DMI details decent dairy conditions on all fronts during industry, media calls

Exports up, Retail up, Food banks up, Inventories stable, Foodservice down but recovering, Future unknown

By Sherry Bunting, May 22, 2020

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CHICAGO, Ill. – How do dairy industry leaders view the status of dairy sales, marketing and promotion and what insights will they share? A few themes emerged from phone conferences with media and producers.

First, it appears that not only is Dairy Management Inc (DMI) working to move product to “hunger” systems, including schools, food banks and charitable organizations, they are also working to reassure consumers — both domestically and overseas — that the U.S. is producing a reliable supply of milk and dairy products, despite the news of so much milk dumping.

After six to eight weeks of supply chain disruptions, milk dumping news, sparse dairy case shelves and/or purchase limits, DMI says national, state and local teams have worked to get stores to remove limits, keep shelves stocked and assure domestic consumers and export buyers that the milk will keep coming.

The news from dairy checkoff leaders is pretty decent on how dairy looks on many of its marketing and inventory fronts. Exports are up. Retail sales are up. Food bank usage and government purchases are up. Inventories are stable. And the previously plunging foodservice sector is recovering.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers received April settlement milk checks in the $10 to $12 range, many with COVID-19 deductions as high as 87 cents/cwt. Some report milk checks netting a single-digit price for April milk. And for direct shippers to Dean Foods, zero checks or deposits were received in mid-May for April milk.

Top dairy leadership talked Tuesday on a media conference call as well as Monday on a producer ‘open mic’ call about some of the dairy market statistics and insight, and how DMI is “pivoting” during the Coronavirus pandemic to “get more dairy in the hands of consumers.”

On the research front — “We need to maintain the things we have to maintain and alter the things we can alter,” said DMI CEO Tom Gallagher in the May 19 media call. One example he emphasized is “DMI’s commitment to publishing milkfat research to keep that front and center.”

On the “open mic’ call with producers the day before, Gallagher said dairy checkoff has been involved in either funding or publishing 59 studies related to milkfat since 2002. He said that the Dietary Guidelines won’t change until there is a “preponderance” of evidence – a “mountain” that is so large — large enough to overcome 40 years of anti-fat dietary advice.

In looking at the list, most are studies related to full-fat cheeses and the role or impact of dairy consumption, no matter the fat content, on various health indicators. Some are studies of milkfat composition, beyond the saturated fat portion, and a handful of the 59 studies pertained to fluid milk of all fat percentages (more on this in a future edition of Farmshine).

On the foodservice front — Sharing data provided to DMI by Inmar Insights, Gallagher said that the foodservice losses can now be measured by transactions but not by dollars or volume, yet.

At the lowest point in the pandemic, the number of sales transactions in the quick serve restaurants (QSR) was down 42% below year ago, but now these transactions are down 20% from year ago.

For full-service restaurants, transactions were down 80% at the height of the pandemic, and now they are 60% below year ago as more full-service restaurants adopt curbside and contactless meal options.

“At the height of the pandemic, 70% of consumers said they would avoid eating outside the home. That percentage is now 50%, and we believe it will reduce over time,” said Gallagher.

Various fresh dairy products

On the retail sales front — Gallagher shared that fluid milk sales pre-COVID were trending 5% below year ago. “But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, fluid milk sales jumped 34% higher, and now, in the past month or so, fluid milk sales are averaging 10% above year ago,” he said.

Looking at products that surround a milk choice, Gallagher noted that cereal sales have been declining 1 to 3% per year pre-COVID. But in the first two weeks of the pandemic, cereal sales jumped 78% and are now averaging 17% above year ago.

He said milk used on cereal has historically accounted for 3% of all fluid milk sales, so the rise in cereal sales is at least a partial factor in the increased fluid milk sales, according to Gallagher.

Looking ahead, Gallagher noted that DMI expects to receive “deep analysis” this week about “why people buy what they bought” both in the first two weeks of so-called “panic buying” and for the four to six weeks after as conditions stabilized.

“There is a lot of conjecture and a lot of opinions out there,” said Gallagher, “But we can’t be in the business of taking our opinion of nutritional or comfort reasons, we really have to understand what was the motivation.”

Gallagher noted that the total all-beverage sector saw very large increases in sales post-COVID, and that the alternative dairy beverage category showed very high percentage increases but are still a very small percentage of volume.

“On an incremental basis, (non-dairy alternative beverage) increases are nowhere near what the increase was for fluid milk sales,” he said.

Another retail category DMI highlighted was frozen pizza sales. “Historically, frozen pizza sales were flat, pre-COVID,” said Gallagher, adding that in the first two weeks of the pandemic, frozen pizza sales jumped 120% over year ago, with sales over the past month averaging 39% higher than year ago.

“That’s just as important to us as cereal sales,” said Gallagher.

Looking ahead, he noted that the “deep analysis” of why consumers buy what they bought will be used as a benchmark and monitored periodically for changes.

“Ultimately, what happens to sales will not be determined by some great ad or some smart thing that one group does, it will be determined by what is the behavior of consumers after this pandemic,” he explained. “We know going into this pandemic, we have moved from consumers spending 90% of their food dollars in the home in the 1950s and 60s to over 50% spent outside the home. Now, those at-home dollars are way up.

“At the end of this, what will their behavior be? Will they eat more at home? Will they keep eating cereal? Or will they go back to breakfast on the go? Will they still do more baking?” Gallagher wondered aloud.

“The idea that we can just educate and the problem will be solved, it wouldn’t,” said Gallagher. “If you look at the competition up and down the grocery aisle, there are two aisles with no dairy in them in the nutrient-rich niche market for on-the-go (shelf-stable). That could have been dairy, but now it’s not, and we have to play catchup.”

He said consumers “eating at home can be a hope that would be huge for the white gallon, but if we think the white gallon is the innovation of the future, it’s not.”

While Gallagher acknowledged that these current retail buying trends during COVID-19 bode well for fluid milk and butter, and DMI can market toward that once they understand why, he also countered these trends, observing that, “If consumers go back to where they were, then we are back to the same opportunities and issues that were always there. The reality will likely be somewhere between those two extremes.”

Gallagher pointed out that many people believe consumers are responding to messages about dairy nutrition, and that it might seem to be a good idea to “market to nutrition, but it’s not that simple,” he said. “What we do for dairy farmers has to be based on the reality of the data.”

In other words, DMI will market to the why’s behind the sales data once they receive the next layers of  “deep analysis” – to continue a promotion direction of following consumers with partner ‘innovations’ instead of leading them with an emphasis on product information.

