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.

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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

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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.”

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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.

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— By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 1, 2020

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If you have to divert milk, here’s some advice

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By Sherry Bunting

Production reduction and milk disposal were top-of-mind in a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call last week. Dr. Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell had advice for those dairy producers facing this impact of COVID-19 market disruptions.

Dr. Van Amburgh stressed avoidance of knee-jerk reactions based on hearsay. He urged producers to know, calculate, evaluate, prioritize, monitor, manage and review.

First and foremost, know what your cooperative is actually requiring and what the penalties are and the time frame. Producers should not assume a production cut of 10 to 15% in the next two to four months unless they have received a letter from the buyer of their milk.

Do the math for your herd. “What is the actual penalty for milk shipped over the new base? Figure out how much milk you have to divert. Calculate the pounds and the deduction and spread that over all the milk produced. What does this do to the income average?” The math is important because, he said, “you don’t want to do things that damage the herd’s ability to make milk in the future.”

UdderComfort_FreshCowflipPrioritize cow health, and “avoid strategies that truly damage the ability of your cows to produce milk,” he said. “You don’t want to make decisions that cost you more in the end.”

Go through your records, Van Amburgh advised. If a 10 to 15% reduction is specifically required for your market, set priorities.

Be methodical, not abrupt, he stressed.

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Dr. Mike Van Amburgh

Once you determine pounds of reduction to target, Van Amburgh gave these recommendations in order of priority:

1) Dry off cows: “Look first at which cows could be dried off earlier, and do the math on those pounds and percentages.”

2) Cull cows that are not paying their way. “Don’t cull too hard, be methodical,” said Van Amburgh. Even if the beef market doesn’t pay well with plant closures and disruptions, cull the cows that are costing you money and will cost you even more money when over-base penalties kick-in for those producers who have received letters.

He advised culling cows not bred and longer in milk and cows that have a history of milk quality and udder health issues.

Cull the cows that will leave your herd in a better position to bounce back in the future, and cull the problem animals that require more time and labor or have issues with health and quality.  Refine the herd for high quality milk and to have fewer health problems that drain labor resources. High quality milk is an insurance policy in a selective market.

3) Pen cows over 200 DIM separately and adjust. These are the cows to make adjustments with to slow down by feeding differently or milking 2x instead of 3x.

Check your forage inventory to be sure you have enough to do this: Van Amburgh suggests raising NDF levels on later lactation cows. Go back to the basics — 34 to 38% NDF diets are the best way to back off production, he said. To keep the rumen and the cow healthy, bring forage up to 45 to 50%, then 65 to 70%, and pull starch accordingly to slow those later lactation cows down.

By making a group of later lactation cows and pulling back toward earlier dry-off over the next 120 days — load more forage, balance protein and amino acids and pull back on starch, “you can titrate some of that milk down,” said Van Amburgh.

The key, he said, is good NDF management because it is important to manage this strategy so these later lactation cows do not get fat to avoid metabolic issues when they calve back in.

LINGEN834) Focus on health when evaluating strategies and additives. Don’t just take a lot of the extras out, but do it in a way that makes feeding a less expensive but keeps them in good health, said Van Amburgh.

5) When lowering production, keep the butterfat. This helps keep the income from deflating.

6) Feed saleable milk. “One easy way to divert milk is to feed all the calves some of the salable milk,” he said. “Feeding milk to cows or heifers is also a strategy, and we have some Cornell Pro Dairy bulletins on that.”

Van Amburgh reminded producers that feeding milk to older animals creates a little more work than feeding whey. Work with your nutritionist to see if it it’s doable.

7) Add more forage and pull back starch. “It is crucial to focus on maintaining rumen health,” he said. “It’s important to compare how much this pullback will cost you vs. what the penalties are if you don’t divert all the milk you are being asked to divert. Weigh those dollars and consider the longer-term impacts. As the market adjusts, will your herd be positioned to be healthy and productive for future cash-flow opportunities?

