Homemade ads about milk reveal and surprise community

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Friday, January 4, 2019

“Everything helps… Anything helps,” said Nelson Troutman. The Pennsylvania dairy farmer gave consumers in his area an early Christmas gift, and this gift of knowledge keeps giving in the New Year.

Frustrated by the forced emphasis on low- and non-fat milk promotion and seeing the need to draw attention to the simple healthy truth about milk, while planting the seed that consumers can ask for local milk, Troutman came up with his own promotion idea.

On December 11, he painted a wrapped round bale with the words “Drink LOCAL Whole MILK 97% FAT FREE!”

Then he placed the round bale in his pasture, where it is visible at the intersection of Wintersville and Stouchsburg Road near Richland, in the Lebanon/Berks area of Pennsylvania.

After all, whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat content, making it virtually 97% fat-free — a point on the minds of consumers that milk labels and checkoff promotion have not been able to tap into.

“It was the cheapest and easiest thing to do, and I’ve gotten a lot of very nice and interesting comments,” said Troutman in an interview with Farmshine. “Today, I saw two ladies walking down the street. They had just passed the bale. I had no idea who they were. They saw me coming out the farm lane and waved. I am sure they were talking about the bale.”

Nearly three weeks after his round bale billboard was placed for the community and those passing through to see, Troutman said the gift keeps giving with new and continuing conversations.

“I am amazed at talking to people about this educational bale,” Troutman said Monday (Dec. 31). “People say to me that they did not know any milk is 97% fat-free, much less that the whole milk is 97% fat-free!”

Troutman uses their surprise at this revelation as a teachable moment.

“I explain that fat-free milk is 100% fat-free, 1% milk is 99% fat-free, 2% milk is 98% fat-free and whole milk — at 3.25% fat — is basically 97% fat-free. They are astounded,” he affirms. “So, I ask them what they thought any milk is, and they tell me that they never thought about it. When I ask them what they think the fat percentage of whole milk is, most answers were 10% to 20% fat. I actually had one man say he thinks whole milk is 50% fat! His wife made him drink 2% milk for that reason.”

So what is being gained with this message? Troutman gives an example. He said the man who confessed that he thought whole milk was 50% fat — upon hearing the truth — said he will never again drink 2% milk and has switched to whole milk while also being made aware of the local ties and how to find local brands.

What does all the milk confusion tell us about the success — or failure — of mandatory checkoff promotions? People are confused about so many things where milk is concerned. But the fat content should not continue to be one of their confusions. It is standardized and easy to demystify with a simple message, a simple sign, that opens the door to conversations that matter.

Troutman said he knows that the dairy farmers’ mandatory checkoff promotion organizations of American Dairy Association Northeast (ADANE) and Dairy Management Inc (DMI) — and even Allied Milk Producers — cannot advertise milk as 97% fat-free. He says there are government rules about putting this on the label or in a checkoff-funded campaign.

But, he believes it is high time for a grassroots promotion.

“We farmers can do this! It’s real education, and it sure beats the price of the milk mustache. Advertising is expensive, but we farmers have an edge. We live along roads and highways where we can put up signs, use our bales, silage bags, silos, barns, and wagons,” says Troutman.

“We also have friends that have agribusinesses in town that could use a sign. And there is Facebook, which is very powerful to the consume. We need the consumers in Pennsylvania to ask for whole Pennsylvania-produced milk at our restaurants, schools and stores,” he adds.

Troutman is definitely on to something, as people across the state and in other regions as well have complained all year on social media and at meetings and with photos of supermarket dairy shelves that whole milk is often not stocked to the density of the fat-free, low-fat and reduced fat milks.

In fact, as one producer in northern Pennsylvania noted recently, she has to order whole milk on ahead at her local store if she wants more than three gallons for an event. When asking the store manager why whole milk is not made more available in the dairy case, the store owner told her the reason is because it isn’t as healthy and contains too much fat!

Nelson Troutman’s simple idea is borne of frustration but with education and truth at its core, and it is easy to implement.

He says that dairy farmers are fed up with decades of their product being thrown under the bus by dietary guidelines and promotion restrictions leading people to believe — over time — that whole milk is full of fat. The labels do not even say 3.25% fat! And this has led to people having all kinds of inflated ideas about how much fat is in whole milk to begin with.

It is no wonder that even well-educated pediatricians mindlessly follow blindly the lies of omission — telling mothers to put their children on lower fat milks at age two because they falsely believe whole milk is more than 10% fat!

Troutman made his round bale sign and placed it in his pasture by a busy intersection to educate his community and to encourage other farmers and agribusinesses to use his idea to educate their communities.

“Maybe they want to do something on a bale or a wagon or a silage bag,” he said. “Everything helps… anything helps.”

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Global thoughts Part 4: As exports grow, who benefits from ‘new math’?

GlobalThoughtsPart4_Chart#2 (1).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine, June 7, 2018 and examines the utilization of domestic Class I fluid milk vs. exported commodities during the worst three months of pricing at the beginning of 2018, but the trends show how FMMO pricing no longer provides the value to farmers for their milk as exports increase. Read Global Thoughts Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — U.S. dairy exports posted record-high 2018 first-quarter volumes (see Chart 1), representing 17.3% of U.S. milk utilization on a milk equivalent basis, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). (Note, the average Jan. through Oct. was 16.3%, still a record high.)

This, against the backdrop of Class I milk utilization falling to 29% of Federal Order pooled milk but just 18.9% of total milk production in the first quarter of 2018 (Chart 2).

In fact, Federal Order pool reports for first quarter 2018 showed Northeast marketings 1.8% below year ago as pool receipts fell due to reduced production. At the same time, other FMMO pools recorded declines in pool receipts, which USDA confirmed by email were largely due to shifts in pooling or strategic despoiling to prop up Class I utilization percentages. (For example the pooled first quarter receipts in the Appalachian Order were up 6% while down 5.5% in the adjacent Mideast Order.)

globalthoughtspart4_chart#1The total “official” U.S. Class I utilization for 2017 was 26.1%, down nearly 10% from 35.9% in 2009, according to USDA figures.

However, the Northeast Market Administrator’s most recent bulletin (April) observed that the real percentage of total U.S. milk production used for Class I fluid sales in 2017 was just 22.3%!

Bob Younkers, chief economist for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), analyzed fluid milk trends, reporting in February that the 2017 fluid milk losses, alone, represented 20 million fewer pounds (2.3 million fewer gallons) of milk sold daily – nationwide – in 2017 vs. 2016. In addition to the blow dealt to producer milk checks, Younkers points to how the fixed costs of bottling increase when spread across fewer gallons of milk sold.

Coming into 2018, not only have first quarter Class I sales declined 1.5% compared with first quarter 2017, the Class I utilization percentage fell by even more — down 2.5% below year ago — in part because exports grew to this new first quarter record of 17.3%.

Left unchecked, the current math trend shows that as U.S. exports reach the goal of 20% set by the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), the percentage of milk utilized in export sales will very soon equal and surpass Class I utilization as a percent of total milk production.

Who benefits from this new math?

If the current classified pricing system — and its Class I regulation — must continue, perhaps the growing export utilization should have its own class formula tied directly to export pricing and representing growth milk in the U.S. system so that the other 80% of milk pricing can be more stable and reflective of serving that large anchor-base of domestic consumption?

Survey the experts on this idea and they’ll tell you an export class for U.S. milk pricing is a non-starter because of trade agreements and WTO. But trade agreements are being renegotiated and others in the global markets have mechanisms in play.

Perhaps instead of going after Canada’s export class implemented because of expanded production due to higher consumer demand for fat, the U.S. could learn from what’s being done north of the border with this pricing mechanism to match exports prices and products to growth milk that goes into products strictly for export?

This is not an idea that goes against free trade, but one that recognizes the U.S. as a free-trader in need of fair trade leverage for producer pricing.

The U.S. must be competitive enough to have its products arrive at other ports, so that it can remain competitive enough to keep other products from arriving at its ports — where a large market for dairy already exists. In Part Three, we looked at some of the product differences.

 But there’s another catch to this romance with export markets. They can be unstable and unpredictable, and while we make more of the globally significant products today than in 2008, our product mix and flexibilities are different than other successful exporting nations.

Would an export class allow pricing of growth milk — a percentage of the nation’s production or a percentage of production in high growth areas — to be aligned to the fluctuating global markets for globally-significant products with a margin to attract necessary investments in manufacturing flexibility and innovation? Such alignment could, at the same time, allow a more stable and profitable base price for milk going into dairy products for domestic consumption?

