Despite frustrations, G.T. is not giving up on ending federal prohibition of whole milk in schools

After his whole milk in schools amendment failed on a committee-level party-line vote in August, G.T. Thompson said he’s not giving up, but that a change in leadership is needed to get this done. “Current leadership has an anti-kid, anti-dairy bias. This has become all politics with no logic,” he said.
Bills that would end federal prohibition of whole milk in schools are before the United States Congress and in the Pennsylvania and New York state legislatures. In the U.S. House there are 95 cosponsors. In the Pennsylvania House, it was passed almost unanimously, but the PA Senate refuses to run it because of lunch money scare tactics. Proponents of the various whole milk bills say Democrat party leaders oppose this common sense measure. Some Democrat lawmakers have signed on along with the Republicans as cosponsors; however, as the fight to include it as an amendment in childhood nutrition reauthorization proved — the Democratic leadership has another agenda for America’s foods and beverages and has therefore halted any movement of this measure to end federal prohibition of whole milk in schools and in daycares and in WIC. This bill is simply about allowing a choice that would be healthy for America’s children and rural economy. The evidence is overwhelming that the Dietary Guidelines and Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act got it wrong. Our children and farmers are paying the price for this mistake. Those in charge don’t seem to care about science, freedom of choice, nor petitions signed by tens of thousands of people.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 5, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An attempt by Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.) to get his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids bill attached as part of an amendment to the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization package failed last week despite the bill having nearly 100 cosponsors, including both Republicans and Democrats.

Joining him in introducing the amendment during the Committee’s markup of the Democrat’s child nutrition reauthorization were Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Fred Keller (R-Pa.) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho).

“Unfortunately, the Democrats folded on us, and the amendment was defeated,” said Thompson in a Farmshine phone interview Tuesday (Aug. 2). The amendment also included language that would have allowed whole milk for mothers and children over age 2 enrolled in the WIC program.

“The current leadership has an anti-kid, anti-dairy bias, that’s my interpretation,” Thompson said. “Our whole milk provisions are good for youth and their physical and cognitive well-being. It’s also good for rural America.”

Thompson said his effort as a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor was to include the substance of two bills related to whole milk in the huge reauthorization package. Child nutrition reauthorization is normally a five-year cycle, but it has not been updated in over a decade since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act passed under a Democrat majority in 2010 to double-down on anti-fat policies in all government feeding programs, including schools.

“We wanted moms and children to get access to the best milk, but this has become all politics with no logic,” he said.

The Committee moved the child nutrition package forward last week without the whole milk provisions. That package will now go to the full House for a vote.

Thompson said its fate is uncertain, that it is likely to pass the House, although the margins are tighter there, he explained. 

However, he believes the child nutrition package will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate where it likely will not receive the 60 votes needed to pass.

If that happens, then the task of writing it would begin again in the next legislative session (2023-24).

“Our best hope (of getting the whole milk provisions for schools and WIC) is for Republicans to take back the majority in November,” said Thompson, explaining that he is already working with Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina. “She understands the issue and knows this is one of my top priorities.”

If Republicans gain a House majority in the midterm elections, Foxx is a likely candidate for chair of Education and Workforce, and Thompson would be a senior member of that committee as well as being a likely candidate for chair of the House Agriculture Committee, where he is currently the Ranking Member.

In fact, he said he is “very positive” about being successful getting Whole Milk for Healthy Kids out of committee under Republican leadership and is already working hard to ensure its success out of the full House, pending who is in leadership after the midterms.

Thompson said he is also working on allies in the Senate.

Up until now, it has been the outgoing Senator from Pennsylvania – Pat Toomey – who has “carried the milk” on this issue with companion legislation in the Senate.

“His bill impressed me in how he and his team thought through the issue on fat limits that are imposed on our nutrition professionals in schools,” said Thompson, taking note for future reintroductions of his bill.

On the House side, the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization originates in the Education and Workforce Committee, but in the Senate the package originates in the Agriculture Committee.

Thompson notes that if the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, the current Ranking Member of the Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, is a likely candidate for chair. Boozman, who previously served in the U.S. House and was a mentor to Thompson. Today, they are the Ag Ranking Members in the two chambers and work closely on issues important to farmers and ranchers.

Back in 2018, when Thompson was asked at a farm meeting why his first introduction of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids did not pass when Republicans did have a majority in the House and Senate in the 2017-18 legislative session, Thompson noted that National Milk Producers Federation, at that particular time, supported a more gradual shift to first codify the permission for 1% flavored milk then work up to the whole milk provision. 

When asked the question again after his amendment failed, he reflected, noting that in the 2017-18 legislative session, the school milk issue was not well-understood in either chamber of Congress. Then Secretary of Agriculture had made an executive decision to provide flexibility for schools to serve 1% flavored milk instead of limiting it to fat-free. But a bill to codify that change into law has also failed to pass in its three attempts as well. 

It’s not hard to believe that members of Congress do not understand this issue — given the fact that it has taken many years and much grassroots education effort to open even the eyes of parents to the school milk issue. Today, many parents are still unaware that their children over age two at 75% of daycares and 95% of schools (any that receive any federal dollars) do not have the option of drinking whole and 2% milk. Their only milk options by federal prohibition are 1% and fat-free. People just don’t believe it to be true and figure the problem kids have with milk at school is because it’s not chilled enough or comes in a hard to open carton.

In the current effort to get whole milk provisions into the child nutrition reauthorization, however, Thompson confirmed that in addition to the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk effort —  “all major dairy organizations were working on this.”

Put simply, said Thompson, if the Republicans gain a majority in November, they are likely to be the ones who will write the next child nutrition package. As the one written recently by the Democrats is headed to the full House and has a tough-go in the Senate, Thompson said even if it does pass, targeted legislative fixes could be achieved in the next legislative session, pending a change in leadership.

“My goal is to work hard. The package that is going to the House now under the Democrats not only does not include whole milk provisions, it continues to micromanage school nutrition professionals who are the ones who know the kids the best and are in the best position to know how to help them eat in a healthy way,” said Thompson.

“Under the current (Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010) and this update — if it passes — kids aren’t eating the lunches. If they are not eating the meals (or drinking the milk), then it is not nutritious,” he added.-30-

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Bishop family starts new chapter at Bishcroft Farm, large herd dispersal of 1500 head Sept. 1 and 2

With mixed emotions as they transition away from dairy at Bishcroft Farm are Herman and Marianne Bishop flanked on the left by Tim and Anne and their children (from left) Thomas, Esther, Jim and Elizabeth and on the right by Rich and Nikki and their children (from left) Peter, George, and Bethany (not pictured).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 19, 2022

ROARING BRANCH, Pa. — It is likely to be the largest dairy herd dispersal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when the Bishop family has their two-day auction of 1500 head on September 1st and 2nd at Bishcroft Farm here in Roaring Branch, Tioga County.

The sale is managed by Fraley Auction Company, Muncy.

The Bishops have been dairying 83 years across three generations. Herman and Marianne are in their 75th year of membership with Land O’Lakes and were recently recognized for that milestone. They operate the farm in partnership with sons Tim and his wife Anne and Rich and his wife Nikki and are transitioning toward a more flexible future, while leaving open the option that another generation may want to milk cows on a smaller scale someday.

The closed commercial herd of sire-identified, AI-bred Holsteins is attracting interest with 580 first and second lactation out of the 750 total milking and dry cows selling Thursday (Sept. 1) and the 750 heifers selling Friday (Sept. 2), ranging 4 months old to springing, with 100 heifers due from sale time through December.

The herd makes an RHA of 26,146M 1021F 797P with somatic cell count averaging 138,000 on the sale cattle.

The sale list will note whether cows are bred to beef or sexed semen Holstein.

They started with Angus beef-on-dairy three to four years ago, primarily on the cows that weren’t settling — resulting in those genetics leaving the herd, Rich explains.

They use Holstein sires on the cows that are daughters from higher net merit bulls, and all bred heifers are due to Holstein sires with 90% to sexed semen, the Bishops confirm. Two-year-olds are also bred first service to sexed semen with a high percentage due to sexed-semen.

The Bishops are keeping all crossbred cattle and all calves under four months of age to raise and sell at breeding age, as they have forage to use up.