Van Amburgh said the Cornell Pro Dairy team is providing diet and management considerations in an effort to help dairy producers and their advisors meet the request, while maintaining cow health and working to ensure capacity to resume normal milk production relatively quickly once the situation stabilizes.

A question asked on the call was: If dairy farmers reduce their milk production with nutritional measures now, what steps can they take to come back four months from now as conditions change?

This question shows the importance of thinking through how you are going to reduce production and weigh into that decision what the market conditions might be four months from now.

“The key to the answer is the four months,” said Van Amburgh. “That’s 120 days. If you are looking at a 365 or 305 day lactation, you aren’t going to be ramping back up that part of the herd in late lactation four months from now.”

“It’s algebra and biology,” said Van Amburgh. “Yes it is possible, but first sit down and really look at these cows. The last thing you want to do is damage high production cows up front.”

He noted that Cornell is working with herds in New York that if they can’t afford to send that extra milk at a severe discount, take a step by step process for reducing it instead of the knee-jerk reaction of pulling everything out of the program.

UdderComfort_MilkingParlor_18) Going from 3x to 2x milking is the last thing to consider, according to Van Amburgh. That is, unless there are acute labor considerations in the mix. Either way, Van Amburgh advised doing this strategically.

“Weigh this carefully,” he said. “Don’t do it at peak milk. If you are a 3x herd, a smarter strategy is to go to 2x on tail-enders, especially as you move them toward being candidates for an earlier dry-off.”

He said the other group to potentially target for 2x is fresh cows up to 21 days.

These considerations may fit management for some but not all dairies. Every operation will have to determine what might work best for them under their current management conditions. More on this can be found here.

Producers also wondered what they can do privately with milk needing diverted. The answer to this question varies. Robert Barley from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board was on the call, and he said there are no government entities requiring producers to cut production. This means that a producer’s cooperative is best to answer the question about other uses for diverted milk, and the answers may vary.

Producers can also talk with their cooperatives about appropriate donation channels.

On the regulatory side, selling raw milk to consumers is prohibited by most cooperatives, but where it is allowed, producers would have to obtain a raw milk license from their state department of agriculture, and only some states allow the sale of raw milk with a license.

Excess milk can be fed to other livestock on your own farm without a permit. But if it goes into commerce to another operation, it probably needs a permit as it would be identified as commercial feed. Check with your state’s ag department or bureau of plant industry.

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‘Hearts full.’ Whole Milk Donation Drive-through tops 7400 gallons in New Holland

As stores raise prices and limit sales, while farmers are forced to dump milk and see their prices fall to historic lows, many respond with dairy purchases for donation drive-throughs. This example in New Holland provided whole milk from farm to table with love. It was a beautiful blessing to see…

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By Sherry Bunting, preview of Farmshine cover story for May 1, 2020

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — At a time like this, we all need good news. Brothers Mike and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland, Pennsylvania started thinking about the concerns of farmers and people in their communities during this Coronavirus pandemic. They couldn’t understand why farmers were having to dump milk with nowhere for it to go, while stores had limits on purchases or empty shelves and higher prices.

So, they did the one thing they could do… They gave.

We wanted to give back to our community — and the shelters and missions and food pantries — while helping support our family farm customers at the same time,” the brothers said.Sensenig-4851The idea started coming together two weeks ago. Many of the feed mill’s dairy farm customers in eastern Lancaster County ship their milk to Clover Farms Dairy, a bottling plant in Reading. The Sensenigs spoke with Brian Ohlinger at Clover and put together a purchase order for a tractor trailer load of over 4000 gallons of whole milk for donation.

That number quickly grew to 5200 gallons as word of the plans for a Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through “From Farm to Table with Love” quickly spread through phone calls and social media.

Mike’s wife Nancy fielded over 150 calls with groups and individuals wanting to pre-order for families in need. The entire company — all of the employees — were involved. They amassed a list of over 25 outreach organizations pre-ordering hundreds of gallons to distribute from New Holland to Lancaster to Reading and Allentown, including notables like Water Street Mission, Blessings of Hope, Crossnet, Crossfire, Petra, Safehouse, Good Samaritan and other ministries, churches, shelters, town and company food banks, fire companies, nursing homes, youth centers — so many organizations.