After all, we are increasing exports to levels that are approaching the falling Class I utilization percentages and yet NONE of the globally-significant products and/or prices are even used in the arbitrary U.S. Federal Order pricing formulas, to which location differentials are added to ensure the Class I price is always higher (more on this when we tackle logistics in a future part of this series).

As dairy exports become the new epicenter of U.S. marketing, a different light is cast on these regulatory pricing structures.

Let’s look at the differences between global and domestic pricing and trading platforms.

 For starters, price announcements to dairy producers in New Zealand are based on the actual value of global sales with producers buying shares of processing capacity for the quantity of milk they expect to produce. As milk falls short or exceeds those pegs, payout announcements are adjusted based on the relationship of the production to the sales.

In Europe, producers also see milk prices that reflect the value of what is sold not a formula like in the U.S. that leaves key products, prices and markets out of the math equation.

While Europe’s quota system has ended, the EU commission intervenes with purchases. Processors more nimbly shift between products to adapt to market changes. And if they miss in their projections — as they did in the shift to making more powder when the Russians stopped buying cheese and butter due to the economic sanctions — the EU commission intervened to buy and stockpile that powder to a degree that still is blamed for suppressing the global market for powder and holding back the U.S. milk price recovery.

In addition to differences in pricing, there are big differences between global and U.S. price discovery and trading platforms.

While the CME daily spot market in Chicago went electronic last year, the Global Dairy Trade (GDT) biweekly internet auction has always been an electronic platform.

The GDT engages more buyers and sellers, offers contract sales that are near-term and forward-looking to create what is essentially a 2-month ‘spot’ price, according to Bialkowski and Koeman’s November 2017 study at the University of Canterbury New Zealand of spot market design in relation to the success of futures markets.

They explain the GDT biweekly auction is a vehicle for Fonterra to market 30% of its production and to provide a global exchange for other sellers like Dairy Foods of the U.S. and Arla of Sweden.

The GDT auction includes many products and ingredients — from bulk cheese and butter to whole milk powder, skim milk powder, anhydrous milkfat powder, buttermilk powder, lactose powder, milk protein concentrate, rennet casein and occasionally sweet whey powder. Whey protein concentrate is another globally-significant product, which the U.S. makes and exports a lot of – but that price is never considered in the FMMO classified pricing scheme either.

By contrast, the CME futures markets provide a hedging opportunity for Class III and IV milk and futures markets for the four Federal Order pricing commodities: Cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey. The CME also operates a daily cash “spot” market primarily for three of the four Federal Order commodities – butter, Cheddar and nonfat dry milk.

The CME trades only those specific Federal Order commodities. It is thinly traded with few buyers and sellers, although volume has increased 1 to 3% in the past year since the change to an electronic trading platform.

As a spot market for hedging, Bialkowski’s analysis described the CME cash market as one that is less well-designed because daily ‘spot’ prices are market-clearing and used retroactively in government pricing formulas, with a pricing delay built in, while GDT auction contracts offer pricing points for delivery one to four months forward.

The biweekly GDT prices are always based on actual sales because all product offered is sold. And those sales are weighted to calculate a weighted average for each product as well as an overall weighted performance index for the dairy trade.

The CME spot market, on the other hand, pegs its daily spot prices on the activity occurring in the final moments of its 15-minute daily trading session.

As we saw on a few occasions earlier this year, a CME trading session had multiple loads change hands at specific prices, but the daily spot price was determined by a lower last-minute offer.

Access to the market is also different. CME traders must simply have product to sell and meet payment and delivery terms to buy. The GDT, on the other hand, has a more controlled process where buyers and sellers are vetted and approved by Fonterra of New Zealand because they run the platform.

How will the U.S. dairy industry adapt to competitively manage export growth and volatility? Are changes needed in the mix of commodity pricing and milk utilization formulas that govern the regulatory pricing structures?

If industry leaders want to focus on export market growth and bring home the message that dairy farmers must accept lower prices “because we are in a global market,” then why is the government involved in regulating prices on the shrinking piece of the expanding pie (Class I) and calculating component value from just four commodities while ignoring the globally significant products and their mostly higher prices?

This is new math and it is not adding up.

A national hearing with report to Congress would help examine new thinking and take a closer look at current regulatory pricing schemes. How is price regulation affecting milk movement and location? Do these schemes return enough component value to the farms? Are the arbitrary make allowances creating winners and losers? Would truly free market forces do a better job? Or if classified pricing is here to stay, should we be aligning milk growth in the U.S. with export market growth and price it accordingly?

In Part Five, we’ll look at U.S. dairy imports and why volume is not the only important factor.

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Eastern dairy industry has value-add soul-searching to do

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Talking candidly about dairy markets and trade were market experts (l-r) Tom Wegner, Land O’Lakes economist; Tom Roosevelt, founder and owner of West Chester-based Roosevelt Dairy Trade, Inc; and Matt Gould, owner of Philadelphia-based Dairy & Foods Market Analyst, LLC. Photos by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, published previously in Farmshine, November 30, 2018

BAINBRIDGE, Pa. – “There is a long list of demands coming from consumers with unprecedented opportunities for milk,” said Matt Gould, owner of Dairy & Food Market Analyst LLC, based in Philadelphia. “Consumer demands are the key, and they are willing to pay for them.”

That was the good news. Gould said that Pennsylvania has an image to capitalize on, and part of that image is family farms working close to the land and animals — the iconic Lancaster County Amish-made image — for example.

But by the end of the forum, it was clear that how the state of Pennsylvania — and the eastern states in general — can tap into value-added dairy opportunities will require both individual and collective soul-searching.

The not-so-good news was the main substance of three hours with three dairy market experts at the annual Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) Fall Issues Forum on November 14 at the Bainbridge Fire Hall in Lancaster County.

Each expert, in their own way, painted a changing and sobering portrait of the dairy market landscape. Producers in Pennsylvania, and the eastern U.S. in general, are not located where commodity processing growth is occurring to serve rapid growth for export and foodservice markets, but instead, exist in a market where declining fluid milk consumption is dictating the terms and leaving mainly the option of slow growth consumer niche markets that take time to develop and must be “continually fed.”

The experts noted that even though the Northeast is down to 30% Class I utilization, 87% of fluid milk sales is water that is expensive to ship, so, in a sense, the albatross around the neck of eastern dairy farmers is the fluid milk market needing farms nearby consumers, but at the same time declines in fluid milk sales are pressuring those farms.

In fact, the experts characterized the East as mainly a fluid and specialty market for dairy. Not the news many wanted to hear since a recent Pennsylvania Dairy Study suggested the Keystone State is a good location for a new cheese plant, and the Port of Philadelphia was tagged in the study as a vehicle to potentially capitalize on export growth markets.

Tom Roosevelt, founder of Roosevelt Dairy Trade, Inc., West Chester, said that commodity processing expansion is mainly associated with export growth and that is all being centered on the West and Midwest.

“A new cheese plant is not my first thought for Pennsylvania,” he said bluntly.

In fact, all three panelists agreed that the Keystone State’s hope is in building niche markets, and they offered these strategies: 1) branding the state’s image, 2) improving milk components, 3) marketing to consumers who have an emotional connection to where their food comes from and how it is produced, and 4) altering production practices — such as Organic, non-GMO and animal welfare labeling — to meet those niche demands.

They also preached the need for greater efficiency and market discipline, that producers here will increasingly see base/excess programs and will need to be using risk management tools and futures markets to get a ‘flat’ price because a ‘flat’ price is where the industry is headed in the midst of volatile global trade factors.

All three experts indicated that the deepening national and global dairy crisis won’t get better any time soon, and that Pennsylvania has some additional long-term challenges if it wants to retain and grow dairy.

Billed as a session to take dairy markets and trade ‘beyond the spin,’ the forum discussion was brutally honest. While disheartening, the information about what is happening here in the context of what is happening elsewhere is important for constructive ongoing discussions in Pennsylvania and other eastern states about the future of their dairy farms that are key to agriculture infrastructure and state and local economies.

When asked about the potential to change how milk is priced, Roosevelt said that there is no question the CME is thinly traded, but that electronic trading has brought in more activity. He said the USDA National Dairy Product Sales Report that provides the product prices for milk pricing formulas, is outdated.