“We’re also keeping the bottom end of the cows to continue milking 100 to 150 head for a while,” Rich explains. That is until their valuable production base with Land O’Lakes is sold. 

“Our base is listed on the Land O’Lakes website and must transfer through their system, but they don’t set the prices,” he explains. “The buyer and seller negotiate the price and quantity with a 1000-pound daily base minimum transaction.”

Bishcroft currently ships a trailer load of milk every 21 hours. They have worked hard to manage their production to their daily base of 64,352 pounds of milk, which can only be sold to existing Land O’Lakes members.

During a recent Farmshine visit, Rich’s son Peter, 13, was the one to say he’ll really miss the dairy cows.

“He’s never known anything different,” says Nikki. “He fed the calves with me since he was a toddler.”

At the time of the sale, the Bishops are milking 750 cows 3x, having peaked in January milking 820. They have always milked 3x, even experimenting with 4x, seeing 7 to 8 pounds of additional milk per cow, but finding it unsustainable in terms of labor.

The Bishops observe that smaller dairies and more diversified farms have more flexibility to navigate changes in weather patterns, markets, labor and policies.

“I don’t see ever going back to milking a large herd here,” says Rich. “Maybe a small herd. Maybe Peter will want to do something like that with direct-to-consumer sales. But I don’t see going back to what we have today.”

At Ag Progress Days last week, a panel of experts said Pennsylvania is the state with the second largest volume of direct-to-consumer sales of farm products. A relationship with consumers holds some appeal for the Bishops as they transition into cash cropping with some beef on the side and a limited amount of pork as well.

The Bishops have always strived to be near the top of the dairy pack. Progressive and forward-thinking, the brothers participated in industry conferences and geared decisions toward cow comfort, productivity, quality and efficiency.

In fact, that’s something they’ll miss most — the friends they would regularly see at dairy industry meetings. 

“Things aren’t what they used to be,” says Tim.

“We see this developing to where larger herds like ours have to be in the top 10 to 20% or we are going backward,” Rich observes. “Dad is almost 77, and he’s doing the majority of the feeding. Tim and I want to spend more time with our families off the farm, and it’s getting harder to attract and keep employees that are willing to work these hours or to make enough money in dairy here to pay the wages and overtime competing with what is happening in New York State.”

The milk price jump of 50% this year was welcome relief after six years of tight margins and uncertainty. That’s when the Bishops really took stock of their position and decided to invest differently.

When asked how it feels to see the herd being sold, Herman, the patriarch, replied: “This is no different than what I did in 1970 when I increased my dad’s herd.

“It’s the way it goes. We made a change in 2004 and 2005 for another generation, not for me. I had a registered herd of 150 cows. We did a lot of research. The boys went and looked at 60 farms. They built this and expanded the herd (from 150 to 350 and from 350 to 650 and from 650 to 800). We changed things for the times, and that’s what’s happening now, a change for another generation,” Herman explains.

Rumors have run rampant, but the simple truth is this: The families are transitioning to options they see as more flexible and less stressful. 

They began transitioning their cropping this spring, knowing they wouldn’t need the same mix of crops and forages. They had already been doing trial work for Syngenta. They started looking into utilizing the freestall facilities for beef to some extent, maybe converting to a bedded pack. They’ll still make some hay, but their investments now are in equipment for cash cropping the 1450 acres of land they own and rent.

They planted soybeans for the first time and handled the cover crops differently, harvesting some as small grains, and burning a lot of it down as ‘green manure’ fertilizer to minimize their need for purchased fertilizer.

This will also be their first year combining corn, Tim explains, noting that on-farm grain storage is something they are looking at as they planned to go to Empire Farm Days the day after our visit.

In fact, the brothers note the higher milk price this year allowed them to make some crop equipment investments from cash flow.

As the Bishops raise and feed-out their beef-on-dairy crossbreds, they realize they have a learning curve ahead of them if they move further into beef production.

“We hope to do some direct-to-consumer sales,” says Tim, “feed some of these cattle and bring in a few pigs, even look at doing a truck patch (garden).”

Nikki says the family has always taken time to educate and advocate with the community of consumers around them. Tim’s youngest daughter is a Little Miss U.S. Agriculture, and Nikki fields questions constantly from her colleagues where she works at a local hospital. They want to know where their food comes from.

“People are curious. I have explained cattle rations, comparing it to the ‘ages and stages’ diets we have for kids (at the hospital). The response I would get is ‘that sounds like complicated hard work, why don’t you just buy milk at the store like everyone else?’” Nikki relates.

“These are educated people, and they didn’t quite get it until I explained that if they went to Weis Markets, the milk they were buying might be ours!”

She also tells the story from a few years back when fellow nurses saw the rBST-free pledge on the little milk chugs in the hospital cafeteria and started asking what it was because they thought they were going to win a ‘free rBST.’

While young Peter said several times that he’ll miss the cows, others in the family said they’ll miss the fresh milk.

“We might have to keep a few to milk for ourselves and to have milk to feed to the pigs,” says Tim.

“Excited and nervous” were the two words he used to describe the transition ahead.

“It is nerve-wracking but also feels a little like seeing a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Rich adds, noting the stress that comes with price volatility and labor issues will now flip to adjusting to managing cash flow without the regularity of a milk check.

The children are still adjusting to the news, having learned of the decision just a few weeks before our visit.

Some have favorite cows they’ve grown and shown that will have to stay, but Rich also notes none of the kids were “dying to milk cows,” and if they decide they want to do that, some assets are here they can put to use on a smaller scale.

“We have ideas and thoughts about how to utilize what we have differently, but we want to walk before we run,” he says.

Toward that end, the brothers are participating in seminars and looking at beef programs that are coming along. Their main focus will be low input, feeding the current beef-on-dairy crossbreds, raising the 120 heifer calves under 4 months of age they are retaining to breeding age, seeing how the sale goes, maybe looking at buying some feeder cattle… Time will tell as they look and learn and adjust.

“When you realize what a huge world God has created and we’re out here trying to feed the world, you realize how fortunate you are to live here and to be farming,” says Tim.As Herman affirms, this is another chapter in the story:

“The farm and the family are here. As for the future, we never know what it brings.”

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Are we moving toward cow islands and milk deserts?

Opinion/Analysis

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine (combined 2 part series Aug. 12 and 19, 2022)

In Class I utilization markets, the landscape is rapidly shifting, and we should pay attention, lest we end up with ‘cow islands’ and ‘milk deserts.’

Farmshine readers may recall in November 2019, I wrote in the Market Moos column about comments made Nov. 5 by Randy Mooney, chairman of both the DFA and NMPF boards during the annual convention in New Orleans of National Milk Producers Federation together with the two checkoff boards — National Dairy Board and United Dairy Industry Association. 

Mooney gave a glimpse of the future in his speech that was podcast. (Listen here at 13:37 minutes). He said he had been “looking at a map,” seeing “plants on top of plants,” and he urged the dairy industry to “collectively consolidate,” to target limited resources “toward those plants that are capable of making the new and innovative products.”

One week later, Dean Foods (Southern Foods Group LLC) filed for bankruptcy as talks between Dean and DFA about a DFA purchase were already underway. It was the first domino right on the heels of Mooney’s comments, followed by Borden filing Chapter 11 two months later in January, and followed by three-years of fresh fluid milk plant closings and changes in ownership against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and an influx of new dairy-based beverage innovations, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable milk, as well as lookalike alternatives and blends.

The map today looks a lot different from the one described by Mooney in November 2019 when he urged the industry to “collectively consolidate.” The simultaneous investments in extended shelf-life (ESL) and aseptic packaging are also a sign of the direction of ‘innovation’ Mooney may have been referring to.

Two months prior to Mooney issuing that challenge, I was covering a September 2019 industry meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where dairy checkoff presenters made it clear that the emphasis of the future is on launching innovative new beverages and dairy-‘based’ products.

Here is an excerpt from my opinion/analysis of the discussion at that time:

“While we are told that consumers are ditching the gallon jug (although it is still by far the largest sector of sales), and we are told consumers are looking for these new products; at the same time, we are also told that it is the dairy checkoff’s innovation and revitalization strategy to ‘work with industry partners to move consumers away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward looking for these new and innovative products’ that checkoff dollars are launching.”