The Sensenigs saw the need and desire for whole milk growing, and they quickly realized even this would not be enough. So, they worked with Clover to get a second single-axle truck of 1152 gallons.

Cars lined up early on the first day of the Whole Milk Donation Drive-through (Apr. 23), while trucks were loaded with bulk orders for charities. The drive-through lines were opened ahead of schedule, and within the first 30 minutes, they had already served around 100 cars.

If this pace kept up, the Sensenigs feared they would run out. So, they called Clover again, and within two hours, a third truck arrived on the premises with another 1100 to 1200 gallons. 

All told, Sensenig’s Feed Mill had purchased 7,476 gallons of milk for donation so supplies would last through both days of drive-through times.

Two generations of the family — Karl, Mike, and Mike’s sons Kyle and Kurt, along with employees Devin Shirk, Steve Morris, Greg Hill, Curtis Hershey, and Lee Stoltzfus loaded vans, trucks, and cars with fresh gallons of whole milk, while Mike’s wife Nancy and employee Dawn Wright directed cars through the M&T Bank parking lot into two lines on either side of the truck and tent.

Even Karl and Mike’s parents Ken and Sandy drove over to watch.

Sensenig-4914They are quick to point out that this would not have been possible without their employees. “This isn’t just us,” he said. “Everyone was excited to do this and to be involved.” The family’s feed mill is celebrating its 75th year in New Holland.

Also wanting to make an impact, a group of concerned citizens affiliated with M&T Bank joined their neighbors in the parking lot — bringing 150 dozen eggs and 50 fresh-baked loaves of bread from Achenbach’s Bakery, Leola.

Sensenig-4786Kurt Sensenig even donned an inflatable cow costume at the start, before he was called back to the feed mill.

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“We have been overwhelmed by the response since we first started taking pre-orders to gauge how much milk we would need. Then the steady stream of people just driving through was amazing. There is so much emotion,” said Mike.

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“This brings home the reality of how many people are struggling right now. And it shows how many people LOVE WHOLE MILK!” said Karl. “Some who drove through the line had tears in their eyes. It seems like something so little. Then you realize how it helps so much, and it shows us how much we can take for granted.”

He tells of a grandmother who drove through with her two grandchildren she is raising. She tentatively asked if she could have two gallons. “I said, ‘you can have more if you need it,’” Karl reflected. “She wondered if it’s not too much trouble, she would use four gallons. I said, ‘sure!’ What she said next really got to me: ‘Now my grandkids can have milk with their cereal.’”

Cereal is a popular item for food bank distribution, but milk is hard to come by, especially whole milk.

One person drove through, saying they had stopped at their usual store to buy milk, but found no whole milk, so they came to Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through and took home four gallons.

Many veterans in the area came through and were grateful for the whole milk they accepted with smiles. Drive-through crews, in turn, thanked them for their service.

Sensenig-4903The bottom line for the Sensenigs and their employees was to bless others even as they believe they are blessed; to do something positive for their community; to help dairy farmers by connecting dots to get whole milk to missions, food banks and families; to bring smiles to young and old during uncertain times that have changed life as we know it.

“We have many dairy farm families as our customers, and we see the milk they have been forced to dump in the past few weeks due to supply chain disruptions while at the same time stores limiting purchases of milk or having little or no whole milk on the shelves,” said Mike. “Clover gave us a price for just the milk, and they packed the first two orders in boxes for us and provided the refrigerated trucks to stay here two days.”

“It takes teamwork,” said Karl. As part of the loading crew, he and his brother were busy all day in constant motion, unloading skids, opening boxes, loading trucks and trunks, and handing out gallons to appreciative people as they drove through.

“I’ll sleep good tonight,” said Karl.