He and Gould agreed that substantial changes to Federal Order milk pricing are not likely to happen because the investments of large companies (think Walmart, Leprino, etc.) rely on a “stable regulatory environment to protect their investments.”

Adding value

Gould challenged Pennsylvania’s dairy industry to instead focus on “value-added” processing and marketing instead of focusing on making more milk.

Tom Wegner, economist with Land O’Lakes said that, “Three years of tough markets would seem to be due for a price peak, but I don’t want to give any notion that it will get better soon. That is the impact of long milk. We are long on milk, and that will probably continue for a while.

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Tom Wegner, economist with Land O’Lakes, shows global milk production patterns during the PDMP forum on dairy markets.

“Your production of components here is more important to enhance milk checks than anything else,” Wegner said.

Roosevelt was particularly candid: “It’s tough to look at this part of the country and think you’ll have dairy exports. The real benefit you have here is in value-added.”

He gave the example of conventional nonfat dry milk selling for 85 cents a pound when organic powder is over $4.00/lb. (The flip-side of this proposition is the very high feed costs and other costs for organic production in which consolidation is also happening, so those producers also are having tough times.)

“It is hard for you to compete on a commodity level,” said Roosevelt from his experience trading dairy commodities at a ratio of 60% domestic use, including animal and pet feed makers, and 40% exports, noting the export trade really began in the past eight years.

“We do a lot of business with Land O’Lakes and Maryland-Virginia,” he said, “but we don’t move hardly anything into export markets out of the Northeast. The fluid market dictates things here in the East compared with the West and Midwest, where cheese is king.”

Roosevelt said the Midwest, Southwest and West are where dairy plants are doing line extensions, and new plants are being planned and breaking ground.

Global volatility

“These companies and cooperatives are going after the commodity big-volume markets to China and Mexico,” said Roosevelt. “If tariffs take those markets out, then it will affect you here because that milk moves down the line. When those markets move product out of the U.S., that means less competition for you here.”

The export markets are deemed the growth markets, said the experts, because domestic demand is declining in some sectors and offers only slow-growth opportunities in other sectors.

With the growth-focused U.S. dairy industry fueled mainly by exports, the volatility of the global market has forced more of the industry to use the CME futures markets to get the ‘flat price’ they want in their quarterly contracts, according to Roosevelt.

“As traders, we trade off the market price and use the futures to convert that to a flat price,” he said. “I would urge you to look at the futures to get a flat price. It’s a tool that will be increasingly important to all of you because, whether we like it or not, we are in a global market and futures are a way to reduce that volatility.”

Roosevelt’s bottom line was for producers to be as efficient as they can and look for the market that “gives you the value, whether it’s artisan or organic.”

Wegner echoed the advice on being efficient. He said the largest farms have the advantage of stretching their economies of scale and taking a longer view in this long period of long milk.

He gave a history of Land O’Lakes with its butter production dating back to 1921 and the eventual merger with Midatlantic here in the East.

“We aggregate demand also,” he said, a nod to Land O’Lakes’ Purina. “We want more of our members to buy more of our products, not just sell us milk.”

Explaining Land O’Lakes’ market-back philosophy, Wegner said the cooperative has put tools together that include traceability and are trying to put production discipline tools into that mix.

“We come to our customers with a farm-to-fork approach and send that back through milk production for an end-to-end view,” said Wegner. “Being farmer-owned is a great part of our background as we continue to grow markets.”

While Pennsylvania’s average herd size is 90 cows, most of the producers attending the forum represented farms with 300 to 1200 cows. Some of the questions lingering in their minds were: How many niches does a dairy market have? And what will it take to develop those in-roads to cover more milk and spread those opportunities beyond the small farm-store label at the end of the drive?

While niche-marketing connects producers and their location and practices with consumers who develop that emotional tie, Roosevelt said the dairy commodity supply-chain has been developing its own sets of practices and programs.

Supply-chain realities

“Traceability is a huge part of our business, and it is as important on the feed side as the food side working with customers like Cargill and ADM,” he explained, noting the huge increase in paperwork following every product delivery. Not only are there certified analyses, date processed, how processed and lot numbers, but in the case of whey, the buyer wants to know what type of cheese process produced the whey because each one has its own profile. He gave the example of whey from Swiss cheese being whiter and higher in protein.

He noted they are getting questions about organic and non-GMO whey, which will produce even more paperwork, and that the traceability aspect is moving back the supply chain to the farm level.

Wegner also talked about traceability. While he didn’t mention it specifically, both Land O’Lakes and DFA are trialing block-chain technology to follow product digitally through the supply chain. Walmart is driving full traceability and moving toward block-chain technology.

“Walmart is one of our biggest customers for butter,” said Wegner. “Just think of the traceability challenges of mixed loads with hundreds of producers.”

The National Milk Producers Federation FARM program was described as a way of consolidating groups of producers into blocks that are being evaluated to use approved practices.

“Members want to know ‘what’s in it for me?’’ said Wegner, “but the reality is that the FARM program contains a lot of the things we have to do to be part of the market.”

Not only are domestic commodity dairy sales being driven by large fast food chains that want to be sure a farm-level animal welfare issue, for example, doesn’t damage their name, the export markets have this concern as well where brands are involved.

Wegner noted that Pizza Hut is launching a new restaurant every 18 hours, globally, and the Yum brand, which includes Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, are opening new restaurants every 8 hours across the globe. He said that 80% of the menu items at these restaurants include dairy. They secure cheese from the U.S. and are concerned about capacity and traceability over the next three years.

For example, Leprino has 80% of the market share for U.S.-produced mozzarella, said Wegner, and their growth is more concentrated in states like Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and California.

Trickle-down effect

With the commodity production for export and large chain foodservice sectors growing — and served mainly by the Midwest and West — Roosevelt maintained that this export growth is still very important to the East because “the benefit trickles down from the West.”

He said that, “The value of growing exports, for you, is that you will have less competition coming from the Midwest and West.”

What can alter that picture — overnight — is the impact of trade tariffs and trade wars with the top three countries for off-shore dairy trade, in order: Mexico, Canada and China.

He said the tariffs have had an incredible effect on lactose trade. Those customers can go to Europe. “There’s plenty of lactose in Europe and they are quick to fill the gap with a lower price,” said Roosevelt.

Another big trade item is permeate, which is 70 to 80% lactose with some protein left in. There are fewer global competitors in this market, but when the tariffs hit, product was “in the water” and fourth quarter contracts were being negotiated, resulting in buyers and sellers splitting the extra costs and new contract offers coming in on lower bids.

The bottom line on these two commodities, according to Roosevelt, is less market for U.S. lactose and a lower price on U.S. permeate.

As for nonfat dry milk powder, it goes all over, but primarily to Mexico, Canada and China, in that order. The “new NAFTA” and the trade war with China, combined, can have an impact on all three export destinations for nonfat dry milk.

Mainly, Roosevelt’s point was that trade uncertainty can create changes “overnight” that affect dairy, and that tariffs are bad for agriculture, in general, because they “create inefficiencies that stop the normal market dynamics from taking effect.”

Like every other economist at every other meeting, Wegner talked about how Europe “really put on milk” when the quotas were removed. He admitted that he was among those who didn’t believe it would happen. But it did. And this extra milk, said Wegner, resulted in stockpiled powder that drove prices down globally.

With some intervention and drought conditions affecting Europe, the EU’s growth this year was only 1.4% instead of 2.5%. But a 1.4% growth in Europe represents far more milk than the same percentage of increase in the U.S.

Growth challenges

Wegner explained that the U.S. is growing milk production at roughly 1% per year now, but that equates to 2 billion additional pounds of milk annually. At the same time 600 million fewer pounds are going into bottles for Class I sales.

“That is what is challenging our system,” he said. “We are seeing the cows come out of the system, but better cows are going back in. For things to get better, a lot more cows need to come out.”

With Land O’Lakes having a national footprint, Wegner observed the challenges of more milk coming on in some of the largest herds in the nation. While California is not growing year-on-year, Texas and the Southwest states are growing rapidly.

He noted that even though Michigan’s growth slowed this year, “Michigan is the poster-child for the hazard of growing ahead of the market,” said Wegner. “They doubled their production from 5 billion pounds in 2000 to over 10 billion pounds by 2018, and this drove their price $2 below everyone else because their milk has to move around.”

Wegner touched on the recent Pennsylvania Dairy Study and its finding that a new cheese plant or other new processing capacity could reduce hauling costs for producers and add value to farm level milk pricing.

