Round bale art gets noticed at Thiele Dairy Farm: ‘I enjoy putting a smile on someone’s face.’

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Lorraine Thiele went with the Statue of Liberty theme this week for the farm’s patriotic round bale art display ahead of July 4th. It’s attracting a lot of attention on state route 356 at the end of the farm lane just outside of Cabot, Pa. Photo by Lorraine Thiele

Round bale art gets noticed at Thiele Dairy Farm

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 3, 2020

CABOT, Pa. — The flag-draped Statue of Liberty round bale artwork at the end of the long lane leading to Thiele Dairy Farm in Butler County, Pennsylvania is attracting attention. The Thiele family placed it on their farm alongside state route 356 just outside of Cabot this week ahead of Independence Day.

“Everybody just loves it, especially in a time like this with what our country is going through, with the turmoil we are in,” says Lorraine Thiele when asked in a Farmshine interview about the community’s response. A photo of it has also created a lot of activity on the farm’s facebook page.

“We get a kick out of seeing people drive by, stop, back-up, and take their pictures with it,” she adds. “I enjoy putting a smile on someone’s face, to have something that can make people smile on their way to work or wherever they are going.”

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James, William, Lorraine and Edward Thiele at their sixth-generation dairy farm in Butler County, Pa. Photo courtesy Marburger’s Dairy

Edward and Lorraine Thiele and their twin sons William and James farm 300 acres of corn, soybeans, hay and oats and milk 40 cows at the sixth-generation Dairy of Distinction, established in 1868. Lorraine does the bookkeeping and all the feeding. She hops on the tractor and helps with other things when needed, although she doesn’t milk much anymore.

Lorraine is also the artist behind the series of round bale portraits that have been created over the past several years. She credits her husband and sons for helping with some of the technical strategy and by providing custom-sized round bales when she asks for them.

“When Ed sees me with the skid loader stacking and piling round bales, he’ll get involved and we’ll draw it out. He likes to help with the more technical side,” she adds.

Her Statue of Liberty this year was painted on three large round bales. Last year she did just the American Flag on six. She’s been doing the round bale art projects for several years now – ranging from turkeys and pilgrims at Thanksgiving, to cows and milk jugs for June Dairy Month, and from tractors with wagons full of pumpkins in the fall, to Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas trees (with lights) and a Nativity last Christmas.

“I try to do something different every year,” she says, explaining how she “googled” for some patriotic ideas to see what struck her fancy for the 2020 July 4th rendition. She came up with the Statue of Liberty.

“I can’t do faces, so I found a silhouette for the design. I also found a ceramic statue with the flag draped over and figured I would try that.

“I’m not an artist,” Lorraine states humbly. To guide what she calls her ‘graffiti style’ spray painting, she used big baler twine pinned to the stacked bales. If her design gets too big, she tailors it down with a background color.

She admits she has been surprised by how relatively easy it is to paint round bales. Their straw bales are not plastic wrapped, so they take a lot more paint than one would imagine.

“Always buy more spray paint than you think you need,” she suggests, adding that painting it on the net-wrapped side holds the paint better than painting the face of the bale of hay or straw, which “really sucks up the paint.”

She also likes to get creative, using items that are laying around. One year, Lorraine painted wood planks in different colors for the feathers on the Thanksgiving turkey.

One year, for June Dairy Month, she used black drain tile pipe and painted the tip white for the cow tail after Ed drilled-in a rod to hold it.

Once she gets an idea in her head, and thinks about it for a while, it comes together.

“It’s fun, and something different to do. It looks harder than it really is.

“Don’t be afraid to try something,” Lorraine encourages. “The nice thing is, if it doesn’t work out, throw it in for bedding and no one will ever know!”

While the Independence Day Statue of Liberty is creating the buzz right now. It was the reaction to the June Dairy Month art that really surprised Lorraine.

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For June Dairy Month, the painted milk pints had many people turning into the farm lane to buy milk, but the Thiele family explained that all of their raw milk goes to the Marburger Farm Dairy plant in Evans City — a great local brand.  Photo by Lorraine Thiele

“I painted milk chugs — chocolate and strawberry milk pints — to put beside the bale-painted cow,” she explains. “You would not believe how many people turned in the lane and came up to the farm wanting to buy milk. I never would have thought just a straw bale done up as a milk pint would do that!”

In fact, the response was so great, Lorraine had to put a post on the Thiele Dairy Farm facebook page (and a sign by the artwork), explaining that the family does not sell milk right off the farm and that their raw milk all goes to Marburger Farm Dairy in Evans City — a great local brand.

The Statue of Liberty took about a week to finish, but she only works on round bale art when she has the time. After a painting is complete, they haul it down the lane to position it by the main road.

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Faith, family and farming are alive and well on the Thiele family’s dairy farm.

The Thiele Dairy Farm facebook page is also something Lorraine enjoys. She started it almost 10 years ago through her love of photography and her desire to promote agriculture in a positive light.

“There’s a lot of negative out there,” she says. “Our son (William) has a drone, and he videos the baling, mowing, and planting. The average person doesn’t have a clue what we are talking about or how it is done or what is involved, so our sons love to show it, to do things like that to educate people about what we do.”

Each family member is a steadfast advocate for agriculture, and they are active in Butler County Farm Bureau and Dairy Promotion Committee. They participated in the Butler County milk donation drive-through back in April before the CFAP program. It was coordinated by Community Action Partnership with Farm Bureau, the Butler County Dairy Promotion Committee, Marburger Farm Dairy, AgCoice Farm Credit, and others, where 1200 gallons of milk were distributed along with a bag of groceries and a box of frozen products.

Lorraine is a positive person, and that was demonstrated in this interview and throughout her connections to the community in person and through social media. People appreciate it, even putting gifts or thank you notes to the family by the round bale Christmas tree at holiday time.

As difficult as things can be in the dairy business at times, Lorraine loves the farm and the cows and is thankful her family is farming together — where everyone in the family does everything on the farm.

As for the round bale art? If she can make someone else smile for even just a second. It is worth it.

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Summer sunset this week at Thiele Dairy Farm in Butler County, Pennsylvania. 
Lorraine loves taking photos on the dairy farm and the Thiele Dairy Farm facebook page is full of her photos as well as drone videos by her son William.  Photo by Lorraine Thiele

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U.S. milk production falls 1% in May, FMMOs pool 13% less milk

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Table 1 showing “other use / milk dumpage” totals by Federal Order includes data for May 2020. The month of May saw 13% less milk pooled on Federal Orders compared with a year ago, and 13% less milk in the “other use / dumpage” category compared with a year ago — down dramatically from the enormous 350 million pounds of “other use” milk pooled in April 2020.

States east of Mississippi cut production, west mainly grow

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 26, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As April’s dismal Covid-impacted dairy market spilled into May milk checks, the supply-side of the ship turned in May at the same time as demand was strengthened by dairy donations, retail demand and food-service re-stocking.