These strategy revelations foreshadowed where the fluid milk markets appear to be heading today, and this is also obvious from recent Farmshine articles showing the shifting landscape in cow, farm, and milk production numbers.

When viewing the picture of the map that is emerging, big questions come to mind:

Are today’s Class I milk markets under threat of becoming ‘milk deserts’ as the dairy industry consolidates into ‘cow islands’?

Would dairy farmers benefit from less regulation of Class I pricing in the future so producers outside of the “collectively consolidating” major-player-complex are freer to seek strategies and alliances of their own, to carve out market spaces with consumers desiring and rediscovering fresh and local, to put their checkoff dollars toward promotion that helps their farms remain viable and keeps their regions from becoming milk deserts? 

What role is the industry’s Net Zero Initiative playing behind the scenes, the monitoring, scoring, tracking of carbon, the way energy intensity may be viewed for transportation and refrigeration and other factors in Scope 1, 2 and 3 ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) scores? 

Shelf-stable milk may provide solutions for some emerging (or are they self-inflicted?) milk access and distribution dilemmas, and maybe one view of ESG scoring favors it? But ultimately it also means milk can come from cow islands to milk deserts — from anywhere, to anywhere.

It also becomes clearer why the whole milk bill is having so much trouble moving forward. The industry machine gives lip-service support to the notion of whole milk in schools, but the reality is, the industry is chasing other lanes on this highway to ‘improve’ the school milk ‘experience’ and ensure milk ‘access’ through innovations that at the same time pave the road from the ‘cow islands’ to the ‘milk deserts.’ 

It is now clearer — to me — why the Class I mover formula is such a hotly debated topic. 

If major industry-driving consolidators are looking to transition away from turning over cow to consumer fresh, local/regional milk supplies by turning toward beverage stockpiles that can sit in a warehouse ‘Coca-Cola-style’ at ambient temperatures for six to 12 months, it’s no wonder the consolidators want the ‘higher of’ formula to stay buried. What a subversion that was in the 2018 Farm Bill.

In fact, if the industry is pursuing a transition from fresh, fluid milk to a more emphasis on shelf-stable aseptic milk, such a transition would, in effect, turn the federal milk marketing orders’ purpose and structure — that is tied to Class I fresh fluid milk — completely upside down.

Landscape change has been in motion for years, but let’s look at the past 6 years — Dean had already closed multiple plants and cut producers in the face of Walmart opening it’s own milk bottling plant in Spring 2018. The Class I ‘mover’ formula for pricing fluid milk — the only milk class required to participate in Federal Milk Marketing Orders — was changed in the 2018 Farm Bill that went into effect Sept. 2018. The new Class I mover formula was implemented by USDA in May 2019, resulting in net losses to dairy farmers on their payments for Class I of well over $750 million across 43 months since then.

(Side note: Under the formula change, $436 million of Class I value stayed in processor pockets from May 2019 through October 2019, alone. DFA purchased 44 Dean Foods plants in May 2019 and became by far the largest Class I processor at that time.)

These and other landscape changes were already in motion when Mooney spoke on Nov. 5, 2019 at the convention of NMPF, NDB and UDIA describing the milk map and seeing plants on top of plants and issuing the challenge to “collectively consolidate” to target resources to those plants that can make the innovative new products. 

One week later, Nov. 12, 2019, Dean Foods filed for bankruptcy protection to reorganize and sell assets (mainly to DFA).

Since 2019, this and other major changes have occurred as consolidation of Class I milk markets tightens substantially around high population swaths, leaving in wake the new concerns about milk access that spur the movement toward ESL and aseptic milk. A chain reaction.

What does Mooney’s map look like today after his 2019 call for “collective consolidation” and the targeting of investments to plants that can make the innovative products, the plants that DMI fluid milk revitalization head Paul Ziemnisky told farmers in a 2021 conference call were going to need to be “dual-purpose” — taking in all sorts of ingredients, making all sorts of beverages and products, blending, ultrafiltering, and, we see it now, aseptically packaging?

In addition to the base of Class I processing it already owned a decade ago, the string of DFA mergers has been massive. The most recent acquisitions, along with exits by competitors, essentially funnel even more of the market around key population centers to DFA with its collective consolidation strategy and investments in ESL and aseptic packaging.

The South —

The 14 Southeast states (Maryland to Florida and west to Arkansas) have 29% of the U.S. population. If you include Texas and Missouri crossover milk flows, we are talking about 37% of the U.S. population. 

The major players in the greater Southeast fluid milk market include DFA enlarged by its Dean purchases, Kroger supplied by Select and DFA, Prairie Farms with its own plants, DFA and Prairie Farms with joint ownership of Hiland Dairy plants, Publix supermarkets with its own plants, an uncertain future for four remaining Borden plants in the region as Borden has exited even the retail market in some of these states, and a handful of other fluid milk processors. 

In Texas, alone, DFA now owns or jointly owns a huge swath of the fluid milk processing plants, having purchased all Dean assets in the Lone Star State in the May 2020 bankruptcy sale and now positioned to gain joint ownership of all Borden Texas holdings through the announced sale to Hiland Dairy

The Midwest — 

Just looking at the greater Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay metropolis, the population totals are a lake-clustered 6% of U.S. population. Given the recent closure by Borden of the former Dean plants in Chemung, Illinois and De Pere, Wisconsin, this market is in flux with DFA owning various supply plants including a former Dean plant in Illinois and one in Iowa with Prairie Farms having purchased several of the Dean plants serving the region.

In the Mideast, there is Coca Cola with fairlife, Walmart and Kroger among the supermarkets with their own processing, and DFA owning two former Dean plants in Ohio, two in Indiana, two in Michigan, and a handful of other bottlers. 

In the West: DFA owns a former Dean plant in New Mexico, two in Colorado, two in Montana, one in Idaho, two in Utah, one in Nevada and one in California, as well as other plants, of course. 

The Northeast —

This brings us to the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine, where 18% of the U.S. population lives, and where consolidation of Class I markets, especially around the major Boston-NYC-Philadelphia metropolis have consolidated rapidly against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and a big push by non-dairy alternative beverage launches from former and current dairy processors.

DFA owns two former Dean plants in Massachusetts, one in New York, all four in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey. The 2019 merger with St. Alban’s solidified additional New England fluid milk market under DFA. In 2013, DFA had purchased the Dairy Maid plant from the Rona family in Maryland; in 2014, the prominent Oakhurst plant in Maine; and in 2017, the Cumberland Dairy plant in South Jersey.

More recently, DFA struck a 2021 deal with Wakefern Foods to supply their Bowl and Basket and other milk, dairy, and non-dairy brands for the various supermarket chains and convenience stores under the Wakefern umbrella covering the greater New York City metropolis into New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. This milk had previously been supplied by independent farms, processed at Wakefern’s own iconic Readington Farms plant in North Jersey, which Wakefern subsequently closed in January 2022.

The long and twisted tale begs additional questions:

As Borden has dwindled in short order from 14 plants to five serving the most populous region of the U.S. – the Southland — what will happen with the remaining five plants in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida? What will become of Elsie the Cow and Borden’s iconic brands and new products?

What percentage of the “collectively consolidated” U.S. fluid milk market does DFA now completely or partially own and/or control?

Will the “collective consolidation” in the form of closures, sales and mergers continue to push shelf-stable ESL and aseptic milk into Class I retail markets and especially schools… and will consumers, especially kids, like this milk and drink it?

What role are rising energy prices, climate ESG-scoring and net-zero pledges and proclamations playing in the plant closures and shifts toward fewer school and retail milk deliveries, less refrigeration, more forward thrust for shelf-stable and lactose-free milk, as well as innovations into evermore non-dairy launches and so-called flexitarian blending and pairing?

Looking ahead at how not only governments around the world, but also corporations, creditors and investors are positioning for climate/carbon tracking, ESG scoring and the so-called Great Reset, the Net Zero economy, there’s little doubt that these factors are driving the direction of fluid milk “innovation” over the 12 years that DMI’s Innovation Center has coordinated the so-called ‘fluid milk revitalization’ initiative — at the same time developing the FARM program and the Net Zero Initiative.

