working as a herdsman for dairy farms since he was 18 and known for his curiosity in always looking for information about how the dairy industry works with a keen interest in the processing side.

“I’ve always had an interest in it, and since the marketing system is going the way that it is, people are having to find different routes to their consumers,” said Zimmerman, adding that “local consumers come to us all the time wondering how to support local farmers.”

This has become a difficult direct line within an increasingly national and global marketplace. Processing investments are the tough part of this task.

.“I can’t stress enough how important it is for dairy farmers to be informed to make better decisions,” Zimmerman says.

Since Dairy Pricing Association expanded to the east with its producer voluntary assessments, the very first milk donation was to New York for hurricane victims in 2012. When surplus milk is available over holidays, Dairy Pricing pulls gallons for donation, including donations last year to feeding programs in Washington D.C.

“None of what we do is to get the credit for doing it,” said Zimmerman. “We are doing this because it needs to be done.”

In fact, a bit more credit for doing this work could help get more of it done. As farmers learn more about what DPA is doing, more voluntary milk check assessments could accomplish an even greater impact.

Zimmerman noted that since Dairy Pricing balances the bottling of White Gold Milk and Chocolate Gold here in the East at California standards, this is the brand they typically pull from the wholesale supply for donations of fluid beverage milk. This utilizes both fresh fluid milk and powder to arrive at the higher solids content of the milk, including a 3.5% fat profile for whole milk instead of the minimum standard of 3.25%.

“What we can accomplish hinges on signups,” said Zimmerman. “The more we get the word out, the more interest we see. In 2014, we could hardly talk to farmers, prices were good. But that’s when we should be jumping on board to fix things before they get bad again.”

A ubiquitous figure in local dairy circles, Zimmerman gets calls every day from farmers in trouble thinking of selling their cows. “This problem is deeper than the milk prices,” he says. “It is the whole structure that is at risk that could destroy the infrastructure, even in Lancaster County.”

The typical voluntary assessment signup is 10 cents/cwt. But can be as little as 5 cents/cwt or as high as 30 cents. To specifically participate in the whole milk powder donations through Christian Aid overseas, a 15 cent/cwt level is required. (See form at the end of this story).

“It is all a donation, and farmers can cancel at any time,” Zimmerman explains, stressing that this assessment cannot be used to replace the 15-cent promotion checkoff nor the 4-cent CWT deductions taken off milk checks by member cooperatives.

In addition, others can also donate through a joint effort with Hunger Task Force. (See form at the end of this story).

DPA notes at their website that when milk is in great supply, many loads are sold at up to $3 per cwt below the Class III price. “When this happens, this cheap milk goes into storage as cheese or powder and starts to pile up,” according to DPA. “We need to have a fund to buy at these times to keep the system from being overloaded.”

Through Food for the Poor and Christian Aid, exporting to 17 countries overseas, the need is great for all the whole milk powder that can be supplied and as well for domestic use through Feeding America for soup kitchens and feeding the homeless here in the U.S.

The point is for the dairy product to go to people who could not get it any other way except through donation, not to take a sale away from a store. It is estimated that for every semi-trailer load of whole milk powder exported or used in domestic soup kitchens, eight tanker loads of milk are removed from the overloaded system.

Because the program is voluntary, producers can follow the progress of what DPA is doing, and can continue their contributions or cancel at any time.

Whether it is tens of thousands of gallons of milk or tens of thousands of pounds of cheese, DPA has steadily increased its benevolent presence from coast to coast as more farmers sign up to be involved.

Who are DPA members? They are dairy farmers from coast to coast shipping their milk via nearly every cooperative and direct milk plants. These dairy farms span the milk marketing and handling system across the U.S.

