Net loss to farmers now $824 mil. over 41 months as change to Class I formula costs farmers $132 mil. so far in 2022

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 26, 2022

WASHINGTON —  Against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales, declining Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) participation, coinciding with the accelerated pace of plant mergers, acquisitions and closures in the fluid milk sector, farm bill milk pricing reform discussions are bubbling up.

The two main issues are the negative impact from the Class I price formula change in the last farm bill, and how to ‘fix it,’ as well as how to handle or update processor ‘make allowances’ that are embedded within the Class III and IV price formulas. 

Other issues are also surfacing regarding the pricing, marketing, and contracting of milk within and outside of FMMOs as historical pricing relationships become more dysfunctional — in part because of the Class I change. 

The change in the Class I price mover formula was made in the 2018 farm bill and implemented in May 2019. It has cost dairy farmers an estimated $132 million in lost revenue so far in 2022 — increasing the accumulated net loss to $824 million over these 41 months that the new average-plus-74-cents method has replaced 19 years of using the vetted ‘higher of’ formula. 

The change was made by Congress in the last farm bill in the belief that this averaging method would allow processors, retailers and non-traditional milk beverage companies to manage their price risk through hedging while expecting the change to be revenue-neutral to farmers. No hearings or referendums were conducted for this change.

Instead of being revenue-neutral for farmers, the new method has significantly shaved off the tops of the price peaks (graph) and only minimally softened the depth of the price valleys, while returning net lower proceeds to farmers and disrupting pricing relationships to cause further farm mailbox milk check losses in reduced or negative producer price differentials (PPD), reduced FMMO participation (de-pooling) as well as disruption in the way purchased price risk management tools perform against these losses.

In 2022, we are seeing this Class I ‘averaging’ method produce even more concerning results. It is now undervaluing Class I in a way that increases the depth of the valley the milk markets have entered in the past few months (graph), and as the Class IV milk price turned substantially higher this week against a flat-to-lower Class III price, the extent of the market improvement will be shaved in the blend price by the impact on Class I from what is now a $2 to $5 gap between Class III and Class IV milk futures through at least November.

During the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, the most glaring flaw in the Class I formula change was revealed. Tracking the gains and losses over these 41 months, it’s easy to see the problem. This new formula puts a 74-cents-per-cwt ceiling on how much farmers can benefit from the change, but it fails to put a floor on how much farmers can lose from the change.

The bottomless pit was sorely tested in the second half of 2020, when the Class III and IV prices diverged by as much as $10, creating Class I value losses under the new formula as high as $5.00/cwt.

The bottomless pit is being tested again in 2022. The most recent Class I mover announcements for August and September are undervalued by $1.04 and $1.69, respectively, as Class IV and III have diverged by as much as $4 this year.

In fact, 6 of the first 9 months of 2022 have had a lower Class I milk price as compared to the previous formula. The September 2022 advance Class I mover announced at $23.82 last week would have been $25.31 under the previous ‘higher of’ formula. 

This is the largest loss in value between the two methods since December 2020, when pandemic disruptions and government cheese purchases were blamed for the poor functionality of the new Class I formula.

No such blame can be attributed for the 2022 mover price failure that will have cost farmers $132 million in the first 9 months of 2022 on Class I value, alone, as well as leading to further impacts from reduced or negative PPDs and de-pooling.

The graph tells the story. The pandemic was blamed for 2020’s largest annual formula-based loss of $733 million. This came out to an average loss of $1.68/cwt on all Class I milk shipped in 2020.

These losses continued into the first half of 2021, followed by six months of gains. In 2021, the net gain for the year was $35 million, or 8 cents/cwt., making only a small dent in recovering those prior losses.

Gains from the averaging formula were expected to continue into 2022, but instead, Class IV diverged higher than Class III in most months by more than the $1.48 threshold. Only 2 months in 2022 have shown modest Class I mover gains under the new formula, with the other 7 months racking up increasingly significant value losses – a situation that is expected to continue at least until November, based on current futures markets.

Bottomline, the months of limited gains are not capable of making up for the months of limitless loss, and now the hole is being dug deeper. 

True, USDA made pandemic volatility payments to account for some of the 2020 FMMO class price relationship losses. Those payments were calculated by AMS staff working with milk co-ops and handlers using FMMO payment data.

However, USDA only intended to cover up to $350 million of what are now $824 million in cumulative losses attributed directly to the formula change.

Furthermore, USDA capped the amount of compensation an individual farm could receive, even though there was no cap on the amount the new formula may have cost that farm, especially if it led to reduced or negative PPDs, de-pooling, and as a result, negatively impacted the performance price risk management tools the farm may have purchased.

The estimated $824 million net loss over 41 months equates to an estimated average of 58 cents/cwt loss on every hundredweight of Class I milk shipped in those 41 months.

Using the national average FMMO Class I utilization of 28%, this value loss translates to an average loss to the blend price of 16 cents/cwt for all milk shipped over the 41 months, but some FMMOs have seen steeper impacts where Class I utilization is greater.

This 16-cent average impact on blend price may not sound like much, but over a 41-month period it has hit mailbox milk prices in large chunks of losses and smaller pieces of gains, which impact cash flow and performance of risk management in a domino effect.

The 2022 divergence has been different from 2020 because this year it is Class IV that has been higher than Class III. During the pandemic, it was the other way around.

Because cheese milk is such a driver of dairy sales nationwide, the FMMO class and component pricing is set up so that protein is paid to farmers in the first advance check based on the higher method for valuation of protein in Class III. Meanwhile, other class processors pay into the pool using a lower protein valuation method, so the differences are adjusted based on utilization in the second monthly milk check.

This means when Class III is substantially higher than Class IV, as was the case in 2020-21, there is even more incentive for manufacturers to de-pool milk out of FMMOs compared to when Class IV is higher than Class III.

The PPD, in fact, is defined mathematically as Class III price minus the FMMO statistical uniform blend. Usually that number is positive. In the last half of 2020 and first half of 2021, it was negative for all 7 multiple component pricing FMMOs, while the 4 fat/skim Orders saw skim price eroded by the variance.

Now, the situation is different because Class III has been the lowest priced class in all but one month so far in 2022. The milk being de-pooled — significantly in some orders and less so in others — is the higher-priced Class II and IV milk. The Class II price has surpassed the Class I mover in every settled month of 2022 so far — January through July — and the Class IV price also surpassed the Class I mover in 2 of those 7 months. 

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Are we moving toward cow islands and milk deserts?

Opinion/Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South —

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

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

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

The Midwest — 

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

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

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

The Northeast —

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

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

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

The long and twisted tale begs additional questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILK MARKET MOOS — May 18-25, 2022

Market Moos is a weekly column in Farmshine by Sherry Bunting

US Apr. milk output off 1%, Georgia surpasses Florida

In its May 18 report, USDA pegged total U.S. milk production at 19.2 billion pounds — down 1% from a year ago. The report tallied 9.4 million milk cows on U.S. farms reflecting a 98,000-head decrease (-1%) from a year ago, with output per cow unchanged.