The unloading of nine Borden plants in five months under Gregg Engles, the CEO of “New Borden” and former CEO of “Old Dean” is also not surprising. Engles is referred to in chronicles of dairy history not only as “the great consolidator” but also as “industry transformer.”

In addition to being CEO of Borden, Engles is chairman and managing partner of one of the two private equity investment firms that purchased the Borden assets in bankruptcy in June 2020. Investment firms fancy themselves at the forefront of ESG scoring.

Engles is also one of only two U.S. members of the Danone board of directors. Danone, owner of former Dean’s WhiteWave, including Silk plant-based and Horizon Organic milk, has positioned itself in the forefront on 2030 ESG goals, according to its 2019 ‘one planet, one health’ template that has also driven consolidation and market loss in the Northeast. 

Not only is Danone dumping clusters of its Horizon milk-supplying organic family dairy farms, it continues to heavily invest in non-dairy processing, branding, launching and marketing of alternative lookalike dairy products and beverages, including Next Milk, Not Milk and Wondermilk. 

There is plenty of food-for-thought to chew on here from the positives to the negatives of innovation, consolidation, and climate ESGs hitting full-throttle in tandem. These issues require forward-looking discussion so dairy farmers in areas with substantial reliance on Class I fluid milk sales can navigate the road ahead and examine all lanes on this highway that appears to be leading to cow islands and milk deserts.

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Lancaster County ranked 11th as dairy industry consolidates to 54 counties shipping 50% of FMMO milk

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 2022

LENEXA, Kan. — Milk marketings through Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) accounted for 60.5% of total U.S. milk production in 2021, according to USDA FMMO statistics.

Last week, the Market Administrator for the Central FMMO 32 released its semi-annual report painting a picture of these marketings in the form of milk totals and FMMO-marketed percentages at the county-level across the U.S. — using the month of December 2021 as the “snapshot.”

Ranked 11th in the nation, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania remains the only county east of the Mississippi River that is among the top 13 counties accounting for 25% of the milk marketed through FMMOs. Seven of those top 13 counties are in California, two in Arizona, and one each in Texas, Washington and Colorado.

Of the top 54 counties accounting for 50% of the milk marketed through the FMMO system in December, Franklin County, Pennsylvania is included, along with four counties in New York (St. Lawrence, Genessee, Wyoming and Cayuga counties), four in Michigan, 12 in Wisconsin, two in Minnesota, six in Texas, four in New Mexico, two in California, and one each in Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Washington and Oregon.

According to the Central FMMO Market Administrator’s report, “the origin of milk marketings (through FMMOs) remains highly concentrated.”

In fact, it became more concentrated as the 54 counties that accounted for 50% of FMMO milk marketings in December 2021 was 59 counties in December 2016.

Those 54 counties represent just 3.9% of the total 1395 counties that had any FMMO milk marketings.

The report tallied more than 67 million pounds of milk marketed in the month of December 2021 by each of those 54 largest FMMO counties. By contrast, 624 of the 1395 counties marketed less than one million pounds each in December 2021.

Of the 1395 counties marketing milk through FMMOs, 57 increased their FMMO-marketed milk pounds while 1139 counties decreased in December 2021.

Twice a year, the Central FMMO 32 collects this data from all FMMOs to create these maps depicting milk production by county across the U.S. These maps illustrate the concentration of milk marketed through FMMOs within the 11 FMMOs for December 2021. 

Thus the accompanying charts and maps are monthly totals based on December 2021 FMMO milk marketings and are a ‘snapshot’ of milk production based on one month and based on milk marketed through FMMOs, not including the 39.5% of total U.S. milk production that was marketed outside of the FMMO system in 2021.

School lunch money scare tactics are holding up PA whole milk bill

Cousins Grace and Bella are my youngest granddaughters, pictured here in 2020 obviously enjoying their milk — mustache and all. They both started kindergarten in 2021, where for the next 12 years, their meals at school will not allow their choice of whole milk or even 2% milk — unless state and/or federal lawmakers act. Children consume 2 meals a day, 5 days a week, 75% of the year at school where they are denied the simple choice, even a la carte. A saddening and maddening state of affairs.

As adults, we should be ashamed of ourselves

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 8, 2022

I guess it’s true, good dairy bills – for more than a decade now – continue to be introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, only to pass in the House but then die in the Senate. We’ve seen it with the many bills over the years aimed at amending the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Law, and now we are seeing it with the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act.

HB 2397 was introduced by Representative John Lawrence, and it passed the State House almost unanimously (196 to 2) in April. It then passed the State Senate Agriculture Committee and was re-referred to the State Senate Appropriations Committee, where it sits today digesting the “scare tactics” of its opponents – causing some heartburn for lawmakers thinking USDA could withhold all free and reduced school lunch reimbursements in Pennsylvania.

USDA is the bully waving children’s lunch money like a mighty sword demanding submissive obedience, even suggesting in May that schools lacking appropriate LGBTQ+ policies for “gender affirming” use of locker rooms, rest rooms and sports participation could be denied their free and reduced school lunch reimbursements. USDA has since recanted this notion — saying they meant only to address discrimination associated with the provision of the food. That’s more like it. But that redirection of the Department’s prior statement did not happen until more than 20 states’ Governors and Attorneys General threatened to sue the Biden Administration for using the lunch money of economically disadvantaged children to implement federalized bathroom gender policies.

On whole milk in schools, similar scare tactics are being used to prevent the Pennsylvania state bill from being voted on in the Senate chamber.

Bow thee, oh Pennsylvanians, to King Vilsack and the Dietary Police.

Even a certain farm paper published in Lancaster County has made it their business to take every point of whole milk choice supporters, the evidence, the law, and tear it apart – piece by piece. A head-scratcher, for sure.

I have been digging into the original Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the subsequent amendments through the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), as well as various memos from USDA to state nutrition program directors when the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules were implemented to govern a la carte beverages in 2012. I have also read through Pennsylvania Department of Education audits of schools, which are all publicly available. I can find no tie between a state law offering a self-select choice of whole milk (paid for with state or local or parental funds) to students as grounds for withholding free and reduced school meal reimbursements from schools. In fact, quite the contrary. 

Even the individual schools that would choose to provide the choice of whole and/or 2% milk to students could not be threatened with loss of their free and reduced lunch subsidy — as long as the meal pattern for the ‘served’ lunch is met; however, more importantly, it is clear that the only audit feature tied specifically to this reimbursement is that the financial eligibility of the recipients is properly qualified.

Here’s the key: Even if a school is deemed out of compliance on meal pattern or does not have a strong enough ‘wellness policy’ on ‘competing foods’ — as would be the case if whole milk was offered as a choice, USDA does not have the authority to yank the free and reduced school meal subsidy on that basis. This authority is linked to eligibility, financial eligibility.

Research into the 2010 HHFKA shows that the loss of this reimbursement is directly tied to how the students/families are qualified as financially eligible. There are extensive details on this in the law, and the auditing schools go through, the paper trail for eligibility, is extensive. This is a separate audit section from the meal pattern performance.

In fact, in passing the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the U.S. Congress clearly stated — separately — that schools can receive a 6-cents per eligible meal ‘performance increase’ as an incentive to meet the new HHFKA-prescribed meal patterns and in addressing competing foods and beverages in school wellness policies per USDA. This ‘bonus’ is tied to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences, not the Dietary Guidelines. (A 2018 National Academy of Sciences review was highly critical of the Dietary Guidelines process.)

In setting a 6-cent performance increase per eligible meal in the 2010 HHFKA, Congress also capped the total to be spent for this meal-pattern incentive at $50 million annually nationwide. This is over and above the separate free and reduced meal reimbursement, itself, which dwarfs the performance bonus at $14 billion annually nationwide. 

These are separate portions of the 2010 HHFKA. In Section E of the law, Failure to Comply spells out precisely what is at risk if a school is not in meal pattern compliance — the 6 cents increase per eligible meal, not the reimbursement for qualified free and reduced meals.