On the export front — “The numbers look better than we anticipated for the first quarter of 2020 despite the virus, and we hope this will continue for the year,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

Specifically, Vilsack reported that the U.S. exported 109,000 more metric tons of dairy products in the first three months of 2020 as compared with a year ago, and these exports were worth $528 million more than exports a year ago.

He expects to see a decline in exports into the summer with a rebound later in the year.

He said USDEC is “using aggressive social media in all export markets for U.S. cheese and dairy ingredients to make sure buyers know milk is still being produced here.”

According to Vilsack, export buyers are diversifying their purchases and spreading supply risk, “so some of that market share is coming our way from diversification,” he said. “Our price-competitiveness is good at the moment, and this is something we watch, so our ‘Next 5%’ plan for growth continues even in this much-changed landscape.”

USDEC is marketing with Costco in China and Southeast Asia, including significant advertising about American-made cheeses. In the Middle East, recipes using cheese are being included in grocery bags and hung on doorknobs, said Vilsack. Culinary efforts are also being geared to encourage the next generation of overseas chefs to use American cheeses.

On the inventory front — Vilsack noted that USDEC sent a “warning shot” letter to the European Union and other to be sure any dairy intervention does not lead to a stockpile of powder or dairy products like the EU accumulated in 2015, which had led to three of the past five years of dismal global milk prices.

In a producer call the day before, Gallagher’s guest Jim Mulhern from National Milk Producers Federation described U.S. dairy commodity inventories as “not that bad.”

Mulhern said some dairy product stocks were building at the start of the pandemic, but mostly inventories are “not really burdensome right now. We are not in bad shape (inventory-wise). That’s one reason barrels moved is stocks are not that large right now,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we focused on the need to have USDA buy products now and get them into commerce through feeding programs and into food banks right away. The need is there, and we have the product,” said Mulhern. “We don’t want to go back to holding product in storage and selling it on the market later.”

On the food bank front — Vilsack confirmed that there is a 70% increase in overall food demand by the food bank system, and Gallagher added that fluid milk is still the most requested item.

“Food banks get most of their food from retail, and this is a challenge at a time when the retail sector is challenged by this higher demand,” said Vilsack, who in addition to being CEO of the dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council, sits on the board for the Feeding America national food bank system.

Vilsack noted there is a significant demand for volunteers and for equipment such as refrigeration to handle these higher volumes of food being supplied to serve the expanded need brought on by around 30 million newly unemployed workers during the COVID-19 economic shut down.

National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien talked about the “emergency action team” that was assembled after foodservice and restaurant trade began to shut down with business restrictions.

“We shifted our focus,” said O’Brien, noting that DMI partner Kroger, with its 16 milk plants, got involved in moving “hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk into the hunger system.

“We also worked with other processors on fluid milk, cottage cheese and turning 40-pound blocks into smaller packages, and we worked with processors to solve infrastructure challenges around refrigeration, to get coolers and refrigerated trucks placed at pantries,” O’Brien said, explaining that their teams are looking at the supply chain issues in four quadrants: schools, hunger, foodservice, and retail and then “working with farmers, processors and cooperatives to redistribute product.”

For school feeding, some of the regional checkoffs developed free emergency menu resources, donated thousands of coolers at alternative school feeding sites, worked with school nutrition personnel and USDA to help translate the rules – to understand the waivers that allow bulk or gallon containers for multiple meal service.

On the schools front –  Also on the media call was Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. She talked about the COVID-19 School Fund that was launched on March 30 two weeks into the closure of schools and non-life-sustaining businesses.

The purpose of the fund, which has raised $5.5 million to-date, is to provide grants and resources to help schools package, distribute and deliver meals in the grab and go model. Glick said they have received $33 million in requests so far as 12,000 school buildings, to-date, have applied for individual $3000-grants for equipment needed for such distribution.

“So far, $5.5 million in cash and equipment has been awarded to support over 6000 schools, said Glick. She estimates that these 6000 are collectively delivering 50 million meals per week (two meals per day).

“We are aiming to approve 250 to 500 grants per week by prioritizing schools that are serving the highest number of meals with the highest numbers of (USDA) free- and reduced lunch eligibility,” she said.

Glick noted that “alongside dairy farmers,” support for the COVID-19 School Fund has come from financial institutions, Domino’s, PepsiCo, National Football League, United Healthcare and a recent partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation as well as private donations from chefs, athletes and celebrities.

“We are working with our health and wellness partners, our partners at USDA, the School Nutrition Association, celebrities and media entities to get the word out and draw awareness. Just because the school year ends, doesn’t mean the end for hungry kids,” said Glick.

GENYOUth’s technology partner SAP has developed a “resource locator” called SAP for Kids to connect families to school meal resources in their zipcodes.

Glick also said school meals will convert soon to summer feeding sites and then in the fall, meals at schools will likely change based on CDC recommendations for eating in classrooms instead of cafeterias. “Schools will need our help to buy equipment that they will need for that,” she said.

Moving and messaging — As mentioned in the Farmshine article last week, O’Brien again touted the “deep relationships” dairy farmers have with ‘some of the biggest foodservice partners.” saying those partners “extend what we can do to immediately drive incremental cheese volume.”

An example she gave is an extra two ounces of cheese on pizzas and new national ads to be run by Papa Johns and Pizza Hut now through the end of August about more cheese. She also highlighted Domino’s new concept launching carside delivery full-tilt in July, saying this will move “more cheese.”

Meanwhile, said O’Brien, the “Undeniably Dairy” messaging is focused on “building trust and bringing joy by reassuring people that dairy farmers and the dairy community are essential and working tirelessly to ensure a safe and consistent supply.”

They are also repurposing content to provide virtual farm tours for parents and teachers to access for at-home curriculum and promoting recipes.

“Consumers are still interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said O’Brien. So, these “tell your story” and “sustainability” themes the checkoff has been focusing on pre-COVID will continue, but are changed a bit to conform to stay-at-home communication venues.

Among the planned media segments leading up to June Dairy Month are the one Monday, May 18 on Fox and Friends featuring Maryland dairy farmer Katie Dotterer-Pyle and the 30-second video produced with footage from several dairy farms that will be shown 20 times in the following weeks and will be picked up by other stations through online “streaming.”

She also said that the MilkPEP television commercial that was running about dairy farmers, haulers, bottlers, and store employees has now been “co-branded” with a large Undeniably Dairy logo, it reinforces the essential care of the entire dairy supply chain.

O’Brien hinted at a surprise promotion to happen May 21 in partnership with a major pizza chain on late-night-TV — a ‘pizza party’ celebrating 2020 graduates as their traditional graduation ceremonies have been suspended by COVID-19.

