Dear Trump and Trudeau: The dairy debacle doesn’t have to be this way

canada-us-cowDairy epicenter of trade friction between leaders

By Sherry Bunting

originally published in Farmshine, June 15, 2018

QUEBEC — Dairy remains at the epicenter of a trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada.

President Donald Trump and his team have been busy renegotiating NAFTA and looking at the TPP, and while progress was being made in many areas, dairy has become a sticking point that has led to friction and word-volleys between President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of the G7 meeting in Quebec in June.

Headlines after the G7 upset proclaimed that the U.S. is demanding an end to Canada’s dairy supply management system. Actually, President Trump is more specifically seeking an end to the 270% tariffs paid on U.S. dairy exports to Canada.

While the tariffs are much smaller on dairy exports that fall within Canada’s quota of 10% of their domestic production, these tariffs rise exponentially to as much as 313% on dairy exports to Canada beyond the import quota amounts.

On the U.S. side of the import/export coin, import license figures show that DFA holds much of the fluid milk import quota exported to the U.S. from Canada. Many other companies also import dairy products from Canada; however, the value of U.S. dairy imports from Canada is just 20% of the value of dairy the U.S. annually exports to Canada.

In other words, the U.S. exports five times the amount of dairy products to Canada that Canada exports to the U.S. (on a value, not volume, basis) even though Canadian tariffs are high, and U.S. tariffs are low.

Who is advising the President on dairy? National Milk Producers Federation? Dairy processing interests in Wisconsin (Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state) and New York (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s home state)? Those two states had been selling ultrafiltered milk north of the border through a loophole that ended two years ago when Canada began its Class 7 pricing for milk destined to be used in products that are exported. This allowed expansion of Canadian quota to fill the growing demand for milkfat in domestic products by providing an off-valve to be competitive exporting the skim milk that rides along with that milkfat.

The issue arises from, first, the loss of a market for U.S. ultrafiltered dairy protein to Canadian manufacturers of cheese and other dairy products, which for several years has been exported to Canada — without tariffs — because it wasn’t a product defined in the tariff schedule.

What changed? Canada added its new “export class”, which allows Canadian processors to purchase milk (or skim) from Canadian farms at lower prices when it is used to make products that will be exported instead of sold into their domestic market where pricing is governed by producer-run milk marketing boards to support the country’s milk production quota system.

Canada has allowed farms to increase milk production quotas by 4 to 6% annually over the past four years due to greater domestic demand for milkfat. This leaves more skim floating around to be absorbed in their relatively ‘closed’ dairy market.

The new export Class 7, in Canada, allows processors to make skim milk powder — and other dairy protein ingredients — at much lower costs to be able to then export them at prices below the global market, because the majority of the producer pricing is still based on the stability of milk supply quotas set by domestic use on a milkfat basis.

The loss of an export market for U.S. ultrafiltered milk solids going to Canada is not the biggest concern. The growing U.S. concern is that the Canadian Class 7 pricing scheme has provided the means for Canada to sell increasing amounts of skim solids to Mexico, which is currently the number-one export destination for U.S. skim milk powder, and that this can increase as quotas expand, at the same time reducing the need for butterfat imports from the U.S.

Trudeau knows that his party will lose support from Quebec if he does not stand firm on the supply-managed system for dairy. Moreover, this system has been in place for over 60 years, and what makes it work is the protection from imports via high tariffs.

Does the U.S. have the right to demand our ally and trading partner, Canada, give up its dairy supply management system? And if they did give it up through a transitional process over 10 years, could they not become an even more competitive force on global markets?

Multi-national dairy processors have long sought an end to Canada’s dairy supply management system because their growth in Canada is limited by the fact that they must apply for processing quota — allotted for processors to make dairy products only in amounts that reflect Canada’s domestic supply and demand.

Canadian companies — like Saputo and Agropur — in fact, have expanded processing capacity in the U.S., in order to produce dairy products with U.S. milk for the U.S. and global markets.

That said, is it really smart for the U.S. to demand that Canada end its supply-managed dairy system?

