Global dairy thoughts Part 5: First half 2018 butter, milk, cream imports climbed!

Timelines show how domestic dietary guidelines, Obama/Vilsack school milk rules and ramped up low-fat and fat-free dairy promotion through GENYOUth and FUTP60 all laid the groundwork for declining Class I fluid milk sales to pave the way for flat pricing and increased exports (now coincidentally under the industry leadership of former Sec Vilsack). Then consumers learned the truth and began coming back to whole milk and butter and full-fat cheeses even while the government turns a deaf ear in regards to the rules about feeding our schoolchildren. So what did U.S. companies and cooperatives do to keep that milk price flat enough for the export market this year? They imported more butter, milk and cream in first half 2018!

By Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine, September 7, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Let’s take a look at the overall global dairy trade balance of the U.S.

In gross numbers, the balance is positive, showing the U.S. is winning new market share on the side of exports over imports. But this tells only part of the story, ignoring the potential milk market impacts of substantial increases in imports of milkfat at this critical time during the first six months of 2018.

In June 2018, Global Dairy Thoughts Part 3 and Part 4 covered some of the Federal Order pricing impacts of rapidly expanding exports alongside a diminishing Class I utilization. While per-capita milk consumption has steadily declined since 1980, the total packaged milk sales held their own due to population growth.

globalthoughtspartfive-chart1That is, until we hit 2009-10, when the third and fourth layers (see Chart 1 above) were added to the lowfat-push — that consequently pulled total fluid milk sales into the bucket at the same time that exports began their rapid ascent.

Expanding export utilization hits Class I utilization with a double-whammy: Smaller piece in a bigger pie, even if consumption losses are stabilized. We’ll revisit that in a future part of this series on dairy policy and logistics.

In looking at imports and doing trend comparisons for farm milk prices, fluid milk sales, total exports, total imports and the large increase so far this year in imports of butter and butteroil as well as steady increases in imports of milk and cream (condensed, non-condensed, liquid, powder, sweetened, unsweetened), there are some correlations. (Chart 2 below)

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From 2005 forward, the national average all-milk price moved in patterns concave to the corresponding imports of butter/butteroil and milk/cream on the timeline. While the totals are not huge, we all know what “a little more” can mean on the supply side when it comes to milk prices.

In the first-half of 2018, for example,  the U.S. imported 12% more butter and butteroil and 11% more condensed milk and cream, according to the European Commission’s Milk Market Observatory published August 14, 2018. (Charts 3 and 4 below)

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While the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) reports that first half 2018 dairy exports of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose topped 1.14 mil. tons to set a new record-high – up 20% from year ago, some interesting things were also happening on the import side.

Even though the USDEC data dashboard continues to show total imports accounting for a flat line at 4% or less of the milk supply on a solids basis, while exports accounted for 16.8% in the first six months of 2018, there are some interesting aspects of the import picture related to ‘what’ and ‘when’.

According to the August 14 EC statistical report ranking top-10 importers and exporters of various dairy commodities, the U.S. ranked third in butter and butteroil imports, up 12% from year ago and not far behind China (1) and Russia (2) during the first half of 2018.

The U.S. also ranked fourth in imports of condensed milk and cream – up 11% compared with a year ago.

When butter substitutes, containing over 45% butterfat, are included in the butter and butteroil import total, as documented at the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) import monitoring website, the U.S. butter/butteroil total rises by more than 200% during the past three quarters (Sept. 2017 through June 2018) compared with the same nine months a year ago.

While half of the butter and butteroil imports came to the U.S. from EU countries, a majority of the other half came from Mexico, according to the USITC website listings under various Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes.

In the condensed milk and cream category, 8% of U.S. imports came from the EU, according to the EC report.

Sifting through the tedious lists and multiple codes and combinations at the USITC website, it appears the U.S. imported quite a bit of condensed milk and cream from Mexico, a little from Canada (though less from Canada than a year ago), and the remainder from sources scattered around the globe — even China.

For the past nine months, Sept. 2017 through June 2018, the condensed milk and cream, unsweetened, category of imports was up 44% in powder or granular form compared with the same period a year ago, while milk and cream imports, unconcentrated, unsweetened, and still in liquid form, were up 22%.

Imports of sweetened condensed milk and cream were up 7% and mainly from Mexico.

Of course, the U.S. remains the top importer of casein and caseinates, even though those imports were down 15% from a year ago during the first half of 2018, according the EC report.