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USDA steps up dairy purchases; $437 mil. in new buys

Borden gets nearly half the ‘food box’ dairy total, most of the fluid milk buy

Farmers to Families Food Box

By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – USDA announced on May 8 it has awarded $317 million in dairy purchases as part of the new “Food Box” program. These purchases are separate from the flurry of new bid invitations that also appeared on the USDA AMS food procurement website Friday to fulfill the separate ramping up of $120 million in dairy purchases for “normal” distribution in July under “normal” USDA feeding channels.

Friday’s contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program covered a total of $1.2 billion in first-batch purchases. In addition to the $317 million for dairy products, of which roughly half is for fluid milk purchases and half for dairy product boxes, the awards include $258 million in meat product purchases, $461 in fresh fruit and vegetable purchases and $175 million to vendors supplying “combination boxes.”

This first award announcement uses over one-third of the $3 billion set on April 17 by Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue for food box purchases as part of the overall $19.2 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

In this unique program, USDA is partnering with national, regional and local suppliers — whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses.

The approved suppliers will package products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need from May 15 through June 30, 2020.

The biggest winner across the board was Borden Dairy Co. with a total government contract of $147 million — all of it designated as fluid milk purchases — with $99 million for the Southeast region, $40.6 million Southwest and $7.3 million Midwest. This represents nearly half of the total $317 million in dairy purchases announced Friday as part of the food box program, and it constitutes the lion’s share of the fluid milk purchases awarded.

Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative based in Illinois was awarded the next largest dairy contract in the food box program at $27.3 million, with 90% of this for the Midwest region and 10% for multi-region distribution outside of the Midwest. The majority (80%) of the contract is identified as dairy products boxes and 20% for fluid milk purchases.

In The Northeast and Midatlantic regions: Schneider Dairy, Pittsburgh, Pa. was third highest dairy purchase award at $4.27 million, of which $4 million is for fluid milk purchases and the balance for dairy product boxes. Turner Dairy Farms, Penn Hills, Pa. was awarded $315,450 to supply dairy product boxes. Marburger Farm Dairy, Evans City, Pa. was awarded $78,000, with roughly 70% in fluid milk purchases and 30% in dairy product boxes. And HP Hood, Lynnfield, Mass. was awarded $11,000 in fluid milk purchases.

In addition, an array of wholesalers, foodservice distributors, aggregators, missions, common markets, farm-to-table organizations etc., were awarded contracts that included dairy product boxes, and to a lesser degree, fluid milk purchases.

For example, Philadelphia’s Common Market was awarded $5.76 million for use in the Midatlantic and Southeast regions, with almost $1 million of this earmarked for dairy product boxes in the Midatlantic region.

In using the balance of the $3 billion in CFAP food box funds, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reports it may simply extend these contracts using “option” periods instead of the bid-solicitation process that is used for its other food purchases — depending upon the program’s success in this first go-round.

In addition to the “Farmer to Families Food Box” purchases Sec. Perdue announced a new and additional $470 million in “Section 32” food purchases for delivery to normal USDA feeding programs beginning in July – including $120 million in new spending for dairy products.

These supplemental Section 32 purchases use the normal USDA AMS bid procurement process with solicitations opening in the coming weeks for June approval.

“America’s farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the Coronavirus. USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most,” said Secretary Perdue in the announcement.

USDA AMS Section 32 purchases of domestically produced and processed agricultural products are ongoing, and USDA anticipates spending a total of $4.89 billion this fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins in July, and USDA says fourth quarter purchases will be determined by industry requests, market analysis and food bank needs.

Additional information on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, including webinars and an FAQs, is available on the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box.

Details on how vendors can participate in Section 32 food and dairy purchases are available at https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food

Dairy product specifications and quantities for bid solicitations are shown as they are announced at this website: https://www.ams.usda.gov/open-purchase-request/Dairy_Products%2C_Grades_&_Procurement_of

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Monitor, document, reassess, reach out

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On the financial side of handling the plummeting prices and disruptions to what was previously expected to be a better year for dairy, Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech, talked about the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact and how to manage it during a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call last week.

“What is different about this is that it hit everyone in the world and how sudden it was. It created demand destruction, and it has affected consumer behavior.”

Kohl said 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumption, and 40% of that consumption economy is tied to airlines, hotels, restaurants, recreation and the sports world. “Now that 70% of the U.S. economy has been knocked down to 30%,” he said. “We are not going to just flip that switch.”

He sees the “consumption economy” coming back to just 75% of its prior strength in the restaurant, hospitality and foodservice sectors, “because people are changing their behavior.

“We also export a lot of dairy, but we will see a move from globalization to ‘selective’ globalization,” said Kohl. “This black swan will turn into an angry bird with agriculture as the point dog for extreme volatility.”

Dr.Kohl(headshot)

Dr. David Kohl

Kohl stressed three entities need to work together: producers, government, and agribusinesses/lenders. “Lenders will have to think about interest-only and principle deferments because producers will need good sound financials to get through this.”

Kohl said it is too early to tell what effect COVID-19 will truly have on exports. “The value of the dollar vs. other currencies is still strong. The economic health of countries we export to is important, watch for how the middle class is doing in those countries.”

Overall, Kohl sees the economic recovery being more of a Nike-shaped swoosh than a v-shaped bounce-back. As recovery takes shape, the foodservice and export demand will come back but not in a big way, he said, and not immediately.

He gave this advice as a financial expert, ag economist and part owner of a creamery:

  • Monitor cash-flow month-to-month and compare actual to projected to see where you stand.
  • Document losses so we can send a message about them to congressional delegations about what we need.
  • Meet with lender and accountant and go over the financials.
  • Communicate, be flexible and adapt.
  • Be real careful of knee-jerk reactions — that goes for farmers, lenders, and the government.
  • Follow protocols for the virus and know what your protocols are.
  • Never equate self-worth to net-worth.
  • Keep re-assessing your goals.
  • Reach out. Remember, you are not in this alone.

Kohl also sees opportunities for the future. “I have been outspoken on this. There is too much consolidation and concentration in our industry — whether it is dairy or beef,” said Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus as a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call guest last Thursday, April 23.

“We have to look at our supply chains and the vulnerability of them, the vulnerability of having too much power in the control of two few in the food and agriculture industry.

“America was built on small business and entrepreneurship. Even as small processors, we can go bankrupt very quickly, but this is where we also have great opportunity in the future,” Kohl suggested.

Participating on industry teleconferences and webinars over the past few weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Kohl has voiced his observations about how COVID-19 is changing consumer behavior and exposing food supply-chain vulnerabilities.

Some of his insights offer a systemic reality-check, but also present some forward-looking opportunities.