Mike agreed: “Our minds and bodies are exhausted, but our hearts are full.”

The community of farmers and citizens thank all involved! This scene being repeated in other communities is a beautiful thing to see.

Sensenig-4869Others have stepped up doing similar milk donations. Some businesses have bought 500 gallons to give to employees and food banks; one couple in western Pennsylvania feeling blessed to still be working in agriculture are using their stimulus check to buy 500 gallons of whole milk to donate in a drive-through next week at their school; young farmer clubs and other organizations are working with milk cooperatives and processors to donate and raise funds for dairy donation drive-throughs in other parts of Pennsylvania, New York, the Southeast and elsewhere. Some are set up weekly, with people giving donations as they pick up milk and dairy products that are then used the next week to purchase more for donation.

Meanwhile, many store chains are raising prices and limiting purchases to shoppers for milk and dairy products on their sparsely stocked shelves, claiming a shortage, even as farmers are receiving letters that they must cut production because their product “has no demand,” and they are seeing the price they are paid for their milk fall by more than 35% in just four weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing how the centralized supply chain is broken — not making the shift from foodservice to retail. Drive-through donation deals like this one, connect the dots at a more localized level so families get access to the milk and dairy products — especially whole milk — that they need want, while helping outreach organizations distribute to the growing number of families facing unemployment and business closures.

On Friday, April 24th, as the New Holland Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through came to a close, 97 Milk LLC — a grassroots volunteer milk education effort — announced on facebook a fundraising collaboration with Blessings of Hope food pantry mission. The new campaign specifically raises funds to purchase whole milk gallons for the ongoing blessing boxes to families in a 200-mile radius of the Blessings of Hope warehouse in Leola, Pa.

Dozens of dairy-related agribusinesses already sponsor the grassroots farmers’ 97 Milk education effort, which began a little over a year ago with a round bale painted by Berks County, Pa. farmer Nelson Troutman with the words Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free.  (Whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat). Such ‘baleboards’ now dot the countryside, along with banners, vehicle signs, a website, facebook page and other social media platforms (97milk.com and @97milk on facebook and instagram; @97milk1 on twitter).

As for the new 97 Milk / Blessings of Hope Whole Milk fundraiser, the response has been immediate. Within the first hour of announcing it on facebook Friday — $4100 had already been raised to keep purchasing whole milk for blessing boxes. Check it out here.

WholeMilkDonationDriveThrough4834Postcript: Karl and Mike Sensenig wish to recognize the mill’s entire team of employees for making the April 23-24 Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through possible: In addition to Karl, Mike, Kurt, Kyle, Scott, Emily and Nancy Sensenig, employees Calvin Buckwalter, Dale Clymer Jr., Ryan Crowther, Raymond Geiter III, Ashley Gesswein, Jared Grosh, Tim Hall, Curtis Hershey, Greg Hill, Dr. Don Jaquette, Joshua Kenderdine, Gerald Martin, Lawrence Martin, Nathan Martin, Steve Morris, Todd Morris, Steven Oberholtzer, Ron Phippen Jr., Devin Shirk, Eugene Shirk, David Stauffer, Allen Steffy, Terry Tshudy, Dwayne Weaver, Elmer Weaver, John Weaver, Logan Weaver, Nelson Weaver, Thomas Weaver and Dawn Wright were all involved. Even the previous generation to run the feed mill — Ken and Sandy Sensenig — came out to watch.

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The Sensenigs and their employees are happy to be part of something that blesses others, to see it multiplied, to see people appreciate whole milk, and to know what their customer dairy farm families produce is in demand. These efforts are uplifting and make a difference.
More links to stories on this and other efforts:

 

Regional milk and dairy food security in jeopardy

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

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer we received in writing was this:

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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting

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

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

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

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

He also urged producers to embrace these things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proposed Milk Crisis Plan would tie farm aid to production cuts, issue forgivable loans to processors, lift federal fat limits on school and WIC milk, funnel dairy inventory to needy

NMPF and IDFA jointly propose ‘Milk Crisis Plan’ for USDA. American Dairy Coalition and Minnesota Milk Producers have alternate proposal.

