By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 14, 2020
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — For dairy producers managing their market risk, current divergent dairy classes are a problem. Those with Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) policies in the second quarter of 2020 (April through June) saw the sudden, singular and dramatic rise in Class III — and the negative PPD’s that showed how much of that higher price did not make it into their milk checks — evaporate their DRP claims just the same.
Professionals speaking off the record explain that when Class III milk dropped down to $12 to $13 in April and May, it looked like Class III DRP policies would have “enormous losses” and corresponding claims. But then June hit, and those coverages were wiped out because the policy price, in this case the higher Class III, was averaged over the three months of the policy quarter – even if the policyholder never saw that Class III price in their actual milk check.
DRP policies are purchased to protect a milk price floor on a quarterly, not monthly, basis.
For those producers locking in a price floor with Class IV DRP policies, or a combination of III and IV, high payouts on Class IV policies were realized. In those cases, the DRP offered some coverage and even helped some producers cover at least a portion of big losses in their Class III futures market hedges.
Digging into the complexities, the real crux of the problem is that the movement of the Class III futures market and the USDA-announced Class III price do not reflect the milk check realities of most producers who purchased these risk management policies. That’s a problem.
We’ve all heard the line: “You don’t buy insurance hoping your house will burn down.” This analogy does not apply today. There was a fire, but the market indicators on most types of policies do not recognize the damage.
Professionals who sell DRP indicate they have looked at milk settlement sheets from clients. They have seen all the PPDs for June, and they understand the shortfall projections that could be made worse by massive de-pooling for July milk. They have seen the market realities for their customers.
“What kind of risk management is this if it doesn’t account for how their milk is actually priced?” asks one professional.
In fact, several noted their belief that the USDA and Farm Bureau should look at these disparities, that if PPD is part of the mailbox milk price — as it is actually paid to farmers — then it should be accounted for in the DRP.
One concern shared in several Farmshine interviews is that ag lenders and some feed companies are urging customers to manage risk with DRP to protect their cash flow.
This is hard to do right now as the premiums to purchase DRP have skyrocketed due to the current level of volatility. This is further complicated, say insurers, by the way the Federal Order Milk Marketing system has failed to facilitate the transfer of “value in the marketplace” (according to USDA) to farmers who produced the milk.
In the very time when risk management is most essential, seeing coverages evaporate because the market did not translate value to reality is a double-whammy for those who paid to manage their risk.
Outcomes were also negatively affected for producers who based their DRP policies on components because those PPD levels are reflective of the significant discount between what farmers were paid for their components as compared with how the market valued those components — what USDA states is “value in the marketplace.”
American Farm Bureau Federation’s John Newton explains that, “In multiple component pricing Orders, proceeds from the pool are based on the difference between the classified value of the milk and the component value of the milk — which is effectively the Class III price. When the component value exceeds the classified value, the proceeds from the pool are negative and result in a negative producer price differential (PPD).”
The loss reflected by these PPDs was evident in the performance of second quarter DRP policies based on components. At one point in time, producers saw they had an indemnity coming to cover their milk check losses, the money they expected not to be paid for components because of the market downturn. But then that indemnity evaporated as June components settled higher, wiping out market losses in April and May and simply ignoring milk check losses for June when “the market” failed to pass along the higher component values to most producers in most of the U.S.
Results also varied from farm to farm, depending upon what point in time they purchased their component-based policies. Some component policies for second quarter 2020 paid something. Others did not pay much, if anything, based almost entirely upon what day a producer purchased the policy. In short, these policies did not perform as expected because the cash price paid to producers did not perform according to the “market”.
Another concern shared is farms facing sudden quotas, with little advance planning. Some cooperatives paid their co-op blend price only on 85% of a producer member’s March 2020 level of production for May, June, July, and until further notice. While DRP allows production to be 85% of the insured amount, a producer’s coverage, in many cases, can be negatively affected by what USDA reports as production change for a state or region.
In first quarter 2020 (January through March), for example, Pennsylvania’s higher production almost wiped out some claims.
In figuring milk production by state, USDA NASS looks at Federal Milk Marketing Order pool summaries as part of the production calculation, along with farm surveys. This can be problematic in a time when milk moves farther and more erratically due to supply-chain impacts, volatile futures markets and incentive to de-pool.
If production shows a decline for a producer’s state or region, it can help a claim, and if it shows an increase, this can reduce or eliminate a claim — even if that producer with that policy actually made less milk, not more.
Livestock Gross Margin (LGM), another risk management tool that is available through USDA Risk Management Agency, is seldom used today due to limits on available funding. This product is also affected by the difference between Class III and Class IV in how LGM policies reflect the settlement price, the actual milk income losses.
Newton at Farm Bureau writes that the price risk associated with PPD can only be managed through the terms of a forward contract. The PPD is not “exchange traded” so the risk in this portion of milk pricing is not covered.
Furthermore, according to Newton, DRP and LGM are federal crop insurance policies based on the announced USDA prices, which does not include the PPD because this difference between class and component value and the de-pooling risk that affects it is not a publicly-traded instrument.
While producers report some coverage from DRP by locking in a milk price floor using Class IV, especially at a point in time when Class IV was higher than Class III, this has not been the case when III is higher than IV.
Since DRP is a program that changes each year with some new elements having been implemented to it so far, those working with the program have a variety of suggestions for USDA and Farm Bureau to look at making it a better and more usable product for dairy producers:
1) Address the PPD risk – something should be done about this if it is part of how mailbox milk prices are calculated to producers.
2) Look at making the policies monthly instead of quarterly to reduce the risk of uncovered losses to policyholders and to get them paid sooner.
3) Increase the highest level of coverage to 98 or 99% instead of 95%. A 5% deductible in this market makes DRP unaffordable. For example, at current premium levels, a Class III price of $17.09, insured at 95%, comes out to $16.24 floor. Already this means there is an 85-cent deduction, on average. At a much higher current premium cost of 43 cents, that’s $1.28 to $1.30 before the producer collects anything on a 3-month average. So the combination of production percentage and higher premiums makes for a large deductibl
In short, the problem right now with dairy risk management through federal crop insurance tools and futures markets is the policies and programs and “markets” have so many nuances that are juxtaposed with a Federal Milk Marketing Order system that is inconsistent, not transparent and full of loopholes.
Simplifying both would be helpful, some say. For example, what if insurance products had one sales period and one price discovery period each month to set the deal instead of so many chances to pick the wrong times?
As one professional explained, “If part of the problem is the pricing model, then we can’t throw risk management at that problem… We need to fix the root of the problem. This is not like home-owner’s insurance. There are a lot of factors that go into this.”
When producers pay for risk management, then suffer a loss, but have no or little indemnity because the market indicators say the milk was worth more than what was paid… it’s like having home owner’s insurance when a tornado hits. Your agent looks at your flattened house (milk price settlement sheet), but then has to say he or she is sorry, the adjuster looked at your neighbor’s house as the indicator for tornado damage to your house and his house is still standing.
Dairy farmers are encouraged to learn about DRP, understand it, and decide what application it has to their business in a multi-faceted approach to risk management. Some agents handling the product are not even advertising it because of the current premium cost and these unreconciled “market” issues.
As with any risk management tool, there are critical factors to consider:
1) Know your cost of production,
2) Know your operation’s risk tolerance,
3) Work with an advisor you trust, who understands the tools and communicates with you about them,
4) Consider a blended approach, don’t look at Class III as ‘the market’,
5) Have others in the business to talk to as a sounding board,
6) Take a long-term approach, don’t look just at the short-term,
7) Learn all you can to understand how these tools perform in relation to how your milk price is calculated in your milk market.