“We had a run-up in demand the first couple weeks of this thing. In general, it is still stronger, but we are also seeing people want local, and they want transparency,” Kohl reported. “People want to know where it comes from, how it is processed and to know the producer.”

He described the supply chain disruptions in dairy over the past several weeks as being attributed to large processing entities built on serving restaurants, universities, schools and other institutional foodservice, and catering to a segment of the international market – bulk products or tiny table sample products — not retail family-sized.

On the other side of that spectrum… “We are feeling this movement back to local, and it’s getting stronger,” said Kohl, adding that creamery home-delivery, for example, is taking off. “People want delivery.”

The other thing Kohl sees in consumer behavior is a return to “emotional food,” something some would call “comfort food.”

Consumers are not only following the science and realizing the healthfulness of dairy fat, they are gravitating toward natural, local and emotional food that brings comfort. Dairy can fit that mode very well if the consolidated supply chain can loosen the grip, open up, and welcome opportunities for local and regional models of processing and marketing.

Kohl said he sees it in the big trends and at the creamery — demand is growing for products like whole milk and ice cream — emotional comfort food.

Various fresh dairy products

— By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 1, 2020

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From USDA to checkoff, no one in farmer’s corner

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 17, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa.– From the fortress of the USDA to the ivory towers of the dietary command to the branches of the checkoff government-speech machine and the centralized, globalized food system ‘partners’ in between — No one is in the farmer’s corner. Not even the people paid by the farmers to be in their corner.

This much is crystal clear by now in the collapsing markets and stark realities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The curtains have been opened.

And the usual players do what they do.

They pat themselves on the back, converse about their insights from within their echo-chamber, and lecture those who would dare call attention to the sight before us or deviate from the script.

Over the last week, dairy checkoff newsletters have bragged about what they are doing for dairy demand amid the deepening crisis; how DMI is “adjusting to move more dairy.”

Yep, the bulk butter and bulk cheese and bulk powder plants in growth areas are moving more dairy — right into the already bursting at the seams cold storage inventory warehouses.

Few if any reports from states with these large plants indicate any milk dumping whatsoever.

Butter inventories were already 25% higher than year ago heading into the COVID-19 pandemic and cheese inventory was already growing too.

Reports indicate such fully functioning cheese and whey or powder plants are running full tilt, while a shopper has to store-hop through three or more establishments to find a package of butter, walk into Walmart and see rows of empty cheese racks, try to walk out of a Walmart or Sam’s Club with two gallons of milk and be forced to give one back.

Other supermarkets aren’t much better, except for the smaller family-owned markets. Pictures and texts continue to pour in, while our leaders assure us that the purchasing limits are really lifted.

Go to Kroger’s website (a DMI partner) and see their explanation of why they’ve raised the price of milk. It’s because there is a shortage, they say, while farms all around them are forced to dump milk. Just six weeks ago, a Kroger executive I spoke with said, ‘no we can’t raise the price of milk — it was $1.25/gal pre-COVID (not in PA of course but elsewhere).

I was making the point that we have loss-led and commoditized this deal long enough. Please respect the milk. “No,” I was told, “raise the price? How is that going to sell more milk?”

What is Kroger doing today (and Walmart and other heavy hitters for that matter)? NOW, they are raising the price, even canceling some orders without much to spare, as they are being asked to stop limiting sales.

Meanwhile farmers are forced to dump milk.

As the commodities crash with barrel cheese at around $1/lb and butter headed there too, are the food system heavy-hitters holding back to buy that higher-priced inventory on the cheap just to turn it around and charge more?

We are getting to see how the system works — how the losses and consolidation of a decade or more are threatening our farms and food security. But leaders and policymakers are still convinced this system is the best, and thanks to new stricter rules coming on animal proteins and fat, it’s about to get better, more diluted, and void.

Take the DMI update in the ADA Northeast newsletter from April 6, how proud they are of the “seven ways checkoff is working for you during COVID-19” and how they are “adjusting to move more dairy”, how GENYOUth is “keeping the meals flowing to students”, while in reality the real school chefs and lunch ladies — even bus drivers — are out on the front lines figuring it out for real on their own every day; how proud they are that the National Dairy Council “sorted through milk myths.”

Now that last one is a doozie. Here’s one of the seven ways checkoff is working for you: “National Dairy Council is among the expert organizations to debunk claims that milk can help ward off coronavirus.”

Remember the news about milk and it’s immune-building properties? Even Hoards Dairyman noted milk was “flying off the shelves” as consumers sought the health benefits and comfort of milk.

Remember how DMI tells us “you can’t educate people to drink what you want them to drink?” How “we want to move people away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward the new innovative products?”

It wasn’t even a week after fluid milk sales skyrocketed 40% that the National Dairy Council helped debunk some of that immune-building “myth” in Reuters story.

And yes, rest assured, DMI is talking to “your (their) partners” to get them to “move more dairy”.

So here’s the clincher. Watching the President’s daily COVID-19 press conference Wednesday evening (April 15), it really hit home, bringing together so much of what I have seen and heard over the past few weeks and the months and years before that.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was part of President Trump’s daily presser Wednesday, and I was hopeful when he went to the microphone that he would talk about impact to food and agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He told Americans that “Our food system is strong, resilient and safe,” despite the bare shelves and limits on purchases that people are seeing in supermarkets.

“In the United States, we have plenty of food for all of our citizens,” Perdue said. “I want to be clear, the bare store shelves that you may see in ‘some’ cities in the country are a demand issue, not a supply issue.” (Huh? At least he didn’t phrase it the way Pennsylvania’s Ag Secretary does, saying in a PDA public service announcement to radio and television stations that store limits, bare shelves and dumped milk are a ‘hoarding issue”, and saying in a dairy industry conference call: “this is what happens when people hoard food.”

No Mr. Secretaries, this is not hoarding and it’s not a ‘demand’ issue, it’s a centralized, consolidated, globalized food industry structure issue.

Back to Sec. Perdue’s moment before the American people… Perdue said simply that there has been a large shift from people eating in restaurants and fast food businesses, and now eating at home, which has spiked in the last few weeks and placed a high demand on grocery stores.

“Our supply chain is sophisticated, efficient, integrated and synchronized, and it’s taken us a few days to relocate the misalignment between institutional settings and grocery settings.” Perdue said.

Bingo. The accelerated creation of this machine over the past decade has been designed by government policy from the flawed dietary guidelines, to the government speech farmers are forced to pay for, to the mergers and acquisitions and antitrust behaviors, to the globalization and centralized decision-making, to the erosion of local/regional milksheds and foodsheds.

Yes, Mr. Secretary, that sophisticated, efficient, integrated, synchronized food supply chain has moved our country closer to cow islands and food deserts and fracturing of regional food security.