As for the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules promulgated by USDA and implemented fully in 2012, which govern the a la carte beverages and snacks that can be “available” on school premises during school hours? It is important to note that USDA’s own memos to state directors in 2014 clarified that the Department will “provide exemptions for certain foods that are nutrient dense, even if they may not meet all of the specific nutrient requirements.”

Whole milk is a nutrient dense food.

However, in playing ‘dictator’ with our children’s health, USDA chose its exemptions and ignored the nutrient density of whole milk. What did they use as an example in a memo to schools? “Peanut butter and other nut butters are exempt from the total fat and saturated fat standards since these foods are also nutrient dense… and we want students to consume more of these foods,” a memo to state directors stated.

Perhaps Impossible Burger is another ‘exemption’ given its calories, fat and sodium far exceed USDA rules, but it was so-impossibly approved by USDA in May 2021 for actual federal meal reimbursement. Impossible Burger is not particularly nutrient dense – but real beef is, and real beef is greatly limited in school meal pattern compliance, along with the ban on whole milk.

Bottomline, the USDA under Secretary Vilsack in 2012 took aim at beverages. In 2018, while working for DMI as one of dairy checkoff’s highest paid executives serving as President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Tom Vilsack was cheered and awarded during the dairy checkoff founded and funded GENYOUth Gala that year for his “success” in “finally” addressing the beverage situation in schools. 

Those were the words of former President Bill Clinton, a vegan, who spoke at length during the Gala about the beverage problem in the obesity crisis and how his friend Tom is the person who finally “got it done.”

What did he get done? He booted out the whole milk and paved the path for all of PepsiCo’s artificially sweetened and partially artificially sweetened beverages in school cafeterias – the Gatorade Zero, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Diet Coolers, Diet Cola’s, flavored waters – with that blend of high fructose corn syrup and sucralose that keeps them under 60 calories (the USDA threshold for an a la carte beverage per the Smart Snacks rules) and of course fat free – but also nutrition free. (PepsiCo got the GENYOUth Gala award the following year)

Sadly, the U.S. Congress also let dairy farmers down in 2010 by including the reference to the Dietary Guidelines in the one and only sentence on school milk in the HHFKA. All other nutritional references for the meal pattern are linked to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Academy of Sciences. 

Here’s what the HHFKA states under Nutrition Requirements for Fluid Milk Section 9(a)(2)(A) is amended to say: “shall offer students a variety of fluid milk. Such milk shall be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 

Even that milk sentence is ‘loose,’ and open to interpretation. Is the DGA recommendation of consuming ‘less than 10% calories from saturated fat’ a per-food, per-beverage, or per-meal ordinance or a whole-day allotment? 

We are told over and over that the DGAs are recommendations. Somehow USDA didn’t get that memo and decided to use DGAs to bully milk choices of children.

Never mind how counterproductive this is for children. When removing satiating nutrient dense fat from whole nutrient dense foods, kids compensate and replace this with nutritionally empty carbohydrates. 

Such were the early warnings of school foodservice personnel I interviewed over a decade ago as they piloted the draconian rules  before they were implemented. 

Such is also among the recent findings of the Milky Way controlled study by Australian researchers involving two sets of children — one having their milkfat consumption increased and the other having their milkfat consumption decreased. 

Care to guess which group saw a reduction in Body Mass Index percentile? Or which group had higher blood sodium levels? Or what the differences were in other biomarkers related to cardiovascular and metabolic health? (An article about this study appeared in the May 20 edition of Farmshine. It was the group of children who increased milkfat consumption that saw decreased BMI percentile and it was the group of children who decreased milkfat consumption that saw increased blood sodium levels! All other biomarkers for health were the same between the two groups.)

There are so many tentacles behind the scenes of how this whole school meal and school milk thing really work, that it boggles the mind – so much so that vested interests can come in and scare well-intentioned state lawmakers into thinking if they dare pass this bill and make nutrient dense flavorful whole milk available to schoolchildren as a CHOICE, that somehow the economically disadvantaged children of the Commonwealth could go hungry because USDA will take their lunch money. School foodservice directors are undoubtedly scared as well because the free/reduced reimbursements are a huge part of their budgets.

I’ve got news for the opponents of this bill, the State Senate Appropriations Committee, the Governor and the USDA: Our children are already suffering from hunger pangs in math class, and the absence of nutrient density in their school meals – on your watch right now, today. Do you care? Do the opponents of the whole milk bill spewing their scare tactics care?

The federal prohibition of whole milk in schools is the tip of a mighty iceberg that is failing our children while paving the path to an even less healthful future for America and a less economically healthful status for Pennsylvania dairy farms, the backbone of our state’s ag economy into the future.

We just celebrated our nation’s Independence Day, and yet our children cannot choose whole milk at school — even if their locally elected school boards want to offer it and even if their parents pay for it.

No one supporting this bill believes USDA will reimburse the actual whole milk, itself. Supporters just want the choice to be fully recognized as legal so that as parents, grandparents, farmers, citizens we can get about the business of next finding a way to provide this nutrient dense, satiating, delicious option to the children in our communities who consume two meals a day, five days a week, three-quarters of the year at school.

The issue spills out from the schools into other foodservice meals. It is heartwrenching for this reporter to listen to adults involved in dairy checkoff boast to farmers about how they are getting whole milk and cream into McDonald’s coffee drinks, into foodservice hot chocolate, into all of these trendy adult venues – while our children get a tiny fat-free chocolate milk in their happy meal because this school edict spills over into foodservice chains being bullied to do the same outside of school ‘for the kids’.

As adults, we should be ashamed of ourselves and reflect on our pathetic disregard for our children.

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Rebuilding ‘the dairy barn’ from the ground up

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 10, 2022

Grandiose plans centered on a globalist net zero economy were the furthest things from the minds of the more than 100 people who showed up on two southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish dairy farms and neighboring properties that took a hit from a May 27 EF-1 tornado. A week later, on June 4, the second of two destroyed dairy barns could be seen taking shape — from the ground up.

Many hands make light work. Farmers are quick to help. They are the ultimate ‘community organizers’ when faced with a big task. They ‘just do it’ instead of standing around talking about it.

Farmers don’t have time for nonsense. Working closely with seasons, land and animals, viewing themselves as stewards of God-given resources, farmers are practical. They are the first to show up when disaster strikes. 

They have a passion for their calling to feed a hungry world, and they don’t expect much in return – the ability to earn a fair price, a decent living, and a little respect. 

They show compassion for others, and gratitude in all things.

It is the farmers who show ultimate resiliency every day, in the face of hardship. They don’t waste food. They don’t waste time. They don’t waste money. And they don’t waste resources.

The world could learn a lot from farmers, if those making the big policy decisions truly listened. So many simple truths are ignored, simple positive changes are hard to get done, because they don’t fit the global agenda.

Why? Perhaps because there is an element of control now involved in food production that has changed the dynamic of “community” and changed the conversation between farmers and consumers.

The good news? Just as this dairy barn destroyed by a storm was rebuilt — board by board, nail by nail – through the efforts of a steadfast community, the same can be said about rebuilding the dialog between farmers and consumers, the sense of community, at the grassroots level.

Consumers are not as focused on the buzz terms of sustainability and net zero as the industry and policy makers and anti-animal activists would have us believe. 

The majority of the people in our communities around the world want to feed their families affordably and healthfully. The majority want to know more about farming and food. The majority want to support farmers. The majority love seeing cows. 

The majority still believe in the strength of local communities, of being there for one another in a time of need. The majority trust farmers because they see how they quietly live their faith.

We can all take part in rebuilding this proverbial ‘dairy barn’ — this connection with consumers at the grassroots community level. 

We’ve seen the storm clouds on this horizon for the past several years. The storm is here. The damage is scattered. The foundation has some cracks…

But the rebuilding is underway, and we are seeing it from the ground up, not the top down. We are seeing it in grassroots efforts, like 97 Milk, that engage others, share truths, and open eyes. The best way to shore-up our dairy farming communities in the face of a global agenda is to get after it — board by board, nail by nail. Many hands make light work.

