NMPF’s FMMO Modernization Plan hits high note on Cl. I mover, but eliminating barrel cheese from protein formula is head-scratcher

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 28, 2022 (updated with additional information after publication)

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Board gets high marks for passing a Federal Milk Marketing Order Modernization Plan this week at its annual meeting in Denver, Colorado that includes returning the Class I mover to the previous ‘higher of’ formula — a virtually unanimous consensus item that came out of the Farm Bureau Forum in Kansas City earlier in the month.

However, the NMPF modernization plan also includes a few items that were not fully discussed, items that seem to run counter to what dairy farmers were prioritizing, and it leaves out a few items the consensus-builders were vocal about in Kansas City.

The recommendation to return to the higher of Class I mover is an important response by NMPF to dairy farmer concerns. That ball has been in USDA’s court after the first two years of implementation, according to the farm bill language that changed it to an averaging method in the first place. Four years and nearly $1 billion in cumulative Class I net value losses have passed (see chart), but Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he needed to see “consensus” before allowing a hearing to be opened.

In post-conference interviews, several Farm Bureau Forum attendees said this was their main priority for participating  – to show Secretary Vilsack there is consensus to “fix the mistake.”

For NMPF to include it in their plan is a win.

Another item in the NMPF plan is to develop a process to ensure make allowances are reviewed more frequently through legislation directing USDA to conduct mandatory processor cost studies every two years and to update the make allowances contained in the USDA milk pricing formulas.

There was general agreement from stakeholders in Kansas City that processor costs need to be evaluated and make allowances updated. Over half of the table-groupings identified this. There was also healthy discussion of some ways to do this to minimize the sudden impact on farmer milk checks – all good points for developing a process and for a USDA hearing process to fully evaluate it.

Of the bones to pick, one NMPF recommendation that runs counter to what more than half of the table-groupings prioritized in Kansas City concerns expansion of the pricing survey to include more products. NMPF’s task force decided not to add any products to the price survey, and in fact they are recommending dropping one. 

On the chopping block is the 500-pound barrel cheese price in the protein calculation for Class III.

Initially, NMPF’s task force committees looked at adding unsalted butter, skim milk powder (a higher value more standardized product than nonfat dry milk), and they looked at mozzarella cheese. In all three cases, the task force chose not to recommend additional products.

The fact that they are recommending elimination of a product from the pricing survey is curious.

Less than one-third of the Kansas City table-groupings listed elimination of barrel cheese pricing as a priority. Few people questioned NMPF economist Peter Vitaliano on the sensibility of this recommendation – except for yours truly.

I asked this question: “On the blocks and barrels, what do you foresee happening if the barrels are dropped? Right now we’ve got barrels doing more trading than blocks. We’re really not seeing much trading at all in blocks on the CME spot market. Also, would this mean that the cost of making those barrels will be backed out of the processing cost survey in terms of establishing new make allowances?

Vitaliano gave this answer: “That’s an interesting question. I’ve heard different interpretations of what’s going to happen to barrels if they are not used in the formula. Some folks feel they’ll just be priced at a discount to blocks, and the cash market for barrels will go away. I’m not sure I buy into that totally because barrel cheese is becoming a different product.”

The NMPF economist continued with his answer: “Under current quality standards, barrel cheese is the only major way that you can get uncolored whey, which is demanding a premium in the marketplace because all of these nutrition products, these high value nutrition products in demand by millennials and others, they don’t want to show ‘bleached whey’ on the label, they want the white uncolored whey powder that comes from barrel cheese production.” 

Apparently, yellow whey from block Cheddar production is less desirable. But we’ve known this for at least 15 years.

In other words, according to Vitaliano, there is right now a ‘subsidy’ effect from the premium paid for the higher value of the uncolored whey that creates the environment to produce more barrel cheese – regardless of what the cheese market is doing. 

Vitaliano noted that FDA is going to consider some changes that might alter how this cross-product scenario is playing out by allowing microfiltered milk to be used in plants producing standard-of-identity cheese, but the bottom line is that barrel processors making whey protein concentrate as co-products benefit from the white-whey premium whereas block cheese processors do not. 