Some of the best minds in agriculture economics are seeing it. Consumers are waking up to the realization of what that means when the chips are down. They are watching their communities’ farmers dump milk, depopulate poultry flocks, send milk herds to slaughter.

This pandemic has peeled back the band-aid covering gaping wounds inflicted for years, and now when it is open and bleeding for all to see, the Secretary reassures the nation that this big beautiful bountiful ag food system simply needs to “relocate a misalignment.”

Tammy Goldammer, a cattle rancher friend of mine in Missouri put it bluntly in a social media post after listening. Here are some of her words:

“Production Ag People?

Did you happen to listen to US Ag. Sec. Perdue’s comments today at the Rona Update press conference? Were you reassured about your occupation of raising the highest quality protein sources to feed the world?

Did you find it interesting that there was no mention about “producers” and what is going on with what they raise to feed people?
1. There was no mention of the killing of millions of ready to harvest chickens and turkeys…to leave them to compost.
2. There was no mention of the dumping orders for milk and the orders to let cows go dry and to sell the dairy cow herds.
3. There was no mention of the shuttering of ethanol plants and the resulting depletion (no supply) of by-products utilized in the livestock feeding industries.
4. There was no mention of the Mercantile Exchanges and the crashing commodity prices for livestock, dairy and grain futures.
5. There was no mention of the bankruptcies and insolvencies of feeders who grow the nation and the world’s protein sources.
6. There was no mention of the sucking sound to the south of the beef cattle industry.
7. There was a mention there are a few “slaughter” plant closures due to Covid-19 being detected in some employees.
8. There was a mention that our nation’s food supply is abundant and there should be no fear about food availability.
Do you all like math? Mr. Perdue? Your commentary today to assure the American public was absolutely “void” of speaking to the producers/people who produce what you stated is in good shape and rest assured there are no shortages.
To say I was “stunned” at your “void” on the big picture, well, let’s say I was totally bewildered.”

But never fear oh sophisticated, efficient, integrated and synchronized food system, President Trump followed the Perdue comments with news that there is $15 billion in tariff money left in Sec. Perdue’s charge to help farmers who were targeted and he gave the Secretary the go ahead to use it.

Later this evening, word came that the government will begin buying milk and meat. Yes, as mentioned by Pennsylvania’s own Secretary in his PSA ‘stop hoarding food’… ‘food banks need the food’… ‘we have a system…’

Yes, the integrated centralized system is the proper channel while communities take care of their own with whatever resources they can muster. Good people in communities like mine right here in Lancaster County, Pa. are buying milk, giving it to the needy or seeking processors (for pay) to process milk headed to manure pits so it can be donated, only to bump up against that integrated system.

Kudos to those businesses in the community who are buying milk to give to the needy or stepping up to allow their smaller processing plants get milk ready for food banks before it is wasted.

The efficient, sophisticated, integrated, synchronized food system is not. But it will when the price is low enough and the government starts buying.

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Regional milk and dairy food security in jeopardy

Widespread milk dumping continues, small regional co-ops face extinction

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 10, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — As the dairy supply chain disruptions worsened this third week of COVID-19 pandemic stay-home orders in most states, large milk cooperatives continued rotating their milk dumping between members. For example, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) — the nation’s largest cooperative — reports 12 to 15% less milk is needed under current conditions and wants to see the supply of milk they handle drop by 10% in the next several months to match the reduced demand for milk as processing and distribution capabilities have made seismic shifts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this situation, small milk cooperatives and independent producers are finding themselves particularly vulnerable as a flurry of contract terminations fill voicemail and email, not to mention social media timelines.

This, from a family in Corry, Pennsylvania on their facebook page Monday (April 6): “Today we got it. The thing you know is possible but you just do not think it will be you. Not your farm. After all you have survived things for generations, it just cannot be you. But today it was.Today we got our letter, Rothenbühler Cheese Chalet canceled our contract. Today it all crashed down. Hope disappeared, and all our dreams vanished. We will be dumping our milk until we can figure it out how for 200-plus cows in the middle of a pandemic. No auctions, no sale barns, no options. It is heartbreaking to watch generations of work and dedication become meaningless. Wasted.”

The next day came the update that their 27-member cooperative in Northwest Pennsylvania has a few weeks to solve an abrupt concern, after previously being given three hours on a Friday afternoon — paperwork details that aren’t technically part of their milk contract that became effective March 1 with the Middlefield, Ohio cheese plant.

Farmers Union Milk Producers Association, based in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania, learned Tuesday (April 7) they have a few more weeks to address this paperwork request that had resulted in a contract termination email Friday (April 3) at 5:00 p.m. The cooperative has had a decades-long relationship with the Middlefield, Ohio cheese plant, but learned Friday at 2:00 p.m. that certain paperwork not detailed in their contract was required by 5 p.m.  that day to avoid termination.

“That’s three hours and not possible,” notes Lisa Royek. Her husband Walter is the current president of the cooperative.

Over the weekend, the co-op board went to work, received some legal advice, and asked the company for an opportunity to discuss the situation. Eventually, the company agreed to give Farmers Union until April 17 to meet this new request.

Even though it’s not in their current contract — signed last December and effective March 1 — Royek notes that, “We value this relationship and want to act in good faith in the hopes that the cheese plant will do the same.”

Despite this two week reprieve, some of the co-op’s members expressed concern Wednesday about milk sampling irregularities — leaving a few in jeopardy of their milk being excluded from pickup this week — and there were other questions about whether milk would be received from some of the member farms once it got to the plant.

But Farmers Union co-op is moving forward, doing what needs to be done, hoping to save their milk market with the plant they’ve done business with for as long as Royek can remember.

For producers in other small co-ops of northwest Pennsylvania and southwest and central New York, similar hurdles are being met.

Members of one small cooperative reported Wednesday that the cheese plant in Friendship, New York will no longer need their milk, indicating that Walmart had canceled orders.

While New York shippers for the Dean Foods bottling plant in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania often have their milk sent to the Friendship, N.Y. cheese plant, it is unclear whether a similar distribution status exists for the Middlefield, Ohio cheese plant in the Farmers Union cooperative situation.

The Dean Foods Sharpsville, Pa. bottling plant is one of 44 plants — nationwide — being purchased by DFA. Dean Foods receives a large share of its milk from DFA and this market accounts for a large share of the milk DFA ships. The 44-plant sale was approved by the court on Friday (April 3), pending final details before transition of assets after another hearing set for April 27.