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Dairyman sees Wagyu as ideal beef cross

No high energy diet, the key with this breed is to take your time,’ says Adam light (left). He and his cousin Ben (right) are partners in Lightning Cattle Company, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. They raise Wagyu x Holstein crossbred cattle for direct beef sales. They say the full-blooded Wagyu and dairy crossbreds are quite docile. They leave the heifer barn at Adam’s dairy weighing around 500 pounds, come here to Ben’s father’s farm on grass and supplemental forage until 900 pounds, then finish back at Adam’s dairy to final liveweight 1450 to 1500 pounds. This is Part 2 of a Beef on Dairy series. To read the May 13 edition’s PART ONE, CLICK HERE. Photos and story by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 20, 2022.

MYERSTOWN, Pa. — No, they don’t get massages, and they aren’t fed beer as the stories go about the intimate care of the Wagyu in Japan. 

However, at Spotlight Holsteins in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, Wagyu is the beef-on-dairy crossbreeding fit, and the cattle are given the time they need to produce the outstanding beef characteristics the Wagyu are known for — doing so on a lower energy diet.

The whole thing started before 2020, the year Adam Light sold his 100-cow registered Holstein tiestall dairy herd in Jonestown and purchased the 240-cow robotic dairy farm and herd from Ralph Moyer in nearby Myerstown (above).

Today, Adam and his cousin Ben Light, a landscaper, are partners in Lightning Cattle Company.

They started with three Wagyu, two bulls and a heifer, purchased from the September 2018 dispersal through Hosking of the late Donald ‘Doc’ Sherwood’s Empire State herd he had bred over 17 years from imported genetics near Binghamton, New York. Doc Sherwood retired that year, and he and his herd were profiled in Farmshine (here)

Adam and Ben brought their investment home and had Zimmerman Custom Freezing collect the bulls. They also flushed the heifer for embryos.

Not only did they begin using those straws of Wagyu on some of Adam’s dairy cows, they also began making some available to other dairy farmers in return for first-dibs to buy the offspring, and they began leasing bulls to farms with beef cow-calf herds.

Today, they have two full-blooded Wagyu bulls, two full-blooded females, plus 34 crossbred animals in various stages of beef production, and they have sold almost a dozen finished beef.

“The key with this breed is to take your time. They need protein to grow, but on the energy side, they don’t need a whole lot. There’s no high energy diet in this. It’s really quite simple. Whatever the dairy heifers get is what the Wagyu crossbreds get, which is a kind of lower energy feed,” Adam explains.

The calves start in the nursery barn at his dairy, grouped with replacement heifers on automated Urban CalfMom feeders, where milk intakes can be customized. They also receive the same calf starter, calf grower and hay.

When they reach 400 to 500 pounds, the crossbreds are moved to Ben’s father’s crop and poultry farm near Jonestown, which is also home-base for Ben’s landscaping company.

There they become Ben’s responsibility until they reach 900 pounds on pasture with some supplemental forage as needed.

At around 900 pounds, the cattle come back to Adam’s dairy, where they are housed and fed the same mostly forage diet on the same steady growth plane of nutrition as the breeding age and bred heifers. 

They finish at 1450 to 1500 pounds at about 26 months of age and are sold as beef quarters, halves and wholes from pre-orders, with the buyers paying the custom butcher for processing.

Like the Wagyu breed, Holsteins are slower to finish out. The difference is a straight Holstein needs a push with a high-energy diet to reach a higher quality grade, whereas the Wagyu crossbreds do it on lower energy feed.

“You really want to raise them 26 months, that’s longer than for other crossbreds. For us, it’s not a problem because we have the facilities, and we can feed them economically — right with our dairy animals — and have a more valuable beef animal at the end,” Adam explains.

After those initial years of lead time, Lightning Cattle Co. sold nine animals for beef in 2021. They expect to sell 10 in 2022, which should put them even on their original investment and the cost to make embryos to keep their Wagyu seed stock rolling forward, and they project to double the number sold in 2023 based on calves started in 2021.

What they sell is known as American Wagyu beef — mostly F1 Wagyu x Holstein with a few Wagyu x Angus and Wagyu x Jersey. 

Having access to the crossbred calves from the dairy and beef herds that are using their Wagyu genetics helps ensure they can expand beef sales as demand grows, without tying up Adam’s dairy herd to make more crossbreds.

On his own cows, Adam turns to Wagyu after giving a cow two or three chances with Holstein. He’ll modify that decision based on visual appraisal and milk production, with an eye for the number and type of cows he needs and wants dairy replacements out of.

“They settle fast with Wagyu. The difference is evident under a microscope,” Adam reports.

Why Wagyu? Adam recalls his grandfather had some back in the early 2000’s. Half a dozen Wagyu cows and a bull were payment on a debt, which he added to the beef herd on his crop and livestock farm.

“No one really knew what they were back then,” Adam recalls, noting they aren’t beef show animals on-the-hoof. The outstanding meat characteristics are only seen on-the-rail as the flecks of fat are distributed evenly throughout the lean.

Almost 20 years later, Adam did the research. He learned about the breed from Japan, where there are different grades, names and regional identifiers for specific lines, and their tenderness transmissibility.

“The dairy industry was pretty ugly, and we were getting a bill instead of a check for our bull calves. Heifers weren’t worth much either, so we wanted to make a valuable animal to offset when other parts of the dairy industry are ugly,” Adam reflects back to 2018.

Wagyu won’t ring bells for average daily gain or fast finishing. While there are feedlots on the West Coast specifically dedicated to finishing F1 Wagyu dairy crosses, it’s different in the East and Midwest where they are mostly marketed into niche direct sales to consumers and restaurants.

Adam sees the Wagyu as a good fit for his dairy because he can optimize the assets he already has and feed them right with his heifers, instead of raising more heifers than his dairy needs. 

“We’ve had different repeat customers tell us the big thing they noticed is the roasts are so much better, with no dry spots,” Adam relates. “I didn’t think there could be that much difference, but there really is, and it seems the Wagyu x Holstein is a great cross for that.”

Even in Japan, the dairy cross is sought as an economical option of their preferred beef — owing to this compatibility. Holsteins deposit marbling in a manner similar to Wagyu — but the Wagyu genetics put the quality into overdrive.

Selling by halves and quarters is less work than selling by beef cuts. Buyers are getting a range of items with some options to customize how they get their portion processed. They can do a simple cut-and-grind or ask for special order items such as bologna.

Lightning Cattle Co. has been approached by restaurants in the area, but to serve them, Adam and Ben would need to use a USDA-inspected plant, not a state-inspected custom butcher. USDA plants are few and far between and booked well into the future.

“We’ve had no issue selling the meat, and we’ve not done any advertising,” Ben notes. “We figured if we advertised too much, we might not be able to meet the demand. We’re taking it step by step.”

To price the quarters and halves, Adam believes in being fair and reasonable.

“We go off what the steers are selling for at the New Holland auction,” he says. 

They look at the Choice and Prime steer price (not the dairy beef) and add a little to that for the Wagyu influence. The customer pays the liveweight price and the butcher’s fee. 

Adam and Ben help buyers understand what they are getting and their cost per pound of cut-and-wrapped beef by converting it on a dressed basis for an informational estimate. 

“It’s tough to create a market that doesn’t exist, but that’s what we’ve had to do,” Ben adds.

This is another reason the Lights have taken it step by step, giving themselves some growing room by spreading seed stock to other dairy farms for access to more calves.

Last fall (2021), they started their biggest group of crossbred calves that will finish out in 2023, double the number for 2022.

They have begun thinking about setting up a facebook page and had Lightning Cattle Co. T-shirts made, but they are still a bit cautious about advertising to be sure demand doesn’t get too far ahead of cattle coming up through.

The cousins like working with cattle, and they take pride in selling a finished product to others in their community. This also gives them opportunities for conversations with consumers about beef, dairy, and farming in general.

“Some people have heard of Wagyu beef from Japan. Some have heard you could pay $200 for a fancy 12-ounce steak, and some people don’t know much about it at all,” says Ben about the learning curve and the way crossbreeding makes this beef more economically accessible.

“What people really like is the idea of buying beef from farms, and that gets them interested in trying it,” he adds.

That’s the window of opportunity for the quality of the beef to sell itself into the future.

“It has been fun,” Adam admits. “It’s something different, and we don’t know where it will take us.”