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This photo posted on facebook April 2 by Colleen Larson of south Florida was reposted many times by others across social media platforms this week — one of many examples from New York to Florida and Wisconsin and Texas — where dairy farmers were forced to dump significant amounts of milk as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions disrupt supply chains as the industry shifts from foodservice to retail packaged goods. Meanwhile, stores are not well stocked, some are choosing to limit purchases instead of increasing orders, and food banks are receiving more requests as over 15 million people are newly out of work. Against this backdrop of upheaval, a Milk Crisis Plans was proposed by National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association this week, and an alternate plan was also put forward by Minnesota Milk Producers and American Dairy Coalition.       Photo by Travis Larson

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 10, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the face of potential dairy industry collapse in what many are calling a “mixed up supply chain” and “upside down market” due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on every aspect of American life, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) came together to propose a “Milk Crisis Plan for USDA,” released Tuesday, April 7.

It is a top to bottom overhaul of dairy production, processing and government feeding programs, including a price program for producers to cut 10% of their production over the next six months as well as removing all restrictions from school lunch programs and the WIC program to allow consumer choice of milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. – including all fat percentages of milk!

Specifically, one element of the plan asks USDA to stop requiring 1% low-fat or fat-free milk for persons over two years of age in government feeding programs – including the WIC program and school meals (provided in or out of school) — even asking USDA to allow servings over 8 ounces per meal for schoolchildren. This means schools could offer whole milk (3.25% fat) and 2% milk at least for calendar year 2020, if the proposal is adopted by USDA.

These industry organizations representing dairy cooperatives and processors cite “collapse of the foodservice industry, export disruptions and massive economic insecurity” as the demand factors that are now colliding with a “seasonally rising milk supply creating a massive gap.”

Their proposal estimates milk supply exceeding demand by “at least 10% — a gap that could widen as supply increases to its seasonal peak and as ‘shelter in place’ conditions endure.”

The dairy industry is navigating a major upheaval as the supply chain tries to adjust to plunging foodservice and institutional sales at the same time that retail demand surges at grocery stores.

NMPF and IDFA state that this is leading to a lack of orders for finished goods, several processing plants cutting or stopping operations and in general leading to “cancelled milk orders.”

In addition to the significant and continuing dumping of milk in the U.S. — something that has also begun this week in Canada – reports are coming in about processors terminating or potentially terminating small co-op contracts; processors and cooperatives seeking voluntary supply reductions from their producers; and some even looking for ways to encourage producers to consider quitting dairy altogether.

Indicative of the collapsing dairy market is this projection in the NMPF-IDFA proposal stating that second quarter Class III futures averaged $13.14 Monday while Class IV were in the $11s. Using the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) formula, NMPF projects a milk margin over feed cost getting close to that $5 catastrophic margin, estimated at $5.80 for the second quarter of 2020 and $6.76 for the third quarter according to Monday’s futures prices for milk. The highest insurable DMC margin is $9.50.

The industry organizations also point out that, “There is financial stress across the supply chain, and with more than 10 million Americans already losing jobs, food banks are seeing significant increases in demand, a trend that will likely only intensify in the weeks ahead.”

The NMPF-IDFA proposal aggregates many different tools with the objectives of providing aid to dairy producers, easing financial liquidity risks across the supply chain, stabilizing the dairy commodity markets and filling food banks with dairy products and removing restrictions that would limit the availability of dairy products in USDA feeding programs.

As for the aid to dairy producers? NMPF-IDFA want to “tie producer aid to limits in their production.”

The NMPF-IDFA proposal regarding dairy producers asks USDA to “offset the steep decline in farm milk prices and encourage producers to reduce excess supply” which they say is the result of “demand disappearance.”

Specifically, the proposal seeks to pay producers $3 per hundredweight (extra) on 90% of their milk production IF they cut production by 10% below their March 2020 baseline over the next six months of April through September 2020. Payments during any of those months would be suspended if the average of Class III and IV prices in that month exceeds $16/cwt.