USDA Dairy Market News reports each week have signaled progressively tighter milk supplies heading into summer vs. stable to strong demand pushing spot loads to sell above class price in some areas.

In April, cooperatives across the country set base limits on member milk production for May until further notice. Some severely discounted any milk provided that was above 80 to 90% of a member farm’s March marketings. Many producers chose to leave this penalty milk out of the tank.

As these co-op ‘base’ programs went into effect in May, the impact is demonstrated in the USDA May Milk Production report, estimating  U.S. output at 18.8 billion pounds, which is 1.1% below year ago for May.

Cow numbers were down 11,000 compared with April, according to USDA, but still 37,000 more milk cows were estimated on farms compared with a year ago.

Nationally, milk output per cow dropped by one pound/cow/day in May compared with a year ago, the report stated.

In addition, Federal Order milk pooling totals and “other use / dumpage” data provided to Farmshine by USDA AMS by request, showed the total volume of milk pooled across all Federal Orders in May dropped like a rock to levels 13% below year ago.

Similarly, the volume pooled as “other use / dumpage” across all Federal Orders fell to levels 13% below year ago nationwide — from the enormous 350 million pounds recorded in April to 36 million pounds in May. (See Table 1.)

What is eyebrow-raising is how the numbers in these reports geographically arrange themselves.

In last Thursday’s Monthly Milk Production Report, the national drop in total output for May masks the fact that among the 24 top milk producing states listed individually in the report, those east of the Mississippi accounted for all of the production decline – plus balancing the accelerated western growth to get the U.S. total a significant 1% below year ago.

States east of the Mississippi saw large decreases in production, while in contrast, the growth states of Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Arizona, South Dakota saw increases in production ranging from 1.4 to 9.7% above year ago.

East of the Mississippi, the Northeast milkshed really clamped down on production with Pennsylvania 3% below year ago, New York down 3.7%, and Vermont down 6.4% vs. year ago in May.

Further south, Virginia and Florida were unchanged from a year ago, while Georgia’s production fell 1.4%.

In the Mideast and Midwest, Michigan was off a fraction (0.4%), Minnesota down 1.9% and Wisconsin’s production fell by 3.1% vs. year ago. Indiana, Illinois and Iowa were down 1.7 to 2%. Ohio was the outlier, gaining 0.4% in production over year ago.

In the West, May production was larger than a year ago with South Dakota leading on a percentage basis producing a whopping 9.7% more milk compared with a year ago. Number five Texas grew by 1.9%. Number three Idaho grew by 4.6%, and Colorado grew by 4.8%. Arizona grew by 1.4%, and Kansas by 2.4%.

Three western states were key outliers as California dropped production 1.5% below year ago, Utah was down 3%, and New Mexico fell a whopping 7.2% below year ago. The Pacific Northwest had generally steady production with Oregon unchanged from a year ago and Washington down fractionally.

In Federal Order pooling, the volume pooled nationwide was down a whopping 13% from 15.1 billion pounds in May of 2019 to 13.2 billion pounds this May of 2020.

In the Northeast, total pooled pounds on Federal Order One for April and May of 2020 were essentially equal at 2.3 billion pounds each, but relative to year ago, this was a decline of 1.7% while production on farms in the region fell a whopping 4%, collectively. The difference likely came from elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the amount pooled as “other use / dumpage” in the Northeast Order One dropped abruptly from the enormous 131 million pounds in April to 12.3 million pounds in May, representing a 35% drop in “other use / dumpage” compared with a year ago.

Pooled milk classified as “other use / dumpage” in the Appalachian, Florida and Southeast Orders 5, 6 and 7, also dropped significantly in May compared with April’s large records. In fact “other use” milk in those three Orders fell to levels that were 19% (Appalachian), 9% (Florida) and 32% (Southeast) below year ago. At the same time, total pooled pounds for these three Orders – 5, 6 and 7 – were calculate below year ago in May by 1% in Order 5 (Appalachian), 2.5% less in Order 6 (Florida) and a significant drop of 11.7% less milk pooled compared with a year ago in Order 7 (Southeast).

In a sense, the pull back in production in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, where April’s dumping had been so extreme, helped bring down total pooled pounds in those areas to rein-in the “other use” pounds as well.

Growth areas of the nation showed significantly less “other use / dumpage” pounds in May vs. April. However, in some of the Orders, such as the Southwest (Order 126) and Upper Midwest (Order 30), the “other use / dumpage” category was still above year ago levels by a modest margin, according to the USDA AMS figures.

As the dairy industry right-sizes itself after COVID-19 supply-disruptions that abruptly cut 30 to 40% from producer milk checks, it remains to be seen how states east of the Mississippi can regain their footing as western growth areas kept shipping more milk right on through — without missing a beat.

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Industry, government follow grassroots donations lead, CFAP adds to dairy demand driving markets higher

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 26, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Government and industry dairy donations and record-setting CME cheese prices all got their starter fuel from grassroots dairy producers in what has become one of the good news stories of the COVID-19 era.

Today, USDA has systemized the donating through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and dairy processors, cooperatives and checkoff organizations have partnered with food banks and non-profits to extend the reach of efforts begun originally by generous dairy producers and their agribusiness partners supplying grateful consumers.

In April, when milk dumping was at its height, and stores had purchase-limits or sparse supplies of milk and dairy products, farmers and their agribusiness partners and communities went into immediate action. Examples of milk donation drive-through events began popping up in succession – just a fraction of them featured in the pages of Farmshine.

Also in April, farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) purchased 228,000 pounds of block cheddar, immediately moving the CME block cheese price from its $1/lb plummet to $1.20 (adding $1.00 to Class III milk values at the same time).

This DPA move, working with charities for distribution and a Midwest processor to turn their CME-style bulk purchase into consumer-packaged goods for donation, gave a green light to other cheese market participants. Within a week of that purchase and the initial 20-cent gain in blocks that followed, block cheese continued its climb to $1.80/lb, and the upward momentum has not stopped — fueled now by huge government purchases and food-service pipeline re-stocking.

On the heels of these grassroots efforts, dairy checkoff organizations began getting involved to work with their partners and “convene” the industry to do big donations in May.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress had passed the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in April, with $3 billion of the $19 billion set aside for the Farmers to Families Food box purchases. But it was mid-May before USDA announced those first-round contract awards totaling $1.2 billion in fresh food — $317 million of it for fluid milk and dairy products – for distribution May 15 through June 30.

This week, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue called the food box program a “trifecta, win-win-win”, pointing out how the program is getting farmers, processors and non-profits together to directly provide fresh food to people without burdening food banks with refrigerated inventory they aren’t prepared to handle.