When we say “America first” in trade, should we not expect Canada to reply with “Canada first” as they negotiate?

The point here is two-fold. First, the U.S. could learn something by evaluating how Canada is using its new export (Class 7) to price its “growth” milk, mainly the skim milk that rides along with the increased demand for milkfat.

As consumers learn the truth about full fat dairy, both here and around the world, more milk is needed to supply the increased demand for fat, while not all of the skim is in equally high demand until more processing innovations are in place.

This is a new dairy market development both nations must deal with in their respective systems that were designed to accommodate the past 40-years of flawed lowfat diet dogma.

Instead of simply pointing fingers at Canada, should the U.S. not be analyzing its own government-controlled pricing fixtures? After all, the relationship between USDA and NMPF is a tight one. Not only do their economists float from one entity to the other in their careers, the two jointly control the Federal Order rulemaking process from how petitions are submitted to how hearings are administrated to how NMPF member-cooperatives bloc-vote for their farmer member-owners.

We could benefit from better negotiations with our friend to the North, but now we have gotten into a spitting-match over a system that Canada’s dairy farmers have invested millions into and where most seem to oppose dismantling.

Yet Canada has found a way to participate in the global dairy market by making a pricing loophole to gain export sales for their dairy proteins while ending a loophole the U.S. dairy industry was previously exploiting by exporting ultrafiltered milk to Canada — a double-whammy for the U.S.

The U.S. and Canada have a long alliance on many fronts as nations, and also within dairy. One has only to attend the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin and other dairy events and exchanges to see a legacy of competitive camaraderie between our nations.

Let’s not allow the agendas of multi-national dairy processors to drive a wedge.

Is the strong rhetoric surrounding this dairy dispute — and the demands about ending Canada’s supply management — just President Trump’s negotiating tactic of laying the whole game on the table before figuring out how to arrange the pieces in a way that both nations can accept?

If I had Trump’s ear on this issue, I would caution him about hidden agendas among those advising him on dairy.

I would ask him to spend time on a dairy farm, with a room full of dairy farmers, to understand that, yes, all is fair in business as they each seek markets and growth opportunities, but that most U.S. producers do not want to prop themselves up by tearing down their neighbors. There are far deeper problems in the U.S. dairy industry at the moment.

I would ask Trump to stand firm on explaining that Canada can’t have it both ways — with supply-managed dairy production and import tariffs on one side, plus selling their Class-7 priced milk powder at globally low prices to obtain new export markets for their excess on the other.

I would ask both leaders to grapple with their nation’s  respective choices: The U.S. has already chosen a global pathway for agriculture and dairy. Canada has chosen a domestic pathway with supply management. We can either compromise and work together to develop a hybrid approach, or we can each accept the consequences of the respective choices our nations have made in this regard.

The U.S. could put tariffs on Canadian milk and dairy products, and develop an export class for pricing our own excess growth milk to compete globally while stabilizing domestic-use prices — similar to Canada’s new construct — or we can convince our neighbors to limit their growth, within their supply-managed system, so as not to continue expanding via the Class 7 export pricing in a way that intrudes on the dairy export markets we have cultivated in other countries, such as Mexico.

A similar spitting-match between our countries ended the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork. That was merely a labeling attempt to identify U.S. produced meat from conception to consumption so that U.S. consumers could choose to support U.S. farmers and ranchers. Canada was among the nations that had taken the U.S. to WTO court a few years ago, and the result was that the U.S. Congress ended COOL to avoid fines, and this has hurt U.S. beef producers.

President Trump has said recently that the U.S. is not planning to pull out of the WTO, but it does want treatment that is more fair.

Now, here we go again, with the shoe on the other foot. This time, Canada’s sacred cow — supply managed dairy and high import tariffs — are being questioned. But in reality, the Class 7 pricing policy is the more pragmatic concern.

Instead of both nations trying to have it both ways while our leaders volley back and forth in a spitting-match on tariffs and mandates and the like — maybe we could all concentrate on negotiating outcomes that are focused on the farming side and not so much the multi-national processing side — to make farming great again.

After all, as go our farmers, so go our nations.