According to the DPA website, farmers funding Dairy Pricing Association with their voluntary assessments include shippers to Agri-Mark Inc. in New England; Associated Milk Producers in Minnesota, Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa., Cloverland Farms Dairy in Baltimore, Md., Cooperative Milk Producers in Blackstone, Va., Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods, Farm First Coop in Wisconsin, Galliker’s Dairy in Johnstown, Pa., Grassland Dairy Products in Wisconsin, Guggisberg Cheese in Ohio, Horizon Organic based in Colorado, King’s Kreamery in Lancaster, Pa., LaGranders Hillside Dairy in Wisconsin, Lancaster Organic Farmers Cooperative and LANCO-Pennland, both based in Hagerstown, Md., Land O’Lakes, Lynn Dairy in Wisconsin, Maryland-Virginia in  Reston, Va., Mount Joy Coop, Mt. Joy, Pa., Nasonville Dairy in Wisconsin, National Farmers Organization headquartered in Ames, Iowa, Organic Valley, Prairie Farms based in Illinois, Smith Foods in Ohio, Westby Cooperative in Wisconsin, and former DMS shippers in New York and Pennsylvania.

 

Current dairy prices are not sustainable for the future survival of dairy farms and the rural communities and businesses that rely on them. At the same time, we read about the concerns of food insecure Americans as well as staggering numbers of war refugees and victims of disasters and famine throughout the world.

If our industry builds a storehouse of dairy goods that end up pressuring farm milk prices lower, and if growing numbers of people here and abroad are unable to access dairy nutrition without assistance, what better way to meet the needs of both than to voluntarily, consistently and strategically provide this assistance?

When the storehouse of goods is channeled to the needy through farmer-funded purchases in a way that helps to balance the market, America’s farm prices can improve and the food-security of our nation in the future can be assured.

The government and the industry do not have a plan that adequately addresses either of these concerns. This is why DPA exists as a way for farmers to help themselves by helping each other and helping those less fortunate at the same time.

Dairy Pricing Association is not funded by the government, nor is it funded by processors or marketers. Participation in DPA funding cannot be used to replace the 15-cent federally mandated promotion checkoff or the 4-cent CWT assessment. Nor can it  replace new deductions showing up on milk checks in the current marketing environment.

However, DPA attracts new farmers every day because the mission is funded by dairy farmers who believe that sitting back and doing nothing but complain is not an option. They want to take the future by the horns and move forward.

Through membership donations in the form of 5-cent to 15-cent per hundredweight (some even give 30 cents/cwt), farmers are joining together through DPA to strengthen the organization’s ability to place orders for finished dairy products from processing plants and once the order(s) are filled, donating the product for humanitarian purposes.

The possibilities of this concept are only limited by the funding available, and that means dairy farmers, themselves, can make the difference. Unlike the marketing and balancing fees that are being increased on dairy farm milk checks, the Dairy Pricing Association assessment is completely voluntary, simple, direct, farmer-run and built from the ground up to help dairy farmers help themselves, help each other and help children and families who know real hunger throughout America and the world.

The question is: Do farmers want to gain strength by joining together voluntarily to buy back their own excess for giving to people less fortunate?

Or do they want to continue to allow the system to do the incomplete job it has been doing – bound by its Federal Order rules that allow dumping but not giving, and costing farmers ever-higher deductions from their milk checks to “balance” the excess through below-class sales that create market-depressing inventory or by dumping milk down the drain at a cost to the farmers?

Hats off to the givers. May their vision and efforts continue to multiply.

To learn more about Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. and to acquire forms for milk check pledges, call Tom Olson at 715.284.9852 or 715.299.1332 or Amos Zimmerman at 717.872.1464  or email dpainc@ceas.coop. Visit DPA online at visit dairypricing.org and follow on Facebook @dairypricing. Ask about national producer conference calls.

To learn more about Christian Aid Ministries, the vehicle for a new farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. project of whole milk powder donations for hunger assistance worldwide, visit christianaidministries.org and dairypricing.org

Find out more about what they are doing, and then decide if your farm can help make a positive two-fold impact on markets and hunger. See below the forms for farmer milk check deductions and for non-farmer donations.

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Tribute to the legendary Snickerdoodle (1998-2017)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, October 13, 2017

She remains my favorite dairy cow of all time, and I was honored to write her tribute in the Farmshine.

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SARASOTA, Fla. — Legendary Brown Swiss Old Mill E Snickerdoodle died peacefully just shy of 19 on Monday, October 2 — the eve of the 51st World Dairy Expo, where she is the only cow in history, of any breed, to win her breed championship six times. Snickerdoodle was also once supreme and twice reserve supreme in Madison.