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In April, when block cheddar was plummeting to $1.00/lb, the farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association based in Wisconsin with member-contributors nationwide, purchased 228,000 pounds of block cheese to be cut-down for distribution by several charities. DPA Facebook photo

This was the model of grassroots groups and individuals on their own dime and time doing dairy donation drive-throughs, milk-drops, and whole milk gallon challenges from late March to the present. It was also the model of DPA, funded by voluntary dairy farmer milk check deductions, when DPA purchased the block cheese in April for cut-down and donation. Also in April, we saw the partnership initiated in Pennsylvania between 97 Milk and Blessings of Hope. They raised funds to buy local milk for donation to families in need.

As these grassroots efforts began having an impact, Midwest Dairy got approval from USDA in May to use checkoff funds to donate cheese, and UDIA of Michigan was allowed to provide minimal funding to food banks for “handling costs” associated with receiving cheese donated in May by DFA.

Now, with USDA systemizing that smart approach — started by grassroots efforts — the department stated in a news release that as of June 23, its CFAP Farmers to Families Food Box Program had delivered more than 20 million boxes of fresh food, including milk and dairy products, to families impacted by COVID-19.

The initial round of USDA CFAP contracts ends on June 30. But this week, USDA announced it will extend “well-performing” first-round contracts for similar amounts in a second-round from July 1 through August 31 to total an additional $1.16 billion.

The share of this second-round to be devoted to fluid milk and dairy purchases was not specified in the USDA announcement. One thing USDA did note is that even though most of the second-round dollars will be spent with “selected” current contract awardees, a few new contracts may be awarded to previous applicants that had been passed over due to technical errors or to provide boxes in areas identified as “underserved.”

Throughout the USDA CFAP food box delivery process, regional dairy checkoff organizations have been involved as “facilitators.”

Week after week, Farmshine has received press releases from dairy checkoff organizations, and there have been numerous social media posts, about the CFAP milk and dairy box donations. Regional checkoff organizations say they are working with processors, cooperatives and non-profits — in conjunction with the USDA CFAP food box program — and that area dairy farmers are involved as volunteers to hand out the boxes.

According to National Dairy Council president Barb O’Brien, dairy checkoff organizations began “convening the industry” before CFAP.

“We have leveraged the checkoff’s unique ability to convene companies from across the value chain to identify a number of ways to redistribute excess milk and other dairy products to families facing food insecurity,” writes O’Brien in an email response to Farmshine recently.

In a specific cheese example she had mentioned in a media call described as block cheese being purchased and cut into consumer size portions, our inquiry for details was met with this response:

“In response to lost food-service markets and dairy farmers being asked to dispose of milk, we’ve worked to connect coops to partners that donated processing capacity for any excess milk available for food banks,” O’Brien wrote. “Many other dairy companies — such as the example I gave from DFA of cheese donations in Michigan — provided massive quantities of dairy products to food banks before the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program was even put into place. Moving forward, it will be important that we continue working together as an industry to target the greatest needs and find long-term solutions to our nation’s hunger crisis.”

O’Brien cites DMI’s “long-time partner” Feeding America and other relationships with local food banks and pantries. Former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, now a top dairy checkoff executive with DMI, sits on the Feeding America board of directors.

O’Brien also noted in her response that dairy checkoff “counseled industry partners and others on how to direct dairy products toward the greatest needs.”

She reports that, “This widescale approach enabled us to pinpoint some of the biggest barriers in getting excess dairy products to hungry families during the pandemic” and to “rapidly initiate an industry response.”

As communities began doing their own grassroots efforts through the generosity of dairy farmers, agribusiness and individuals purchasing milk or contributing milk for dairy donations in the early days of the COVID-19 ‘stay-at-home’ orders, checkoff organizations took note and began to look at what they could do in terms of refrigeration equipment and setting up refrigeration trucks for industry and governmental efforts.

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Grassroots whole milk donation events like this one just outside of Lancaster, Pa. in May, have been providing whole nutrition to families across the state and region since the height of COVID-19 ‘stay-at-home’ orders in April.  Photo by Michelle Kunjappu

While many of the grassroots-organized milk donations were comprised of whole milk purchases vs. low-fat milk, this week marked the first time a checkoff news release showed red-cap whole milk gallons or even referenced whole milk in their facilitation of USDA CFAP box deliveries. This is another win led by early grassroots efforts.

ADA Northeast (ADANE), for example, indicated in a press release this week that 200,000 gallons of milk will have been handed out in the Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region by the time June Dairy Month ends. The release stated that 20,000 gallons would be donated this week, alone, from DFA, Upstate Niagara and Schneider’s Dairy to be given out in New York and Pennsylvania through the Nourish New York state funds and CFAP food box federal funds.

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For the first time among the many news releases sent by ADA Northeast (ADANE) touting checkoff ‘facilitation’ of fluid milk and dairy donations, whole milk is in the box! Here, dairy farmer Joel Riehlman of Fabius, N.Y., and a 4-H member, hand out whole milk in mid-June at a Nourish New York and USDA CFAP Farmers to Families Food Box donation drop in Syracuse. Photo provided by ADANE

In a recent Watertown, New York drop point for these donations, ADANE board member Peggy Murray of Murcrest Farm, Copenhagen, N.Y. volunteered, and she noted in the ADANE press release that, “It was heartwarming to see their gratitude – especially for the whole milk — and to know that people really want the products that we produce on the farm.”

This has been the experience of so many farmers and ag community members involved in the grassroots distributions, as well as the industry and governmental distributions, because each event affirms that consumers love milk and dairy products, especially whole milk, and that they want to support local farms — as evidenced by their comments and long car-lines of families eager to receive these products. In some cases, recipients gave money asking it be put toward more drive-through dairy events.

In the Southeast and Midwest, CFAP contract recipients Borden and Prairie Farms have also been visible this month with Dairy Alliance and Midwest Dairy checkoff organizations often as partners, along with several state dairy producer group members joining in as volunteers and location coordinators.

Overall, the CFAP food boxes have been well-received. The program was designed by USDA to give farmers and food providers a presence within their communities, working with local food banks and non-profits without creating inventory hardships. In this way, USDA has taken what local communities were doing at the grassroots level — on their own dime and time — and systemized it with federal funds and contracts.

While dairy’s share has not been specified in USDA’s announcement of the second round of $1.16 billion in fresh food purchases in the contract extensions through August 31, it is believed fluid milk and dairy purchases will be similar to the first-round total of $317 million because several non-profits indicate they will be supplied with all their milk and dairy needs through the USDA until at least August 31.

This includes Blessings of Hope, which had partnered with 97 Milk in April, and raised over $50,000 for purchasing and/or processing local milk for families they serve in Pennsylvania.

Farms in southeast and southcentral Pennsylvania that were wanting to donate “over-base” milk for this 97 Milk / Blessings of Hope program will have to wait until after August 31, when the USDA CFAP food box program is set to end. It is possible that the CFAP program may again be extended until all $3 billion in food box funds are exhausted.