Members of small co-ops shipping to the Middlefield, Ohio or Friendship, New York cheese plants were contacted for this report and did not know if their milk had ever been used to supply the Dean plant in Sharpsville or if these cheese plants ever supplied Class I markets in the Mideast Milk Marketing Order. Just the same, we called the plants and the Mideast Market Administrator to find out the pool status of these plants, and any recourse these producers might have. Our calls were not returned by either the plants or the Mideast Market Administrator.

Producers who are part of the small co-op cut off by the Saputo-owned Friendship, N.Y. plant, said the reason they were given was cancellation of orders by Walmart, Dollar General and others. Their members began dumping milk Wednesday (April 8) because there was no where for the milk to go.

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Just one of many photos submitted April 8-11 showing a continued shortage of real butter at Walmart stores in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, except for small quantities of unsalted or “lite”, and plenty of imitations and margarine.

On the very same day, no less than 20 texts, emails, and messages came in from people throughout Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio reporting that their Walmart stores were low on milk and had zero butter, sour cream or shredded cheese. Walmart and Sam’s Club shoppers also reported being limited to one or two gallons of milk with limits on other dairy products as well. (These reports persisted with documentation of empty Walmart butter shelves and limited or absent sour cream and shredded cheese, along with either no milk or very little milk, especially whole milk at Walmarts in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio as recently as April 8-11.)

It is unclear what role Walmart’s Midwest supply chain via Prairie Farms, Great Lakes and Foremost — play in the Mideast Milk Marketing Order supply chain disruptions that are leaving small regional co-ops facing complete termination while at the same time the Walmart stores in the region show a stark lack of dairy products and depleted milk supplies for shoppers.

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Walmart stores throughout the region, like this one in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on April 7, continue plowing through milk supplies rapidly. Meanwhile farms in the region continue to be forced to dump their milk or face the complete loss of their milk contracts. They are told it is because of a drop in dairy demand due to schools and restaurants closing and exports stalling. They are also told that retailers — like Walmart — are not increasing their orders, and are canceling some orders, despite the surge in consumer demand for real milk and dairy products.

The Dean Foods Sharpsville plant in western Pennsylvania is part of the USDA Mideast Milk Marketing Order that regulates Class I fluid milk in the western half of Pennsylvania, all of Ohio, all of Michigan, three-quarters of Indiana, most of West Virginia, and the northernmost part of Kentucky.

Pennsylvania also has a state-regulated milk marketing system. For the past three years, Walmart has been an approved ‘milk dealer/handler’ — not just a retailer in the Pennsylvania system, where the Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) sets minimum retail and wholesale prices for beverage milk that include an over-order premium intended by law for dairy farmers.

The state’s accounting system through PMMB only follows the over-order premium back to the farm level when the retail milk meets three specific criteria: produced, processed and sold in Pennsylvania. However, consumers pay this premium on all milk they buy in Pennsylvania — no matter what state it was produced in or processed, and no matter which side of the state border the wholesale warehouse transaction occurs.

These are all complicating factors of milk’s classified pricing system and large chunks of consolidating, centralized milk supply chain.

The Northeast Milk Marketing Order is having its share of problems also, and the Walmart stores in the Northeast are equally lacking in dairy products.

Reports surfaced this week from Central New York dairy producers that a small co-op downstate has been abruptly terminated by their milk processor in Menands, N.Y. until further notice.

In addition, Jefferson Bulk, a small upstate New York cooperative, had been able to market every drop of their milk since losing their contract with Kraft Cheese effective  January 1.

Jefferson Bulk’s marketing options in the region are now non-existent or very difficult to achieve amid the COVID-19 pandemic foodservice contract losses and as retailers — especially Walmart — are not providing enough milk, butter and other dairy products in their stores to keep up with surging consumer retail demand to feed their families at home.

As a national footprint cooperative with regional councils, the nation’s largest cooperative — DFA — answered questions last week about their assessment of the situation in the Northeast in comparison to the West in an email response to Farmshine Wednesday: “Like the coronavirus, this situation is not limited to one area of the country and is changing daily. At this time, we have requested that less than 10% of our members dispose of milk, as an absolute last resort. Primarily, disposal is happening in areas where a plant has reduced its schedule or has even shutdown, which forces us to try and quickly find a new home for our members’ milk.”

The explanation went on to say that, “There are times when there is no economical location to deliver milk, so in some regions, where there is no viable market for milk right now, we’ve had to ask some farms to dispose of raw milk, as a last resort.”

DFA also indicates that payments for the milk “will vary by region, as the marketing of milk is a very localized activity, DFA has provisions in place to compensate members for the milk that’s being disposed. Ultimately, an individual does not bear the cost of the disposal themselves, when they’re member of a cooperative, like DFA.”

Meanwhile, the widespread shortage of butter in supermarkets, especially Walmart stores, is going on three weeks now, so we turned to Land O’Lakes customer service for our inquiry due to the sheer number of consumer reports about these shortages of butter and limits on butter purchases.

Land O’Lakes is also a national footprint dairy cooperative with its famous butter brand and a significant butter/powder production plant in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Land O’Lakes has a base program that penalizes its farmer-members if they produce more than their base milk production amount. This program is being strictly enforced in the Northeast since early March. Some Land O’Lakes members in the Northeast also reported being forced to dump their milk last week. One farm was able to find another processor to take the milk strictly to make products for food banks.

By contrast, no base penalties have been reported by Land O’Lakes members in Minnesota, and dairy leaders in Minnesota report no milk has been dumped in their state, where Land O’Lakes is headquartered.

In fact, Farmshine could only verify one milk dumping occurrence west of the Mississippi in states where milk production has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

We asked Land O’Lakes customer service: Why are we seeing widespread butter shortages even though farmers are being penalized and forced to dump milk and even though USDA’s March 1 Cold Storage report pegged U.S. butter inventories to be 25% above year ago?

The answer we received in writing was this:

“We’re so sorry that you’re having difficulty finding our butter,” a Land O’Lakes customer service representative responded in a message. “Our whole co-op is working hard to make sure that your favorite products continue to be well-stocked, despite the business challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. While our online product locator is helpful in finding stores that have recently sold our products, we know that supplies at the store shelf may vary over the next few weeks/months. We appreciate your patience and support during this trying time and wish the best to you and your family.”

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Dollar stores and pharmacies like this Rite Aid in Crawford County, Pa. April 10. Not only are dairy farms being forced to dump milk, small co-ops in the region face termination as milk suppliers.

Sudden impact. Dairy producers urged to document, communicate, re-evaluate, ‘manage what you control’

By Sherry Bunting

“It has been the suddenness of the impact. We’re going to have some losses, but our goal is to come out on the positive side at the other end of this. It’s going to take government, agribusiness, agri-lenders, and producers — all working together — to go through this situation,” said Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, during a new PDPW Dairy Signal webcast Wednesday.