An alternate plan put forward by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association (MMPA) and supported by the American Dairy Coalition would provide aid to dairy farmers differently as a more immediate lump sum payment of $3 per hundredweight on 100% of each operation’s March 2020 baseline for three months (April-June), irrespective of market prices, and paid in April. MMPA’s Dairy CORE plan calls for reassess of conditions in June to see if another round is needed for the next three months (July-Sept). ADC and MMPA contend this approach would be more fair to all regions of the U.S., including seasonal grazing dairies.

American Dairy Coalition noted in a statement Wednesday that direct payments should not be conditioned on arbitrary, top-down, one-size-fits-all production cutbacks. The organization believes that if producers receive a needed large, one-time direct payment, milk handlers and processors would then be in a better position to implement their own marginal incentives to “right-size” their own milk supplies.

The NMPF-IDFA Milk Crisis Plan also calls for a Temporary Milk Disposal Reimbursement to compensate handlers for milk that must be disposed of because of supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This would provide coverage of milk at the USDA Class IV (or lowest value class) price for three months – April through June 2020.

NMPF and IDFA want USDA AMS Milk Marketing Orders to administer these programs through their audit functions.

Their proposal also seeks recourse loan programs to expand the availability of “working capital” for dairy processors. This proposed program would allow firms to carry heavier-than-normal inventories and reduce systemic financial risk associated with those heavy inventories they would carry. In addition to specialty cheese products that are often inventoried longer anyway for aging, the proposal wants this to apply to as many other products as possible, namely basic commodities.

Also in the proposal for processors is the request for forgivable loan programs similar to the ones for small (non-ag) businesses in the CARES program being administered currently through the Small Business Administration. To qualify, processors would have to continue to purchase milk from dairy producers and maintain their employee staffing.

The NMPF-IDFA proposal also requests the immediate purchase of substantial volumes of dairy products for feeding programs and the aforementioned end to mandates on low fat levels of milk in feeding programs.

In addition, the proposal asks USDA to allow producers to retroactively sign up for 2020 Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) with no premium discount for the latecomers.

Other aspects of the proposal deal with how to “maximize the buying power of SNAP (food stamps) recipients” at a time when the nation face double-digit unemployment and reliance on SNAP is expected to increase. At the same time supporting that with continued purchasing of butter, cheese, fresh milk and powdered milk to the tune of $525.5 million.

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More open bidding process, accelerated timetable underway for sale of Dean Foods plants

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 27, 2020

HOUSTON, Texas – Changes have officially been made to the bidding procedures originally sought by Dean Foods in the conglomerate’s Southern Foods Group Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sale in the Southern District of Texas.

In a very brief continuation of bidding procedures hearing on March 19, U.S. Judge David R. Jones said he would sign an order that outlined the new procedures and accelerated timetable for bankruptcy and sale proceedings. A cover story in last week’s Farmshine described the concerns and changes that led to the new order.

On the evening before the hearing, Dean withdrew its original proposal for Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) to be designated as stalking horse bidder, essentially dissolving key elements of the Feb. 17 Asset Purchase Agreement with DFA on 44 of Dean’s 57 plants.

This move to a “value maximizing” sale process opens the bidding to more opportunities for additional single- and multi-plant bids as well as a potential restructuring bid.

Bids are due by Noon CDT on March 30, 2020, with Dean declaring winners shortly thereafter.

Objections to a sale order or transaction are to be filed in writing by April 1, 2020 at Noon CDT.

A hearing to consider the proposed sale transaction will be held before Judge Jones on April 3, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. CDT.

Attorneys and consultants for interested parties worked together at the suggestion of Judge Jones to modify the original proposal after objections were raised by the creditors committee, potential buyers of Dean assets, and more than a half dozen dairy cooperatives. Their concerns focused on the lack of fairness and transparency in the previously proposed bidding process that sought to designate DFA as lead bidder with protections for its 44-plant bid.