“New processing is easy to do, but what do you do with the additional product?” he suggested. “We take a market-back approach at Land O’Lakes because if we don’t sell it or eat it, the product gets stored.”

Wegner called cold storage cheese stocks “very high” and he said that butter stocks were “a little higher than they need to be.” (Note that the USDA cold storage report the following week showed a record-high draw-down in butter stocks that may have improved the butter storage situation.)

Wegner also said that Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs, if they remain in place until a new trade agreement is signed, are already stagnating U.S. cheese production into storage – cheese that had been going to Mexico. (Cheese exports were down 9% compared with a year ago in September.)

The bright spots, he said, are the dairy ingredient markets. “But the Class III market, right now, is a dog.”

The Class IV market is improving as Europe works through its mountain of powder, bit by bit. That powder is getting close to two years old, and Wegner observed that the U.S. is selling fresh powder at a price advantage to buyers who want fresh.

Looking at some of the specific market impacts of the trade tariffs, Wegner stressed the “woefully underestimated” tariff-mitigation payments by USDA to dairy farmers, and all three experts agreed that these tariffs, and more that will potentially kick-in January 1st, are having very negative impacts on the U.S. dairy supply chain.

When asked how these impacts could be blamed for the lack of a price recovery when U.S. dairy exports have been record-high for January through September (most recent figures), the response was that producers should not expect higher export levels to improve farm-level prices because these export markets are largely “market-clearing” commodity markets.

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PDMP executive director Alan Novak opens the discussion to questions from the 60 dairy producers and industry representatives gathering at the Bainbridge Fire Hall on November 14 for the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania’s (PDMP) Fall Issues Forum focused on dairy markets and trade.

Also driving milk production and processing west are the incentives western states provide for new plants, new dairy operations, and growth of existing businesses. For example, the I-29 corridor of the Dakotas is an area that has lots of capacity, is building more, and has dairies, like Riverview, adding cows in a big way.

Indiana and Michigan are other examples of states becoming big dairy suppliers via Select Milk Producers and Fair Oaks. Colorado’s growth is fueled by Leprino, and Texas has multiple growth influencers, including line extensions by Hilmar.

Taken together, the U.S. has grown milk production by 17 to 18 billion pounds of annual production over the past five years, according to Wegner. That’s like adding another Pennsylvania and Minnesota to the nation’s milk load. Wegner said that boils down to 50 million more pounds of milk per day moving in the U.S. compared with five years ago.

Wegner also talked briefly about Land O’Lakes’ base/excess plans. “This is our way of putting some discipline into the discussion, which goes to our market-back approach,” he said. “We moved a lot of milk from our milkshed this year, and that long milk has a cost. At the same time, he noted that Land O’Lakes has been stripping and dumping milk here, that its producers are assessed to pay for that.

“We worked with DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) and DMS (Dairy Marketing Services) on this step to do cream salvage,” he added.

Land O’Lakes’ view of investing in processing is that the products have to be able to move along the value chain in order to produce more of them.

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How will fake milk, fake meat be labeled and regulated?

Say, what? New twist on standards of identity: How will fake milk and fake meat be labeled and regulated?

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In a time when many people have lost their connection to the values and sustainability of the circle of life, cattle have been getting an undeserved bad rap on everything from diet to environment to compassion. On all three counts, the anti-animal agenda lies behind the false narrative that is leading us down a dishonest path to more fake concoctions of ill-fated science fueling profits at the expense of our physical and emotional health and the health of the planet. Fake meat and fake milk are funded by billionaires, genetically engineered by USDA, initiated as the brain children of Silicon Valley techies, with partnership from the biggest names in corporate agriculture. Noble goals of ending hunger are the defense, but it’s difficult to believe that when we have surplus dairy and meat protein produced naturally with the real problem of hunger coming down to distribution and waste. This so-called solution has the potential to quietly dictate food choices, markets and livelihoods.

By Sherry Bunting, updated since first published in Farmshine, November 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious,” is the tagline of Perfect Day’s website.

“Better meat, better world” are the words that jump from the Memphis Meats website.

To be more specific, Perfect Day’s mission is to “create a better way to make dairy protein, the same nutritious protein found in cow’s milk…without the help of a single cow.”

Meanwhile, at Memphis Meats, their mission is “To bring delicious and healthy meat to your table by harvesting it from cells instead of animals… feel good about how it’s made because we strive to make it better for you… and the world.”

On the fake meat side, Memphis Meats received Series A funding from four sources in August 2017: venture capitalist DFJ, billionaire investors Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and Cargill. In January of 2018, Tyson came on board as an investor.

On the fake dairy side, Perfect Day received its Series A funding from Singapore and Hong Kong venture capital and investment companies that have relationships with some of the largest food and beverage companies and brands in the world, according to a company news release. In addition, Continental Grain was part of the early investment, and in November 2018, Perfect Day announced a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

The big question, at present, is how will these proteins be regulated and labeled?

The discussion is converging with FDA’s nutrition innovation strategy and modernization of standards of identity (especially dairy standards of identity), along with parallel hearings and comment periods on how to regulate and label the ‘meat’ version of lab-created cellular proteins.

Make no mistake about it folks: Both of these processes involve genetic engineering start-to-finish.

Perfect Day (fake milk protein), for example, sources yeast from USDA research labs that has been “genetically-altered” to include bovine protein stimulators and synthesizers.

Memphis Meats (fake meat) uses animal cells, mainly bovine and poultry, from cell banks that have been edited to grow only desired muscle cells — separate from their whole-animal source.

The fake dairy protein would be the end-product of the fermentation of the genetically-altered yeast, while the fake meat protein would be the protein blobs that grow from the genetically-edited cells, using neonatal bovine serum — or a plant chemical substitute that is under development — as a growth “on” button.

Both systems would require energy feed sources, using a sugar and/or starch substrate to feed the growth.

Both processes would produce waste streams.

The dairy version are grown in fermentation vats. The meat version in bioreactor towers.

While opinions vary on how quickly these technologies can scale, it is clear that the technologies are well-funded, and that agriculture’s top-tier food supply-chain processors and distributors are partnering.

We must continue to let FDA and USDA know what farmers and consumers — the two ends of the supply chain that need to be talking to each other — feel about the potential of these technologies to create captive-supply market control using interchangeable proteins in common manufactured dairy products or as protein enhancements for plant-based beverages, as well as to stretch boneless beef and poultry products with fake counterparts, namely as ground beef, hamburger, meatballs and chicken tenders and nuggets.

In a press release Friday, November 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they will “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”

There has been no similar FDA PMO-regultory process established for the fake milk proteins.

USDA and FDA had a public meeting in July and October to discuss the use of bovine and poultry “cell lines” to develop these cell-cultured, lab-created foods.

In fact, meat industry stakeholders shared their perspectives on the regulation that is needed to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in an official FDA statement in November.

USDA and FDA announced their “agreement on a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

As FDA and USDA are “actively refining the technical details of the framework,” some of the aspects of the framework are said to include robust collaboration and information-sharing between the two agencies to allow each to carry out our respective roles.

The well-funded startups and their lobbying organization Good Food Institute (a misnomer in this author’s opinion) had pushed for FDA to control labeling and inspection knowing that if USDA were in charge, their efforts to scale production would be slowed.

In view of this joint approach between FDA and USDA, the original public comment period about cell-cultured ‘meat’ had been extended to December 26, 2018. Comments can be seen at the FDA docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FSIS-2018-0036-0001  and there are thoughts that this comment period could be extended again as has the dairy standards of identity comment period.

Meanwhile, on the lab-created ‘dairy’ protein front, Perfect Day, a Silicon-Valley startup, announced in a press release in November that it has formed a partnership with ADM, an agricultural processor and food ingredient provider with a mission of plant-to-plate collaboration throughout the food industry.

In fact, ADM will provide facilities for scaling this technology as part of the deal.

This partnership is billed as “teaming up” to begin supplying “the world’s first animal-free dairy proteins to the food industry in 2019,” according to Perfect Day.

“Animal-free dairy proteins will not only offer consumers the option to have a lactose-free, animal-free alternative to conventional animal-based dairy, but also provide a portfolio of nutritious and functional, high-purity proteins with similar taste and nutrition profile of dairy proteins for a wide range of food and beverage applications,” Perfect Day said in their press release.