When the two are averaged together in the Class III protein formula, they represent different markets when they historically moved together, said Vitaliano.

Interestingly, however, barrels have traded higher — not lower — than blocks on the CME for most of this year.

In the purely cheese market history, barrels and blocks moved together more closely, then in times of market shocks beginning in 2009, we would see periods of wide spreads and inversions, sometimes barrels over blocks and most of the time blocks over barrels. During intervals in 2016-17, barrels sold at 10 to 20-cent discounts to blocks. Since 2018, we’ve seen long intervals of barrels over blocks by up to 25 cents and then the flipside with blocks over barrels.

This year (2022), barrels have sold at a premium to blocks consistently since April. The barrel premium over blocks stood at 15 cents per pound last week. That’s a significant impact on farm-level milk prices — to the good.

Coincidentally, barrel prices crashed this week, losing 22 cents, where blocks lost a nickel, thereby pushing barrels under blocks by a few cents on Oct. 25, the same day that the NMPF Board voted unanimously to endorse the multi-pronged modernization plan that includes dropping 500-lb barrel cheese out of the FMMO end-product pricing formula.

For the year (2022), barrels will likely average a nickel above blocks.

There is also the question of price discovery. For the year, we have seen more barrels traded on the CME compared with the volume of blocks.

When following up in a question about what happens to price discovery if the barrels are eliminated from the pricing formula, Vitaliano responded that 15% of the cheese reported in USDA’s weekly price survey is barrel cheese. Rather than reduce the weighted average to reflect that, and rather than including mozzarella in the pricing survey (a higher volume and value item than cheddar), NMPF is simply recommending the elimination of barrels to avoid the block/barrel spread.

Vitaliano said pricing formulas are based on the USDA price survey, not on the CME spot market. However, the CME spot market is used to set pricing for the USDA-reported sales.

Vitaliano also noted that price discovery on the CME spot market is achieved even if no product changes hands because it is a marginal market-clearing trade in the first place.

“The whole industry is watching that market, so if that block price is, let’s say, overvalued, and I have extra blocks and I think that market is high, anybody can go to that market and sell; or if you think it’s undervalued, you can go to that market to buy,” he said. “Just because there’s not a lot of trading, doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily representative of the market… we just have to trade the marginal excess or shortage.”

According to Vitaliano, even the regulators have looked at this and concluded that since the whole industry watches that market — everybody has the opportunity to jump in, and they are not shy if they have a different idea about what the market should be, they can go in and make bids or offers. Those bids and offers move the market whether or not a trade is completed.

Even in light of these explanations, the NMPF recommendation to eliminate barrels from the pricing formula remains a bit of a head-scratcher and needs more discussion and evaluation.

NMPF also wants to expand the forward pricing window for whey and nonfat dry milk (NFDM) price-reporting to 45 days instead of 30 in order to “capture more of the global market in the pricing formula.”

However, when asked why NMPF is not seeking to expand the price reporting to include skim milk powder (SMP) – the globally traded powder – as a means of capturing more of the higher-value global market, Vitaliano said SMP is sold at differing standardized protein rates as a value-added product. NFDM, on the other hand, often has more protein in it, but it’s variable and a lower-priced bulk commodity. It’s a true bulk product that is made to soak up excess milk, he explained. 

Vitaliano also noted that NFDM is used by domestic cheese makers, whereas SMP is not. 

Ditto the answer for unsalted butter. While the sales of unsalted rival salted butter in volume, and it is a bulk product more consistent with higher-value global markets, the NMPF task force perspective is that the unsalted butter is also a step up as a value-added product for a specific market in foodservice, not a commodity bulk product a plant would make with excess milk.

Ditto for mozzarella, which NMPF maintains is already priced off the USDA-reported cheddar price even though the U.S. sells more mozzarella than cheddar today.

Next week, we’ll dig into the yield factor changes in the NMPF plan and the glaring absence of a recommendation on depooling issues across the country. Solving the depooling conundrum was a priority listed by over half of the consensus-building table-groupings at the Farm Bureau Forum and producers from multiple regions were vocal about it throughout the three-day meeting.

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Fluid milk’s precarious future can’t be ignored

Class I is at a tipping point, will future FMMO strategies strengthen or exploit it?

