What’s up with the $350 mil. in PMVAP payments to dairy farms announced last August?

Just some of the criteria for PMVAP are listed on this slide. There is no generally-applied formula per-cow or per-cwt for how producers will receive these USDA program funds via their handlers or cooperatives. The PMVAP payments are milk handler-specific. Criteria were explained in a USDA webinar and during a recent Center for Dairy Excellence industry call.

Producer payments will vary by handler eligibility, specific Federal Order data, how producers were paid during the covered time period, and are delayed to Q1 2022. Only those handlers and cooperatives that pooled any portion of their milk on a Federal Milk Marketing Order at any point during the July-Dec. 2020 time period are eligible.

By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dairy farmers are wondering about the PMVAP payments. They were expecting to see roughly $350 million in Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program funds disbursed by USDA through eligible milk handlers by the end of 2021.

According to Erin Taylor at USDA AMS Dairy Programs, those payments will be delayed until the end of January or into February or even March because of the unique and complicated handler-specific internal clearing process being used.

During a recent Center for Dairy Excellence dairy industry call, Taylor said USDA has been working diligently with eligible handlers and cooperatives since the program was announced on August 19, 2021.

It is a complex process of USDA AMS dairy program staff meeting with milk handlers and cooperatives that pooled any milk on any Federal Milk Marketing Order at any point from July through December 2020 to formulate specific payment agreements on an individual handler basis that include the calculated lump sum to the handler and specify how the producers affiliated with that handler are to be paid.

“We have started sending out these agreements and expect to get them all out to handlers for signing and returning by early January,” said Taylor. “Once approved, we will distribute payment dollars to those handlers. Then, they have 30 days to disburse the funds to their eligible producers.”

In short, she said, USDA is striving to get the money sent to handlers in early 2022. Later this spring, she said, USDA will audit handlers to verify these payments were made correctly, in full, to their producers.

It is important to know that not all handlers and cooperatives are eligible to participate, not all eligible handlers will choose to participate, and therefore, not all producers will receive PMVAP payments.

Who is eligible for PMVAP payments?

Only those milk handlers and cooperatives that participated in a Federal Order system during some or all of the July through December 2020 time period are eligible, according to Taylor.

Eligible handlers must also obtain from each producer the verification of meeting the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limits USDA has for its farm programs.

“You should have been contacted by your handler by now, if you are eligible, because they need to verify that you meet the AGI requirements,” said Taylor, noting that any producer who has not been contacted by their handler but thinks they are eligible for PMVAP can contact their handler and directly ask if they are participating.

“If that doesn’t work, or if you would rather ask USDA, then email pmvap@usda.gov or call 202.384.3417. Tell us who your handler is, and we can look it up,” she added. These email and phone contacts can also be used by producers who have other questions about the PMVAP.

During the Center for Dairy Excellence call, producers asked if there was a formula for how they can expect to be paid per cow or per hundredweight. Taylor explained there is no general formula for many reasons.

First, she said, there are requirements in this program that will be met differently by different handlers according to their Federal Milk Marketing Order data.

Also, payments to producers are limited to payment of 80% of losses on up to 5 million pounds of production and only on milk that was pooled or in cases of non-pooled producers who were paid by their handlers based on the pooled volume – together with the pooled producers.

“Each factor is different for every handler,” said Taylor. “We are working with handlers to ensure the milk pounds to be paid on and the methodology for payment are correct according to the program.”

She said doing it this way was deemed “the easiest way to do it through handlers that have this payment relationship with (dairy farmers), to get the money out quickly and with USDA oversight.”

In short, these are targeted payments based on Federal Order pooling fund losses as reflected by a much lower Class I base price under the new average-plus formula compared with the old ‘higher of’ formula for the July through December 2020 time period.

“A lot of these factors differ by handler in terms of how producers were paid in aggregate,” she said. “In the FMMOs, handlers don’t have to pool all of their milk. Some don’t pool any, and those that didn’t pool any milk are not eligible.”

For other handlers, the payments are based on the pooled portion, but if they paid all their producers the same way (pooled and non-pooled), then their payments to their producers will be done in the same way over all the milk in aggregate, not just the pooled milk.

“Otherwise, it would be the luck of the draw because a producer is not the one who decides on what milk is pooled and what milk is not pooled,” Taylor explained. “We compute the payment rate (for each handler) in a way that ensures fairness and equity in how the payments are distributed (based on how the producers were originally paid) for those months.”

Taylor said each eligible handler will have received workbooks pre-done by USDA with their approved data for covered milk pounds and the payment methodology so they can simply do the calculations and distribute the payments to their producers accordingly.