The Dairy Signal webcasts — insights for informed decisions — livestreamed Tuesday through Thursday Noon to 1:00 p.m. CDT and archived for viewing later. Check it out here.

What indicators is the world renown ag economics and finance expert watching?

  • Consumer sentiment index – Will it start coming back up toward fall? Will service industries — universities, sports complexes, etc. — begin coming back in the picture?
  • Value of the dollar – in relation to other countries.
  • Unemployment – How long it stays low, not how low it goes.
  • Weather in North and South America – input costs
  • Ethanol plants – Will oil price reduction war between Russia and Saudi Arabia drive them out? Energy resilience makes us strong.

He also urged producers to embrace these things:

  • Work together.
  • Keep detailed loss records.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions.
  • Use resources available to assist you.
  • Communicate with your lender.
  • Re-evaluate your goals: Where do you want to be in three years? What do you want your business to look like? How are current conditions changing what that might look like for you?
  • Manage what you control in business and in life — manage around the things you cannot control — tune out the noise.
  • Take time out and enjoy the simple things.

“Every producer should really get onto documenting everything. If you’re dumping milk, or your processor says we can’t handle the milk, you get those weights. You get those values. You document those losses,” said Kohl. “Having those good records is going to be very critical. Don’t let it slip through the cracks.”

According to PDPW executive director Shelly Mayer, who moderated the webcast, many questions came in on this topic of how to document milk dumped directly on the farm and not picked up by a handler.

Even though milk marketers have the responsibility for Federal Order measures and testing if the dumped milk is priced and pooled on the Order, measure and document your loss anyway. Even staff at USDA Dairy Programs told Farmshine recently that it is wise to measure and pull an agitated sample to do component and quality testing, especially when pulling the plug to dispose of the milk on your own farm without being picked up by a handler. If this wasn’t done for milk already dumped, be sure to record the next similar time frame of measurement, pull the next milk’s sample and get the previous milk’s data to come up with an average for your records.

“I like to err on more information being the better,” said Kohl. “Document everything that you can.”

In the PDPW webcast discussion, both Kohl and Jason Karszes, Cornell ag business management, agreed that getting a clear answer from the processor on what their “process” will be for documenting and covering dumped milk is a fair question to ask and expect an answer for. In the meantime, measure whatever you can measure about what you dumped, and get whatever records you can from the handler or processor so you can also document these losses.

This information will be important down the road so that lenders and producers and the agribusiness community — working together — can build the case for what is needed and be eligible for potential assistance at a later date, said Kohl.

“It is interesting as we go through this to see how we (as a people) are reacting and handling it,” Kohl observed, noting that the local creamery he is involved with in Virginia has seen the home-delivery waiting list quickly grow to 175. He also heard from a ‘cow-share’ producer that demand for his local un-processed milk has grown to where he could add 70 cows right now from new demand.

This observation about consumer behavior ties in with a more long-term webcast question:

“What will our world look like after we as a people walk through this?”

Speaking candidly, Kohl sees a move away from globalization to “selective globalization,” where we will see more industry move back into not just the U.S., but into North America, and where concentration and bigness will be challenged by consumers and politicians, bringing shock effects.

This is a good time for dairy operations to re-evaluate their goals, said Kohl. As producers make decisions about the future, he advised new considerations will be: assess consumer sentiment, available labor, management capacity, available milk market, and how these global-national-regional-local supply chain shifts might affect these factors.

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Farmers forced to dump milk while stores limit consumer purchases

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There is no single “reason” why farmers are being forced to dump their milk and why stores are largely still limiting the amount that consumers can purchase this week. The situation is complex, and two rumors are confirmed to be untrue. First, there is no health problem or health-related plant closure, nor is there a shortage of gallon jugs, according to Department of Agriculture sources. And no, milk jugs are NOT made in China. Most milk processing plants have their own plastic blow-molds and U.S. companies produce them as well.

Now that a few rumors are out of the way…  Here is the industry narrative for plunging farm-level milk prices and farms being forced to dump their milk. It goes something like this: “Schools are closed, foodservice demand is stalled and exports are drying up. The first two weeks of so-called “panic buying” at supermarkets settled into a third week into the COVID-19 national emergency finding consumers continuing to ‘buy’ more milk and dairy products, but “not buying enough to overcome” the aforementioned sales losses…”

It’s difficult to buy something that is not available or has store-level restrictions enforced on how much to buy. Schools account for 8% of fluid milk sales under normal conditions, and children are still served milk with grab-and-go meals offered, which keeps a portion of that 8% going. It is not a ‘panic buy’ when a family of four wants to buy 8 gallons of milk a week because all family members are home due to COVID-19. Interestingly, one week earlier, before store purchase limits were set, USDA reported Class I beverage milk usage quite differently and Nielson Global insights showed sales up exponentially (See more here and here)

While a full report is still in process, here’s my take below as filed for the midnight April 1 press deadline for Farmshine after exhaustive calls, emails, texts, messages, reports, and analysis of letters and forms that I am still pouring over for a more complete report for next week’s edition… One late breaking detail not found below, is that some farms were able to find private food pantries such as Blessings of Hope to take milk that was destined for dumping. In order to go to food banks, the milk needs a processor to pasteurize and bottle it or turn it into something like cheese. Another late-breaking detail not found below is the unofficial tally of milk dumped in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region north of 200 loads, and the Southeast could approach 150, meanwhile sources indicate large national footprint cooperatives handling nationwide farm milk supplies met a weekly demand increase in the East of twice that amount. The math isn’t adding up.

 

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Stephanie Younker of Mohrsville, Berks County, Pa. watches as her family, along other farms shipping to Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, dump two days worth of milk early this week. According to the Northeast Market Administrator’s office, six to eight different milk ‘handlers’, many of them cooperatives, reported dumping milk at the end of March and that more reports are expected into the first week of April as stores continued limiting purchases with varying availability.

March ends with dairy supply chain bottlenecks, utilization management; Farmers forced to dump milk while stores limit dairy purchases

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, April 3 edition (updated)

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — While most supermarkets placed limits on consumer purchases of milk, butter and other dairy products — with the majority still enforcing those limits through April 1 at this writing — dairy farmers were forced to dump unprecedented amounts of milk throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Southeastern states. Reports late Wednesday indicate some dumping also began in Wisconsin this week.

On Wednesday, the Northeast Market Administrator’s office confirmed six to eight different handlers, principally cooperatives, had reported dumping milk at the end of March in the Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order. (Payment, pricing and utilization of Class I beverage milk is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under 11 Federal Milk Marketing Order regions across the country. Prices paid to farmers are based in part on the receipts and utilization reports that are filed by milk “handlers” at the end of each month — dividing the milk by how it was used into four classes of which Class I beverage milk is the highest priced, Class II is frozen and soft products, Class III is cheese, and Class IV is butter and powder and is typically the lowest class.)