Doing the math on milk protein concentrate (MPC) imports for the nine months from September 2017 through June 2018 listed at the USITC site, MPC imports in both the 0404 and 3500 HTS codes, combined, were down 1.3% compared with the same period a year earlier.

On the other hand, imports of milk protein isolates (MPI) were up 31% from Sept. 2017 through June 2018 compared with the same three quarters a year ago.

Looking further into other categories, imports of “textured protein substance, including dairy” were up 40% for the past nine months compared with a year ago.

In the significant dairy-containing “food prep” categories — including infant formula and having various percentages of milk solids and butterfat — imports were up 7% during the past nine months compared with a year ago. In this particular category, including confectionary products containing significant milk solids, Canada was a primary source, along with EU countries as well as some of these imports coming from Chile and other South American countries.

Process cheese product imports were up 46% during the past nine months compared with a year earlier.

While U.S. imports of ice cream were down relative to year ago, the total when combined with import categories in other HTS codes for “edible ice containing dairy” tallied an import total that was up collectively by more than 200% over year ago during the past nine months.

To read Parts 1 through 4, click these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

And stay tuned for this series to continue as 2019 trends develop abroad and on the homefront.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global volatility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supply-chain realities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trickle-down effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two of Five-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

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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

PMMB responds to Pa. Dept. of Ag with hearings May 2 and 16

Public comment must be pre-submitted by Apr. 30 and May 11 to speak at the hearings on May 2 and 16. Separate from the PMMB hearings, the Pa. Dept. of Ag is seeking public comment to improve the market for dairy in the state and invites the public and industry to provide suggestions or comments online to be considered moving forward.

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By Sherry Bunting, @agmoos

HARRISBURG, Pa. — In responding to Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding’s petition for hearings and review, the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) announced April 18 that it will conduct the first of two public hearings on May 2 with an expedited process requiring testimony to be provided in advance by noon on April 30.

The first hearing is set for May 2, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 309 of the Agriculture Building across from the Farm Show Complex on North Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

A second hearing is set for May 16, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in the Monongahela Room of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The second hearing was announced this week, and like the first hearing, stipulates pre-registration with copy of comments provided in advance by noon on May 11.

PMMB states that the purpose of the first hearing on May 2 is to receive testimony and comments regarding the specific “Recommendations for Statutory Changes” found in the Ag Department’s April 5 petition.

The hearing will occur before the PMMB Sunshine Meeting already scheduled on that day, which sources indicate will address another portion of the PDA petition — asking PMMB to amend regulatory provisions dealing with termination of dealer-producer contracts. Since this portion of the petition involves a board-level action rather than a statutory change, steps to begin the regulatory review process will begin during the Sunshine Meeting that follows the public hearing on May 2.

(Author’s note: As you read on, please keep in mind that most Pennsylvania dairy farmers I speak with want transparency. They are not seeking a more complex system. They are seeking truth and a level playing field from which to compete. Pennsylvania is unique in having this lawyered-up state-level milk pricing system cohabitating with two Federal Order milk pricing systems. The state system (PMMB) sets a minimum retail milk price and minimum wholesale milk price for 6 regions of Pennsylvania, and the farm premium built into it only passes back to the farm IF the milk is audited to have met three specific criteria: produced, processed and sold in PA. However, the money is collected from all Pennsylvania consumers on ALL milk sold in Pennsylvania no matter where it came from or what pathway of logistics it utilized in getting to a PA store shelf. In turn, the very high per-gallon minimum price creates an uneven playing field for PA-produced milk as the state has become a magnet for increasing numbers of out-of-state dealer licenses as well as out-of-state milk usage, as well as out-of-state distribution warehouses and companies that specialize in logistics while the nation is overcome by supermarket loss-leading and price wars for customer acquisition).

In Wednesday’s hearing (May 2), PMMB will receive testimony on the following statutory items specifically mentioned in the Ag Department’s petition, many of which were suggested by PMMB staff as far back as 2009, but were never moved on, nor implemented!

LICENSING OF RETAILERS

In its petition, the Pa. Dept. of Ag mentions a recommendation by PMMB staff back in 2009 that was never implemented. It would have enabled the Board to require retailer reporting of volumes of fluid milk purchased and volumes sold in Pennsylvania “to track the amount of fluid milk sold at retail, the amount of consumer dollars being generated by the various components that make up the minimum retail price, and to identify the wholesalers and other sources of all fluid milk sold in Pennsylvania.”