Meanwhile, the FDA has extended — yet again — its invitation for information specifically on “the use of names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products.” So far, 10,043 comments (as of December 28, 2018) have been received on this docket. To comment by the new deadline of January 28, 2019, go to the docket online at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-3522.

Dairy checkoff-funded DMI completed a survey of consumers recently showing that 73% are confused about the differences in nutrition between real dairy milk and plant-based alternatives calling themselves ‘milk.’

Other surveys show that more than half of U.S. consumers want healthy foods with ‘clean’ labels having few ingredients and limited or no processing.

It would seem that these findings, among others, would indicate clearly to FDA and USDA that consumers want no more monkey-business when it comes to their food, that they want to see clarity in the enforcement of milk and dairy standards of identity, and that they want to be informed about look-alike ingredients made in laboratories instead of in the time-honored land-and-animal care-taking profession of dairy and livestock farmers and ranchers.

One thing to keep in mind when commenting is to highlight the fact that over half of U.S. consumers want food that does not have a long list of additives and that is minimally processed.

That, on top of nutritional differences and new unproven processes, are enough reason to aggressively label any food containing either the fake dairy or fake meat protein because standards of identity are in place not just for health and safety but also to prevent fraudulent misleading of consumers.

Consumers should know what they are buying and be able to choose food based on their beliefs about what is a better world, not someone else defining what is kind and good and sustainable for them and not using the government’s currently flawed dietary guidelines to decide for consumers what is deemed “healthy.”

Let FDA and USDA know that we as consumers and farmers want clear labeling if these technologies are going to scale into our food system. We want the fake versions to have all of the inspection rigor that real dairy and meat proteins are subjected to.

Above all, we do not want the government quietly removing — via its one-size-fits-all nutrition innovation strategy — our ability to choose foods and production methods with which we want to nourish our bodies and on which we wish to spend our hard-earned money.

This may come down to a battle between fake animal protein ingredients funded by billionaires aligned with Silicon Valley startups and partnered by the biggest names in corporate agriculture vs. a collaboration between individual farmers and ranchers who are the backbone of our nation, the stewards of land and livestock, along with the public at-large, the consumers who are confused by the lines that are blurring.

Now, more than ever, both ends of the supply chain — farmers / ranchers and consumers — need to engage with each other directly — and not through the industry-scripted mouthpieces.

Stay tuned.

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How do we unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

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A dairy panel with Mike Eby, Nina Teicholz (center), Lorraine Lewandrowski and John King (not pictured) was eye-opening to food-interested people at the 25th NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Minds were opened as food policy influencers report weeks later some are reading Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, and it is changing their thinkingAllied Milk Producers helped sponsor this panel. Stay tuned. 

JUNK NUTRITION SCIENCE STILL RULES DIETARY GUIDELINES

25th NESAWG brings dairy to table in Philadelphia 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 14, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Justice, power, influence… Balance. How do people unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

How do Americans have faith in an increasingly globalized food system that gives them choices, but behind the scenes, makes choices for them?

How do urban and rural people connect?

These questions and more were addressed as hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life gathered for two days in center-city Philadelphia recently for the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left), a central New York dairy farmer and attorney, talks with Niaz Dorry of NFFC. Dorry spoke on the opening panel about her 67,000-mile tour of rural America, urging others to “meet the farmers where they are.” Lewandrowski spoke about the ecology of rainfed grasslands in the Northeast and the struggle of family dairy farms throughout this landscape.

For Niaz Dorry of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the answer is simple: “Get out into the countryside and meet the farmers — where they are,” she said, during the opening panel of the conference as she talked of her recently completed America the Bountiful tour, driving over 67,000 miles of countryside — coast to coast.

Dorry also touched on the dairy crisis. “Go and experience their grief with them. Be with them at milking on Tuesday and see them sell a portion of their cows on Wednesday — just to make payroll.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding echoed this theme during the lunch address as he said agriculture is “zipcode-neutral,” that we need to forge “a more perfect union in our food system” but that the future lies in “differentiating” agriculture here.

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“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation…” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russ Redding.

“It’s nice to be with folks who understand the power of food to change lives,” said Redding as he mentioned rooftop gardens, urban brownfields and Pennsylvania’s rank as number two in the nation for organic sales.

“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation, by being able to grow and produce and market organic agriculture,” said Sec. Redding.

With the NESAWG goal to “cultivate a transformative food system,” panels and breakouts covered topics from building networks and insuring equity among sectors to understanding urban food trends and ways to position Northeast agriculture within the power grid that ordains the direction of mainstream food production, processing and distribution today.

A breakout session on building “farm-to-school” hubs, for example, gave attendees insight for getting more fresh, local foods into school meals. Presenters talked about obstacles, and how they are navigated, about martialing available resources, identifying networks, working in collaboration with others, piloting ideas and growing them. Farm-to-School began in 2007, and it is growing.

Another breakout brought a panel of dairy producers to share with urban neighbors the crisis on Northeast dairy farms. The panel featured the work of dairy producers Jonathan and Claudia Haar of West Edmeston, New York, who spoke about consolidation that has been underway for decades in dairy.

But it was an afternoon panel — Milk Economies, Ecology and Diet — that put dairy and livestock producers squarely in the realm of hope for a re-wind.

Keynoting this panel was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise and founder of The Nutrition Coalition. She covered the history of current government Dietary Guidelines and how rigorous studies have been ignored for decades because they don’t “fit” the narrative on saturated fats and cholesterol.

She was joined by dairy farmer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County, New York, who spoke on dairy ecology and how the rainfed grasslands and croplands of Northeast dairy farms are a haven to wildlife, especially important species of birds and butterflies and pollinators.

They were joined by Mike Eby and John King of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, representing National Dairy Producers Organization and Allied Milk Producers. The two men spoke on the dairy economy and what is happening on family dairy farms, struggling to remain viable.

“The land is most important to us,” said Lewandrowski about her deep love of Honey Hill, where her family has farmed for four generations. While, she is an attorney in town with farmers among her clients, she also helps her brother with the farm and her sister with her large animal veterinary practice.

Lewandrowski is known as @NYFarmer to her over 26,000 followers on Twitter — generating over 75,000 interactions from nearly a quarter-million tweets in the past 10 years!

She described a reverence for the land and its wildlife — cohabitating with a rich agricultural heritage and sense of rural community that exists within an afternoon’s drive of New York City.

“We have land that is rich in water,” she said with a nod to a dairy industry consolidating into regions that rely on irrigation.

“Our lands are rainfed: 21 million gallons of water run through our farm with an inch of rainfall,” she said. “Our farms are diverse across this landscape. But our farmers are going out of business in this economy. So many of these farms are then turned into urban sprawl. What will become of the people, the land and its wildlife?”

Lewandrowski talked about identifying bird species on their farm, of the crops and pasture in dairy operations, and the economic hardships she sees firsthand. She shared her vision of Northeast rural lands and what they bring to urban tables and communities.

Introducing Teicholz to an audience primarily of urban people, Lewandrowski shared how dairy farmers feel — working hard to produce healthy food, and then contending with poor prices driven by regulations that suppress its value.

“I didn’t know why our food is not considered good and healthy. Nina’s book gave me hope,” she said. “We are fighting for our land, and yet the vegans are so mean. When our farmers go out of business, they cheer on social media. They cheer when our families lose everything. But the land and wildlife lose also, and the vegans cheer.”

Teicholz traced the history of her 10-year investigation that led to The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It started with a newspaper assignment on dietary fat.

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Nina Teicholz explains the revelations of a decade of investigation leading to The Big Fat Surprise. In the 5 years since publishing, farmers seek her out to thank her. She says she never realized how it must feel to be a dairy or meat producer — producing a healthy product while being told it is not healthy and seeing your livelihood pushed down by faulty dietary controls.

“Before I knew it, I had taken this huge deep-dive into fats and realized we have gotten it all completely wrong,” said Teicholz, a former vegetarian for 25 years before her research.

“I’m here to speak today because I found Lorraine’s twitter account and fell in love with her photos and stories from the dairy farm,” said Teicholz. In the nearly five years since her book was published, awareness of ignored science has been raised.

A California native, living in New York City, Teicholz described herself as an urban person and how surprised she was to hear the stories from farmers about how her book and her work gives them hope.

“It breaks my heart to now realize that — after all this time — the dairy farmers and meat producers have been led to feel that there is something wrong with the food they are producing, and to see how vegans go after these farmers, and now after me too,” Teicholz related.