Among the 24 monthly-reporting states, output per cow fell 0.1%, and cow numbers were off 78,000 (-1.1%), pushing production 0.9% below year ago in those major states.

USDA’s May 18 GAIN report noted an even larger pull-back in Australia’s 2022 output, forecast to be down more than 4% for the year, and New Zealand’s first quarter milk production is reported to be running 6% below year ago and the lowest level since 2013. 

Milk collection in the European Union is also running behind first quarter 2021 by a smaller degree, down 0.3%, according to an EU milk situation report delivered in Brussels last week. And, milk deliveries are reported to be 4% below year ago in Great Britain for the first quarter of 2022 — 3.3% below year ago in Ireland in March.

Throughout the world, these reports note that farmers are exiting the dairy industry. “The slump in milk production (in Australia) is largely due to farmers continuing to exit the dairy industry through farm sales, and some dairy farms partially or fully transitioning to less labor-intensive beef cattle production,” the GAIN report said.

In the U.S., the national impact of this trend is being buffered by the large production growth in places like Texas and South Dakota offsetting reduced production almost everywhere else.

In addition to the U.S. milking 98,000 fewer cows in April compared with a year ago, dramatic movements of cows out of some regions and into others is occurring. Notable shifts are also occurring within regions. (See chart above)

One region — the Mideast — that had been growing rapidly is now going through a substantial pull-back. The Mideast lost 35,000 cows and 68 million pounds of monthly milk production in April compared with a year ago. That is a collective 3.6% year-over-year decline broken down as -3.4% in No. 6 Michigan, -3.8% in No. 12 Ohio and -4.1% in No. 15 Indiana. Technically, western Pennsylvania is included in the Mideast when we look at the Federal Milk Marketing Order map, and the Keystone state, as a whole, recorded a 2.2% decline in milk production in April.

The Northeast and Midatlantic region lost 15,000 cows and 31 million pounds (-1.3%) of milk production with most of the decline coming from No. 8 Pennsylvania, down 8,000 cows and 2.2% in milk output vs. year ago while No. 5 New York (-0.8%) and No. 19 Vermont (-0.9%) were just under the national average.

In the Southeast region, the big news is Georgia’s milk production outpaced Florida for the first time, moving the relative 24-state newbie into 21st place and Florida to 22nd. Georgia and Florida were dead-even in March.

Georgia’s 12.1% year-over-year milk increase in April eclipsed Florida’s 12.1% year-over-year decline, with Georgia producing 1 million more pounds of milk with 7,000 fewer cows compared to Florida. Georgia producers milked 91,000 cows in April — up 9,000 head from a year ago. Florida producers milked 98,000 cows in April — down 12,000 head from a year ago.

As noted last month, Texas surpassed Idaho in March as the No. 3 milk-producing state. However, even the 4.7% increase in year-over-year April production in Texas (up 63 million pounds) could not overcome the 12.9% decline in No. 9 New Mexico’s production (down 92 million pounds), for a net 1.4% loss of 29 million pounds of milk from the Southwest region.

Regions holding steady-ish — lower by less than the national average — are the Upper Midwest down 10,000 cows and -0.4% in milk output and the Mountain States / High Desert down 3,000 cows and -0.3% in production, with No. 4 Idaho unchanged in both cow numbers and production vs. year ago.

In the Upper Midwest, No. 2 Wisconsin was almost steady as production was down just 0.1% with 1,000 fewer cows in April, while No. 7 Minnesota milked 9,000 fewer cows and made 1.4% less milk than a year ago in April.

The West Coast showed a net-loss of 1% just like the U.S. average: No. 1 California had -0.6% production (but milked 2,000 more cows), and the 2.7% production increase in No. 18 Oregon was not enough to make up for the 5.4% loss in No. 10 Washington State.

The Central U.S. was the only region to see a net gain — owing to a 0.9% increase in No. 11 Iowa and the whopping 16.7% (48 million pound) increase in milk production in No. 17 South Dakota, where cow numbers are up by 25,000 head. South Dakota is nipping at the heels of No. 16 Kansas (-2.2%), despite Kansas overtly seeking dairies to fill expanded processing there according to dairy market podcast advertising messages at the International Dairy Foods Association website. Elsewhere in the Central U.S., in addition to production losses in Kansas, declines were also recorded to the east for No. 23 Illinois (-3.8%) and to the west for No. 13 Colorado (-1.1%).

All of this bears note as farmers face escalating costs and milk futures are hesitatingly recovering the past three weeks of losses but under market conditions that are again creating divergence between Class III and IV that could create producer price differentials (PPDs). When milk is de-pooled from Federal Orders in these circumstances, we see inequitable distribution of losses and of value that can contribute even faster to the way the milk production map is changing.

At the same time, the USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates for May highlighted an expected increase in fat-basis exports as the world is tight on butterfat, but a decline in skim-basis exports, which could change if China resumes its earlier level of milk powder imports. 

On the flip side, the WASDE report forecasts 2022 U.S. dairy imports to run well ahead of previous years’ on both a fat- and skim-solids basis. The WASDE report stated this increase in dairy imports will be boosted by larger than expected importation of products that contain dairy.

WASDE: 2022 imports up

According to the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) last week, the 2022 All Milk price is forecast to average $25.75, down a nickel from April’s forecast.

The May WASDE raised the 2022 milk production forecast on what it says are higher milk cow inventories more than offsetting slower growth in milk per cow. But it is important to realize the April milk production report this week (as reported above) showed otherwise.

Cheese and butter price forecasts are raised from the previous month’s report on strong demand, but non-fat dry milk and whey prices are lowered. The Class III price is unchanged and Class IV is lowered.

Some are suggesting that higher retail prices for butter and cheese and other dairy products are negatively affecting demand and that the food industry can shift from butter to oils. However, recent reports from many sources indicate the global supplies of food oils and butter substitutes are also in reduced supply and rising in price at wholesale and retail levels.

Biden orders Operation Fly Formula via Dept. of Defense

Operation Fly Formula was ordered by President Biden invoking the Defense Production Act on Wed., May 18, sending military planes abroad to bring infant formula home to America’s babies, especially the specialty hypo-allergenic formulas for babies with allergies to milk or special health needs. Parents currently face 45 to 60% out-of-stock shortages in infant formula and two military cargo plane loads of hypoallergenic specialty formula have arrived from Europe and the UK over the past 7 days.

Spot out-of-stock undercurrents in baby formula and specialized milk-based meal replacements have been mentioned in this column several times over the past few months, but the situation has worsened. The USDA announced WIC vouchers allowing participants to buy brands other than sanctioned low-bidders.

By Thurs., May 19, the American Academy of Pediatrics had issued a statement telling parents it is safe to switch to whole cow’s milk for babies over 6 months of age that are not on “special” formula, making sure they are consuming other iron-rich foods or talking to their own pediatricians about supplemental iron.