The PDA petition notes that this is “a noted absence of data which prevented Drs. Novakovic, Stephenson and Nicholson’s study from being more conclusive on PMMB pricing’s impact on retail prices and Pennsylvania processing volumes. Such data is necessary for the continuation of credible, industry-supported and publicly-supported, PMMB pricing.”

TITLE TO MILK

Regarding Title to Milk, the PDA petition cites another amendment suggested by the PMMB staff in 2009, but never implemented, “to declare by statute, for the purposes of producer pricing only, that title to milk transfers to a milk dealer at the farm pick-up.”

In its petition, PDA notes that, “This (amendment) enables the Board to account for milk transported for out-of-state processing and to track that milk if it comes back in-state via wholesale or, coupled with the above, by a retailer.”

RETURN ABOVE COST OF PRODUCTION

The PDA petition also cites portions of the statute that result in “a return above the cost of production must always be guaranteed in the wholesale and retail price but not in the producer price.”

The petition recognizes that while the producer price under Section 801 must be, according to statute, “cost of production and a reasonable profit to the producer,” there is this exception stating that ‘the market for Pennsylvania-produced milk is threatened,’ which has “so permanently swallowed the rule that increasingly producers question the legitimacy of the entire PMMB pricing system,” PDA states in its petition.

“This is a major problem that must be addressed with transparency and clarity. This petition specifically requests that the PMMB staff be charged with investigating and recommending options to the Board for a statutory revision that has industry acceptance and equitably allocates the impact of market conditions across producers, milk dealers and retailers. If that is not deemed advisable, consideration of a statutory amendment nevertheless remains necessary to replace the existing language,” the petition states.

(Author’s Note: In other words, in times when the minimum price must be lowered to protect the market, the “pain” should be allocated to the other sectors and not taken on solely at the farm level. For example, when supermarkets loss-lead and get into price wars to acquire customers, should they not calculate that cost to their business rather than pass it back through the chain to the farm? It’s the retailer’s decision to use the price on a staple to acquire customers. It’s the processor’s decision to negotiate for large contracts. In the same sense, farmers cooperatives have admitted (in at least one civil proceeding) to doing the same by “sharing” profits gained by collective distribution efficiencies in the form of rebates to processors that are then passed on to retailers. Meanwhile, farmers are told the efficiencies of these collective distribution efforts are meant to reduce the cost of the hauling that is passed on to the farmer and that cost been steadily rising.)

RETURN OF BENEFIT TO PRODUCERS

Finally, the May 2 hearing will receive testimony on the point in paragraph 18 of the Pa. Ag Department’s petition concerning the return to producers of the benefit of minimum wholesale pricing.

The PDA petition explains it this way: “Much has been said over the years about the language of Section 805 of the Milk Marketing Law and whether the price increase built into the minimum wholesale price for payment of the over-order premium is being ‘given to producers’ as required.

“The allowed exception (‘ … necessary in order lawfully to maintain proper milk markets and outlets for producers and consumers’) has, again, permanently swallowed the rule. As with Section 801 producer pricing, consideration should be given to amending Section 805 to clarify the intended result. This is another area where positive perception of PMMB pricing appears to have been eroded by a perceived lack of clarity and transparency, the petition explains.

The PMMB hearing announcement states that intent to present testimony, and a written copy must be provided by noon on April 30, 2018 either electronically at  deberly@pa.gov or by filing at the PMMB office, Rm 110, Agriculture Building, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

For the May 16 hearing, the purpose is to solicit and consider suggestions for statutory changes to the Milk Marketing Law as requested by the PDA in its petition.

Those wanting to give testimony or comments on May 16 must provide notification and a written copy in advance to the PMMB by noon on May 11 either electronically at ra-pmmb@pa.gov or by filing at the PMMB office, Rm 110, Ag Building, 2301 North Cameron St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.

Announcements for the May 2 and May 16 public hearings indicate that both will be listening sessions with no examination or cross examination by interested parties.

A copy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Petition can be found at the Board’s website and drafts of the proposed amendments may be obtained on the Board’s website at http://www.mmb.pa.gov/Legal/Documents/Petition%20for%20Hearing%20MMB.pdf.

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Buy back and give? Sell cheap and dump? You decide.

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Cheese was loaded recently for Hunger Task Force, based in Wisconsin and part of the Feeding America network. Changes in USDA feeding programs are making Food Banks a more vital food access point for the poor. Farmers rise to the occasion when it comes to feeding the hungry. Dairy Pricing Association seeks to work continually with farmer funds to see that paying forward helps give back as times are very tough today on dairy farms across America. Facebook Photo: Dairy Pricing Association

Commentary, by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 19, 2017

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Buy back and give? Or sell cheap and dump?That is the question.