“How did we come to believe these things that led to the decline in foods like whole milk, and have pushed down the producer?” Teicholz traced the history of dietary caps to the theory of one researcher — Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota.

“Concern about heart disease in the 1960s led to many theories. The diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys was just one theory, but he was unshakably confident in his own beliefs, and he was considered arrogant, even by his friends,” said Tiecholz.

“When the American Heart Association nutrition committee first supported Keys’ recommendations — even though the scientific evidence was very weak — that was the little acorn that grew into the giant oak, and it’s why we are where we are today,” she explained.

Methodically, Teicholz took her audience through the science that was used to support Keys’ theory, as well as the many more rigorous studies that were buried for decades.

In fact, some of the very research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that had set out to prove causation for Keys’ theory was buried in the NIH basement because “the results were so disappointing to that theory.”

The studies that did not validate Keys’ theory — that fat in the diet is the cause of heart disease, obesity and other diseases — were suppressed, along with the studies that outright refuted his theory. A steady drumbeat of science — both new and exposed from those earlier times — shows a reverse association and causation.

48329399_2290819234570553_8398919649542012928_n.pngIn fact, since the Dietary Guidelines capped saturated fat in the 1980s — becoming progressively more restrictive in requiring lowfat / high carb diets — the data show the association, that Americans have become more obese, with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

“It feels like the battle is endless,” John King said as he spoke of the real struggle on dairy farms and of selling his dairy herd in 2015. “But it is rewarding and encouraging to see what people are doing to expose the truth now.”

King posed the question: “Do urban communities really care about rural communities? If not, then we are done. Our food will come from somewhere else and the system will be globalized.

“As farmers, we care about what we produce, and we care about our animals,” he said. “What happens to us on our farms trickles down to the urban areas. It’s an uphill battle to try to go against the status quo, and we need urban communities to care if we are going to be successful. It comes down to whether urban and rural care about each other. Do we care about our neighbors?”

Teicholz sees the U.S. being in the midst of a paradigm shift. However, it is taking time for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to change and open up to the science. She noted that in the 2015-2020 guidelines, the caps were removed for cholesterol, but they were kept in place for saturated fat.

“The cholesterol we consume has nothing to do with blood cholesterol,” said Teicholz. “The body produces cholesterol, and if we eat fat, our body makes less of it. It is the science that remains buried that needs to continue to surface. People need to know that the fat you eat is not the fat you get.”

She cited studies showing the healthfulness of full-fat dairy, that drinking whole milk and consuming the healthy fats in butter, beef, bacon and cheese are the fastest ways to increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is the saturated fat caps in the current guidelines that are the reason whole milk, real butter, beef, and 100% real cheese are not served in schools today, said Teicholz. She showed attendees how these recommendations drive the food supply.

“The recommendations are allowing children to have whole milk only for the first two years of life, after that, at age one or two, children on skim milk,” she said. “The recommendations drive what we eat whether we realize it or not.”

She showed how the current flawed Dietary Guidelines drive the diets of the military, school children, daycare centers, WIC programs, hospitals, prisons, retirement villages. And these recommendations are downloaded by foodservice and healthcare: physicians, dieticians, nutrition services, foodservice menu guides. They are driving how dairy and meat products are presented in restaurants, fast food chains and other menus of choice. They are driving the current FDA nutrition innovation strategy that is working on a symbol for “healthy” and looking at modernizing standards of identity to accomplish these nutritional goals that focus on lowfat / high carb diets.

“Meanwhile, it is the unsaturated fats, the new products in the food supply, that are negatively affecting us and those are all there… in the USDA feeding programs,” Teicholz pointed out.

Others in the panel discussion pointed to an anti-animal view, that cattle are bad for the planet in terms of climate change. These views perpetuate the current dietary guidelines. In fact, in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to introduce “sustainability” guidelines on what they deemed “healthy” for the planet into these guidelines, officially.

This is the ecology side that Lewandrowski addressed, showing urban food influencers how the concept of sustainability is being overtaken and systemized and how Northeast dairy farmers have a great story to tell that is being ignored, drowned-out.

“We have to think about how the shifts are occurring in the food system and manage those shifts. We can work together and make change happen,” said Mike Eby, articulating the message of National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), seeking to work with the system to manage farmers’ interests.

Allied Milk Producers helped sponsor this dairy panel, and Eby said that whether it is milk promotion through Allied, membership in NDPO, or supporting the buying and donating of dairy products through Dairy Pricing Association (DPA), it is important for people to participate.

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Mike Eby and John King brought Allied Milk Producers materials — and plenty of milk — to the NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Amos Zimmerman also had a booth for Dairy Pricing Association.

He gave examples of how Allied and DPA — funded by farmers — are reaching out to consumers, schools, urban communities with donations of product and a positive message.

“We need more people to get involved to fix these issues, and to create a system that supports its producers and stabilizes prices,” said Eby.

“We need to reach out and work together as urban and rural communities,” added Lewandrowski.

 

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Hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life attended the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Philadelphia, where networking from urban to rural looked at regional solutions.

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Cutting costs, connecting consumers, striving to keep joy in dairying: Dairywomen share insights, Part Three

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s the last week of November, the month to celebrate women in dairy. A dozen women from multiple generations, states and farm sizes responded to the same five questions in this three-part series. Part One “Being Real” ran in the November 16 Farmshine, Part Two “Faith, friendships, fighting for each other’s survival” ran November 23 and this is Part Three, which ran in the November 30 Farmshine.

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Even our animals know that no matter where or who is your support group, the important thing is that you have one. They, too, are counting on us to tell our story, we all have one.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 30, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Communicating with dairywomen about the challenges and opportunities in dairy today continually circles back to the economics. On many large and small family dairy farms, there is some diversification, so the low prices right now for all commodities are trying. But these women also see opportunities for better pay prices in the future through communication with consumers, changes in dietary recommendations and reaching out into the world of specialty markets.

Answering questions while attending a Penn State cheesemaking course recently, Amy Brickner in south central Pennsylvania says she “feels strongly that the only way small farms are going to continue is through the processing and marketing of premium dairy products locally, which also ensures that people are invested personally in where their food comes from.”

She describes herself as a “slightly unconventional dairywoman.” She still acts as herd manager on her family’s 160-cow dairy while moving to her fiance’s 100-cow dairy farm in charge of herd management and records and looking to add a milking robot. Both farms are three and four generations in dairy farming, and like others, dairying is both a business and a heritage that brings a passion for cow care and quality milk to the table.

In south central Wisconsin, fourth generation dairy farmer Cindy Krull Begeman also cites the generational passion for dairy in families like hers. But, like others, she views the future with heavy doses of practicality.

“Low milk prices are making it very hard to want to pass the farm on to the kids,” says Cindy. “As a parent, we always want better for our kids. Even though we love our cows, it is pretty hard to want our kids to struggle like we are now.”

Pulling in a positive direction during difficult times is something Cindy is no stranger to. After the death of her husband eight years ago, she talked with her children about what to do with the farm and the cattle.

“This farm had been in Brian’s family for three generations. The kids were 17, 14 and 10 at the time and very involved in 4-H and FFA. They wanted to at least keep a few cows around to keep the cow family lines going after their father and I had worked so hard to breed them,” she recalls. They sold half the herd at that time and slowly started to rebuild with embryo transfers out of their favorite cow families. They milk 50 registered cows in a tie-stall barn and run 350 acres of crops along with some pasture.

While Cindy still owns and manages the farm, her daughters do the matings and are involved in the genetics and her son is working in the industry. Last year, she took a job as herd manager of a 300-cow robotic dairy in northeast Iowa where they bottle milk and make cheese and ice cream. Having remarried and relocated near Sioux Falls, her youngest daughter attending Iowa State and with her younger brother and his family helping with the cows and crops on the home farm in Wisconsin, the situation works, and her lifelong involvement in the dairy industry gives her both a broad and narrow view of the future.

Specifically, she says they have taken many practical steps in this down market — cutting back on everything extra that they can from the feed bill and the vet bill. They take extra jobs off the farm, sell extra equipment, clean out the closets and sell extra clothes to buy new.

Terri Hawbaker has also sharpened her pencil at Grazeway Dairy in central Michigan. Having worked full time on the farm as she and her late husband Rick purchased it from her parents in 2002, she also went through a transition when Rick passed away nearly three years ago. Her children will be the sixth generation on the farm and the third on the homestead. She and the children operate the farm, along with employees, and Terri’s parents manage the heifer ranch rented for youngstock and hay.