Discussion is rampant through social media about goat milk as a substitute for formula. There’s something to this because goat’s milk is A2A2 in its protein composition, as is sheep’s milk and human milk. There are A2A2 cow’s milk brands available now also. Parents are urged not to switch to plant-based beverages that do not have the nutrition of whole milk and to be cautioned that lactose free milks may not have sufficient carbohydrate for electrolyte balance since the lactose IS the carbohydrate in milk.

The FDA also struck a deal to get the Abbott plant back up and going by June 4 after product recalls and a plant closure related to bacteria tests occurred in February, in part because of a whistleblower’s report that was delayed for months by a “mail room disruption” according to FDA.

‘Confusion is real’

Anxiously waiting for the expected FDA decision on label standards of identity for milk and dairy, NMPF reported this recent exchange between FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin at a recent Ag Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. Baldwin chairs the Senate subcommittee that sets spending levels for FDA. Baldwin asked the Commissioner for his thoughts on how plant-based beverages masquerading as dairy products should be labeled. His response noted that when people think about dairy vs. plant-based beverages, they “are not very equipped to deal with what’s the nutritional value” of the products. Yes, the confusion is real.

Milk futures flip higher, Class III and IV diverge

Green ink the past two weeks replaced three weeks of red ink as milk futures posted back to back gains despite some waffling on the Class III side due to a report this week showing record natural cheese inventories. By Wednesday, May 25, the Class III contract average for the next 12 months was 25-cents higher than the previous week and fully steady compared with the end of April at $22.96. The Class IV milk futures went roaring $1 to $1.50, spots $2 higher — tripling the spread between the two. On the close Wed., May 25, Class IV contracts for the next 12 months averaged $24.05 — up $1.03 from a week ago and 60 cents higher than the end of April. Class IV continues to top Class III, with the average divergence now at $1.10. Aug. through Nov. contracts on the CME futures board now diverge by more than the $1.48 threshold that suppresses the Class I mover value under the new averaging formula.

Dairy products rally higher

CME spot cash dairy product markets have reversed course to move higher for two consecutive weeks, capped by a strong rally on Class IV products (butter and nonfat dry milk) driven by a 22% decline in butter inventories. Compared with the end of April, the May 25 daily spot prices for the four commodities used in federal milk order pricing are: Butter up 28 cents at $2.89/lb after 12 consecutive days of gaining more than 2-pennies per day in active trade volume; Nonfat dry milk up 13 cents at $1.84/lb; Cheese steady compared with a month ago at $2.30/lb, Dry whey firming up the 8-cent loss at 50 cents.

April blend up $1-1.50

The April uniform prices across the 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMOs) moved $1 to $1.50 higher, with the Upper Midwest closer to $2 higher than previous month. This is the 6th straight month of gains, reported as follows:

  • FMMO 1 (Northeast) SUP $26.07 PPD +$1.65
  • FMMO 33 (Mideast) SUP $24.91 PPD +$0.49
  • FMMO 32 (Central) SUP $24.65 PPD +$0.23
  • FMMO 30 (Upper Midwest) SUP $24.55 PPD +$0.13
  • FMMO 126 (Southwest) SUP $25.43 PPD +$1.01
  • FMMO 124 (Pacific Northwest) SUP $24.79 PPD +$0.37
  • FMMO 51 (California) SUP $25.08 PPD +$0.66
  • FMMO 131 (Arizona) uniform price $25.52
  • FMMO 5 (Appalachian) uniform price $27.17
  • FMMO 7 (Southeast) uniform price $27.35
  • FMMO 6 (Florida) uniform price $29.13

June Class I ‘mover’ $25.87

The June Class I base price, or ‘mover’, was announced Wed., May 18 at $25.87. This is 42 cents higher than the May Class I ‘mover’ and $7.58 higher than a year ago. This marks the 9th consecutive month of Class I mover gains.

The June 2022 Class I mover is 61 cents higher under the current average-plus formula than it would have been using the previous ‘higher of’ for the second consecutive month after being a loss under the averaging formula for the previous four consecutive months. In 2022, alone, the average-plus Class I mover formula produced no difference in January and was 51 cents below the ‘higher of’ method for February, 79 cents lower for March and 50 cents lower for April before turning 17 cents higher in May and now 61 cents higher for June.
Since implementation in May 2019, the new formula has been negative more months than positive (18 of 38 months) for a net loss in Class I value of over $725 million from May 2019 through June 2022.

New ‘cost of processing’ report could boost make allowances by almost $1.00 per cwt

By Sherry Bunting

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA released the long-anticipated study on milk price ‘make allowances’ recently. These are embedded in the end-product pricing formulas.

Make allowances are processor credits for transforming raw milk into the four base commodities – cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey that are used in end-product pricing formulas for Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) Class and Component prices as well as the Class I Mover price.

During ADC’s Future of Federal Milk Pricing Forum Feb. 15, set make allowances were cited by panelist Mike McCully as margin guarantees that “encourage commodity production and deter innovation.”

He believes ‘value-added’ products are the path to return more dollars to farmers in the future for all classes, including Class I fluid milk.

“If (FMMO) end-product pricing continues, then the make allowances will have to be raised, and this will come at a cost to producers,” said McCully, referencing the Cost of Processing study commissioned in 2019 by USDA and completed in 2022 by Dr. Mark Stephenson, dairy economics professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a USDA AMS webinar Feb. 23, Dr. Stephenson talked about the report as well as previous reports in 2006-08 when make allowances were last raised. He observed that today’s plants are more complex with a wider range of products and innovations. Therefore, isolating the costs for the four basic commodities was more difficult this time.

He said 80% of the data came from participation by processing plants owned by cooperatives. Many proprietary plants chose not to participate.

The Class III make allowances for cheese and whey currently total $3.17 per hundredweight, and the Class IV make allowances for butter and nonfat dry milk total $2.17, according to Dr. John Newton, chief economist for the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Republicans.

Newton said the new Cost of Processing report shows these make allowances could go up to $4.00 for Class III and $3.12 for Class IV, which represents a nearly $1.00 impact in Federal Order minimum class price reductions if implemented.

“The ultimate result is a reduction in farm milk checks,” said Newton speaking virtually to Kentucky dairy producers at their annual Dairy Partners conference Wed., Feb. 23 in Bowling Green.

“The make allowances are designed to cover the costs of taking raw milk and converting it to these products, where the component value is captured in end-product pricing,” said Newton, observing that they haven’t been raised for more than 10 years, but this hasn’t stopped explosive growth in product production and significant re-blending of farm milk prices in recent years.

“Processors have opportunities to add value in the many other product streams outside of the make allowance and end-product pricing formula, already,” said Newton, noting some of the cumulative numbers and describing this as “effectively a subsidy from farmers to processors to process their milk.”

“This will be a very tough debate, and hopefully farmers are at the table as this debate happens,” he said.