“Just imagine what we could accomplish if there was a groundswell of farmers coming on board to fund this process to clear excess milk and dairy products and help others in need at the same time,” notes Amos Zimmerman of Dairy Pricing Association, Inc.

Zimmerman lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and works with farmers here and in the Midwest on behalf of Dairy Pricing Association. He and others involved are excited about the organization’s track record and the new projects that are starting up that are funded by voluntary assessments. Dairy farmers sign up because they believe in the power of helping to clear the overloaded milk system of excess while helping people in need as the ultimate form of promotion.

Founded initially in Taylor, Wisconsin, the farmer-funded organization operates nationwide to help balance dairy plants across the country.

Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) does not disrupt the flow of milk. Instead, DPA uses the funds contributed by dairy producers to buy dairy products for donation to feeding programs in a way that has begun making a difference and has the potential to do even more.

Disappearance positively affects price, according to DPA literature. However, this is not milk ‘dumping,’ this is dairy giving. DPA’s activity in the marketplace is one that values the hard work of the dairy farmers while recognizing the pain and suffering caused by hunger in the world. DPA purchases dairy commodities and donates them for humanitarian purposes, for a two-fold benefit.

These and other donations show the heart of this dairy industry we are all proud to be a part of. Though it has been around for more than a decade, DPA is a lesser-known entity that is out there buying and donating milk and dairy products, not just at the holidays, but consistently throughout the year.

Buying excess dairy for donation is something Dairy Pricing Association has been expanding upon since its inception gathered steam in 2009 when a call to action by founder Robin Berg of Wisconsin led to a more systematic method. Farmers designate voluntary milk check assessments by signing up. Now others can also donate through a joint effort between Dairy Pricing Association and Hunger Task Force.

Tom Olson, DPA vice chair, tells of this history: “After the second meeting we could see that no one in the industry was going to help get this started. We were going to have to start this at someone’s kitchen table.”

With private donations for startup costs, Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. was born.

Today, their work is supported by dairy farmers who sign up to pay a voluntary assessment for the expressed purpose of buying excess milk and dairy products and channeling it to feeding programs that are the only option for poor consumers. The base of operations has expanded from the Upper Midwest into California and the Northeast as more farmers in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Indiana have come on board to provide the necessary funding.

Dairy Pricing employee Amos Zimmerman of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is excited about the organization’s track record and the new projects that are starting up. In a phone interview with Zimmerman, Farmshine learned that dairy farmers can tailor the amount and purpose of their voluntary assessment to participate in this double-goal: To help clear the overloaded milk system of excess and help those in need as the ultimate form of promotion.

Every three months for the past two years, Dairy Pricing has been buying block cheese for donation to feeding programs. “We have gotten into a routine and the industry is starting to predict our purchases,” said Zimmerman. “We are changing things up and working on new projects for next year to start in January.”

One new project Dairy Pricing is working on is to satisfy the desire of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to have cheese donations coming every month of the year, not just at certain intervals, with the Food Bank paying half and DPA paying half.

“Central Penn Food Bank came to us to talk about a monthly arrangement,” Zimmerman said. With this in mind, Dairy Pricing is looking at a plan with Pennsylvania milk, processed in Maryland, but then cut to consumer package size by a Pennsylvania firm. DPA would purchase the cheese and Central Penn Food Bank would pay wholesale price for half of it, delivered in retail-size, pantry-ready.

Back on the bulk cheese purchases in the Midwest, recent loads of block Cheddar include one in October at 41,592 pounds, purchased by Dairy Pricing for donation to the Houston Food Bank for their needs after Hurricane Harvey.

The first load of blocks were purchased in 2016, when 30,588 pounds were bought at $1.65/lb for the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee. That was followed by a $1.90/lb purchase of 41,604 pounds in December 2016 for Hunger Task Force and 41,860 pounds at $1.65 in April 2017 for Hunger Task Force. In July 2017, 39,662 pounds were purchased at $1.61 for Ruby’s Pantry in North Branch, Minnesota, followed by the October purchase of 41,592 pounds at $1.84/lb for the Houston Food Bank of Houston, Texas.

Dairy Pricing will be trying to do both the bulk purchases in the Midwest and the new programs in the Northeast and Midatlantic region, with the money available through dairy farmers’ voluntary assessments, according to Zimmerman.