In 2013, she stopped milking at over 14 years of age, with an impressive lifetime production of 261,000M 12,665F 9,895P having milked 3,629 days! That was the year she won the dry cow class with a huge show of respect from colleagues and spectators at the 2013 World Dairy Expo at nearly 15. And she produced her last few embryos in her final flush at over 16 years of age in 2015. Her lifetime total exceeds 400 regular embryos and 60 IVF.

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Of all her winnings on the colored shavings of Madison, most memorable for owner Allen Bassler was the 2013 Expo, where she competed as a dry cow to the applause
of the coliseum crowd.

aSnickerdoodle6411(Sherry)“She didn’t have an udder, she was there as a dry cow, and it was obvious that her work was complete,” Allen recalls. “The respect that she received that day was more than I realized, and it represented every year of building she had to get to that moment. Now her legacy lives on in her next generations.”

One of her A.I. sons, Supreme, was 2013 premier sire of the Expo’s Brown Swiss Show, and the sire of the grand champion Brown Swiss bred and owned by Wayne Sliker of Top Acres at this year’s show on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Last classified EX-94 — the max for Brown Swiss of her time, which has since been increased — Snickerdoodle had a 97 point mammary. Two of the three EX-95 Brown Swiss in the U.S. today are daughters of her son Supreme.

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Snickerdoodle’s legacy extends well beyond her bannered trail and notable 8 times unanimous All-American status. She has over 100 offspring in the U.S. and additional offspring in at least 12 countries across the globe, including around 22 Excellent daughters in the U.S. today and 8 in Switzerland, that Allen knows of.

In Switzerland, alone, Snickerdoodle had 15 registered sons and 16 registered daughters as of 2015. They love her there. Allen is moved by the tributes from around the world to Snickerdoodle’s facebook page since her passing, and particularly the comments from people citing her as the reason they started in Swiss.

Uniquely a very strong cow, what Snickerdoodle has been famous for is her predictability.

aSnickerdoodle-SwissChamp2008“Her sons transmit her udder qualities,” Allen notes. “Supreme and Snic Pack are making the udders and strength that is Snickerdoodle. What was special about her is that she would respond to anything you challenged her with. There was always a character of strength about her, never timid or weak.

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In 2015, Snickerdoodle retired to Florida when Allen took the job as cheesemaker at Dakin Dairy near Sarasota. She survived Hurricane Irma a month ago, but when Bassler returned from judging shows in Brazil, he saw that his girl was reaching her “time.”

“She was in a pasture with weaned calves and loved that,” he said, noting she was slower to get up in recent weeks.

“Sunday and Monday, Tammy and I just prayed,” he said. “She passed peacefully on her own Monday night and is buried on the farm with a headstone under four oak
trees.”

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‘Dairy Carrie’ is on her way to the PA Farm Show

The Farm Show opens tomorrow and it’s snowing. If you live in PA, you don’t need the weathermen to tell you that! Below is a story in Friday’s Farmshine and at this writing, “Dairy Carrie” is dodging canceled flights to get here!

By Sherry Bunting, Special for Farmshine

HARRISBURG, Pa. — While not precisely a red carpet, the “Meet Dairy Carrie” signs are ready for posting as the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Penn Ag Industries are putting Wisconsin dairywoman and internationally known agvocate and blogger Carrie Mess (a.k.a. Dairy Carrie) in the limelight during the first few days of the Pennsylvania Farm Show kicking off Friday, Jan. 3 in Harrisburg.

She will have a full itinerary here this weekend at one of the nation’s largest intersections for farm-to-city communication. Not only will she be hosting the “Mommy Bloggers” tour of the Today’s Agriculture exhibit, she will also spend time at PFB’s booth from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 4 and 5.DairyCarrie6947web

“I’m really excited to meet the people and see how they interact with the real-life animal housing that is part of the Today’s Agriculture exhibit,” said Mess. “I remember seeing a story about it a few years ago, and I thought it was the neatest idea.”

She also loves rodeos and hopes to catch some of the High School rodeo action while she’s here.