MILK MARKET MOOS: Jan. 2022 milk down 1.6%, licensed herd average falls below 30,000 in 2021, futures higher, spot commodities lower

Milk Market Moos, by Sherry Bunting, is a weekly feature in Farmshine. Portions are republished below with the prices updated to Fri., Feb. 25 after the print edition went to press Wed. evening, Feb. 23.

Milk production in all U.S. states collectively during January fell by 1.6% vs. year ago. In the 24 major reporting states, the decline was 1.4%. December’s production was also revised lower than the estimate last month.

January’s production decline came from a combination of reduced output per cow and 63,000 fewer cows compared with a year ago. Cow numbers in January are 5000 fewer than December.

This trend could go on for some time, as we noted recently in this column, that the Jan. 1 semi-annual All Cattle and Calf Inventory Report recently showed a 1% decline in milk cow numbers compared with Jan. 1 2021 and a whopping 3% decline in replacement dairy heifer numbers vs. year ago.

The 2021 production total for the U.S. was also released in the Feb. 23 USDA Milk Production Report showing last year’s U.S. milk production total was 1.3% above 2020.

At the same time, the average number of licensed herds in the U.S. during 2021 (not an end-of-year number) was reported at 29,858 — down 1,794 compared with the average number of licensed herds in 2020 and the first time the number fell below 30,000. This is a 5.7% decline in the average number of licensed dairy herds nationwide. In 2020, there was a 7.5% decline as the nation lost 2550 dairy herds that year.

In the Northeast and Midatlantic milkshed, among the major reporting states, Pennsylvania’s production was 2.9% below year ago in January with 6000 fewer milk cows on farms; 2021 production in the Keystone state was 1.6% below 2020 and the average number of cows on PA farms last year was 8000 fewer than in 2020.

January’s production in New York was down 0.6% with 5000 fewer cows; 2021 production in the Empire State was up 1.6% with the average number of cows on NY farms in 2021 numbering 1000 more than in 2020.

Vermont’s cow numbers fell by 1000 head in January 2022 vs. Jan. 2021 and milk production was off by 1.8%; 2021 production in the Green Mountain State was down 1.4% vs. 2020 with 2000 fewer cows as an average for the year.

The average number of licensed herds in Pennsylvania in 2021 was 5200, down 230 from 2020 (4.3% drop); New York 3430, down 220 (6% drop); and Vermont 580, down 60 (a 9.4% drop); Virginia 421, down 54 (11% drop).

In the Southeast milkshed among major milk producing states, Florida’s average number of herds was 75 in 2021, down 10 from 2020 (11.8% drop); Georgia 110, down 20 (15.4% drop). Production and cow numbers were mixed with Georgia growing output by 1.4% in 2021 vs. 2020 with 1000 additional cows; Florida’s production declined 5.1% with 5000 fewer cows, and Virginia’s production was down 3.4% with 2000 fewer cows.

Georgia’s production last month was up a whopping 5.1% as one of only 5 states to show a year over year production increase in January 2022 with 3000 more cows than a year ago even though the number of farms fell by over 15%.

By contrast, January’s production totals in Florida and Virginia were down 3.5% and 3.8% with 4000 and 3000 fewer milk cows, respectively.

Four other states gained production in January vs. year ago, (in addition to Georgia). They were: Iowa, up 1.7% with 3000 more cows vs. year ago; Idaho up 0.6% with 4000 more cows, Texas up 3.5% with 12,000 more cows, and South Dakota up a whopping 18.3% with 28,000 more cows.

The two largest milk production states saw a pullback in January: Wisconsin’s production was off fractionally while California, the largest producing state, saw a 1.9% decline in year over year production in January.

New Mexico’s trend deepened. 2021 production was 4.5% lower than 2020 with 12,000 fewer cows. In January 2022, production was below previous year by 12.1% with 42,000 fewer milk cows. New Mexico’s average number of licensed herds in 2021 came in at 120, down 20 (down 14.3%).

Texas also saw 20 fewer licensed herds last year, at 340 (down 5.6%). However cow numbers grew 27,000 in in the Lone Star State during 2021 with production beating 2020 by 5%.

Texas officially surpassed New York as the 4th largest milk producing state with 15.6 billion pounds of milk vs. New York’s 15.5 billion pounds in 2021. The January 2022 figures show 12,000 more cows and 3.5% more production vs. year ago in Texas.

South Dakota lost 15 herds at an average 165 for 2021 (down 8.4%). However, South Dakota gained 21,000 cows and 15.5% in milk production for 2021 vs. 2020. Neighboring Minnesota, the 7th largest milk producing state gained 13,000 cows and 3.7% in production in 2021 at 10.5 billion pounds — putting more daylight ahead of Pennsylvania, the 8th highest producing state at 10.1 billion pounds in 2021.

Look for more analysis of the yearend report in the next print edition of Farmshine and here at agmoos this week.

Cl. III and IV milk futures mixed,12-mo. Cl. III avg. $21.51, IV $23.25

Class III and IV milk futures were mixed when Farmshine went to press at midweek, Feb. 23 — before global reports showed a shrinking milk supply and before the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced. Figures in the Farmshine print edition of Milk Market Moos have been updated using milk futures quotes at the close of Friday, Feb. 25 trade below.

Class IV split the trend with first half 2022 steady to lower, second half firm to higher, while Class III was mostly higher, except March and April contracts under downward pressure. In the Class III trading, new contract highs were set for August through December 2022.

The bullish USDA milk production report came out at the close of CME trade on Feb. 23 — prompting after hours trade to tick higher Feb. through Aug. by 25 to 65 cents on Class III, strengthening further at the end of the week on news of global supply deficits tempered by the uncertain impacts of war in Eastern Europe.

Class III milk futures recouped twice as much as was lost last week, averaging $21.63 for the next 12 months on the close of trade Wed., Feb. 25. This is 29 cents higher than the average a week ago,

Class IV futures averaged $23.46 for the next 12 months, generally steady at midweek compared with the previous week’s average, but gaining 22 cents Thursday and Friday on the average.

The average spread between the Class III and IV milk futures contracts for the next 12 months Feb. 2022 through Jan. 2023 stood at $1.83/cwt on Feb. 25 — 10 cents narrower than a week ago with Feb. through August contracts $1.80 to $2 apart and narrowing to right around the $1.48 threshold by September.

CME spot dairy commodities lose ground

CME spot dairy prices moved higher on Class III products (cheese and whey) before turning lower at the end of the week. For Class IV products (butter/NFDM) the trend started lower and continued lower through week’s end.

By Fri., Feb. 25, butter lost two-thirds of last week’s huge gain, pegged at $2.5785/lb with 2 loads trading. This was 20 cents lower than the previous Wednesday, with 8 cents of the loss occurring in a single session Friday.

Grade A nonfat dry milk (NFDM) lost 5 pennies this week then gained one back on Wed., Feb. 23 when the spot price was pegged at $1.86/lb — down 4 cents from a week ago with 12 loads trading. Thursday’s trade saw a penny and a half increase, which was lost Friday, to end the week at $1.86/lb.