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When Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) first ran an ad in the Cheese Reporter in early April looking for 200,000 pounds of USDA-graded cheddar cheese less than 30 days of age, the calls they received could not fill the order. By requesting USDA-graded cheese, the delay in their eventual purchase of 228,000 pounds showed a void in supplies that led to the initial turnaround in the plummeting block cheese price on the CME, which fueled the advances in manufacturing milk value. CME cheese prices drive Class III milk futures, which have risen rapidly since the DPA purchase bridged the gap in April. Current market strength has been extended through the large USDA food box program demand occurring at the same time as the re-opening of the food-service sector. DPA Facebook image

A positive outcome for farmers from all of these efforts — now extended by these large government purchases — is the real impact they are having in helping drive dairy markets higher since that first farmer-funded DPA purchase of block cheddar in April turned the CME away from its $1.00/lb record-low plummet.

Block cheese is traded every day around noon on the CME spot auction, and the price has set several new record-highs in June, including the most recent record-highs of $2.70/lb on Monday, June 22 and $2.81/lb on Tuesday, June 23.

This rally has pushed Class III milk futures into new contract highs for June, July, and August, while adding strength across the board.

In CME futures trading Monday (June 22) the June Class III milk contract hit $21, up $9 from the USDA-announced May Class III price of $12.14. July’s contract topped at $22.19, and August edged into the $20s. Monday’s Class III milk futures averaged $17.98 for the next 12 months, and Tuesday’s futures trading held most of that level, even adding to the July contract.

There is a supply side to this scenario also. See the related article on USDA milk statistics, pooling, production and dumping.

Trade sentiment is mixed on how long the upward momentum in dairy markets can last.

On the one hand, cheese prices are being driven by the combination of USDA CFAP purchases now continuing through August, re-stocking of food-service pipelines as the country re-opens, and the USDA Dairy Market News reports of consumer buying strength shown in strong pizza sales throughout the Covid period, and stable to strong retail sales meeting tighter supplies of milk and cream.

On the other hand, some experts warn of weakness ahead as these record-setting prices may prompt milk production expansion by fall when demand may wane after the USDA CFAP food box purchases end and food-service pipelines are re-stocked.

Much of the future will depend on how the re-opening of America goes for families, the food-service sector, schools, sports, and the economy at-large.

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Northeast bore brunt of huge milk dumping in April

USDA data: 350 million pounds dumped, diverted nationwide. Over one-third of it pooled on Northeast Federal Order. May data show improvement

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 19, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. – The picture for May has improved as “other use” milk totals pooled across all Federal Orders came back in line, and total “all use” pooled volume also receded.

But… Remember April? The figures are in, and they are ugly.

April was the month where the COVID-19 shutdown was at its height. Everyone was bracing to flatten the curve. Retail dairy case shelves were often empty or sparse, and many stores had two-item limits on milk, butter, even cheese, yogurt and sour cream.

The milk dumping that had begun during the last weekend of March ramped up in April. By the time final milk checks were received for April milk, producers were dismayed to find big deductions, almost $2 per hundredweight in some cases, as COVID-19 line items on top of additional marketing adjustments, reduced quality premiums, and the like. Of course, hauling was also a bigger deduction, some being told they were charged destination hauling on dumped milk that never left the farm! This, despite the fact that fuel prices fell like milk due in part to COVID.

What do the USDA data tell us?

According to “other use” milk pooling data supplied by USDA AMS Dairy Programs by request, milk pounds pooled at minimum class as “other use, milk dumpage and animal feed” for all Federal Orders totaled almost 350 million pounds in April (349.9 million pounds to be exact). That was 2.57% of the total pounds of milk pooled across all Federal Orders in April, according to USDA AMS data, and it was 1.8% of total U.S. April milk production (pooled or unpooled) as reported by USDA in its Monthly Milk Production Report.

Year-to-date milk dumpage and diversion by Federal Order and total combined — as well as for 2018 and 2019 — are shown graphically in Table 1.

While March saw the milk volume classified as “other use” grow by 142% compared with year ago at 71.3 million pounds. The volume of diverted milk in this “other use” category for April 2020 was absolutely enormous at 349.9 million pounds – up 960% from a year ago.

In fact, the Northeast Milk Marketing Area, Federal Order One, as usual, was dumping-zone-central as more than one-third (37.4%) of all the milk pooled as “other use” in the U.S. showed up in the Northeast pool as minimum class “other use.”

In other words, 37.4% of diverted milk in the entire U.S. was dumped on farms or at plants or otherwise diverted as “other use” including animal feed in the Northeast Milk Marketing Area.

The Northeast Order pooled 131 million pounds of “other use” milk in April – up more than 1000% from the 11.3 million pounds of “other use” milk in April 2019 and the 13.6 million pounds in April 2018. Table 1 shows this enormous amount dwarfing other months, other years and other Orders quite plainly as highlighted in yellow.

This means that the Northeast Order pooled 4.4 million pounds, or 80 loads, of dumped or diverted milk every single day for 30 days in April.

The second largest pooling of “other use” milk was the Southwest Order 126 at 44.4 million pounds, up 1200 percent from 3.4 million pounds a year ago (April 2019) and 3.6 million pounds in April of 2018.

Third largest was the Upper Midwest Order 30, with 38.3 million pounds of “other use” milk pooled, up 1855% from the 1.95 million pounds a year ago (April 2019) and 1.84 million pounds in April of 2018.

Fourth largest was the Florida Order 6, with 31 million pounds of “other use” milk pooled, up 1520% compared with 1.2 million pounds a year ago (April 2019) and 1.5 million pounds in April of 2018.

The Mideast Order 33 came in fifth with 24 million pounds of “other use” milk pooled, up 860% from 2.5 million pounds a year ago (April 2019) and up 460% from the 4.28 million pounds in April of 2018.

USDA AMS confirms that milk purchased by USDA for feeding programs, including the extra Section 32 purchases and new Farmers to Families Food Box milk purchases are included in receipts and utilization as the class of product purchased. This means when fluid milk is purchased with these government funds and then donated to families in need, the fluid milk is to be reported as Class I.

This is also true of milk purchases by businesses, individuals and fundraisers that then use these purchases as donations to families in need or the public at large. These sales also contribute to Class I utilization.

However, when milk destined for dumping or over-base milk kept aside is processed and packaged and donated outside of these marketing channels, it can be considered “other use”.

The equally disappointing news in April was that despite the fact that retail sales data show packaged milk sales to be running about 5% ahead of year ago for April and May, the USDA Class I utilization total for April across all Federal Orders was fell by 9.7% in April compared with March to 3.6 million pounds compared with 4.0 million pounds of milk utilized as Class I in March across all Federal Order pool data. This is down 3.3% from Class I utilization pounds, nationwide, a year ago.