“Probably some of you have never recently met an independently owned fluid milk bottler. We are the only prisoners in the Federal Order system. Everybody else can opt in or opt out. Even now… our cooperative competitors don’t have to pay their member producers a minimum price — but we do. I just ask that you take into consideration not just what we can get from Class I … We are on a 13-year losing streak that fluid milk consumption has declined on a total basis. We are at a tipping point,” said Farm Bureau member Chuck Turner, Turner Dairy Farms, a third generation independent milk bottler near Pittsburgh, Pa.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 28, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The precarious future of Class I fluid milk was an underlying concern expressed in different ways at the AFBF Federal Milk Pricing Forum in Kansas City recently. Some have written off the future of fresh fluid milk and have turned sights elsewhere. Others recognize federal orders don’t fulfill their purpose when fresh fluid milk doesn’t get to where the people are. And then there’s the wedge product — aseptic milk — in the mix as some changes have already been made to promote investment in it.

Since the federal orders are based on regulation of Class I fluid milk, its future is most definitely at the core of the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) discussion. 

A critical point made by panelists is that more money is needed to get fresh milk to consumers in high population areas. Also mentioned was the restoration of higher over-order premiums to farmers in milk-deficit areas to keep these areas from becoming even more deficit.

But at the same time, Class I sales are declining relative to a growing dairy pie of other class products, and the flurry of fluid milk plant closures near population areas has caused further disruption. 

On day three of the forum in Kansas City, Phil Plourd of Ever.Ag attributed most of the fluid milk sales decline to the fact that “milk lost its best friend – cereal.” When asked, he did acknowledge that about one-third of the problem facing fluid milk is rooted in the low-fat school milk requirement. He also pointed out how the entire food industry is changing, and he warned about the lab-created dairy proteins made in fermentation tanks that can be ‘turned on and off.’

Bottom line is the growth markets are in other products, he said. The declining fluid milk sector can no longer shoulder all of the responsibility for the federal order system. 

He showed a bar-graph depicting the decline in the share of total U.S. production participating in federal or state revenue sharing pools. Using estimates of California’s pre-federal order mandatory state order, the percentage of U.S. milk production that was pooled exceeded 80% in 2018. In November of 2018, California became a federal order. Pooled volume vs. total production fell to just over 70% in 2019, the first year the new Class I mover formula was implemented. In 2020, during the pandemic, pooled volume fell to just over 60% and ticked a few points lower to 60% in 2021.

Several panelists, including Calvin Covington, confirmed that cooperatives, especially DFA, own the majority of the fluid milk plants in the U.S. today. This evolution has only increased with plant closures over the past 18 months, and cooperatives have payment and pooling flexibilities not enjoyed by proprietary plants.

As the Class I sector consolidates to roughly 80% owned by cooperatives and the balance owned by grocery chains and independents, there is another problem with federal orders that is easily overlooked. Who is it regulating? It does not regulate what cooperatives pay their members, therefore, it is regulating a declining number of participants in a growing global industry.

A milk bottler from Pennsylvania used the open-microphone between panels to address this 800-pound gorilla in the room full of consensus-builders doing their level-best to ignore it.

“I am sort of an ‘odd duck’ here. Probably some of you have never recently met an independently owned fluid milk bottler. We are the only prisoners in the Federal Order system,” said Chuck Turner, a long-time Farm Bureau member and third-generation milk bottler from Pittsburgh.

“Everybody else can opt in or opt out. Even now, with recent developments, our cooperative competitors don’t have to pay their member producers a minimum price — but we do,” he confirmed.

Turner asked the room of consensus-builders to “take into consideration not just what we can get from Class I — but let’s think more about what we need to do to sell it. We are on a 13-year losing streak with Class I — 13 years that fluid milk consumption has declined on a total basis. We are at a tipping point,” said Turner.

While half of the forum’s table groupings agreed Class I differentials need to be increased, others wondered how much more money can be extracted from Class I without killing it?

Joe Wright, former president of Southeast Milk Inc., laid out the problem as a “downward spiral” — making it more difficult to attract milk to populated areas in the Southeast. He said it started with the Dean and Borden bankruptcies and continues with more plant closings announced every few months.