On the Class III side of the ledger Wed., Feb. 23, 40-lb Cheddar blocks were firm at $1.99/lb, gained 3 cents Thursday, but lost 7 cents Friday, Feb. 25, when 40-lb blocks were pegged at $1.9450/lb, down 4 1/2 cents from a week ago with a single load changing hands; 500-lb barrels at $1.90/lb were 1 1/2 cents lower than a week ago with 2 loads trading Friday.

The spot market for dry whey gained a penny, at 81-cents on Wed., Feb. 23, with no loads trading, but then lost 3 cents in end of week trading, pegged Fri., Feb. 25 at 78 cents, no loads traded.

Grain market rallied

Corn rallied 10 to mostly 30 cents per bushel higher last Wed., Feb. 23 on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, most strength near term; soybean meal $10 to $30/ton higher with far off contracts $5 to $10/T higher than a week ago. Those levels followed wheat higher on the news in the wee hours of Thursday morning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a global exporter of wheat, corn and other grains and oilseeds, number one crop being sunflowers.

By Friday, Feb. 25, the run-up had tamped down, but with near-term contracts still much higher than a week ago — May corn closed at $6.55 down from highs over $7 the previous day; May soybean meal closed at $442.70 Friday.

Auction prices for market cows, calves, dairy fats backoff a bit after big gains two weeks ago

Market cows, fat dairy steers, and return to farm Holstein bull calves, especially beef crosses, jumped significantly higher two weeks ago and edged off a bit in the Feb. 17 to 22 auction market trade in Lancaster County. Choice and Prime Dairy steers averaged $115.00, Breaking Utility cows $81.10, Boning Utility $74.50, Lean cows $65.75. Holstein bulls 90 to 125 lbs averaged $143.00 with beef crosses bringing more than double, averaging $340.00; 80-100 lb $130.00, beef crosses $280.00.

March Class I mover higher, but marks second straight month of value loss under current formula

Weekly MARKET MOOS, by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 18, 2022

March Class I ‘mover’ $22.88 instead of $23.67

The March Class I base price, or ‘mover’, was announced Wed., Feb. 16 at $22.88. This is $1.24 higher than the Feb. Class I ‘mover’ and $7.60 higher than a year ago. This marks the 6th consecutive month of Class I mover gains.

However, for the second consecutive month, the Class I mover is at a level lower than it would have been under the previous ‘higher of’ formula. Announced at $22.88 for March 2022 using the average-plus method, this is 79 cents lower than the $23.67 it would have been under the previous ‘higher of’ formula.

As shown above, the net loss in Class I value since the new formula was implemented in May 2019 is over $738 million. This could continue for the foreseeable future if this week’s futures markets are an indication.

Near term futures diverge by $2 to $3; 12-mo. Cl. III avg. $21.34, IV $23.28

Class III milk contracts came under pressure at midweek while Class IV surged solidly higher. This created more divergence between the two this week — to spreads beyond the $1.48 ‘magic number’ for all but three of the next 12 month contracts. ($1.48 is the point when the Class I price set by the current average-plus method becomes a loss compared to the previous ‘higher of’ method.)

We already saw this occur for the February and March 2022 Class I mover (above).
But the good news is the overall price levels are the highest in 8 years for most of these months — just not as much higher as they would have been using the ‘higher of’ method.

The average spread between the two milk contracts for the next 12 months Feb. 2022 through Jan. 2023 stands at $1.94/cwt this week.

Class III milk futures averaged $21.34 for the next 12 months, 8 cents lower than the average a week ago.

Class IV futures averaged $23.28 for the next 12 months, gaining 47 cents on top of last week’s 67-cent gain, now up fully $2.00 compared with a month ago.

CME spot dairy products all higher, except whey slips a penny

CME spot dairy prices moved higher on all products this week, except whey slipped another penny. Butter made the biggest gains, followed by block cheddar.

On Wed., Feb. 16, butter was pegged at $2.80/lb with 7 loads trading. This is up a whopping 27 cents compared with a week ago but 7 cents below the high for the week at 2.87/lb on the previous day.

Grade A nonfat dry milk (NFDM) hit $1.90 this week, then lost a penny Wed., Feb. 16, pegged at $1.89/lb — still a 2 1/2 cent gain over a week ago with a single load changing hands.

On the Class III side of the ledger Wed., Feb. 16, 40-lb Cheddar blocks were pegged at $1.9825/lb, up 8 cents from the previous Wednesday with 3 loads trading; 500-lb barrels at $1.92 are up 6 cents from a week ago with 3 loads trading.

The spot market for dry whey lost another penny this week, but remains above the 80-cent mark. On Wed., Feb. 16, a single load traded and the price was pegged at 81 cents/lb.

Jan. blend up $1.50-$2.00: Class IV tops Class I in all 7 MCP Orders

January’s uniform prices announced in each of the 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) over the past several days were $1.50 to $2.00 higher across the board for the third consecutive month. In the 7 multiple component pricing (MCP) FMMOs, the Class IV price topped the Class I minimums (including differentials) and in some FMMOs, the Class I minimums were the lowest class price.

Statistical reports show the spreads incentivized some de-pooling of Class II and IV milk. In the Northeast FMMO for January, Class IV and Class II, combined, accounted for 40% of utilization and Class I accounted for 31%, contributing to a blend price that was $2.36 above the Class III price. PPDs were positive throughout all MCP Orders because Class III was the lowest price. (PPD = blend price minus Class III.)

January’s uniform prices moved higher for the third straight month — across the board — as follows:

FMMO 1 (Northeast) SUP $22.74 PPD +$2.36
FMMO 33 (Mideast) SUP $20.38 PPD +$0.96
FMMO 32 (Central) SUP $21.09 PPD +$0.71
FMMO 30 (UpperMW) SUP $20.59 PPD +$0.21
FMMO 126 (So. West) SUP $21.63 PPD +$1.25
FMMO 124 (Pacific NW) SUP $21.49 PPD +$1.11
FMMO 51 (California) SUP $21.25 PPD +$0.87
FMMO 5 (Appalachian) uniform price $23.72
FMMO 7 (Southeast) uniform price $22.28
FMMO 6 (Florida) uniform price $25.49
FMMO 131 (Arizona) uniform price $24.17

Your milk check and fairness in contracts: Dr. Bozic urges transparency

Dr. Marin Bozic of Bozic LLC talked about his Milk Check Transparency Report at Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in Lancaster on Feb. 2. S.Bunting photo

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

LANCASTER, Pa. — Aside from Federal Milk Marketing Order modifications, Dr. Marin Bozic talked about two other key pillars of reform during his keynote presentation at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit February 2: Milk check transparency and fairness in milk contracts.

“Everyone prices milk differently depending on what they want you to do,” he said, showing a scattergram of milk check data from various coops and buyers. 