“This allows (my parents) some additional income in their retirement years, yet they can travel when they want,” says Terri, adding that her parents help when needed in hay making, parts running and food preparation.

“Each dairy will have its own unique challenges and different opportunities, depending on their goals and vision… and available markets,” she points out, noting their current ongoing challenge is “to be as efficient as possible with the resources available without taking all the joy out of dairy farming.”

Like Amy, Terri also observes that with markets being limited, “quality is a must in order not to lose the market you have. Opportunities for a dairy of our size include more out-of-the-box thinking, such as A2 genetics, suppliers for specialized products, agritourism, and educational and training opportunities for others.”

She also believes it’s important to do what is right for the individual farm, not necessarily what the recommendations are from others.

“Every farm went into this slump in a different financial situation, and that will determine, somewhat, their outcome,” she says as a matter of reality. While she has taken very specific actions in 2017, she says “it boils down to continuing to work on efficiency.”

She is quick to point out that what is efficient time-wise and what is efficient financially can be different. “At the end of the day, it’s money-in vs. money-out,” she says, and she weighs the money-in / money-out with the “comfort and convenience” before making a decision.

One example is her reduction of custom work costs by taking more of that on themselves. “For example, hauling the hay from our rented farm takes twice as long doing it ourselves, but remember, it’s money-in vs. money-out.”

Other advice she takes seriously is to challenge how things have always been done and rethinking things that don’t have a good “why.”

One area she is most open to is different ways to feed the cattle that may be more financially efficient. For her herd, it’s grazing, and simplifying the grazing system has been a key to it.

Terri is also set on “clearing the clutter.” She says it helps to simplify, to sell excess machinery, to clean up the scrap pile. “Clearing the clutter not only brings you down to the core of what you actually need, it creates a more clean and peaceful work environment.”

And when it came to replacing a full-time employee, she opted to split responsibilities and take more on for herself by rearranging her work day. “I don’t get paid by the hour, so I am driven to get the work done, yet gentle on equipment because repairs come out of my pocket, essentially.”

Along with that, she evaluates the skill of her employees working on equipment and believes in communicating not just the how, but also the why, when explaining the importance of being gentle on equipment. She explained to employees that a recent skid loader repair of $4777 leaves less “in the pot” for raises and bonuses.

For Jessica Slaymaker of northern Pennsylvania, the challenge is real after she and her husband built the freestall barn three years ago milking 150 cows. She works mainly on the cow side “a herdsman who knows how to run a skidsteer,” so to speak. Before marrying Dan, Jessica was herdwoman at her parent’s nearby 600-cow dairy.

“I don’t think anyone thought this downturn would last so long,” says Jessica. “It is making us try to think smarter and be more efficient, but it is mentally, physically and emotionally draining.”

But she sees the opportunities for the future, “When things finally do turn around, I think we have a lot of potential here. We have good genetics and can hopefully market extra replacements. We also breed the lower 25% of the herd to beef bulls and that boost in income is helping too.”

In Mississippi, Tanya Rushing sees the challenges in market access after plant closures. She partnered with her father in the 80-cow dairy until she bought him out in 2017. She’s the third generation to dairy there, and her husband works off the farm but helps with mechanical work and wherever else he can while their son now works part time on the farm with the intention of carrying the farm into a fourth generation once he’s out of school.

As sole owner and operator now, Tanya has two employees to help with milking and other labor. She, too, relies on good grass management and hay.

“To me, the challenges and opportunities facing the dairy industry go hand-in-hand,” says Tanya. “The difficulties are forcing many farmers to close their barn doors, and I hate to see it happen. But I also feel that a change in economic policies, as well as new dietary recommendations concerning butter and whole milk will improve on-farm pay prices in the future.”

She cites the need for positive agricultural and animal advocacy, which “forces farmers to stepout of their tractors and tell their farm stories to the public,” says Tanya. “Consumers want and need to know the voices behind where their food comes from. Advocacy is an integral part of the future of dairy, and we all must strive to educate people every chance we get.”

For Tricia Adams in northern Pennsylvania, it’s easy to identify the challenges in dairy right now, and she spends a lot of her time working on the solution side. “You feel helpless and disappointed to see milk sold as a core staple while watching so many other products like soy and margarine replace your product to where now we have to defend our product and can’t seem to backpeddle fast enough,” she says.

Tricia and her three brothers own and operate Hoffman Farms as the transition is in process from her parents Dale and Carol Hoffman who moved from Snyder to Potter County with 35 cows in the 1970s. Today, they are milking 800. In addition to her many roles feeding calves, managing employees and working in the office, Tricia helps educate consumers through the farm’s Facebook page and giving school and community tours for many years.

The questions come into the page and even to her personal facebook page. “Even my friends start questioning things that dairy farmers do that they don’t understand. I explain what we do and try to be upbeat.”

She also has worked on ideas to get better milk in the schools because when the school tours come to the farm, the kids always say “Oh, it’s the GOOD milk.” They always serve whole white and whole chocolate milk on their tours to put dairy’s best and most nutritious foot forward, and she finds that she has to order it ahead of time from the grocer to make sure there’s enough whole milk for her events.

“There has got to be better access to our products,” says Tricia. “I go to a restaurant or on college visits with my kids and look for the milk. I go to the store and find whole milk few and far between, but plenty of 1% milk. Our teachers in the schools want to change the milk also, but run into the red-tape.”

At Hoffman Farms, the second and third generations are starting to look deeper at what they can do to become more self-sufficient. They, too, are using beef bulls on some of the herd and recently began marketing custom beef, locally.

“As farmers, I think we have to take charge of our livelihoods again and come back full-circle to marketing our products,” Tricia observes, explaining their recent diversification into selling beef. “We have consumers. They want to buy from us as farmers. So we are thinking a lot about how to build even more relationships with consumers.”

The scariest part of the future, says Tricia, is “not knowing when to make the critical decision to stay in or exit. We’re in this so far. It’s our life and our livelihood, our family homestead. The time to retire out has come and gone, so we’re at a point where we will keep going. Our backs are against the wall, and that is forcing us to look at other ideas.”

She relates something her father always says. “Everybody has to eat, meaning farmers will always have a job, but sometimes it seems not to be the case. If we can’t have our products where they need to be and are losing future milk drinkers because the milk at school isn’t filling and yummy anymore, it makes things more difficult to shape that secure dairy future.”

Having middle-schoolers read The Omnivore’s Dilemma as part of the New York curriculum is another hurdle, but it also gave Tricia’s daughters the opportunity to speak up and invite the class to the farm to see how modern dairies really do take care of their cows.

In every aspect of life, Tricia sees opportunities to tell dairy’s good story, and she embraces that challenge. “It’s essential because the consumer is bombarded with so much misinformation and we have to be active in turning it around.”

Cindy sees this too. “One of the best things as a woman dairy farmer is that we get to tell our story to everyone, every chance we get. Whether it’s coffee hour at church, or some other opportunity, we can take milk and ask if anyone needs it, then bring up how important milk is and how bad things are for farmers across the county,” she relates. “We have to tell our story. We all have one.”

She also finds real value in networking with others. “We all need to learn, to get out and talk with other farmers,” she emphasizes, “because we are all in this together, and we all understand each other. We are not alone!”

Socializing with like-minded individuals is also important to Tanya. “It helps me to feel not so alone with the day-to-day challenges, to blow off steam with ladies who ‘get it,’ and discuss the fine lines between being a farmer, a business owner, a mom, wife and daughter.”

For Jessica, Dairy Girl Network has been “a Godsend. It is a lifeline to women who know what you are going through and deal with day-to-day,” she says. “Being involved so heavily in the daily activities on the farm can make a person feel isolated; however, with Facebook and the Dairy Girl Network page, I can go there while eating lunch, or milking a slow side of cows, and interact with women from all over the U.S. To me, that’s amazing. Everyone is there to answer questions, offer guidance, or just to listen and comfort. It’s an amazing group of women that I am proud to be a part of.”

Tricia also gets on the DGN page. “I love it because there is nothing negative on there,” she says. “We may complain, but it’s not a negative pointing of fingers.” She also wants to start a group of women meeting in her area because “we have other things in common too. It’s good to find the fun things, to share pictures of our kids on the farm, or a new ice cream recipe or collaborate on what kids can take to school for snacks or even inspiration for designing farm logos. It helps to be connected.”