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Tackling school milk at state level: Rep Lawrence introduces whole milk bill, HB 2397, in PA House with 31 cosponsors

John Lawrence speaking to farmers at a winter meeting two weeks before he introduced HB 2397 Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools with 31 cosponsors.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 25, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, has been officially introduced in the State House by author and prime sponsor State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th). 

Introduced with 31 cosponsors on March 17, the bill is now “pending” in the House Agriculture Committee. This is one of three dairy bills Lawrence has introduced this year.

The provisions of H.B. 2397 would become effective 30 days after passage and would include state notification of all Pennsylvania schools to alert them to the state’s provisions for the purchase and offering of whole milk and reduced fat milk to students, so long as this milk is produced by cows on Pennsylvania farms, bottled in Pennsylvania processing facilities and paid for with state or local funds.

According to Lawrence, there is broad support for the bill in the State House, and he has received favorable responses from members of the State Senate. He has heard from schools, organizations and individuals applauding the tenets of this bill over the past several weeks since circulating his cosponsor letter to colleagues.

When asked recently about the bill, Rep. Lawrence said he was tired of waiting for the federal government to act on this issue of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools. 

After thinking about the dilemma for some time, he had what he described as divine inspiration a couple months ago to structure the bill as an “intra-state” jurisdiction under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration to approach the bill as one that enables schools to voluntarily make choices and structure the voluntary provisions as being a wholly Pennsylvania deal.

“We have jurisdiction on this,” he states.

When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students, Lawrence explains.

Specifically, the bill would allow Pennsylvania school boards to utilize funds from state or local sources to obtain whole Pennsylvania milk or reduced fat Pennsylvania milk to provide or sell at a Pennsylvania school. 

In the bill, Pennsylvania whole milk is defined as at least 3% fat and Pennsylvania reduced fat milk is defined as 2% fat. They are further defined as “produced by the milking of cows physically located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, transported to a dairy processing facility located within the geographic boundaries of this Commonwealth, and processed as fluid milk into containers intended for distribution to consumers.”

The bill would also require the Secretary of Education to notify the superintendent or chief administrator of each Pennsylvania school to inform them of the provisions of the Act within 30 days of passage.

Further, the bill sets forth in Section 6 the right of civil action if any federal agency interferes by withholding or revoking school funds.

Specifically, this section would require the Office of Attorney General, on behalf of a Pennsylvania school, to bring a civil action against the federal government or any other entity to recover funds withheld or revoked as a result of an action taken by the school board to make Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% reduced fat milk available as choices under the “intra-state” — not interstate — provisions of the Act.

The bill also seeks a status report to the chairpersons of the House and Senate Ag Committees – no later than two years after passage. The report would be given by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB).

This report would provide a list of Pennsylvania schools that have elected to provide or sell Pennsylvania whole milk and 2% milk, the approximate increase or decrease in the overall consumption of fluid milk at Pennsylvania schools after the effective date, and the actions taken by the Commonwealth to promote whole milk and 2% milk availability in Pennsylvania schools.

The Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act, H.B. 2397, includes an expiration section that would require the Secretary of Education to submit notice if/when Congress repeals sections of law pertaining to the National School Lunch Act that currently prohibit these milk offerings in schools or at such time that an update to the Dietary Guidelines has been published — that in either case would effectively end the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools and make these choices available nationally again.

Joining Pennsylvania State Rep. Lawrence as cosponsors of the Whole Milk for Pennsylvania Schools Act are Representatives Clinton Owlett (R-68th), Martin Causer (R-67th), Donald Cook (R-49th), Jim Cox (R-129th), Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108th), Eric Davanzo (R-58th), Russ Diamond (R-102nd), Torren Ecker (R-193rd), Melinda Fee (R-37th), Nancy Guenst (D-152nd), Joe Hamm (R-84th), David Hickernell (R-98th), Doyle Heffley (R-122nd), Robert James (R-64th), Barry Jozwiak (R-5th), Robert Kauffman (R-89th), Ryan Mackenzie (R-134th), Steven Mentzer (R-97th), David Millard (R-109th), Brett Miller, (R-41st), Eddie Pashinski (D-121st), Tina Pickett (R-110th), Greg Rothman (R-87th), David Rowe (R-85th), Louis Schmitt (R-79th), Brian Smith (R-66th), Perry Stambaugh (R-86th), James Struzzi (R-62nd), Ryan Warner (R-52nd), and David Zimmerman (R-99th).

Lawrence said H.B. 2397 was intentionally numbered so that ‘97’ would be part of the bill number, reflecting the whole milk education efforts of the 97 Milk movement.

“I feel like we are going to see this bill get to the finish line for our Pennsylvania school children and our dairy farmers,” says Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee which organized petition drives with large numbers of  Pennsylvanians signing to support similar legislation at the federal level — Congressman G.T. Thompson’s Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act.

“We can try to save everyone — and have been trying to do that for several years on this issue. But now, it’s time to focus on Pennsylvania. We can get this done in Pennsylvania and be a leader. This bill is brilliant, and a lot of people are grateful to John Lawrence for writing it,” Morrissey added.

“This is more confirmation of how important whole milk education is,” said 97 Milk chairman Gn Hursh, noting that as consumers have become aware of the benefits of whole milk and the federal prohibition in schools, they are joining farmers to seek these options for their children in schools.

In fact, two recent surveys show more parents choose whole milk and 2% milk for their families. A national Morning Consult survey for IDFA showed 78% of parents of school aged children believed whole milk or 2% milk to be most nutritious for their families. A national food preference survey for YouGov showed 53% of parents prefer whole milk for their children and only 23% preferred fat-free and 1%. 

USDA’s own data show a 24% decline in students selecting milk in the first year after the whole milk ban went into effect in 2012 and a 22% increase in discarded milk on top of that! It has only become worse since then. A recent school trial in Pennsylvania revealed a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had an expanded choice that included whole milk. In that trial, students preferred whole milk 3 to 1 over the skimmed varieties.

Bottomline, milk’s unsurpassed nutritional benefits are only realized by students if they choose milk and actually consume it. 

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is supporting H.B. 2397, according to Rep. Lawrence. “They called within an hour of seeing the cosponsor letter and said this has their full support,” he said.

PFB, along with members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, also testified in support of ending the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools during a Senate policy hearing in June 2021

Previously, the Pennsylvania Milk Dealers, Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and various other industry organizations have been on record supporting Congressman Glenn Thompson’s bill at the federal level, so the same should hold true for this bill at the state-level.

Stay tuned as the State of Pennsylvania buckles down to tackle the federal prohibition of whole milk in schools… let’s keep the momentum going.

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Comments due March 24: Ask USDA to end its prohibition of whole milk in schools, give students milkfat choice

Photo credit (Top) USDA FNS website screen capture from https://www.fns.usda.gov/building-back-better-school-meals and (bottom) fat-free flavored milk and fat-free yogurt on a local school lunch tray.
Screen capture and lunch tray photo S.Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, published Farmshine, Feb. 18, 2022

WASHINGTON — As reported in the Feb. 11 Farmshine, USDA announced a ‘transitional standards’ rule on Feb. 4 for milk, whole grains, and sodium for school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. 

The transitional standards are only in place while USDA works with stakeholders on long-term meal standards through a new rulemaking. 

The proposed rule for the longer-term is expected to come from USDA in fall 2022 and will become effective in school year 2024-25. It will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, but USDA says it is conducting a public comment and review process related to the standards and to the “gradual implementation” plan it will develop based in part on stakeholder input. 

In the official transitional standards rule, USDA notes that full implementation of its 2012 meal pattern requirements for milk, grains and sodium have been delayed at intervals due to legislative and administrative actions. “Through multiple annual appropriations bills, Congress directed USDA to provide flexibility for these specific requirements.” 

Read the transitional standards rule here at https://www.regulations.gov/document/FNS-2020-0038-2936 where a comment button can be clicked to provide a public comment to USDA by March 24, 2022.