The order at the case docket does not remove DFA as a potential bidder but opens the process by not designating DFA as the stalking horse bidder.

More information can be found at the website for the Southern Foods Group case at https://dm.epiq11.com/case/southernfoods/dockets and at https://deanfoodsrestructuring.com/

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Market Moos: COVID-19 impacts how consumers are supplied with food

By Sherry Bunting, excerpt updated from Market Moos in Farmshine, March 27, 2020

Ten days into the 15-day COVID-19 “flatten the curve” mitigation strategy, supermarkets are still scrambling to remain supplied with in-demand food items — including milk, especially whole milk, dairy products, especially butter, eggs and beef.

Nielson data show nationwide fluid milk sales were up 32% last week, dairy products like butter (up 85%), cheese and yogurt up over 50%, egg sales up 44%, and beef sales, including ground beef, up 77%!

Walmart and other supermarkets have started setting limits on how many gallons of milk or cartons of eggs or packages of butter can be purchased per customer, meaning shoppers will be making more frequent trips to feed their families and supply their older loved ones.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding sent a message out on various television news programs Wednesday evening, asking the state’s consumers to “stop hoarding food” and to “think of others who may need the food.”

Unlike toilet paper (and there’s more to that story too in terms of paper product imports), what we are seeing with food essentials is not “hoarding.”

What may not be clear to state and national ag and government leaders is that consumers are not hoarding food, they are buying what they need for a week at a time (to avoid multiple trips exposing them to multiple people). Their grocery lists are more full because for most of them, their whole families are home all day and evening with schools closed and all non-essential businesses shut down.

In addition, many shoppers are buying provisions for elderly parents or neighbors to leave on their porches for them.

This is not “food hoarding”, this is providing for one’s family now that families are not being institutionally-fed according to the government’s rules restricting calories derived from animal products at least one or two meals at least five days a week.

This is a major shift in where the supply chain needs to focus its distribution of the abundant milk and beef that farmers are producing, but is meeting a severe tamp-down in terms of base pricing, production penalties being deducted from milk checks, and over this past weekend even the dumping of milk due to what industry leaders say is “processing disruption” or “loss of foodservice and hospitality trade” despite huge increases in retail purchasing indicating supply chain shifts. (See more on that here.)

A dilemma for some farms that have transitioned into direct sales to get closer to end-users, is that their businesses often rely on people assembling through agro-tourism, farmer’s markets, events, and casual dining restaurants that are more geared to dining-in than taking-out.

Some of these diversified and direct-to-consumer dairy, beef and farmsteading operations have large and fairly recent processing equipment and marketing investments and now must limit access to the consumers their businesses served.

A provision in the $2 Trillion COVID-19 federal aid package is $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers that are part of “local food systems” where their marketing is impacted by COVID-19.

Farms that have developed consumer-facing businesses may also qualify for “bridge” loans to small businesses that are also part of the package.

Meanwhile, dairy, beef and ag organizations are beginning to also raise a concern to USDA to be alert to price manipulation as sales and value to processors is rising rapidly with the surge in demand for dairy and beef, while the prices paid to dairy and beef producers is falling rapidly in the other direction as both milk futures and live cattle futures plunged.

American Farm Bureau Federation even raised this concern, along with transportation and labor as three points of vulnerability on farmers’ minds.

A spokesperson for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed NCBA’s concerns in a CNBC business news interview indicating that farmers and ranchers selling cattle once a year as their income for the whole year, felt the huge drop in live cattle on the futures market for fats and feeders. This can break an operation selling cattle at this juncture, after the tough year last year.

Meanwhile, boxed beef prices are rising rapidly, to where processor margins are $600 profit per head, whereas farm losses are more than $100 per head. This also happened a year ago when the relationship between farm pricing and wholesale to retail pricing was equally inverse, showing massive profit-taking at the processing level and big losses for cattle producers for many months after a fire at one beef processing plant in Kansas.

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