FMMO staff will audit and verify with handlers after these payments are made, according to Taylor.

The eligible and participating milk handlers will be reimbursed to administer these payments, which includes providing an educational component for their producers. These funds do not come out of the producer payments but are calculated separately.

She noted that handlers do not receive their administration reimbursement until after USDA verifies producers have been paid in full and the educational component is met.

When asked what percentage of U.S. milk production will be covered by PMVAP payments, Taylor said it depends on the percentage of handlers pooling milk and choosing to participate in the PMVAP. Normally, she said, about 70% of U.S. milk production is pooled on Federal Orders, but in 2020 this percentage was lower (due to massive de-pooling of milk in many Federal Orders in the face of severely negative PPDs).

Producers also asked if there is any chance that a Class III producer that was not paid that higher Class III price during the July-Dec 2020 period may be able to receive PMVAP payments.

“This program pays on pooled milk and depending on if the handler pooled any milk at all will determine if that handler’s producers get a payment,” Taylor replied. “Those that didn’t pool any milk during those months are not eligible under the current program rules.”

While these PMVAP payments are meant to assist against the losses influenced by pandemic volatility in 2020 exacerbating issues with the Class I formula change, the payments will be received by producers in 2022, and it will be considered earned income for that tax year, according to Taylor. Handlers will be sending 2022 Form 1099 Misc. Income statements to producers receiving these payments.

The educational component of the PMVAP requires handlers to outline their plans and to verify they have met them. USDA AMS has provided links at the special website with educational resources on an array of federal dairy policy topics that meet the requirement. Handlers can also choose to use other resources to provide education on one or more areas that include dairy markets, risk management, how FMMOs work, how marketwide pooling works, Dairy Margin Coverage and other topics via a variety of methods, including in-person meetings, webinars, newsletters, emails distributions and mailers.

USDA has a special website devoted to the PMVAP program that includes explanations, webinars, resources and contacts at https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/pandemic-market-volatility-assistance-program

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Ag Secretary says ‘Dairy will change’, economist digs into how, why

Using a graphic pulled from the September 10, 2021 edition of Farmshine in which a follow up story ran about Danone dropping 89 organic dairy farms from its Horizon brand — all of its Horizon farms in the Northeast — Bozic explained that the ‘social mission’ of cooperatives is to market all of their members’ milk. He said the “primary function of the future” for the Federal Milk Marketing Orders — as an extension of the cooperatives — is to ensure market access for dairy farms. “Market Orders are there to ensure orderly consolidation at a humane pace,” he declared.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 24, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. – ‘Turning the page’ was the theme for the annual Financial and Risk Management Conference where key takeaways about a changing dairy industry were presented.

The conference was hosted by the Center for Dairy Excellence Sept. 21 in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding summarized his own thoughts: “I am still very positive about dairy, but dairy will change. It is changing,” he said.

The Center’s risk management educator Zach Myers set the stage for attending lenders, vendors, producers and industry talking about Dairy Margin Coverage and Dairy Revenue Protection and how these programs have worked (more on that in a separate article.)

Digging into the stress — the ‘change’ — was Marin Bozic, University of Minnesota associate professor of applied economics and dairy foods marketing, who also serves as facilitator for the Midwest Dairy Growth Alliance. He dug right into how and why, discussing some of the Federal Milk Marketing Order complexities, industry trends and pricing relationships. He made the case that more flexibility, competition and innovation are needed in the Federal Orders for a “level playing field” so winners and losers can “self-select.”

Bringing up the 89 organic producers Danone will drop from Horizon next year, Bozic said it is an example that, “One new farm in Indiana replaced 89 or 90 farms in the Northeast, and they can do that. There is nothing illegal about it. They could say they have a fiduciary responsibility to stakeholders and are minding their bottom line, but none of that helps you if 90 producers get dumped in a year.”

He pointed out the “social mission” of the cooperatives is to leave no member behind, so remaining an independent producer carries more risk today than in the past.

Bozic connected the dots to say the “primary function of the future for Federal Milk Marketing Orders — as an extension of the milk cooperatives — is to ensure market access for dairy producers.

“Market orders are there to ensure orderly consolidation at a humane pace,” he declared.

That’s a change from the central promise of the FMMOs today, which Bozic described earlier as “broken.”

“To navigate our businesses over the next year and longer,” said Bozic, “we have to count the passes and see the gorilla” — a nod to the visual exercise he had the audience participate in.

Bozic mentioned a few gorillas in milk. Gorillas in the FMMOs, in risk management, in dairy markets and in the macroeconomic situation – what else is going on in the world.

He showed graphs of what Producer Price Differentials (PPDs) looked like for the Northeast in 2020, the $4 and $5 negatives that represented cash flow bleeding, equity bleeding.