Author’s July 14 update: It was reported within the past 10 days that Quebec, Canada’s largest dairy-producing province, may be softening its stance to reconsider the Class 7 milk price policy to ease tensions between the U.S. and Canada. Bloomberg News reported that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard met with U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, noting that the Class 7 pricing policy is the main sticking point — not Canada’s supply management system of domestic milk quotas and import tariffs. In a recent televised interview, Secretary Perdue said: “The U.S. is not about trying to get Canada to ditch its supply management system…” He explained that if Canada is going to have a supply management system, “you’ve got to manage the supply, and not over-produce and not over-quota to where you dump milk solids on the world market and depress prices for our producers.” The Canadian Class 7 export pricing — in place for the past 18 months — has facilitated the export of excess milk proteins while blocking most dairy product imports. The U.S. is not alone in this concern as other countries are also affected by the movement of the lower-priced Canadian skim milk powder (SMP) to markets served by nations that do not have a supply-managed system and which do not place extremely high tariffs on dairy imports. For the first four months of 2018, Canada has doubled its SMP exports compared with year ago and by 95% over the levels prior to the 2017 start of the Class 7 pricing, which allows milk to be priced much lower when used for products that are exported, and this is doable when the main portion of Canadian farm milk pricing is stable and higher because it is matched to their domestic usage on a milkfat basis.

 

Global dairy thoughts Part II: Who’s being creative?

Part Two of Six-part “Global Dairy Thoughts” Series in Farmshine

wGDC18-Day1-56By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine May 4, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Everywhere we turn, we receive the message that fresh fluid milk is a market of the past and exports of less perishable dairy products are the wave of the future. As discussed in Part One of this ‘global dairy thoughts’ series, that seems to be the trend if you look at the markets.

Yet, could a portion of the reason we are in this fluid milk decline, be the effect of USDA-regulated pricing, USDA-imposed restraints on the ability to promote competitively in the beverage space, and the resulting industry neglect of this regulated commodity category — fresh fluid milk?

The government — USDA — and the checkoff and cooperative leadership have no appetite for significant change to any of these factors. USDA gets to pay less than it otherwise might for milk in its nutrition assistance programs, while both the proprietary and cooperative processors get to pay less than they might otherwise for components in a range of products.

Meanwhile, dairy farms see the first product to come from their herds — milk — declining, and their futures along with it.

Yes. We all know it. Fresh fluid milk — the most nutritious and natural option — is in the fight of its life. In meeting after meeting, presentation after presentation, we hear the messages from the industry and university economists — both subtly and outright.

Like this: “The fluid milk market is the dead horse we need to stop beating.”

Or this: “Do we want to hitch our wagon to a falling rock?”

And so forth, and so on.

It is difficult to question the industry and its economists on anything to do with the Eastern U.S. or the fluid milk market. Some have gone so far as to say that if the East is relying on fluid milk, they are out of luck.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers in eastern regions suggest that if fluid milk does not stabilize its losses or restore its market share — at least partially — they see their value as producers vanishing.

And in fact, this has an impact on our global advantage — that being the U.S. having a large consumer base at home to anchor the base production while growth is said to be the reason why we need exports.

As mentioned briefly in Part One, the Federal Orders are designed to move the milk from surplus regions to deficit regions, and that is what the proposed USDA change in Orders 5 and 7 will do further, the experts say.

Meanwhile, who is being creative to figure out how the deficit regions of the East can use or regain their primary competitive advantage — having a base of consumers within a day’s drive. This line of thinking is analogous to how the U.S. fits as an exporting nation with quite a large consumer base at home.

What really requires our creativity is the U.S. product mix and how milk resources are priced and sourced.

Here are some numbers. U.S. dairy protein disappearance has had average annual growth of 6.3% over the past five years, though it has been a bumpy ride, with U.S. production of milk protein concentrate (less exports) at its lowest levels over that five-year period in 2014.

Meanwhile, demand for fat is increasing as consumers heed the dietary revelations and switch from lowfat and fat-free milk to whole milk and have their butter without guilt.