“It’s impossible to compare it,” Bozic declared, noting that in Australia, all milk pricing data are public so anyone can see how everyone compares in payment by region. In Ireland something similar is also done, where each buyer’s protein and butterfat price is published as well as a price for the liquid portion.

“They see what different processors pay. They don’t have Federal Orders. This transparency keeps everyone honest,” said Bozic. 

He knows about pricing around the world because — in addition to being an associate professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota — Bozic is founder and CEO of Bozic LLC, a global provider of technology for commodity markets analytics and risk management, with around 100 clients on four continents. He is also an advisor to several dairy trade associations.

“While it’s not easy to switch (milk markets) today, milk check transparency would allow producers to hold boards accountable and hold management accountable,” said Bozic. “Having this information, seeing the patterns, a producer can ask the question: Are you doing everything you can to make sure I am successful?”

Bozic announced his new Milk Check Transparency Report, which he said will be a monthly report generated from producers submitting their milk checks to him. The purpose is to make milk checks easier to understand and to benchmark across processors to improve price discovery.

He has been working on this project with 12 processors, mainly in Wisconsin, so far. The first report is due out in the next few weeks, and the goal is to gain more input covering more buyers in more regions.

He said he hopes to have 90 to 95% of the processors included within the next six months to be able to generate a national Milk Check Transparency Report every month.

Specifically, all data is collected from producers’ milk check statements. The collaboration is confidential and a non-disclosure agreement is signed protecting the producer. Bozic and an assistant input the data. No one else sees the individual milk check submissions.

Once enough data are collected to have a high degree of confidence in the estimates, processors are contacted to offer them the opportunity to validate or comment before publishing.

Bozic has a multi-step process for standardizing the information at national average component levels (4.0F and 3.3P). He appreciates having a document describing how premiums are set by the milk buyer. Representative hauling is also incorporated and other formulas so price discovery comparisons can be made.

“Then we can work with any milk check,” said Bozic.

He said a large number of farms from Washington to Florida and from California to New York are or will be participating in this project, and he urged producers to get involved by writing to him at marin@bozic.io

Bozic was quick to point out there are other considerations and benefits a cooperative or private milk market may provide that go outside the scope of the report. He said the Milk Check Transparency Report is not meant for ranking. Instead, it is a way to look comparatively, so producers can have better market price discovery, input and accountability.

Another goal of the report is to eventually have a calculator option, where a producer can slide the pounds of volume or components, even milk quality, and see how it changes the pricing outcome.

“We are then better able to design risk management,” said Bozic, whose proprietary company owns the intellectual property he developed as the infrastructure behind risk management programs like Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP).

He believes with better information, even the Dairy Margin Coverage can be improved, and the calculators and sliders could allow producers to see how they are paid against a national index allowing them to make changes that would improve profitability and better inform how to manage the price risk they have.

Negative PPDs (producer price differentials) made headlines the past two years, Bozic acknowledged. 

“There’s an impression that all this milk was de-pooled and a feeling that processors could have their cake and eat it too,” he said. “The Milk Check Transparency Report puts everyone on notice that whether differentials are positive or negative, they are in there.”

In this way, he said, the report can “promote good behavior in an unregulated way.”

On the variation in how producers are paid, Bozic said a big problem is lack of clarity on how farmers can achieve a better price.

“It’s astonishing to me that processors do not have brochures detailing how their incentives are based so farmers know how to meet them,” said Bozic.

The Milk Check Transparency Report is something Bozic is doing, for free, on his own time. He is not relying on the University of Minnesota. He said he knows he’ll get some ‘hate mail’ but believes it is important. 

When asked why he is doing this, Bozic brought his reply to a personal level. He mentioned his mother, who is ailing, saying that she inspired him all his life to help people. He said it is hard for anyone to do this, but that he is fortunate to have built a technology company over the years and believes he is in a position to do something good.

On contract fairness, Bozic noted that Australia has required structures in their milk contracts, but they do not have regulated pricing.

“It’s their contracts that put them on an even keel,” he said. 

For example, no cooperative or milk buyer should be able to prohibit their producers from doing third-party milk weight and test samples. Contracts should protect farmers from being ‘failed’ in inspections simply because they are ‘prickly’ or ‘vocal’ producers.

He also noted that in countries, like Australia, milk buyers or cooperatives are not allowed to require exclusivity while also doing two-tiered pricing for base and over-base milk at the same time. 

“It’s one or the other,” said Bozic. “When those two lanes cross at the same time, we have a traffic accident.”

“Organizations like ADC and Edge are fighting for some of these interests of farmers, but they need more voices,” said Bozic.

He pointed out that the combination of exclusivity and base programs in the East may be insulating against production growth and surplus.

“That ‘insulation’ may be fine right now,” said Bozic. “But what about 10 years from now?”

What happens to dairy in the Northeast, for example, when processing has been built up everywhere else where production is being allowed, even encouraged, to grow?

 -30-

Covington: Southeast blend price forecast $3.50 higher for 2022

Industry trends explored at Georgia Dairy Conference

Calvin Covington gives Southeast Dairy Outlook at Georgia Dairy Conference in January. S.Bunting photo

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Feb. 11, 2022

SAVANNAH, Ga. – “Everything is going up, and quickly. Class IV is driving milk prices, with good demand for both butter and powder, especially for exporting,” said Calvin Covington as he presented the Southeast dairy outlook during the 2022 Georgia Dairy Conference, attended by around 300 dairy producers and industry members in Savannah in January.

He forecast the 2022 Federal Order blend price average (not mailbox price) for the Southeast region will be up $3.50, with most of that increase on higher butterfat, predicted to average $2.54/lb.

Covington’s 2022 blend price projections range from $23.01 in the Appalachian Order 5 and $23.05 in the Southeast Order 7 to $24.81 in Florida Order 6.

He noted that the market beat his conservative 2021 projections by 50 cents to the good. 

“I’m still on the conservative side this year because prices can decrease as quickly as they increase,” Covinton said. “A small change in supply or demand makes a larger change – up or down – in your milk price.”

Covington went through the numbers for 2021, noting reduced milk production, reduced product inventories, reduced Class I sales, a narrowing of the Southeast milk deficit, expanded exports, and expanded domestic demand as trends that are expected to persist into 2022 – especially on the milk production side as supply programs, production cost increases and limits on available labor keep a lid on milk growth nationwide, even worldwide.

Come 2023-24, Covington sees production “jumping up” because of new cheese capacity coming on line in the next two to three years. 

“Texas and the I-29 corridor (Central Plains) are bringing cows to where the plants are growing. We can see this in the production numbers,” he said.

As the milk supply in 2022 is likely to be restrained, Covington looks to the signs that domestic and export demand will continue strong, but questioned how inflation will affect consumer buying power.

The availability and consistency of labor also continues to challenge the dairy supply chain and its customers on the foodservice side.

Be prepared for the unexpected, he cautioned, reminding producers that 2020 was forecast to be a good year, and then the unexpected happened – Coronavirus – so all bets were off.