While the futures show the view out to the horizon over the next 6, 12, 15 months that would suggest there won’t be a repeat of that carnage, Bozic cited some of these risks, or gorillas, in the market and in world events that could represent shocks that can make the whole thing “go haywire again.”

Observing that the FMMOs are not the same today as when they were designed many decades ago, Bozic stepped conference attendees through the various long- and short-term impacts that reduce PPD, such as declining Class I utilization compared with increasing Class IV utilization and production.

“Orders were designed around the assumption that there would be plenty of fluid milk usage (as a percentage of total production), and we can just take it and designate it to be the highest and use those funds to make everyone whole,” said Bozic.

“The central promise of the FMMOs is that if your milk is as good as your neighbor’s, you get paid the same, so one farmer does not bid against another for market access and a good price,” he asserted. “That promise is now getting broken, not as much here, the East Coast FMMOs still have Class I.”

The next effect in the Northeast is the rise of protein tests. This impact comes through two channels where higher protein reduces PPD, the economist explained.

“Envision FMMOs as all processors paying into the pool and then taking from the pool. First they pay to the pool with classified pricing based on their respective milk solids. Class I pays on pounds of skim milk as volume, not on protein pounds,” he explained. “Even if sales are the same and the only thing that changes is protein, those (Class I) processors would pay the same amount (on skim) into the pool and take more money out (on protein) so there is less money remaining and a lower PPD.”

The second way higher protein production affects PPD is when the value of protein is lower in the powder than it is in the cheese. The butter/powder plant pays to the pool on nonfat solids price but takes money from the pool on protein price, “so that spread between the value of protein in cheese and powder also leaves less money for PPD,” said Bozic.

He explained the Class III price as an index of butterfat, protein and solids, in a straight formula that equals the class price. “When Class III price is higher than Class IV price, the predicted PPD for the Northeast Order declines,” said Bozic. “It’s almost linear.”

Conversely, when IV is above III, PPD goes up. “This has to do with paying the pool based on protein and nonfat solids, but when handlers take money out of the pool for components, everyone takes protein price leaving less money in the pool for PPD.

Bozic explained the demand shock to this system when the Food Box program “focused on smaller packages of cheese to put in every box. They didn’t take bulk powder and butter. So we went from a record low cheese price on the CME to a record high and no one expected this.”

The pull of 5% of the cheese supply for immediate delivery had everyone scrambling, said Bozic.

The amount of spare cheese available was not as high a volume as the government wanted to buy so cheese went from being long to short, and the price skyrocketed. This translated to an historically higher gap between Class III and IV prices as wide as $10 apart.

So why not just send more milk to make cheese? Bozic maintains that Class IV processing is accustomed to “balancing” fluid milk seasonality so there is extra capacity in that system.

Not so with Class III because those plants already run at capacity. “That’s the only way processors of commodity cheese make margin is to run at capacity, so when the demand shock came, and spare product was used up, there was no spare capacity and the price went higher. That was the main driver of negative PPD in 2020,” said Bozic.

Will it happen again? Bozic doesn’t foresee Food box programs with the same intensity in the future, but, “yes, it can happen, but I would say you need to have a pandemic in an election year. Don’t count on a program like this.”

The industry did ask USDA back in the 2008-09 recession to buy consumer packaged cheese instead of bulk commodities, so it could move instead of being stored to overhang the market later. That wasn’t working either.

“Now we understand that this other method disturbs PPDs so the dairy industry is united behind a more balanced approach,” said Bozic, describing the next iteration of purchases through the Dairy Donation Program will not be as aggressive in moving the markets by three orders of magnitude.”

Bozic said quick rallies and crashes impact PPDs also because of advance pricing on Class I based on the first two weeks of the prior month and announced pricing for the other classes at the end of the month.

Bozic explained why the change in Class I pricing was made: “The dairy industry wants to attract new distributors like Starbucks and McDonalds that are used to hedging their input costs. They don’t want to change prices every month. They want it to be what it is for a year, so the industry wants stable, predictable milk price costs to win favor with new distribution channels by making it easier for them to hedge.”

He said the new average plus 74 cents was designed to be revenue neutral. Looking forward, when Classes III and IV have less than $1.48/cwt spread, PPD under the new system is higher than under the old. But the most it can be higher is by 74 cents on Class I, which translates to 20 cents on the blend price.

The best case scenario is to add 20 cents to the blend price, but when Classes III and IV are far apart “the PPD can go haywire. Bottom line, the upside benefit of the averaging method with 74-cent adjuster is limited but the downside risk is big,” said Bozic.

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.