Mess started blogging two years ago when she organized a hay drive from Wisconsin to drought-stricken Oklahoma.

Today, her “Adventures of Dairy Carrie” blog has 11,020 followers — many of them relying on her direct communications for their understanding of agriculture. She’s not afraid to tackle the tough issues and is known for a quick wit and tell-it-like-it-is style. In addition to the blog, thousands more keep up with her “very dairy life” via facebook and twitter.

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The rapid popularity of Dairy Carrie still amazes her husband Patrick. “It’s a little unbelievable the scope of people her blog reaches — and how quickly — and the good that has come out of it,” he said during my visit last August to Mesa Dairy near Milford, Wisconsin, where Carrie and Patrick are partners with his parents Clem and Cathy Mess — milking 100 cows, growing crops, and raising heifers on a rented farm nearby. Both generations have cattle in the herd comprised mainly of Holsteins and Holstein x Jersey x Normande crosses.

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While her posts address tough farm issues, she also uses social media to agvocate with other bloggers via AgChat. Her posts also tackle broader issues like the Panera Bread “EZ Chicken” campaign last summer. And she gives her followers a taste for the lighter side with recipes, “welcome to the world” photos of new calves on the the farm, and posts that simply extol the virtues of cheese.

Her post, which was a letter to Panera Bread, challenging them on their “EZ Chicken” campaign for its thoughtless portrayal of conventional farmers as “lazy” for using antibiotics when needed, became a movement that resulted in action by the company to remove portions of the campaign last summer.

More recently, her blog and video entitled “Sometimes we are mean to our cows” brought in her largest audience to-date with 370,000 views and untold hundreds of thousand more after The Guardian picked it up on their news feed.

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That blog post was a realistic demonstration of the situations farmers face when being what appears to be “mean” is in the cow’s best interest to save her life.

“I am going to let you in on a secret, PETA and Mercy For Animals have shown you some truth in their undercover videos on dairy farms. The truth is sometimes as a dairy farmer I am mean to my cows,” she wrote. “I think it’s time we talk about “down” cows.”

And thus began her post that explained dealing with a down cow in the same matter-of-fact manner as an earlier post about what do cows eat.

Carrie dealt with the issue straight on, answering questions in an elementary fashion: What is a down cow? What causes a cow to go down? How do you get a down cow up?

She explained that “cows are big animals.”

She enlightened: “A down cow is a dead cow.”

She blurted out the simple truth: “When asking and gentle encouragement doesn’t work, I make myself scary to a cow. I yell and holler. I act aggressive. I smack harder. When that doesn’t work I know that things are going really bad and I have to try harder to get her up. The next step is for me to use the cattle prod.”

She ends with the heartfelt truth: “I love my cows and that means sometimes I have to be mean to them.”

Carrie’s blogging goes well beyond the periodic post… with so many followers following up with questions and comments, she devotes the time to answer the many questions that follow.

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“It can be draining,” she confesses. In addition, she works flexible hours “off the farm” and does all of the vet care and pre-vet work with the family’s Mesa Dairy herd.

That’s a tall order for a gal whose farm exposure growing up was horses and donkeys and the FFA. But Carrie is a fast learner.

How did she learn so much in the six years married to Patrick and the farm?

“I figure things out,” she says, and as her grin widened, she confessed: “I annoy our vets with lots of questions.”

That attitude sums up her blog: always asking questions and finding the answers to them — with the kind of zest that draws in the non-farm folk to gain a truer understanding and better appreciation of dairy and agriculture today.

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PHOTOS: These photos of Carrie Mess (aka ‘Dairy Carrie’) were taken last summer at Mesa Dairy in southern Wisconsin, where she and husband Patrick love pretty much everything about dairy farming. Carrie blogs about her “very dairy life” to over 11,000 followers at her blogsite “Adventures of Dairy Carrie” at http://www.dairycarrie.com. She will host the “Mommy Bloggers” tour of the Today’s Agriculture exhibit Friday and spend time at the PA Farm Bureau booth this weekend at the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg.  Photos by Sherry Bunting

View more photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.669018806443872.1073741853.500073020005119&type=1