USDA Dairy Programs in Washington had received numerous phone calls and inquiries from milk handlers (processing plants and cooperatives) last week and issued a notice late last Wednesday, March 25, stating that, “In response to questions from the dairy industry, USDA will be implementing allowable flexibilities … to meet the changing consumer demand within the Federal milk marketing order program. The flexibilities will meet changing needs of both the dairy farmer and dairy processor and manufacturing communities to ensure efficient milk movements from farm to table. USDA wants the public to feel reassured that retail outlets will have milk available.”

Microsoft Word - GEN-#522324-v1-Covid-19_Response_Letter-March_2This was followed by a letter (above) from the Northeast Milk Market Administrator, allowing flexibility for milk to move from unregulated non-pool dairy product plants into regulated Class I beverage or pool plants and between Milk Marketing Order areas to serve “increasing demand” for fluid milk. The same document states that milk disposal on farms that are “historically associated” with the Order can be dumped, pooled and priced on the Order as “other use” at the lowest Class value. (Clarification: Outside milk from other Orders going into Class I use would be pooled and priced on the Order from which the milk came.)

For March 2020, Class IV is the lowest value, with the price announced for all Federal Orders Wednesday, April 1 at $14.87 per hundredweight (100 pounds) or $1.27/gal. compared with the Class I beverage milk price in the Northeast for March at $20.71 ($1.78/gal). The more Class IV or dumped ‘other use’ milk priced on the order for March, the lower the blend price paid to all farmers for all uses combined. It is already looking like prices paid to farmers for the next three months could fall into the $13 to $14 / hundredweight ($1.16/gal) range or lower. Average breakeven price for farms to produce milk is $17/hundredweight or $1.45-$1.50/gal.)

What started with the news that Mount Joy Farmers Cooperative and the greater DFA cooperative would be forced to dump eastern Lancaster County milk into manure pits for lack of a plant to process it over the weekend (March 28-29), grew to include confirmation of farmers in Berks, Lebanon, Cumberland, Franklin and Perry Counties being forced to dump milk into early this week. And reports from western Pennsylvania indicate the same.

By Monday, all independent dairy farm producers for Clover Farms Dairy in nearby Reading, Pa. were receiving notices that they would have to dump 48 hours worth of month-end milk between Monday and Wednesday (March 30-Apr. 1).

Add to this, confirmation that DFA members were having to dump milk in New York and Vermont, and that small independent cooperatives in New York were either having to dump some of their milk or were being shut out of the ‘spot’ market and having to dump all of their milk. Farms in the Southeast states began reporting they, too, were being notified they would have to dump milk with no where for it to go.

Furthermore, Land O’Lakes member farms in Pennsylvania’s mid-state reported dumping significant milk loads Tuesday, after shipments to the Weis Markets bottling plant in Sunbury, Pa. were turned away despite the Weis Markets stores throughout the region having scant supplies of milk and still enforcing 2-gallon per shopper limits as of Wednesday, April 1.

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Walmart’s milk cooler in Hamburg, Berks County, Pa. on April 1, 2020

As Walmart, Weis, Aldi’s, Target, some Giant stores, and others were confirmed to have sparse or empty dairy coolers — and a few chains and small town stores reported good stocks of milk and some dairy products — farmers continued to be forced to dump their milk, being told the dairy plants were full, the stores were not ordering, and consumer demand had shrunk after being described by USDA the previous week as “exponentially higher” than a year ago and “extraordinary”, “haywire” and “overcoming inventories” the week before that.

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Signs like this one at Target were the rule, not the exception among many store chains this week, while nearby dairy farmers were forced to dump milk.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is milk silos and tanks full of cream that could not be moved as candy makers and bakeries closed or cut back, and foodservice and institutional trade came to a standstill.

As the industry supply chain adjusts product lines from schools, restaurants and other foodservice products to retail-packaged products, some plants reported not being able to process milk fast enough for two weeks of surging demand, bringing outside milk in — only to find the stores had started limiting consumer purchases or were spreading their risk of running out by stocking other brands. Difficulties unloading milk to stores in New York City was also cited.

In store dairy cases where milk was most scarce this week, store managers indicated issues with getting supplemental milk from other processors in other areas due to regulatory pricing “zones”, which they interpreted to mean that milk was being rationed so a more uniform distribution of available supplies would occur.

In terms of retail manufactured products, butter continues to be mostly unavailable at stores checked throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and reports coming in from other areas indicate similar scant supplies and restricted purchases.

By Wednesday, April 1, some stores were re-stocked with milk and dairy products, and a few chains were lifting restrictions on gallons of milk, but they were the exception, not the rule. Almost universally, however, butter was absent or limited at retail outlets despite a cold storage bulk inventory report by USDA last week stating there was 25% more butter in storage than a year ago. Still, last week, processors made more bulk butter for foodservice that ended up in inventory, doing ‘print’ butter for retail on more of a hand-to-mouth basis, and the result is obvious in the lack of butter available to consumers seeking it at retail.

Jennifer Huson, senior director of communications for DFA Northeast reports that anyone having to dispose of milk should take measurements.

According to USDA Dairy Programs, producers should also collect an agitated sample. If not available, it is possible that missing samples can be quantified using previous and next samples in order to calculate protein and butterfat levels for the volumes of discarded milk that in most cases officials say will still be pooled and priced on the Federal Orders.

It is also apparent — according to Federal Order rules and the announced flexibilities — that Class I handlers have a clear financial incentive to price and pool this dumped milk on the Order because it will be priced at the lowest class value ($14.87 instead of $20.71), allowing them to draw from the pool while diluting the previously exponentially higher Class I utilization percentage experienced across the entire Northeast Federal Order the previous two weeks in terms of reducing the USDA blended price based on the milk handlers’ reports of receipts and utilization for March due around April 10 to the Market Administrator’s office.

While there are conflicting reports from some plants and handlers about whether farmers will be paid for the milk they are forced to dump, DFA says dumped milk will be pooled and paid, but they are tracking and looking at it from a comprehensive standpoint to see how to handle and aggregate it going forward.

“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to fully understand our best opportunities moving forward through dynamics that are changing day by day and hour by hour,” said Huson. “Most importantly, in these uncertain times, we are working to make sure milk continues to be picked up, plants continue to operate, and wholesome dairy products continue to be available to consumers. We are not sure what is coming at us, and we want to make sure as this is evolving that we are doing all of those things.”

Look for a full and ongoing report next week in Farmshine.

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