As noted, the milk dumping situation in May improved compared with March and April as “other use” milk totals pooled across all Federal Orders came back in line, and were actually down 13% from a year ago at 36 million pounds – roughly 10% of what was discarded the month prior in April. Total “all use” pooled volume also receded as cooperative base programs kicked in. Government purchases for the CFAP Farmers to Families Food Box Program also began pulling milk the second half of May and will continue through June.

However, keep in mind, the cooperative base programs do cause some milk dumping of non-pooled pounds on farms that choose to only ship what they are paid a price for. Some are feeding cows and other livestock with extra milk. Others are finding local processors to bottle it so they can do community whole milk donations. Some may even be fertilizing fields with extra milk.

It isn’t easy for many to cut by 10 to 20% from March production in May – as many have been asked to do to avoid salvage value and stiff penalties for the “extra”.

Seasonal style dairies especially have their work cut out for them, and it appears the true seasonal dairies with little or no milk production in the first quarter of the year won’t be eligible for CFAP payments as 6 months of payment calculations are being based on production for the first 3 months of the year.

To be continued in next week’s Farmshine with May data on total pooled pounds, Class utilization trends, “other use” data, and other information for the month as well as year-to-date for all FMMOs and individually.

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USDA communicates with DOJ as Dean ‘Estate’ misses final payments on April milk; lawsuit filed to block sale to DFA

deanfoods

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 22, 2020

HOUSTON, Tex. — Dean is a dead duck, with an estate. The ‘pools’ (no pun intended), in which it reigned as top duck — and most of the pool toys it gathered over the past 20 years — have been sold to its largest supplier, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), leaving just the Dean Foods (Southern Foods Group) Estate to settle its affairs, including paying farmers for April milk sold in good faith.

But the funds to do that are locked into the Chapter 11 plan handling all manner of administrative expense claims that could take days, weeks or months to sort out. Part of the issue is that the super-priority credit facility of $850 million was extended to Dean to keep operating before sale. Now the sale is consummated, and that credit facility is not being used for critical vendors. In fact, what was used of the $850 million becomes the first post-petition debt to settle.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers are looking at their contracts and the regulated pricing structures and even those states with bonding and wondering what recourse they have for payment. Most have no recourse. In states like Pennsylvania, there is bonding of licensed milk buyers through the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, and it is a complex process.

On a recent DMI ‘open mic’ call for producers, Jim Mulhern of National Milk Producers Federation was a guest. He said they have looked into whether the Packers and Stockyards Act guaranteeing prompt payment for livestock could be use. It can’t, he said. There is no national insurance-bonding of milk buyers like there is for meat and poultry.

Not only did Dean milk suppliers not receive payment, cooperative handlers also went without payment, and the Federal Order pools in which Dean Foods is regulated did not receive their settlement payments. This then affects payments to handlers from the pool for April milk, which in turn affects other dairy producers paid by those other handlers.

Dean Foods did pay the April advance – the first of two monthly checks paid to dairy farmers. But the settlement funds for April milk due mid-May have not been paid, and Federal Milk Marketing Orders have established dates in each milk marketing area of the country stating when the settlement payments are made to the pool, when the handlers are paid from the pool and when the producers are paid by the handlers.

All of those dates for all Federal Milk Marketing Orders have now passed as of May 19, and Dean Foods’ Estate has not honored any of these April milk settlement obligations.

According to USDA Dairy Programs, “Dean Foods, DIP, (Dean) is fully regulated in all Federal milk marketing orders except the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. Dean did not make payment into the Producer Settlement Fund (PSF) for April pooled milk to any FMMO where it is fully regulated.”

USDA also confirms that, “Dean is responsible for paying the blend price to the independent producers who supply its plants. That payment is not contingent on whether or not Dean pays into the Producer Settlement Fund.”

Dairy farmers that ship to Dean Foods confirm no payment has been received, and the Pa. Milk Marketing Board confirms being notified of the same as it regulates these payments in Pennsylvania as well.

USDA indicates that it is “closely monitoring the situation and is keenly aware of the impact this failure to pay has on the dairy industry.”

Furthermore, USDA is continuing to consult with the Department of Justice in an effort to work within the confines of the bankruptcy laws to recoup monies owed to the Pool Settlement Funds.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTUREHandlers were notified by USDA via memorandum (see Order 5 example of what went out to all FMMO handlers above). They were notified of the non-payment and the pro-ration of available producer settlement monies.

Some handlers have indicated this affects their funds to pay their producers by 20 to 30% for April milk.

In Pennsylvania, where there is bonding through the Pa. Milk Marketing Board, every bond claim is unique and fact-dependent, so there’s no set time that has to pass before a claim is made.

Activity reports are not due to the Pa. Milk Marketing Board until May 25, so a bond claim cannot be made for Pennsylvania milk until the PMMB knows how much is owed.

On the national side, USDA confirms that Dean did timely file its milk receipts and utilization report for April, but these figures are confidential and proprietary, so the amounts owed to farmers and the Producer Settlement Fund are not known.

While USDA is communicating with the U.S. Department of Justice on this, the PMMB is reportedly doing their best to communicate and work with Dean to determine if there’s anything it can do — short of the agency filing a bond claim to have Pennsylvania producers paid. There are four Dean plants in Pennsylvania and at least two out-of-state plants, including one in New Jersey, receiving milk from Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

For Dean’s part, Gary Rahlfs is the chief financial officer overseeing the “winding down” of the Dean Foods Estate. In an email reply early this week, he referred to the May 6 public announcement at the Dean restructuring website after the sale of plants and other assets was completed that week, stating: “Dean Foods anticipates that the plan will provide for the full payment of all administrative expense claims in several months (following the repayment of its senior secured super-priority post-petition financing facility) as proceeds continue to come into the Dean Foods Estate.”

In addition to the public announcement, Rahlfs confirmed that administrative expense claims do include the payments Dean owes for April milk and many other payables.

“We are working diligently to ensure this process and the payments are made as quickly as possible,” Rahlfs wrote in an email response to Farmshine.

Unfortunately, it appears from the wording of the announcement that this could take several months, and the super-priority credit facility Dean used to continue operations during the bankruptcy sale process is being prioritized for repayment as income comes in from sale of assets and prior sales of product during this “winding down” plan for the bankruptcy.

All through the bankruptcy and sale proceedings in the Southern District of Texas, Judge David Jones referred often to how it was a priority of his to ensure a sale process that would not leave schoolchildren without milk and would not leave farmers without markets or employees without jobs. He talked often of fond memories as a child of milk delivered by the milkman.

In fact, this is one reason, Judge Jones approved retainment bonuses for professional staff to be sure that the people who understand the milk business would continue in their positions so the company and its 57 plants would remain in operation and viable during the bankruptcy sale to avoid the chaos that would result if the company fell into Chapter 7 status.