Mentioned last week in part one is that global milk production increases are beyond the stable rate of 1.5% per year. According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), the combined growth rate from the EU-28, U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Argentina was double that collective 1.5% threshold. Looking at 2018, however, reports are surfacing to show spring flush is delayed in Europe just as it appears to be in the U.S.

Or is global production reining in? The markets are trying to figure that out with quite a rally going in powder right now.

One thing rarely mentioned in these reports is that Canada’s production has also grown with increased quota to account for the greater demand they see in their domestic market for dairy fat.

In fact, despite its supply management system, government figures show Canada’s milk production had year-over-year growth between 3 and 6% for each of the past three years, and 2018 production is off to a 5% start.

In Canada, as in the U.S., fat fortunes have changed over the past four years, so the belt has been loosened to serve that market, leaving more skim swimming around.

Canada’s new export class (Class 7) mainly pertains to this excess skim, which has reduced the amount of ultrafiltered milk they now buy from U.S. processors.

In addition, as pointed out by Calvin Covington in his presentation at the Georgia Dairy Conference in January, milk can be purchased at lower prices for this Canadian export Class 7 because the excess skim is used in products that are then exported.

This means the resulting products in the Canadian export class can be sold at globally competitive prices. While not in huge volumes, some of this product is going to Mexico.

This brings us to Mexico — currently the largest buyer of U.S.-produced nonfat dry milk, making the outcome of NAFTA negotiations a sticky issue for industry leaders, especially as Mexico recently signed a trade deal with the EU to include dairy.

The two forks come together in regions like the Northeast, where Class IV utilization has become an increasing part of the blend price and a more important balancer of the shrinking Class I.

While March showed a surprising jump in Class III utilization to a 15-year high in the Northeast, the overall trend over the past four years has been a blend price with increasing Class IV utilization and decreases in Classes I, II and III.

Dairy economists indicate the U.S. is making more world-standard skim milk powder for export, but in reality, the U.S. still makes a high percentage of nonfat dry milk (NFDM), which is still the largest domestically-produced milk powder category and it is the only milk powder that is used in the Federal Order pricing formulas.

NFDM is primarily made in conjunction with butter. As butter demand has grown and prompted greater butter production in the U.S. over the past four years, more NFDM has been made and stored (or the skim is dumped) as a result.

The market issue in the U.S. has been compounded by the EU having a mountain of intervention powder stocks in storage, some of it aging.

After the European Commission sold over 24 metric tons two weeks ago, global and domestic powder markets moved higher. It was the largest chunk to come out of that mountain to-date and was offered at reduced prices to attract buyers. But by the time the bidding was done, it sold at or above the GDT price for SMP powder.

It’s really true. Inventory depresses prices. Having a big chunk of a huge inventory gone, is, well, big.

The flip side of the coin is that European processors have shifted from powder production with their excess to making more cheese and butter.

Next in Part Three, we will look specifically at some differences between the products made in the U.S. vs. what is traded globally, and at the differences between the U.S. and global trading platforms.

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PHOTO CAPTION

GDC18-Day1-56

While attending the 2018 Georgia Dairy Conference in January, a large global cargo ship on the Savannah River, passed by the glass windows at lunchtime on its way out to sea. Several dairy producers walked outside for a closer look, we all hoped there was plenty of powder on board. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Global dairy thoughts Part I: Whirlpool of change. Who’s minding the store?

Part One of Six-part “Global Dairy Thoughts” Series in Farmshine

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, April 27, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Even though U.S. per-capita milk consumption is in decline, consumption of other dairy products is strong. As the industry devotes resources to new milk markets abroad and puts the fluid milk market here at home on commodity autopilot: Who’s minding the store?

While it is true that the U.S. dairy market is ‘mature’ — not offering the growth-curve found in emerging export markets — the U.S. consumer market is still considered the largest, most well-established and coveted destination for dairy products and ingredients in the world.

As U.S. milk production continues to increase despite entering a fourth straight year of low prices and market losses, industry leaders look to exports for new demand that can match the trajectory of new milk.