Exports play bigger role in milk price

“Export demand has become very important to your milk price,” said Covington. “We are seeing the strongest demand yet… and look how dependent the industry is on the export market, sending a record 17.1% of supply overseas — up from 15.8% in 2020.”

Using the available figures for the first 11 months of 2021 to gauge it, Covington said overall export demand is up 11.5% for 2021. Over the past decade, the year over year export demand gains averaged 4.3% by comparison.

Add to this the increase in domestic demand, up 1.4% in 2021, and the net gain in dairy demand for 2021 is more than 3% — almost double the 10-year average year over year demand increase of 1.7%.

Unfortunately, on the fluid milk side, USDA reports sales are down over 4% in 2021 vs. 2020, according to Covington.

“Exports are having a bigger part in your milk price,” he said, noting that global milk production in major dairy exporting countries is flat to lower, pushing global dairy prices higher. “Our prices are well below the world prices, making us very competitive. We’re exporting twice as much butter, and 75% of our nonfat dry milk is being exported.”

That’s positive for the skim price, and the doubling of butterfat exports along with domestic demand push the other side of the fat/skim equation higher.

Milk production trends

Even though 2021 milk production will clock in at around 1% over 2020, Covington honed into the production and cow losses on the back half of the year, using July through November data.

Cow losses at 124,000 head in those five months “are the biggest drop since 2009,” he said.

At the same time, milk per cow had been increasing the first part of the year but flattened in the second half as cost of production caught up to milk prices.

“Production is lower now because of less milk per cow and fewer cows,” said Covington.

Looking at just the back half of 2021, Covington broke the 24 monthly milk reporting states into thirds and showed the geographic shifts (Table 1, above): 8 states were up more than 1% in production, 8 states had reduced production and 8 states were in between.

Significant in the gaining top-third is Georgia, with July through November 2021 production up 3.2% over the same period in 2020.

“Georgia added more cows and increased milk per cow,” said Covington. He said as Florida is losing production, Georgia is gaining and getting closer to Florida.

On the bottom third, the back half 2021 milk production decreases were 4.6% in Florida and 3% in Virginia.

“Florida lost 6000 head and Virginia 3000,” said Covington. “This tells me people are going out of business.”

Looking at the three major milk states of the Southeast region for the year, Covington noted that Florida is down 4.8%, Virginia down 3.3% and Georgia up 1.1%. The other seven states of the Southeast are collectively down about a billion pounds over the past few years.

In the Northeast, Covington’s chart showed New York’s production for those months was up 1.1%, barely putting it in the gaining third, while Pennsylvania’s production was 2.3% lower and Ohio of 1.1%.

In the West, the chart showed Texas up 3.9%, but New Mexico down 9.9%; Wisconsin and Minnesota up 3.2 and 2.7% and Illinois down 1.4%; South Dakota continues as the largest percentage gainer, up 16.7% on the back half of 2021.

“South Dakota tops the list with expansion in cheese capacity,” said Covington. “Cheese expansion is also underway in Texas, and milk production is growing there too.”

Dairy inventories and commodity production are down

Dairy inventories are down. “One of the best barometers for milk prices is looking at inventories, to see if they are building or declining,” said Covington. They are declining with butter inventory down 16%, powder down 21%, whey down almost 9%.

Cheese inventories are up 9.6%, which isn’t bad, according to Covington.

“We’re going into 2022 with really no challenge of inventory,” he said.

On the commodity production side, Covington observed that, “We do not have excess cream. Butter production is lower and powder production is lower. Fluid milk consumption is lower, but the fat percentage is higher, decreasing the cream supply. Demand for other cream products has also been good.”

With cheese production up 1.3% overall, Covington said the real positive here is Italian cheese production up 5.6% is the bulk of the increase. 

“This tells you the product is moving,” he said, “because it’s the fresh cheese production that is higher. They don’t usually make Italian cheese without a sale for it.”

Southeast fluid milk changes

Together, all three southeastern FMMOs had 4.2% less milk going into Class I in 2021. (Table 2, above)

“2021 was a poor year for Class I in the Southeast, but we are comparing to when the food box program was in effect, and that program gave quite a lift to fluid milk in 2020,” said Covington. This loss translates to about one million pounds per day.

Utilization percentage has remained about the same at a little over 72% across the three FMMOs. As Class I sales have declined (4.2%), Southeast production has also declined (3%), so there is little change in utilization percent.

The structure of Class I pool distributing plant ownership has also changed in the Southeast, post-Dean, with 9 of the 44 plants supermarket owned and 19 cooperative owned.

The Southeast region is producing 103 pounds of milk per capita annually, down 20 pounds while fluid milk sales per capita, at 134 pounds, are off by 7 pounds – putting Southeast per capita production 31 pounds below fluid milk per capita consumption.

“The size of the deficit gap is smaller than it was in 2010 due to sales declining more than the production declines over the past decade,” said Covington.

Looking ahead to questions asked about FMMO reform and the Class I mover calculation, Covington said he “would hope we can get back to the ‘higher of’ – realizing what it costs to serve a fluid milk market.”

He shared concern about what happens to orderly marketing when Class I is underpriced vs. the other milk classes.

“Fuel cost estimates are a big concern, and there are other costs,” said Covington. “The cost to serve Class I markets keeps going up. The biggest issue is the FMMO system started when fluid milk was king, and now it is becoming a minority, especially in some areas of the country where processors will wonder, why be in the Federal Order?”

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Milk solids seen as foundation for optimism in 2022

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 24, 2021

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — “Milk pricing is backward, but look forward, and focus on components,” said Dr. Normand St-Pierre of Perdue Agribusiness speaking at Homestead Nutrition’s December Dairy Seminar in New Holland, Pennsylvania, where 200 dairy farmers heard from experts about the markets and the all-important goals of modifying milk price by improving components, and improving the milk margin by feeding healthy cows.

St-Pierre urged producers to be smart as they look at their costs — to not cut costs that sacrifice early lactation milk yield. He also pointed out how these higher prices for all components make feeding for components a continued area of focus to help the dairy in the face of milk check deductions related to cuts in base allotments and balancing.

Earlier in the program, Dr. Mike Van Amburgh shared Cornell University research on how to feed cows in a way that optimizes component yield by percentage, not just in total volume pounds. Total component pounds have historically been a function of total milk volume, but today, percentage counts because of per-hundredweight milk check deductions and over-base penalties.

“Milk volume is being discouraged in many regions of the country,” said Van Amburgh. “So the opportunity for producers here is to enhance their milk components, to make components a primary strategy, while still making your milk volume.”

St-Pierre noted that the next six months will be better than the last six months with a better milk price, and the futures markets certainly confirm this — moving even higher over the past four weeks. Global milk production is down 1% year-to-date, global skim milk powder stocks are low, butter production has been down for three months, stocks are low, and the world is getting short on butterfat, he said.