However, a detail left hanging is the final payment to farmers and cooperatives supplying milk to Dean Foods.

Back in November, when Dean Foods filed under Chapter 11, farmers had many questions about whether or not they would continue to be paid for milk. Credit facility of $850 million was secured, and the court gave permission to use income and credit facility for day to day operations to pay employees and critical vendors, including farmers.

Dean Foods Raw Milk Supplier FAQ — First Day

In fact, a Raw Milk Supplier FAQ dated November 2019 still searchable in a cache file of the Dean restructuring website stated (as shown above) states: “We intend to pay suppliers in full under normal terms for goods and services provided after the filing date (Nov. 12).”

That language is no longer readily shown on the website. It was replaced when DFA became heir-apparent by a completely new and different Raw Milk Supplier FAQ dated February 2020.

While DFA, the buyer of 44 of the 57 Dean plants at a price of $433 million, has been Dean Foods’ largest milk supplier, the company also has many independent family farm shippers throughout the Northeast, Southeast and across the country. All are left waiting for payment at a time when they’ve already come through five years of low income and below-break-even prices and at a time when they are taking further losses in milk pricing and additional marketing costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a separate action this week, a lawsuit was filed for an injunction against the sale of 44 of Dean’s 57 plants to DFA. The lawsuit was filed by Food Lion and Maryland Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative in Federal District Court for Middle North Carolina in Greensboro Tuesday, May 19.

The lawsuit states that DFA’s ownership of Dean’s milk plants is the “coup de grâce (final blow) for competition” in fluid milk markets, arguing the merger gives DFA monopoly over the dairy supply chain, the death of the independent, family-owned dairy farms, and higher prices ultimately for consumers.

Plaintiffs are specifically asking the Court to grant a preliminary injunction to block the sale and want DFA to divest at least one of the Dean facilities in the Carolinas to an unaffiliated independent purchaser.

“This action arises out of Defendant Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.’s (“DFA”) longstanding effort to seize control of the milk supply chain. Indeed, for the past two decades, DFA has rapidly consolidated and dominated the market for the supply of raw milk not by competing on the merits, but through unlawful conduct and anti-competitive agreements through which it has gained near-complete control over the purchasing of key nationwide milk processors,” the plaintiffs state in their filing.

“This anti-competitive campaign has allowed DFA to transform itself from a modest regional dairy cooperative into the Standard Oil of the modern dairy industry.”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) already approved the deal three weeks ago with the stipulation that three plants in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts be divested from the 44-plant DFA purchase.

Prior to the bankruptcy and sale, Dean Foods was DFA’s largest customer and DFA was Dean Food’s largest milk-supplier.

“Their partnership was forged through a corrupt bargain entered into at the time of a prior merger between Dean and another dairy processing giant, in order to avoid U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) scrutiny through subterfuge and deception,” the plaintiffs state.

“On May 1, 2020, DFA and Dean closed on the Asset Sale, transforming DFA overnight into both the largest milk producer and the largest milk processor in the United States,” plaintiffs continue. “With capability to wield market power at two levels of the supply chain, DFA now has both the ability and the incentive to wipe out any remaining pockets of competition.”

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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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Signups begin May 26 for $16 bil. CFAP; dairies payments equate to Q1 milk x $6.20/cwt

Farmers and ranchers deemed essential to our nation’s future; bulk of payment totals under two calculations to be sent a week to 10 days after signup

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By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue released the long-awaited details on the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) direct payments to farmers this week, indicating that dairy farmers will be eligible for two payment rates across first and second quarter production — and those rates pencil out to be equal to $6.20 per hundredweight multiplied by first quarter production, including milk that was dumped.

Farms using USDA Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) or Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) programs, or certain types of forward pricing through cooperatives or brokers based on futures markets, are eligible for CFAP direct payments on all pounds of milk production, even the pounds enrolled in these types of risk management tools. Participation in other forms of government aid through the Small Business Administration does not affect a farm’s eligibility for direct payments through CFAP.

Signups with USDA Farm Service Agencies began May 26, and USDA intends to send 80% of the total calculated Q1 and Q2 payment to farms within seven to 10 days of their signups. The remaining 20% will be paid later, pending the availability of funds in the $16 bil. package after all eligible commodity applicants receive first payments.

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Screenshot of CFAP payment spreadsheet calculator across all eligible commodities. A preview video on how to use the calculator and fill out forms can be found at this link — Check back at www.farmers.gov/CFAP for the spreadsheet calculator or find it through your FSA portal.

Applications will be received until August 28, 2020. USDA has a video for signup, explaining how to use the online calculator spreadsheet, across commodities at this link.

To calculate payments, USDA is using $4.71/cwt from the CARES Act applied to a dairy farm’s first quarter (Jan-Mar) “actual” milk production and $1.47/cwt from CCC funds for a second quarter (Apr-Jun) “calculated” production that is equivalent to the first quarter pounds multiplied by a factor of 1.014 to reflect seasonal production increase for Q2.

Those two payment rates with the second quarter calculation of production push the total payment to be equivalent to multiplying first quarter production by about $6.20/cwt.

With the 80 / 20 split in how this total payment will be sent, farms shipping 5 million annual pounds of milk with roughly 200 cows could expect a payment around $60,000 by early June if they sign up at the end of May, with the balance of roughly $15,000 in a later payment, pending availability of funds.

Responding to bipartisan support from members of Congress asking for payment limits to be increased so that larger multi-generation family farms can benefit, USDA expanded the payment limits to $250,000 per farm entity even with multiple eligible commodities. The previous limit was $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per farm.

The payment limits were increased for larger farms with multiple ownership structure. Partnerships with two owner-operators would have a payment limit of $500,000, and the maximum limit for any farm structured as an LLC, LLP or corporation with three or more owner-operators is $750,000.

These payment limits apply to the total amount of money a farm can receive even if applying under more than one commodity, such as dairy and crop or dairy and beef.

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Graphic by Center for Dairy Excellence risk management coordinator Zach Myers.

Doing the math on larger herds, it appears that a 1000-cow dairy would stand to receive around $325,000 total payment (split 80%, or $260,000, right away, and the remaining 20% later pending available funds). This puts a 1000-cow dairy over the single-owner limit but under the partnership two-owner limit.

The rough math on a 2000-cow dairy comes out to a total payment of around $650,000, which is getting close to the hard-cap of $750,000. A farm of this size or larger, with three or more owner-operators, would have a payment limit of $750,000.

Dairy economists Mark Stephenson and Andrew Novakovic at the Dairy Markets and Policy website have a more detailed paper on this that can be downloaded downloaded here.

Eligibility is limited to owner-operators who materially participated in the dairy (400 hours minimum). For those deriving 75% or more of their income from farming/ranching, there is no adjusted gross income limit for eligibility. For owners not in that category, the adjusted gross income limit to be eligible for CFAP payments is $900,000.