Similar milk balancing through cheesemakers for feeding programs has also been happening in the Midwest, including recent milk to cheese through Lynn Dairies to The Community Table in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Another new startup project is coming about through inquiries by dairy farmers wanting to be involved in dairy donations through Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ephrata, Pa.

“They only handle powder because it goes overseas,” said Zimmerman. People who want to be involved in that project can sign up for a voluntary 15-cent/cwt assessment.

The powder project will be 100% whole milk powder to a host of oversees destinations where hunger is prevalent.

“Whatever we buy or donate, it has to be the whole milk product, not just the skim,” says Zimmerman, who spends his days on the road talking to farmers and attending meetings. He does a conference call with farmers every Monday night, attracting 100 to 150 people, and he serves as the boots-on-the-ground contact person for Dairy Pricing here — covering the whole East Coast and spending time in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Wisconsin.

He also works with farmers and farm groups on the side to help them with local processing start ups and other marketing solutions. He has been involved in the dairy industry his whole life, working as a herdsman for dairy farms since he was 18 and known for his curiosity in always looking for information about how the dairy industry works with a keen interest in the processing side.

“I’ve always had an interest in it, and since the marketing system is going the way that it is, people are having to find different routes to their consumers,” said Zimmerman, adding that “local consumers come to us all the time wondering how to support local farmers.”

This has become a difficult direct line within an increasingly national and global marketplace. Processing investments are the tough part of this task.

.“I can’t stress enough how important it is for dairy farmers to be informed to make better decisions,” Zimmerman says.

Since Dairy Pricing Association expanded to the east with its producer voluntary assessments, the very first milk donation was to New York for hurricane victims in 2012. When surplus milk is available over holidays, Dairy Pricing pulls gallons for donation, including donations last year to feeding programs in Washington D.C.

“None of what we do is to get the credit for doing it,” said Zimmerman. “We are doing this because it needs to be done.”

In fact, a bit more credit for doing this work could help get more of it done. As farmers learn more about what DPA is doing, more voluntary milk check assessments could accomplish an even greater impact.

Zimmerman noted that since Dairy Pricing balances the bottling of White Gold Milk and Chocolate Gold here in the East at California standards, this is the brand they typically pull from the wholesale supply for donations of fluid beverage milk. This utilizes both fresh fluid milk and powder to arrive at the higher solids content of the milk, including a 3.5% fat profile for whole milk instead of the minimum standard of 3.25%.

“What we can accomplish hinges on signups,” said Zimmerman. “The more we get the word out, the more interest we see. In 2014, we could hardly talk to farmers, prices were good. But that’s when we should be jumping on board to fix things before they get bad again.”

A ubiquitous figure in local dairy circles, Zimmerman gets calls every day from farmers in trouble thinking of selling their cows. “This problem is deeper than the milk prices,” he says. “It is the whole structure that is at risk that could destroy the infrastructure, even in Lancaster County.”

The typical voluntary assessment signup is 10 cents/cwt. But can be as little as 5 cents/cwt or as high as 30 cents. To specifically participate in the whole milk powder donations through Christian Aid overseas, a 15 cent/cwt level is required. (See form at the end of this story).

“It is all a donation, and farmers can cancel at any time,” Zimmerman explains, stressing that this assessment cannot be used to replace the 15-cent promotion checkoff nor the 4-cent CWT deductions taken off milk checks by member cooperatives.

In addition, others can also donate through a joint effort with Hunger Task Force. (See form at the end of this story).

DPA notes at their website that when milk is in great supply, many loads are sold at up to $3 per cwt below the Class III price. “When this happens, this cheap milk goes into storage as cheese or powder and starts to pile up,” according to DPA. “We need to have a fund to buy at these times to keep the system from being overloaded.”

Through Food for the Poor and Christian Aid, exporting to 17 countries overseas, the need is great for all the whole milk powder that can be supplied and as well for domestic use through Feeding America for soup kitchens and feeding the homeless here in the U.S.

The point is for the dairy product to go to people who could not get it any other way except through donation, not to take a sale away from a store. It is estimated that for every semi-trailer load of whole milk powder exported or used in domestic soup kitchens, eight tanker loads of milk are removed from the overloaded system.

Because the program is voluntary, producers can follow the progress of what DPA is doing, and can continue their contributions or cancel at any time.