The U.S. has already joined the ranks of major dairy exporting nations, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) has set a goal to increase exports from the current 15% (milk equiv) to 20%. Keep in mind that as our percentage of exports increases while our milk production also increases, the volume of export markets required to meet this goal is compounded.

On one path at this fork in the road is the mature domestic market with its sagging fluid milk sector that is increasingly filled in deficit regions by transportation of milk from rapidly growing surplus regions.

This dilemma of getting milk that is increasingly produced away from consumers packaged and moved toward consumers was cited as a “tricky challenge” by Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Markets and Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his presentation on Changing Dairy Landscapes: Regional Perspectives at the Heartland Dairy Expo in Springfield, Missouri earlier this year. In this presentation, Stephenson pegged the Northeast milk deficit at 8 bil lbs and the Southeast deficit at 41 bil lbs. (More on this in a future part of this series).

On the other path at this fork in the road is the industry’s desire to expand exports within a global market that needs a 1.5% year-over-year global production increase. But, as the USDEC reported in its February global dairy outlook, global milk output is growing by twice that rate, mainly from gains in Europe.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulatory pricing structures are based on milk utilization. As the total dairy processing pie grows larger, the neglected fluid milk sector becomes a shrinking piece of the expanding pie, and income is further diminished for dairy farms.

The emerging export markets are rooted in the demographic of rising middle-class populations improving diets with dairy. And yet, just because these new markets offer new growth curves for new milk production, the anchor for this ship is still the U.S. market, still No. 1 as the largest dairy consumer sector globally, and still moving milk via Federal Order pricing that hinges on that shrinking piece of the expanding pie: Class I.

What are the obstacles to improving this sagging fluid milk sector? How are regulated promotion and pricing constraining restoration of declining fluid milk sales?

Over the past three years, two prominent and longstanding milk bottlers in the New York / New Jersey metropolis have either closed their plants (Elmhurst in New York City), or sold their dairy assets (Cumberland Dairy in New Jersey sold to DFA). Amazingly, the former owners of both plants are expanding into the alternative beverage space — adding new plant-based beverages to the proliferation of fraudulent ‘milks’ that already litter the supermarket dairy case.

GlobalThoughts(Chart1).jpg

While dairy milk sales decline, plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed.

At the Georgia Dairy Conference in January, Rob Fox, Dairy Sector Manager of Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisors, talked about big picturedairy trends, and he showed graphically the way these alternatives are eating into the U.S. dairy milk market. While dairy milk sales decline, the plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed. (See Chart 1)

Fox also showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil., with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil. (Chart 2).

GlobalThoughts(Chart2)

Rob Fox showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil.

Doing the math, Fox remarked that the plant-based alternatives now represent 8.9% of the combined dairy and plant-based ‘milk’ market. He said that in other countries with mature dairy markets, these alternative beverages tended to level off in growth when reaching 10% of total dairy market share. But at the same time, the combined dairy and plant beverage sector has also declined from 6.4 billion units in 2013 to 6.1 in 2017, according to Fox.

He noted the alternatives are also infiltrating other dairy product categories and that these ‘next generation’ products are offering much better nutrition than earlier versions. “But they will never compete with dairy milk, nutritionally,” Fox said.

What these alternative beverages have going for them, said Fox, is very high margins for processors and investors.

He explained that plant-based dairy products have low ingredient costs, are easier to manufacture, package, market and distribute and are seen as ‘greener’ and animal friendly. They are better positioned for e-commerce and kiosk-type retail outlets and are made by innovative marketing companies and startups with a market and margin profile that attracts investors.

Meanwhile, dairy milk is a highly regulated market with a prevailing commodity mindset worn down even more-so by supermarket price wars at the retail level, making it difficult for the dairy milk sector to adapt to U.S. consumer market trends.

U.S. consumer trends gravitate toward innovation and specialization so everyone can be a ‘snowflake,’” Fox explained, adding that areas of growth for the dairy milk sector will be full-fat in smaller containers, dairy protein in sports nutrition, and non-GMO branding. (No joke: Look for more later on genetically-modified, aka GMO, lab-manufactured products like Perfect Day that are actively defending what they see as their right to use the term ‘animal-free dairy’ because their product is said to be compositionally the same as milk, derived from genetically modified laboratory yeast exuding a white substance they say IS milk.)