To be eligible for these payments, farms must also show “conservation compliance” regarding the highly erodible land and wetland conservation regulations.

The original USDA notice stated that milk priced on forward contracts would be ineligible for CFAP direct payments, and under ‘dairy eligibility’ was original language stating: “Any milk production that is not subject to price risk for any time during January, February or March is ineligible.” However, USDA removed this language about forward contracting in the final rule for May 21 Federal Register publication.

USDA has confirmed that milk pounds covered by USDA risk management programs like DMC, DRP and LGM, as well as some types of forward contracts based on futures markets through cooperatives and brokers, are eligible for the CFAP direct payments. 

Forward contracts are a gray area. An example of ineligibility could pertain to milk pounds that are specifically priced under a binding contract where pricing is determined ahead of time, such as cost-plus, and where no changes were made to reduce those contracts or charge marketing fees during COVID-19. These are not common contracts, but some larger farms have such contracts with certain processors outside of the Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

In short, the final rule as prepared for Federal Register publication on May 21 no longer contains language excluding risk-managed milk from being eligible, but a farmer applying for CFAP payments is still signing a statement that the pounds of milk certified had price losses of more than 5% and incurred other marketing and inventory costs or deductions during COVID-19.

Producers are encouraged to call their local FSA offices as soon as possible to set up phone appointments for application and to find out how to provide the information required for their applications and forms, such as tax ID number, ownership structure of the farm, adjusted gross income if applicable and pounds of first quarter milk production via milk check settlement statements Jan. through March, or other documentation for dairies doing on-farm processing.

Any milk that was dumped on farms in March due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions that is not included in the milk check pounds can also be self-certified by a producer’s record of this dumping, according to USDA.

These CFAP payments help producers offset COVID-19-related declines in income by price loss and sales loss for dairy as well as livestock and identified specialty and non-specialty crops.

Secretary Perdue indicated that for livestock and poultry growers forced to euthanize animals due to supply chain disruptions, a different program will handle those losses once USDA has the data on these occurrences to review. These CFAP payments are only for animals sold in the first quarter and animals subject to price risk that are a part of a producer’s inventory on the date chosen in the second quarter.

Dairy producers are eligible for compensation for certain types of livestock and feed.

Included under livestock are payments per head for specified classes of cattle (excluding cattle intended for dairy production), hogs, sheep (lambs and yearlings only) and wool.

CFAP_Livestock_Payment_Rate_Figure_2

It is clear that cattle sales intended for dairy are not eligible for cattle payments. However, dairy producers feeding Holstein or Dairy-cross cattle for the beef market, or raising / backgrounding such calves for feedlots may apply for cattle payments.

Cull cows are also eligible under “Mature Slaughter Cattle” for Q1 actual sales, but the “inventory at risk” method is not appropriate for dairy cull cows since they are dairy production animals while they are in “inventory,” not beef animal inventory waiting for a slot at the packing yards. Youngstock sold for to beef or veal growers, not dairy replacements, can be entered under feeder cattle. Check with your FSA office.

Assistance to cattle producers has two components – cattle sold between January 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020 and cattle inventory subject to price risk on a date of the producers choosing between April 16, 2020, to May 14, 2020. Livestock payments are per-head are shown in the Farm Bureau chart above by the two rates used for Q1 and Q2.

USDA confirmed in a media call that payments will only go to producers with eligible cattle and livestock, including contract growers if their contract allows them to have price risk in the livestock. Processor-owned livestock are not eligible for these direct farm payments.

CFAP_Non_Specialty_Payment_Rate_Figure_1_CorrectedIncluded under non-specialty crops are payment rates for malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat and hard red spring wheat. These crops grown on dairy farms are also eligible under inventory with conversions for silage to grain prices — as long as these crops were “subject to price risk” or incurred market costs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Also, included under specialty crops are payment rates for a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as almonds, pecans and walnuts, beans and mushrooms.

USDA has a special webpage devoted to the CFAP program at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

CFAP payments are not government “handouts” or “bailouts”, but rather the government’s recognition that our nation’s farmers and ranchers are essential to our nation’s future. Like other businesses receiving federal assistance during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and economic shut down, the losses farmers are suffering are monumental and totally outside of their control and outside of the disrupted supply chain’s ability to handle under these unprecedented conditions.

Throughout the past eight weeks of publicized empty shelves, purchase limits and dumping of milk — as well as euthanizing of livestock and plowing under of produce unable to be harvested – consumers are showing renewed appreciation for American farmers and ranchers. These much-needed funds will not make farmers whole but are a life boat in uncharted waters.

According to American Farm Bureau Federation, this program is considered “an important downpayment in helping farmers and ranchers deal with the unprecedented and unexpected economic fallout related to COVID-19.”

According to Jim Mulhern of National Milk Producers Federation, the details on the dairy payments are “more than we anticipated,” but at the same time “more is needed,” he said.

Both AFBF and NMPF – as well as other farm organizations – indicate they are working with lawmakers for additional assistance in the future as the full extent of the pandemic and crisis become known. USDA will be replenishing the CCC by $14 billion in July, and Congress is currently looking at what additional measures are necessary to assist producers of commodities not included in the CFAP package.

Mulhern noted in a PDPW Dairy Signal webinar Tuesday that the dairy industry stands to lose nearly $9 billion this year if the recently released World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates of 2020 milk price comes to fruition – or worsens.

He said that even with the expanded limits for CFAP, “This still leaves larger operations (over 2000 cows) without coverage for larger losses. I think there’s a good chance that additional legislation, like the House ‘HEROES’ bill, to have the payment limit issue removed.”

Mulhern also noted that one of the biggest CFAP benefits to all dairy farmers right now are the nearly $450 million in new dairy purchases that were recently announced through the $317 in dairy product awards for the new food box program May 15 through June 30 and the $120 million in additional Section 32 dairy purchases out for bid for delivery to food programs in July.

The good news is that cheese, butter, powder, and milk futures prices have been rallying over the past four weeks with near-term Class III milk contracts well into the $17s — more than $5/cwt higher than the current for May. Mulhern expects to see a volatile pattern in dairy product and futures markets for the rest of this year.

To stay up to date on information from USDA about the CFAP payments, including an FAQ, click here

The 40-page official rule on was published today, May 21, in the Federal Register. Read it here.

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Consumer trends amid COVID-19 have DMI a bit perplexed

Gallagher skeptical about ‘comfort and nutrition’, wants data from partners, not opinions. O’Brien says ‘future of dairy’ may go fast-forward

Various fresh dairy products
Data shared by DMI in the May 4, 2020 industry call shows all retail dairy sales categories are up significantly year over year. DMI CEO Tom Gallagher noted that the level of increased sales of fluid milk compared with a year ago are “still relatively consistent” as of the end of April.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 15, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Amid the supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Dairy Board are having weekly conference calls. They say 100 to 150 farmers have been participating.