He observed that the Class III price was averaging over $19 and Class IV over $20 looking out six to 12 months in the futures markets. (That was the case on December 8, and now Class III is averaging over $20 and Class IV over $21.)

He sees the milk check butterfat price averaging $2.30 over the next six months; however, he said he believes this average could actually go higher, while protein should average $2.80. 

Another positive he mentioned is the ‘solids nonfat’ are being priced higher, and the ‘other solids’ are priced at almost double the historical average, driven by robust whey sales.

Even the USDA World Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report the day after this meeting (Dec. 9, 2021) revised forecasts higher for butter, cheese and whey with NFDM forecasted at steady prices in 2022. As pointed out by St-Pierre, the current trends suggest this report could revise upward again in January, although much hinges on consumer responses to inflationary pressure in their buying habits.

The 2021 All Milk price average was increased in the WASDE report to $18.60, buoyed by yearend strength, and the 2022 All-Milk price forecast was revised upward to $20.75.

If current futures market levels are realized, these higher trending milk prices should help dairies keep pace with rising input costs, although experts calculate feed costs to be up by around $2.50/cwt for 2022 vs. 2021 and all costs combined could be up by almost $3.50/cwt for 2022 vs. 2021.

St-Pierre dug into this from a milk pricing standpoint, and he shared the good news that negative producer price differentials (PPD) from 2020 and the first half of 2021 have “quieted down.” 

Negative PPDs eat into location adjustments and change the way components are ultimately valued when massive de-pooling of milk occurs in Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

“We have positive PPDs right now because Class III and IV are trading closer together,” he said, noting that the new Class I formula averages the two manufacturing classes and adds 74 cents, so when they trade farther apart, the producer sees the hit in Class I also, dragging down the blend price and leaving smaller or negative producer price differentials (PPD).

The Class I pricing change and negative PPDs are issues St-Pierre has written about.

“Now they are asking the people who made the mess to fix it. That escapes me,” he said, noting the Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) were created in the 1930s and designed at a time when there were hundreds of cooperatives and milk did not move all over the country and the world.

St-Pierre said FMMOs exist for “orderly marketing,” but the government made a ‘fix’ that is like fixing an old horse. “He’s fixed but not running very fast and may be at the point where the horse has had enough.”

FMMOs were also created at a time when people drank more milk. Today, he said, they eat more cheese.

Showing a graph of per-capita fluid milk sales from 1980 (234 pounds per capita annually) to 2018 (146 pounds per capita annually), St-Pierre asked: “Does that look to you like an area of growth? If that marketer worked for Coca-Cola, he would have long been unemployed.”

While he acknowledged fluid milk has been disadvantaged by “lazy marketing,” he also said promoting milk is very hard because “we are not in the same world as in 1980. We are competing against water — with food in a bottle that we have to keep refrigerated. Cheese is easier to sell.”

The per-capita rise in cheese consumption since 1980 reflects this.

In the past, said St-Pierre, the FMMOs were designed to put the highest price in the bottle because that was the most perishable product. Today, as for the past 20 years, the prices are still based on the surveys of four products at wholesale – cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk, and whey.

It was designed to have those prices for Classes 1 through 4 go in that order, he explained. “But it doesn’t work that way anymore.”

“As the butter price goes up, just make more butter, right?” he asks. “But it’s hard to make butter in a cheese plant and vice versa.”

“If I’m a processor, and I built a big cheese plant, and it cost me $150 million, I make a lot of cheese,” St-Pierre quipped.

Plus the built-in make allowances encourage single-product, single-class production plants running at full capacity, regardless of what the market is doing.

“It will take a while to change that dynamic,” he said.

“All milk is paid on components, but handlers don’t pay for components in the same way in the (FMMO) pool,” said St-Pierre. He explained that milk handlers pay for components according to how the milk is used, what “class” of products the milk was utilized in.

Class I price is based on butterfat and skim, Class II on butterfat and nonfat solids. Class III, which is 55% of the milk utilization, pays mainly on protein and other solids with an adjustment for butterfat because cheese production also uses a lot of fat. Class IV pays on butterfat and nonfat solids.

“We price things backward. Tell me one thing that you can go out and buy and drive out of the store and a month later tell that store what you will pay for it,” St-Pierre said, noting this is essentially what milk buyers do through the FMMO system, month after month, year after year.

He encouraged producers to be looking ahead three months, which he admitted is hard to do when the pricing for their product is so far behind the transaction. Still, he said following the markets gives a good indication, and there is more reliability in the 3-month window than 6 to 12 months out in the futures markets. 

The Class III price is normally higher than Class IV, but for the next few months, even through the next year, it looks to be flip-flopped.

Using an ‘imaginary’ FMMO, he divided all four classes as 25% utilization, which in reality is not too far off what the Northeast Order can come close to. In that four-class FMMO, the different ways different classes pay for components cause the books to be out of balance after producers are paid their advance check based on protein. Knowing each class pays differently, the class price differences and utilization become the key to how that PPD is either positive, flat or negative.

When Class IV was $6 below Class III, cooperatives and processors de-pooled a lot of milk, St-Pierre observed: “They could just pay 20 cents over that $13.80 price to get the milk and then sell it back at the $20 (Class III) price. That makes the co-op look good but the producer gets shafted,” said St-Pierre.

In FMMO 30, where most of the utilization is already Class III, processors made a lot of cheese in 2020-21, but they didn’t pool a lot of that milk, and they got it cheaper, he explained.

Bottom line, said St-Pierre, the Federal Orders were never designed to operate this way. Then along came the “little change” in the Class I price. In the past, the FMMOs used the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV as the way to set the Class I base.

“If I am a bottler, I don’t like that (higher of) because I don’t know how to hedge it,” said St-Pierre. “I know my price ahead of time anyway (through advance Class I pricing), but I still don’t like the ‘higher of’ so I go and tell Congress to average it and add 74 cents. Then Covid-19 hits, and producers lose over $750 million.”

St-Pierre notes that the industry is trying to fix the system, backwards.

He confirmed that where the negative PPDs kick Northeast producers is in the location adjustments. A smaller than normal positive PPD is a loss, and when it goes negative, it eats into the location adjustment, which is also supposed to be positive.

Working through all of these thoughts about pricing and consumption pattern, St-Pierre left dairy farmers with the good news that for the foreseeable future, the PPDs should be positive, although smaller than normal in some months, and Class III and IV prices are both on the rise. 

Production has slowed, and demand is good, including for milk powders and whey. These positive supply and demand factors are confirmed in the dairy product production and cold storage reports.

With the very reasonable expectation of good prices for milk components, in the face of base penalties, balancing assessments, and other milk check deductions that a dairy producer encounters, the best way to navigate is focusing on component yield because the deductions are a flat amount per hundredweight of total volume, whereas component yield becomes a percentage increase in the value of those milk hundredweights.

Look for more on other interesting nutrition topics and milk quality award winners as this article continues in a future Farmshine.

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