That said, where is the true and simply original dairy in its re-branding process? What efforts are being made to compete to reverse this fluid milk market decline? Wouldn’t revitalization of the fluid milk sector also provide a demand pull for U.S. production growth?

Fresh fluid milk is not interchangeable on the global stage as are milk powders, fat powders, protein powders, cheeses, butter and aseptically packaged shelf-stable fluid products.

Meanwhile, the fastest growing surplus regions of the U.S. are busy aligning with retailer/processors and utilizing the Federal Order pricing schemes to pull their production growth into milk-deficit regions, leaving the milk-deficit region’s producers sending their milk to manufacturing homes in other Orders, or even looking for ways to export from eastern ports.

The U.S. has the water, the feed, the space, the transportation, logistics and support infrastructure, as well as a large existing domestic market to anchor the base production level of our nation’s farmers. The U.S. also has a legacy of dairy producers that are respected for their progress, animal care and food safety.

The ingredients for global success are here, but other factors need evaluation because the success is eluding dairy farm families as they face their fourth year of low prices and lost markets forcing increased numbers to exit the business.

In future installments of this multi-part series “Global Thoughts,” we’ll look more closely at the export side of this fork in the road, including the product trends, product and trading platform differences, imports, transportation and logistics, the role of regulatory pricing and cooperative base programs at a time when the dairy landscape is being forever changed.

As this series proceeds, thoughts and questions are welcome: agrite2011@gmail.com

 

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Dairy market fluidity

041213FarmshinePage4.inddDairy market fluidity

By Sherry Bunting, Milk Market Moos, Farmshine, February 2, 2018

Picking up from the previous dairy export ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ discussion… Let’s look at what has happened to the fluid milk market in the U.S.

There is a difference between Class I utilization declining and actual packaged milk sales declines. For example, the 2017 year figures are not yet in, but for the last reported month of November, USDA reports that packaged conventional fluid milk sales for January through November 2017 are down 2.1% from year ago and organic fluid milk sales are off by 0.2%.

While consumers are drinking less dairy milk on a per capita basis, Class I — as a percentage of all milk sold — is declining faster because the processing of milk into other growing dairy product sectors is increasing.

Some of the increase in these product sales reflects domestic growth, but the kicker is that as exports increase as a percentage of total milk production, Class I utilization as a percentage of total raw milk sales is pushed lower — even if consumers drink more milk.

Let’s identify how the markets are changing and how to value them back to the raw milk producer rather than laying blame for over production that leaves the farmers in the position of “deserving the price they get.”

Supply management is not the answer, nor is it at this point really possible. It is a distraction. We need to be looking at the dairy trade in a way that both prepares farmers for the future and prepares the industry for dealing fairly with producers.

Case in point. How concerned has the National Dairy Council and the dairy industry  been about the fraudulent use of the word ‘milk’ on plant juice labels? NMPF’s efforts to right this wrong came only within the past two years — and 15 years after these sales of fake milk started eating into the fluid dairy milk sales.

How serious have they been about the milk that our children drink in school? It is interesting that GENYOUth was “founded in 2010 as a partnership between the National Football League and National Dairy Council, convening leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

One example given at the GENYOUth website recognizes U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Vilsack for his accomplishments for dairy farmers while serving as Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama. In his current role, Vilsack’s salary is paid by DAIRY FARMERS via the mandatory promotion checkoff.

Specifically a December GENYOUth gala recognized Vilsack for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids. Under Sec. Vilsack, USDA partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children. Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

school lunchThat is certainly a mouthful, considering that something else occurred in 2010-11. This was the very same year that schools were forced to offer only 1% or fat-free white milk and flavored milk could only be offered as fat-free!

Unfortunately, this did not improve school lunch meal nutrition, and it has cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales.