And they are scratching their heads a bit over what to make of the now ‘unleashed’ consumers.

‘Unleashed consumers’ is the phrase I have coined for describing consumers now in control over their food, beverage and dairy choices, now that they are not so completely influenced by away-from-home and institutional feeding that adhere more closely to the dietary guidelines.

This has emerged most notably in the huge increases in whole milk sales that have boosted the fluid milk category well over year ago levels to the first year-over-year increase last month in decades. It has also shown up in the demand for butter, full fat cheeses and other cream products that sell out quickly at retail and prompt spot shortages.

On the May 11 DMI call, Russell Weiner, Domino’s COO and president of the Americas, was a guest and he highlighted his company’s partnership with dairy checkoff since 2008. That is a separate and quite interesting story. One thing he referenced is that pizza sales have been strong through the pandemic, and that consumers historically spend 5% of their disposable income in the quick-serve-restaurant (QSR) sector through recessions and other crises. This appears to be holding true amid the pandemic.

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and National Dairy Board president Barb O’Brien also gave updates about what DMI is doing about consumer buying patterns and future trends. It was evident in the discussion that DMI has a future of food concept for dairy based on prevailing insights from its partners and does not want to deviate from this framework unless data from partners points to a true shift in consumer purchasing and unless they have a “why” behind the shift.

Gallagher stressed that DMI, and the states and regions, are collecting every piece of information from every partner they can to “see what it will mean post-COVID or during COVID. There are a lot of opinions out there,” he said, “but it’s too early for us to put our stake in the ground as to this is what it will be.”

He talked about DMI’s data partner Inmar Analytics, which did the recent 2019 “Future of Food Retailing” report. “At no charge to us, they are looking at the buying patterns after the initial ‘panic buying,’” said Gallagher. “We know what people bought, but why did they buy it? Was it because they were interested in comfort food or nutrition? Or were they hoarding? Or were they baking more? I am a data guy. I want to see the data as to why they buy what they bought.”

In a skeptical tone, Gallagher went on about these so-called “opinions” on the buying patterns revealed by COVID-19 impacts.

“Some say, ‘Oh, it’s a return to nutrition.’ And some say, ‘Oh it’s a return to comfort food.’ But what really drove their behavior? And what strategies should really influence our thinking about the future? We don’t know. In the meantime, we will collect information,” Gallagher said. “We all have opinions, but we want to be informed with data, not opinions, to design how we move forward.”

Gallagher mentioned a study coming out this week on what food companies are thinking will be the patterns after COVID. When pressed later about how to hang on to the new-found bump in purchases of certain dairy products at retail (such as whole milk and butter), given that some of these purchases may be relatively new for some consumers, Gallagher was steadfast on not changing the future plan because of current “opinions.”

He stated — again — that Inmar Analytics will be able to tell DMI “exactly what shoppers put in their baskets and compare it to what they put in prior to COVID. They will be able to tell us what changed and through technology, why did that change occur, that’s the data I want,” he said.

One ‘why’ for ‘what changed’ (in this reporter’s opinion) may be too subtle for the Inmar Analytics surveys to detect — that is the nuances of just how much consumers have been controlled by the Dietary Guidelines pre-COVID, without even realizing it. There is rarely any talk from DMI about what those flawed guidelines — set by the government with very little opposition by the dairy industry — actually do to buying patterns when people are consuming 54% of their calories away from home and much of that in schools, workplaces, quick-serve-restaurants and other institutional settings where food choices are more “formulated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly unleashed consumers nationwide from the fat-restrictive Dietary Guidelines. Now, consumers are able to use more of their own discretion and choice apart from institutional food settings, guidelines and formulas. Some experts ‘reading the tea leaves’, such as Nielson Global Insights, observe that after a significant event like a pandemic of this magnitude, consumers can be expected to stay with some of the choices that made them feel healthy and safe during the pandemic, once the world gets back to a new-normal. That could be significant for dairy — but it may not line up with the ‘future of dairy’ pathway set by DMI and its partners.

O’Brien explained that dairy checkoff teams are actively involved in both long-term and immediate efforts.

“We are looking at the future of dairy. COVID-19 may fast-forward some of that future to happen more quickly,” she said. “In the immediate term, our retail teams are working with MilkPEP, to keep stores stocked and address the concerns people have about value, and we’re doing things with e-commerce to offer recipes that extend the use of the dairy products they bought.”

DMI’s ‘future of dairy’, as we know, is built on partnerships, innovation, and promotion of dairy farmers and sustainability and animal welfare practices, not education and promotion about milk and dairy products. It is well known that the innovations over the past decade have been focused on consumers eating dairy, not drinking it; and in the fluid space, these innovations emphasized through DMI partnerships have focused on ultrafiltered, shelf stable, lower-fat dairy beverages and blends and away from the whole milk gallon jug.

But we also can see that in their time of freedom to choose for their families amid the pandemic, consumers are reaching for the whole milk gallon jug. In fact, prices are rising on whole milk by $1 to $2 per gallon, while other fat content milks have remained the same, and still sales of whole milk are strong.

A producer from Wisconsin on the call asked Gallagher to make sure to track convenience store purchases when gathering the data, not just grocery retail, noting that many consumers buy their milk at convenience stores. Gallagher responded that they may have to check with another data partner for that piece.

O’Brien also stressed that while they gather data about consumer patterns, DMI will continue to chart the path it has set. That is to “gain the trust of consumers and celebrate dairy’s role in sustainably nourishing families and communities,” she said, adding that a media segment is being prepared for Fox and Friends next Monday morning, May 18 that will feature Katie Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Maryland.

“That piece will help bring to life our dairy farmers’ commitment to sustainably producing nutritious food,” said O’Brien. An estimated 2.5 million viewers will see the spot, and it will be supplemented with “live-streaming” on two other network stations where farmers will be interviewed to “tell their story.”

“That piece is supported by a 30-second video drawing footage from many farms and will run this week to the end of the month in streaming venues,” said O’Brien. She also explained that DMI has been working extensively with MilkPEP (fluid milk processors promotion) and that MilkPEP’s ‘Love what’s real’ ads are on television right now during the COVID period (when everyone is at home). The ads review the essential role of dairy farmers, and others involved in the dairy supply chain, she said.

“We co-brand these ads using the Undeniably Dairy logo, and design ways to help them reach consumers with these interests,” said O’Brien. “That’s our runway into June Dairy Month.”

While Gallagher said he expected to have some data insights from Inmar Analytics as early as next week, he added that it will begin a process to use technology to interact with consumers to learn more of the why’s behind their choices so that DMI — and its partners — can “appeal” to those drivers.

Stay tuned.

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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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