In the Southeast, said Wright, it’s to the point where school kids won’t get fresh milk in some areas because no one will bring it.

He noted that the over-order premiums in Florida have decreased by $1.50 per hundredweight. Some 30 years ago, it was $3.00. “We don’t have that now,” said Wright, noting this makes it difficult for farms to continue producing milk for the Class I market in the face of encroaching subdivisions and other pressures to sell.

“There are 9 million people just from Miami to Orlando,” said Wright. “But if we don’t do something soon, we’ll have no dairy farms left in Florida. Do we want the answer to be a push to aseptic milk? Total milk consumption was stable until 2010. That’s when the government gave us low-fat, low-taste milk in schools. Now, we’re going to start them with low-fat, low-taste, aseptic milk? That is going to kill fluid milk.”

He also noted that fluid milk sales are not helped when dairy shelves are empty, showing slide after slide of empty Walmart dairy cases in the same town in Florida in December – three years straight (pre-Covid, during Covid, and post-Covid). When he asked attendees if they have seen this in their own areas, many hands were raised.

He pointed out that when the fresh milk is completely missing on store shelves, it is the aseptic or ESL milk – and plant-based alternatives – that are available. This has a cumulative effect on fresh fluid milk sales.

Again, the topic of aseptic, shelf stable, warehoused milk was brought up with feelings of ambivalence as milk producers are both drawn to it as a hedging mechanism to even-out the supply and demand swings in areas like the Southeast, but on the other hand offended by the prospect that this product can be considered by bottling retailers like Kroger as an innovative “value added” growth category, while the original fresh fluid milk is treated like the Cinderella sister – a low-margin commodity non-growth category.

As more aseptic packaging comes on line, and as schools go without milk and stores short customers on the availability of fresh milk, a transition is being signaled toward packaged milk that is capable of moving farther without refrigeration cost — from anywhere to anywhere – right along with Coke or Pepsi for that matter.

“How do we fix the empty case syndrome that has gotten worse over the years? It’s all about being accountable,” said Wright, giving some history on how this was handled in the past and voicing his hope that having the Dean plants under DFA and Prairie Farms ownership could help.

“Can they push back on Walmart on stocking? I don’t know. There has to be margin in that relationship, but these are correctable problems that affect milk sales,” he said.

For its part, Kroger also closed a plant last year that was running half-full, according to Mike Brown, senior VP of Kroger’s dairy supply chain. 

Milk bottling is consolidating rapidly to run the remaining plants at or above capacity to capitalize on throughput and improve margin.

“The reality,” says Wright, “is we are seeing a downward spiral, and milk is not always available where the people are. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

Brown noted that the Class I mover formula change, which was an agreement by IDFA and NMPF in the 2018 farm bill, was intended to make fluid milk pricing “more predictable.” This was deemed necessary to attract investment to make fluid milk “more durable and transportable.”

In short, the Class I change was done to attract investment in expensive aseptic packaging to make shelf-stable milk and milk-based high protein beverages. 

Going forward, said Brown: “Risk management is important and especially for specialty products such as extended shelf-life and aseptic milk, which are growing more than the plant-based beverages for Kroger. We have to be sure we nurture these new products because they are value-added growth markets for fluid milk.”

On the other hand, farmers in Kansas City voiced their concern for what happens to fresh fluid milk, that it matters for consumers and it matters for their dairy farms, and it also matters for the continuation of the federal orders. 

Aseptic milk is experiencing growth, but why? Is necessity the mother of invention or is the investment driving the necessity. 

After all, it is the regional and perishable nature of fresh fluid milk that led to the development of the federal orders in the 1930s. Aseptically-packaged and warehoused milk is not fresh enough — and may not be local enough — to be the product that helps extend the viability of the federal orders. 

AFBF milk pricing forum draws 200 stakeholders to KC, some consensus gained, high priority given to return Class I ‘mover’ to ‘higher of’ formula

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 21, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was intense, productive, enlightening, and at times a bit emotional. And, yes, there was consensus on some key points during the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) Forum in Kansas City last weekend (Oct. 14-16).