In fact, Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives stated recently — during a panel of dairy producers and policy folks at a Congressional viewing of the New England documentary Forgotten Farms I attended in Washington D.C. earlier this month — stated the impact of the school milk issue on milk sales, surpluses and pricing.

ForgottenFarms2web.jpg“For the last six years, we have not been able to sell even 1% (fat) milk in the schools,” said Gray about being forced to sell fat-free. “We have lost 288 million pounds of milk in half-pints that were not consumed by schoolchildren because of this move, alone.”

But maybe this is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors becomes less for the many other products that need to be more competitive globally.

Technology is driving some of these trends. New opportunities and new knowledge are improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain. But marketing direction often leaves more questions than answers when it comes to spending money dairy farmers are forced to pay for it.

Meanwhile, as Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, pointed out as a speaker last week in Lancaster County, Pa., the advances in technology are driving production from an efficiency standpoint. What these advances do for agriculture is to help less productive farms improve yields. “Technology improves the bottom end and that creates surplus, said Kohl. “And that is why we need export markets.”

To my thinking, exports are to be keenly pursued, but pursued with a strategy that does not ignore the market profile of dairy sales here at home, especially when the highest valued product classification under federal price regulation for dairy — fluid milk — is being treated like the Cinderella sister with odds against her, while her sisters get ready for the Prince’s ball.

There are plenty of great innovations in dairy products and distribution — including export markets — that deserve our attention. However, while Cinderella is ignored in plain clothes in the increasingly cluttered dairy case full of fake substitutes, she deserves an invitation to the ball. And a glass slipper or two sure wouldn’t hurt.

Whole milk up, fat-free way down

USDA’s January estimated fluid milk sales report indicates that whole milk sales for the first 11 months of 2017 were up by 2.5% over year ago and November, alone was up 3.5%. Meanwhile lowfat and fat-free losses drove the entire category lower as nearly 12% less fat-free milk was sold compared with year ago, 6.7% less 1% and 2.8% less 2% milk. Similar patterns were revealed among organic milk drinkers with fat-free down almost 20% Jan. through Nov. while whole milk was up 6.2%.

Author’s Note: Re-inventing this Ag Moos blog for the times….  Milk Market Moos is a column I’ve been writing in Farmshine since 2003. Find some of it here, at Ag Moos, along with other dairy and beef market related stories, agriculture news, and, in between, the stories and images of the inspirational people of agriculture… but you can get it first, and you can get it all, in Farmshine Newspaper, just $15/year. Farmshine is a weekly newspaper published in Brownstown, Pennsylvania — now in its 39th year of publishing all-dairy, all-the-time.

Dairy Exports: Jekyll and Hyde

MilkMarketMoosHeader070914web.jpgDairy Exports: Jekyll and Hyde

By Sherry Bunting, Milk Market Moos, Farmshine, February 2, 2018

Talk to dairy farmers and industry observers about dairy exports and the response runs the gamut from enthusiastic full-court-press to cautious optimistic pursuit to a pessimistic skepticism about the profitability they bring to the table.

awGDC18-Day1-56.jpgNo matter where you are on the scale of good, bad or indifferent, exports are essential for agriculture and for dairy.

The hands of time do not turn backward on technology and progress, and so we are in a global market. If we want to be competitive in our domestic market, we need to also be competitive globally.

The food industry is increasingly served by global players and multinational companies that can source and supply from all corners of the globe. People would be surprised to learn how relatively small the transportation cost is in exporting ag commodities, especially further processed dairy products, overseas compared with cross country, on a per-unit basis.

If our ships are not arriving at other ports because we can’t compete, then other ships will arrive at our ports because we can’t compete.

That said, forward progress in supplying markets overseas needs to be pursued, not with reckless abandon finding ‘homes’ for excess milk, but with strategic thinking that includes the marketing and a consideration for the well being of our dairy farm sector.

As Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue pointed out in his visit to Pennsylvania last week, America’s food security is America’s national security. Our farmers are the thin green line that, along with our military, keep our nation safe. After 9/11, the U.S. set out to be energy independent within 25 years and accomplished this in 10, according to a talk, given by Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania last Friday.