For Amy, being part of the Dairy Moms facebook group has been one of her best support teams. “It is 100% the most positive group of women, and no matter what kind of day you are having, or what struggle or triumph any one in the group is having, we are all supportive and understanding, and ready with positive comments and help,” she notes.

Terri follows different networking groups through social media, as well, and she focuses on groups that cater to the grazing systems. “I view farming as a business, and just like other industries, there are males and females and the percentages vary,” she says, noting that the important thing for her has been having “a few very close friends that have gone through all the trials and celebrations with me… and a few mentors that I call upon.

“No matter where or who is in your support group, what matters is that you have one.”

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Faith, focus, friendships, fighting for each other’s survival: Dairywomen share insights, Part Two

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A dozen women from multiple generations, states and farm sizes respond to the same questions. Part one ran last week, here is part two.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 23, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — When asked what challenges and opportunities women see for dairy farming today into the future, “sustainability” comes to the forefront, but not in the way we often see this term used.

“The biggest challenge is, of course, sustainability… Can we survive!?” writes Joy Widerman, the youngest partner-owner of the second generation of the Hess family operating JoBo Holsteins, a 1075-cow dairy that grew to include multiple families and generations after her parents John and Bonnie relocated from Lancaster County to Adams County, Pennsylvania in the 1970s.

Joy is herdswoman and takes care of reproduction and genetic decisions, so she is continually looking ahead at the registered Holstein and Brown Swiss herd’s future.

“We are doing everything in our power to be profitable, but with so many unknowns in the dairy industry, it’s hard. From milk prices to feed prices, to weather — farming is one of riskiest jobs to have,” Joy relates.

She wonders how dairy farms will “make room for future generations to join.”

Profitability is the key to achieving that, and experts suggest diversification.

“But with the market as scary as it is,” writes Joy. “How do we do that? These are questions my family faces everyday… What’s next?”

Alicia Haag of Mohrsville, Pennsylvania also talks about the uncertainty. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings,” she says. “So we clamp down hard on our faith and try to feel the blessings of having this opportunity to grow up in America and be blessed with what we have at the moment.”

Alicia finds it difficult to see all the herd dispersals happening, and she tries “not to dwell on the bad” and to remain thankful to have children with a keen interest in the farm that has been in her husband’s family for seven generations.

She and her husband Mike milk 76 registered Holsteins in a tiestall barn. She takes care of the night milking with her daughter and occasional help from a neighbor. She is responsible for calf care and feeding, and helps anywhere else she is needed. She has also been working off the farm as a construction-zone flagger for a local contractor since 1999.

In the last year or two, Alicia has increased her off-farm hours, working two or three days a week, every week, to help bring income back to the farm. She often flags beside other local dairywoman on job sites all over.

“It’s hard for moms to find a job off the farm that provides good enough pay to make income after paying the help that replaces you at home,” Alicia notes. “There aren’t many jobs that also give the flexibility I need to be able to successfully be a mom and farm wife.”

She hopes other employers will consider flexibility the next time they consider employing a farm wife.

“If we want to help the farming industry remain here, having off-farm jobs that offer a little flexibility could be a key,” Alicia suggests. “Employers should know that when they hire a farmer’s wife, they are getting someone who is going to come in and give 100%.”

This year has been particularly stressful on farm families, she observes: “We are tired between the economic stress and the weather. It’s hard to get yourself out of the funk. Trying to get crops off when you know the income isn’t there with milk prices, so you’re trying to do the crops right to get by with the income you have.”

The Haags, like others, had extra expenses with replanting and not being able to get forages off the fields timely this season. In times of stress, she cites the special importance of family, friends and networking with others as a way to rejuvenate optimism — whether it’s getting together with friends, a hug from someone who understands, or the ideas and support gleaned in a network of other farm women.

While there isn’t much time for it, Alicia loves sitting on her front porch and talking with her kids. “Most of the corn is off, and the cover crops are just starting to peek through,” she describes the November scene as a metaphor. “This is life — looking out, everything looks dead, but I know that in this field there are seeds planted, and it will soon be green again.”

For Karen Hawbaker of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, living in faith surrounded with people who share her values have been keys to getting through the toughest of times.

“We can’t do life alone,” she says, noting the good in getting away, mentally and physically, even if just for a few hours. She believes dairy farmers need this, and sometimes the ‘one more thing to do’ can be replaced with ‘it can be done tomorrow.’

Karen started dairy farming with her late husband Rodney in the 1980s. Eight years ago, she lost him in a farming accident. Today, she operates the 200-cow dairy on her own with a team of employees and trusted advisors.

“If God helps get us through something, that’s another confirmation that we are where we are meant to be. We can’t do any of this without faith. It changes the whole outlook,” Karen explains, reflecting on how she felt the prayers of others in her loss. “I look around and see that I would hate to try to do this by myself. When we set ourselves apart, it causes divisions. We have enough divisions out there.”

Carol Williams of Madison, Georgia also observes how bringing people together — within and beyond the farm gate — provides what is her true definition of opportunity: “A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”

She has been farming 42 of the 43 years she and Everett have been married. She has milked, fed calves, raised replacements, planted, chopped, hauled and spread crops for silage, fed cows, hauled cows, pulled calves, built fences, finished concrete, changed tires, done minor mechanic work all while raising four kids and being a homemaker.

Dairywomen balance a lot of competing priorities!

Today, their two sons take care of day-to-day management of the 1700-cow WDairy, and their two daughters help in the office and with dairy promotion and youth events.

“Being part of networks helps people to understand that they are not alone. Women on farms can be isolated, and with today’s economic atmosphere, they can be discouraged,” Carol observes, explaining how seeing other women go through the same things, getting tips on how to do things, and hearing encouraging words helps.

“When I was young, all the other wives were teachers, and I had no one to relate to. I would have benefitted greatly from a friendly network,” she recalls.

Without exception, dairywomen see the importance of reaching out beyond the farm gate as the percentage of the population in farming continues to diminish.

“All farmers have the same challenges of weather, low prices, high input costs, and labor shortages,” Carol notes, citing one of the biggest challenges as the amount of misinformation that is publicized daily about agriculture.

“Most people have no idea what is really involved in producing the food and fiber that they use daily. They believe that dairy farmers abuse their animals, that farmers purposely pollute streams and rivers, that we have 9-to-5 jobs with weekends off, that we are getting wealthy, that meat and dairy products are unhealthy, and that nuts can give milk,” she relates. “Even worse, they have been so brainwashed that you cannot hold a reasonable conversation to try and educate them about reality.”

These are the shared frustrations of many dairywomen engaging daily on the front lines of communication with consumers, their non-farm peers, at community events, while grocery shopping, by giving tours and on social media.

“Tours at the dairy are a great opportunity to show people just how much our animals mean to us, how their comfort and well-being are our number one priority and how complicated, technologically-advanced and exhausting dairy farming is,” writes Carol.

She tells about the Commercial Dairy Heifer Show Program in Georgia and the opportunity it gives FFA and 4-H youth — 95% of them not from farms. “Dairy farmers loan calves to the kids to raise, train and show. At the end of the show season the heifers are returned to the dairy farmer, and they can get another one for the next season.

“Not only are we teaching these youth about animal care and responsibility, we are educating them about dairy farming. By being exposed to this, many are choosing careers in agriculture,” Carol explains how it leads to more sharing opportunities to the family and friends of these young people.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Joy Widerman agrees that public understanding is huge in the sustainability — the survival — of family dairy farms. As a mother of three, her quest for balance keeps her focused.

“I know that if I spend too much time worrying about the future of JoBo, then I start to forget what’s truly important — my kids and my family,” she writes, noting that the third generation shows interest in the farm. Some work on the farm after school or after clocking out of their jobs. “Our farm is the backbone of our family. I try not to sugar-coat it. My kids know how hard it is to survive… and that we need to work hard at being profitable.

“I do everything I can to educate the public, so they know what farmers are facing,” she explains. Joy gives tours at the farm, speaks at local meetings of civic organizations and stays in touch through the farm’s Facebook page.

She believes farmers need to stay connected to each other and to consumers.

“Any opportunity we have to talk to others about what we are facing, we should do it,” Joy suggests. “We all need to realize we aren’t in it alone. It’s key that we all lean on each other… to talk and let our voices be heard. We need to fight for each other’s survival.”

Look for more dairywomen wisdom as this Farmshine series continues next week.

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