Whether it is tens of thousands of gallons of milk or tens of thousands of pounds of cheese, DPA has steadily increased its benevolent presence from coast to coast as more farmers sign up to be involved.

Who are DPA members? They are dairy farmers from coast to coast shipping their milk via nearly every cooperative and direct milk plants. These dairy farms span the milk marketing and handling system across the U.S.

According to the DPA website, farmers funding Dairy Pricing Association with their voluntary assessments include shippers to Agri-Mark Inc. in New England; Associated Milk Producers in Minnesota, Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa., Cloverland Farms Dairy in Baltimore, Md., Cooperative Milk Producers in Blackstone, Va., Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods, Farm First Coop in Wisconsin, Galliker’s Dairy in Johnstown, Pa., Grassland Dairy Products in Wisconsin, Guggisberg Cheese in Ohio, Horizon Organic based in Colorado, King’s Kreamery in Lancaster, Pa., LaGranders Hillside Dairy in Wisconsin, Lancaster Organic Farmers Cooperative and LANCO-Pennland, both based in Hagerstown, Md., Land O’Lakes, Lynn Dairy in Wisconsin, Maryland-Virginia in  Reston, Va., Mount Joy Coop, Mt. Joy, Pa., Nasonville Dairy in Wisconsin, National Farmers Organization headquartered in Ames, Iowa, Organic Valley, Prairie Farms based in Illinois, Smith Foods in Ohio, Westby Cooperative in Wisconsin, and former DMS shippers in New York and Pennsylvania.

 

Current dairy prices are not sustainable for the future survival of dairy farms and the rural communities and businesses that rely on them. At the same time, we read about the concerns of food insecure Americans as well as staggering numbers of war refugees and victims of disasters and famine throughout the world.

If our industry builds a storehouse of dairy goods that end up pressuring farm milk prices lower, and if growing numbers of people here and abroad are unable to access dairy nutrition without assistance, what better way to meet the needs of both than to voluntarily, consistently and strategically provide this assistance?

When the storehouse of goods is channeled to the needy through farmer-funded purchases in a way that helps to balance the market, America’s farm prices can improve and the food-security of our nation in the future can be assured.

The government and the industry do not have a plan that adequately addresses either of these concerns. This is why DPA exists as a way for farmers to help themselves by helping each other and helping those less fortunate at the same time.

Dairy Pricing Association is not funded by the government, nor is it funded by processors or marketers. Participation in DPA funding cannot be used to replace the 15-cent federally mandated promotion checkoff or the 4-cent CWT assessment. Nor can it  replace new deductions showing up on milk checks in the current marketing environment.

However, DPA attracts new farmers every day because the mission is funded by dairy farmers who believe that sitting back and doing nothing but complain is not an option. They want to take the future by the horns and move forward.

Through membership donations in the form of 5-cent to 15-cent per hundredweight (some even give 30 cents/cwt), farmers are joining together through DPA to strengthen the organization’s ability to place orders for finished dairy products from processing plants and once the order(s) are filled, donating the product for humanitarian purposes.

The possibilities of this concept are only limited by the funding available, and that means dairy farmers, themselves, can make the difference. Unlike the marketing and balancing fees that are being increased on dairy farm milk checks, the Dairy Pricing Association assessment is completely voluntary, simple, direct, farmer-run and built from the ground up to help dairy farmers help themselves, help each other and help children and families who know real hunger throughout America and the world.

The question is: Do farmers want to gain strength by joining together voluntarily to buy back their own excess for giving to people less fortunate?

Or do they want to continue to allow the system to do the incomplete job it has been doing – bound by its Federal Order rules that allow dumping but not giving, and costing farmers ever-higher deductions from their milk checks to “balance” the excess through below-class sales that create market-depressing inventory or by dumping milk down the drain at a cost to the farmers?

Hats off to the givers. May their vision and efforts continue to multiply.

To learn more about Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. and to acquire forms for milk check pledges, call Tom Olson at 715.284.9852 or 715.299.1332 or Amos Zimmerman at 717.872.1464  or email dpainc@ceas.coop. Visit DPA online at visit dairypricing.org and follow on Facebook @dairypricing. Ask about national producer conference calls.

To learn more about Christian Aid Ministries, the vehicle for a new farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association, Inc. project of whole milk powder donations for hunger assistance worldwide, visit christianaidministries.org and dairypricing.org

Find out more about what they are doing, and then decide if your farm can help make a positive two-fold impact on markets and hunger. See below the forms for farmer milk check deductions and for non-farmer donations.