Now is the time to comment before March 24, 2022 and to call for an end to the prohibition of whole milk in schools. Request that USDA restore the choice of whole milk in schools by commenting at the online rulemaking portal https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936

Comments and questions can also be sent to: Tina Namian, Chief, School Programs Branch, Policy and Program Development Division—4th Floor, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: 703-305-2590. 
Include FNS-2020-0038-2936 in your correspondence. 

In a rare move Feb. 7, the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA) made a public media statement on the transitional standards — pointing out their concern that the long-term standards will be ‘more stringent’ due to the restrictive Dietary Guidelines that were approved by USDA and HHS in 2020. 

The Association of School Superintendents stated: “It is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.” 

Agreed! This applies to the milk also. Students miss out on 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, complete high quality protein, a healthy matrix of fat and several nutrients of concern when they don’t actually consume the milk offered or served at school. Those nutrients ‘on paper’ are then not realized. Many key nutrients of concern are also fat-soluble. A study at St. Michael’s Children Hospital, Toronto, showed children consuming whole milk had 2.5 to 3x the Vit. D absorption compared with those consuming low-fat milk, and they were at 40% less risk of becoming overweight! Details were presented in a June 2021 hearing in the Pennsylvania Senate, listen here

Milk consumption plummeted and waste skyrocketed since USDA’s 2012 fat-free/low-fat milk rules were set for both ‘served’ milk and competing a la carte offerings. Studies by USDA and others show milk is now one of the most discarded items at school. In fact, USDA did a plate waste study comparing 2011 to 2013 (pre-/ and post-change) They focused on fruits and vegetables, but saw milk decrease significantly, waiving it off as though it were due to an “unrelated policy change.” Technically, it was the smart snacks rules for beverages and it WAS related to the 2012 standards as both were implemented together.

See the losses in Tables 2 through 4 below in ‘selection’ and ‘consumption’ of milk from the USDA study reflecting a 24% reduction in student selection of milk (offer vs. serve) after the 2012 fat-free/low-fat implementation and 10 to 12% reduction in consumption among those students being ‘served’ or selecting the restricted fat-free/low-fat white milk option or fat-free flavored milk option. That’s a double whammy for childhood nutrition and for dairy farm viability. Since 2012, at least one generation of future milk drinkers has been lost.

Charts above are from a USDA study published in 2015 to assess school meal selection, consumption, and waste before and after implementation of the new school meal standards in 2012. Those standards impacted a la carte offerings as well as beverages, not just served meals. The method for the USDA study was: Plate waste data were collected in four schools in an urban, low-income school district. Logistic regression and mixed-model ANOVA were used to estimate the differences in selection and consumption of school meals before (fall 2011) and after implementation (fall 2012) of the new standards among 1030 elementary and middle school children. Analyses were conducted in 2013. The authors note that prior to the full implementation of new nutrition standards in 2012, a variety of fat levels of milk were offered to students and no restriction upon flavored milks. See the report here —– Additionally, a PA school trial offering all fat percentages, including whole milk, revealed a 52% increase in selection of milk and 95% reduction in discarded milk, netting a 65% increase in consumption of milk in 2019.

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2022 DMC signups and 2021 production history updates underway, retroactive feed cost payments sent

This USDA chart shows the 2021 DMC program enrollment and performance at a glance, but has not yet been updated to reflect the additional payments from the feed cost change and the supplemental production. The feed cost change to using all premium alfalfa hay prices adds a net average of 22 cents per cwt. to each month of triggered DMC payments retroactively back to January 2020. For producers covered at the $9.50 margin level, that’s a one-time payment of almost $3 per cwt, net, per production history. This feed cost change is expected to add 15 to 25 cents to monthly feed costs in the margin calculation for 2022 and 2023 DMC.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 17, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the announcement of the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) signups starting December 13, 2021 through February 18, 2022, dairy farmers saw the first glimpse of the retroactive payments passed by Congress and signed by the prior administration in December 2020. This had been followed by announcements by the current administration via Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack in August 2021.

Since that time, dairy farmers have been patiently waiting for the feed cost adjustments that are retroactive all the way back to January 2020 and waiting to update their production history for the supplemental coverage promised in 2021.

Several industry sources estimate the new alfalfa-hay price adjustment to the DMC feed cost calculation netted an average 22 cents per cwt to each payment month in 2020 and 2021 for producers enrolled at the highest margin coverage levels. Future payments will also benefit during the life of the DMC program, which is authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill through 2023. 

For example, the $8.77 margin for October 2021 was recently changed to $8.54 due to the feed cost calculation upgrade — adding 23 cents per cwt. to the October DMC payment triggered for farms enrolled at the $9 and $9.50 coverage levels.

According to USDA FSA sources, the funds were released in early December, and the automatic retroactive payments to DMC-enrolled producers for the alfalfa-hay adjustment to the feed cost side of the dairy margin calculation have been sent. Producers enrolled at the higher margin levels should have received these retroactive payments by the end of 2021, and even those enrolled at lower margin levels will receive a retroactive benefit, though smaller.

Industry sources estimate the total one-time retroactive adjustment for 2020 and the first 10 months of 2021 amounts to a one-time payment of almost $3 per cwt. at 95% of a dairy farm’s tier one production history (up to 5 mil. lbs) enrolled at the $9.50 margin coverage level.

This feed cost change, alone, yields a margin benefit that exceeds the cost of the tier one premium for DMC coverage at the highest margin level of $9.50. That level of DMC coverage costs 15 cents per cwt – up to 5 million pounds of annual production history, and farms can cover up to 95% of that. To cover pounds beyond the 5-million-pound tier-one cap, the DMC premiums are more expensive and the $8 margin is the highest margin one can cover beyond the tier one, 5 million pound production history base.

In addition to the feed cost change, the Dec. 8 USDA announcement designated Dec. 13, 2021 through Feb. 18, 2022 as the signup period for both the 2021 Supplemental DMC payments on expanded production as well as the coverage level selections for 2022. The Supplemental DMC was passed by Congress in 2020 and was supposed to go into effect for 2021 forward.

Farms that have expanded production since their 2011-13 production history average was calculated will want to verify this with their USDA FSA office using a 2019 milk statement. The application for the 2021 Supplemental DMC must be submitted before doing the 2022 DMC enrollment and coverage level selections. Any farm that has a production history on record with USDA FSA under the previous MPP program — but never enrolled in DMC — will also want to go back and update their production history before enrolling in DMC for 2022.

According to the Federal Register rule, there is a formula applied to the expanded production so it’s not a pound-for-pound update.

Once the farm’s application for the new production history is approved by USDA FSA, the producer will receive the retroactive DMC payments on a percentage of that supplemental production back to January 2021.

Because of the tier-one cap, the Supplemental DMC pertains to herds around 300 cows or less with updated total production history of 5 million pounds or less annually. This cap has not been expanded.

Also, dairy farms that went through a transfer of ownership interest after Jan. 2, 2021 must have the predecessor file and verify the supplemental production history – even if the successor is the one now enrolling in the DMC program.

The DMC program has triggered payments in every month, so far, of 2021 for producers enrolled at the highest coverage level ($9.50), and there were several months of payments for producers enrolled at the $6 level. Tier one coverage at the highest margin level ($9.50) on the first 5 million pounds of annual production costs 15 cents per cwt., and the average payout so far for 2021 at that level has ranged from 96 cents in October to over $4 per cwt in July. The November and December 2021 DMC margins have not yet been announced. In addition, during 2020, payments triggered in five months and in 2019, seven months.

Herds of all sizes can cover their first 5 million pounds at the tier-one rate of 15 cents per cwt., which comes out to $7,125 premium cost for the year. As of December 30, 2021, with both milk prices and feed costs trending higher, the net benefit is forecast at over $16,000 on the first 5 million pounds of production history. In 2021, the 10-month average payout, so far, across herd sizes is almost $60,000. Find the net benefit forecaster in the online DMC decision tool here and be sure to select the year you are looking at in the upper left hand corner.

A screenshot of the USDA FSA Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) online decision tool at
https://dmc.dairymarkets.org/#/
Other information about DMC can be found at
https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/dairy-margin-coverage-program/index
Feb. 18, 2022 is the deadline to update retroactive production history and to enroll coverages for 2022. Be sure to update production history with FSA using your 2019 final milk check statement before enrolling for 2022 DMC coverage

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