Just as our growing economy became at one point dependent on other nations for a portion of its energy needs, to its peril, we should take care that we do not become dependent in the future on other nations for our food.

A laughable thought, perhaps, but the rapidly consolidating agriculture industry needs its wide and varied base of family farms, small independent businesses, that support a varied and competitive rural infrastructure and provide the safety net of food security for American consumers through their independent pursuit of partnering with industry and academia to producer more, with less.

Kohl talked about how important trade is to American farmers, including the dairy industry, which currently exports 1 out of every 7 days’ worth of milk.

He made some observations about China’s agriculture. That Chinese interests purchase of Smithfield was largely to purchase the food safety protocols to ensure their food security. Here’s a statistic Kohl shared that got me thinking. He said that while there are 2 million farmers in the U.S., there are 314 million farmers in China.

“They are not taking on technology there as rapidly because there are 800 million people living in rural China and they need something to do,” said Kohl.

Just think about that for a minute. Technology is as essential to the future in agriculture as are our trade negotiations and exports; however, this statistic made me think about our rural youth both on and off the farm.

Dairy farming, like the hog business in the 1990s, is at a crossroads. Farmers, through their cooperative memberships, partnerships and other arrangements, own some of the largest and most aggressive processing assets that are strategically consolidating markets and distribution.

They hold in their hands their futures as individual small businesses — parts of the whole, contributors to a market, dairy farmers who not only are improving their own business acumen but continually improving how they manage their herds and possess a passion for what they are doing, a passion that is being called upon to directly market their farming lifestyle to consumers to counteract the negative attacks of anti-animal activists casting doubt wherever they turn.

U.S. Dairy Export CEO Tom Vilsack has set a lofty goal of getting U.S. dairy exports to 20% of production vs. the current 14. That would be nearly one and a half days’ worth of milk production out of every seven.

That sounds exciting, but when have we heard percentage of increase goals set for the fluid milk category? Could that incremental effort not also be exciting?
There are reasons why we are not seeing this, and in some respects, those reasons bring us back full circle to the export discussion.

Beverage milk is not exported on the scale that dairy commodities and dairy products are. Yes, DFA is among those exporting shelf stable milk to China for supermarkets, but this is not a globally traded product as are cheese, butter, and particularly dairy indgredients and protein powders.

While dairy processors eye up the opportunities and build inventories around allocated sales, and manage their risk with offsets, dairy farmers are in the price-taking position with the promise that if exports grow, they and their families can grow their businesses, without a serious discussion about the profitability in that proposition.

All of this to say, that the main market for U.S. farm milk is here at home as not only a beverage but also a growing number of dairy products finding good demand.
We are not New Zealand, which exports most all of what they produce.

The U.S. has, already, a strong robust customer base for cheese, yogurt, butter and a host of dairy products, as well as a sector of our industry (beverage milk) that needs our committed attention through dynamic labeling, comparative promotion vs. the imposters, consumer education about MILK, not how many situps and pushups to do each day. It needs people in charge who truly believe it is important, not an offhand remark by a checkoff-paid employee for U.S. DEC speaking at a conference, saying that fluid market is a dead horse as he proceeded to dig into the exciting team of horses (exports) waiting in the wings to save the day.

Having said all of this, it is imperative that U.S. dairy farmers be competitive to be involved in the global marketplace because it is here, with all of its pluses and minuses, but that does not mean we turn way from the prize in which the Federal Orders place high value and for which other products are taking over because we have, in effect, laid down and allowed the incremental loss of beverage milk sales.

But let’s examine the fluid milk dilemma further in the next edition.

Author’s Note: Re-inventing this Ag Moos blog for the times….  Milk Market Moos is a column I have been writing in Farmshine since 2003. It became a weekly feature in 2007. Find some of this content here, at Ag Moos, along with other dairy and beef market related stories, agriculture news, and, in between, the stories and images of the inspirational people of agriculture… but you can get it first, and you can get it all, in Farmshine Newspaper, just $15/year. Farmshine is a weekly newspaper published in Brownstown, Pennsylvania — now in its 39th year of publishing all-dairy, all-the-time.