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Electronic trading brings anonymity. Understand how CME dairy spot markets function

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, February 9, 2018

CHICAGO, Ill. — The CME dairy spot markets have been evolving since arriving in Chicago after a tumultuous past on the Green Bay Cheese Exchange, writes Ronald K. O’Brien, II, a dairy market risk specialist and geostrategist. He is director of global derivatives for Interfood, multidimensional global dairy risk managers using physical and financial global dairy markets to offset internal sales and inventory risk.

CME(RonOBrien).jpgRecently, Farmshine interviewed O’Brien to better understand from a trader’s perspective how the dairy spot markets function since the transition from live floor trading to electronic trading in the second half of 2017. We also gained insights on some differences between the global and domestic trading platforms.

This conversation matters because the daily price at which those 15 minutes of CME trading close — whether bid, offer or trade — helps set pricing for the weekly USDA National Dairy Product Sales Report for cheese, whey, butter and nonfat dry milk (NFDM), which in turn sets the monthly commodity prices that are plugged into the Federal Order formulas that form the basis for how dairy farmers get paid for their milk.

O’Brien points out that markets are based on the “who” and the “what.” That’s as much true about CME dairy spot markets as it is about cattle auctions. People want to know, in the moment, where the auction is going in price, but also who is buying and who is selling, to infer a sense of market demand and resistance at those positions.

“Fundamentally, we have the same participants on the dairy spot markets, and it is still like coming to an auction,” says O’Brien of how bids, offers and trades occur on the electronic platform today, just like when it was live on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). “The difference, now, is the anonymity. This requires you to participate if you want to know what is going on. This brings a little more interest to those 15 minutes of spot trading.”

The anonymity also creates a situation where the largest market leaders know more because they know the buyer or seller once a trade is completed; whereas before, others outside of that transaction could observe and speculate based on which brokers were trading.

O’Brien observes that when the CME dairy spot markets traded live on the floor, analysts would not precisely know who was buying and selling; however, they knew the brokers and who they typically bid or cleared for.

CME(lastOpenOutcryDAIRY)For example, in past years, the largest physical producers and end users in the United States would regularly use the same clearing broker for their spot transactions, resulting in the majority of market participants acting on this inferred knowledge in real time. A single bid or offer from certain brokers would set distinct levels of support and resistance, and this was coveted as the most prolific dairy information of the day.

The electronic platform “made this all disappear,” says O’Brien. “Spot traders know who is trading when a transaction is complete, at the end of the auction, if they are involved in that transaction, but they have no clue about who else was involved during the session.”

Thus, he says, “it is now more difficult to sense how strong the support is or how heavy the resistance because (with electronic trading) you don’t know if the buyer in a session was the largest end user, or your grandmother taking a position.”

In fact, anyone with eligible product in a warehouse, a CME auction account and a funded futures account can sell on the CME dairy spot market.

This is different from the Global Dairy Trade (GDT), which is run by Fonterra of New Zealand. In the GDT biweekly internet auction, not just anyone can bring product to that exchange. “They have to be vetted and approved to offer product on the GDT, and selling is limited to processors,” O’Brien notes.

For this reason, the CME is more of a “natural and price transparent marketplace,” he explains.

He calculated the trade volume for the 12 months leading up to the change from floor trading to electronic trading, noting that 38,000 tons of 40-lb blocks and barrels were traded on the CME during the second half of 2016 and first half of 2017.

Trade volume on 40-lb Cheddar blocks has increased 16% and on barrels 38%. O’Brien points out that the amount is still relatively small considering that the U.S. produces 5.5 million tons of cheese annually, which is essentially priced off the CME session trades, bids or offers.

“We were trading 7/10ths of one percent of total cheese production on the CME spot market,” says O’Brien. Since the change to electronic trading, this has increased slightly to just shy of 1%.

The volume of CME spot butter trades, on the other hand, has increased 138%, while NFDM has been flat.

With more trades, one can argue that the CME spot markets have become a better price discovery mechanism via electronic trading, particularly for butter. For the 12 months prior to going electronic, the CME traded 1.44% of the total U.S. butter production, compared with trading 3.7% of total production in the past six months since going electronic.

“That is a dramatic jump in the price discovery for butter,” says O’Brien.

The CME spot market for cheese has some product specification differences from butter and powder. “It is a fresh cheese market,” O’Brien points out. “Sellers cannot bring product older than 30 days to the CME, so we can have 400 million pounds of cheddar in inventory, but if there are no sellers of fresh cheese, and if buyers have a need for fresh cheese, we get these massive short-squeezes.”

He notes that the CME could price fresh cheese at $1.60/lb on the spot market, but cheese that is 31 days old or older could be trading through normal distribution channels at discounts as great as 20 cents per pound.

In that sense, the CME gives dairy farmers hope — when they see Cheddar up 10 to 20 cents on the CME spot market — but then the rally erodes in real time as the “short-squeeze” on fresh product passes, and the CME spot market falls.

This volatility is often seen from week to week, and cheesemakers can get caught when their input cost for milk does not align with their output sales of cheese that is older than 30 days.

On NFDM, the product age window is 6 months, and for butter it is one year, making those spot markets more reflective of supply and demand in terms of stored product realities.

“We could have a better marketplace (for cheese), but at the moment, these are the boundaries that participants are forced to operate within, regardless of the increased volatility that results from them…volatility greases the track and gets things moving,” observes O’Brien.

His experience with dairy market risk over the past two decades gives him insights into many sectors of the dairy industry. He suggests that dairy farmers need to be aware of their options and be realistic about their cost of production.

“Everyone is in same boat (in terms of market risk), but for dairymen, it is different because they are mostly price takers, while physical trading houses and other market participants that have risk management departments can be price makers,” he says. “Physical traders incur risk when they can manage it, and if they cannot, they immediately offset it or avoid it altogether, whereas dairy producers make milk and work hard and do some things about risk on their inputs but neglect fixing the price of milk outputs.”

O’Brien notes that with the farm milk price based almost completely off the CME spot markets, this is also affected by delays. The CME spot market can be going up while the USDA weekly National Dairy Product Sales Report can be going down in the same window of time. Meanwhile, the CME spot dairy markets, especially on cheese, remain a “market of last resort” with limited participants on the processing side.

While there is increased activity of end-users coming to the spot market directly to buy — especially for butter — the spot market is mainly selling more product with the same participants. There are still a limited number of butter sellers — traders fulfilling contracts and a handful of processors that make butter.

The large processors and cooperatives focus on allocating the bulk of their sales for the year and make inventory based on those allocations. Global dairy traders, on the other hand, have ever-changing risk profiles, which forces them to buy, sell and arbitrage to survive.

“We don’t operate under the luxury of make allowances,” says O’Brien of the role of market participants such as themselves.

Meanwhile, market dynamics are changing in the cheese industry where cheese plants are being built as much for the cheese as for the whey stream valorization. This creates a supply of Cheddar barrels that can build up and are seldom exported.

U.S. processors continue to produce yellow Cheddar blocks and barrels, but few globally have the equipment to break down the barrels, so they are not exported. The industry makes what it wants — what milk is priced from — but is that reflective of the market?

There are certainly inefficiencies in the current commodity market pricing systems that underpin the Federal Order milk pricing. Can a case be built to improve this?

Could inclusion of more indexes built off more pricing points (products) bring better market transparency?

Meanwhile, the four basic commodities from CME to Federal Order set the allocation pricing barometer for dairy processing as well as both the spot milk and milk futures markets.

Looking overseas, O’Brien suggests that the countries of the EU “would love what we have in the ability to lock in a milk price for up to two years (via a mechanism like the CME futures markets). For the most part, farmers in Europe are paid on what milk-derived sales their co-op or processor can attain. Their pay price does not float with the market. But farmers in Europe have the intervention program — similar to the former dairy product price support program the U.S. eliminated in the 2014 farm bill,” O’Brien relates.

Volatility in the marketplace provides opportunities to manage risk, but it is easier said than done. For example, there must be access to funds to hold positions (through the margin calls when the market goes against their positions).

On the processing side, says O’Brien, “Deferred positions of just 5 months can move against you as much as 70% for products such as NFDM or Cheese and as much as 100% for butter.”

As for dairy farmers, he observes that there were opportunities during late 2008 to lock in $20 Class 3 milk prices during 2009.

“But most dairy farmers didn’t do this. A super majority operate without safeguards, eternally optimistic. Dairy production is not a pastime, and survivability is not certain,” he suggests. “The future is managing risk. The multinational companies do it, and traders do it. Successful farmers will have to do it also.”

Ron O’Brien can be followed @rko2milk on twitter and at milkfutures.com

Check out the final open outcry live CME dairy spot market auction from June 2017 here

 

 

check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si2vVdOQemo&t=35s

 

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.