The event was a first of its kind meeting of the minds from across the dairy landscape, involving mostly dairy farmers, but also other industry stakeholders. It was planned by a 12-member committee representing state Farm Bureaus from coast-to-coast, working with AFBF economist Danny Munch.

Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall kicked things off Friday afternoon, urging attendees to get something done for the future of the dairy industry, to stay cool, leave friendly, and set a pattern for continuing conversations.

“We have the people in this room who I hope can come up with guiding principles,” said Duvall, noting that a meeting like this is something he has dreamed about for years, even prayed for. He talked about his background as a former dairy farmer and assured attendees that milk pricing is a topic he is very interested in.

He challenged the group to come at it with “an open mind. The answers are sitting in this room, not on Capitol Hill. There are some geniuses in this room, people who really understand this system,” said Duvall.

“We all have ideas, and we can lend an ear to other ideas. We learn a lot if we listen to each other,” he said, noting a few of the existing Farm Bureau dairy policy principles: that FMMOs should be market oriented, with better price discovery. They should be fair and transparent, and farmers should be able to understand and compare milk checks.

Hearings not legislation

Duvall noted AFBF agrees with NMPF that future FMMO changes should go through the normal USDA hearing process, not through Congressional legislation. By Sunday, this seemed to be a point of consensus, along with the recognition that FMMOs need updating, but they are still vital for farmers and the industry. 

On the Class I ‘mover,’ specifically, Munch noted Farm Bureau already adopted the recommendation through its county, state and national grassroots process to return to the ‘higher of’ — plus 74 cents. The addition of the 74 cents is to make up for the unlimited losses incurred over the past four years.

For NMPF’s part, chief economist Peter Vitaliano and consultant Jim Sleper laid out a series of updates the economic committee’s task force is recommending to the NMPF board, which will vote at the annual meeting at the end of October.

These recommendations include going back to the simple ‘higher of’ for the Class I ‘mover,’ updating make allowances and yield factors, doing a pricing-surface study to update Class I differentials, making changes in the end-product pricing survey to allow dry whey price reporting of sales up to 45 days earlier, not 30 days, and eliminating the 500-pound barrel cheese sales from the Class III cheese price formula to base it only on the block cheese.

Intense, informative, valuable

The three days were intense, covering a lot of information, and were shepherded by expert panels and ‘cat herder in chief’ Roger Cryan, AFBF’s chief economist since October 2021.

Munch served as the emcee — akin to the ghost of milk pricing Past (Friday), Present (Saturday) and Future (Sunday). He introduced the various panels and provided economic snapshots and questions for the 25 breakout tables to discuss, decide and deliver.

Meeting organizers reshuffled the deck of 200 attendees from 36 states and representing nearly 150 state and national producer organizations, Farm Bureau chapters, regulatory agencies, farms, co-ops, processors, financial and risk management firms, and university extension educators.

Attendees were assigned tables with a number on the back of each name tag. The goal was to mix the table-groupings for varied geographic and industry perspectives. Each table was equipped with its own large flip tablet mounted on an easel. 

According to Munch, Farm Bureau will scan and collate the information from all of the large tablets and issue a preliminary report to attendees followed by a public report later this year.

On Sunday, the open microphone was lively and most tables reported from their flip tablets. Overwhelmingly, attendees said they found value in the meeting and appreciated the platform. They reported a desire to keep the conversations going, to do this again, not just every 20 years, and not just in response to a problem, but to be forward-looking with the many challenges on the dairy horizon.

Platform for next big issue

For example, Gretl Schlatter, an Ohio dairy producer on the board of American Dairy Coalition (ADC) noted that only Class I milk is mandated to participate in FMMOs, and that today, the FMMOs are weakened with only 60% of U.S. milk production participating in the revenue-sharing pools.

“Where will we be in five years? We do not want to give up on fluid milk – our nutrition powerhouse,” she said. “The issue now is federal milk pricing but the next one coming — fast — is the sustainability benchmarks, the climate scores. We need to keep meeting like this as an industry, keep talking to each other, and get ready for the next big thing affecting our farms and family businesses.”

This was touched upon by Duvall and others, but Cryan reminded everyone that, “Federal Orders are complicated enough without adding the sustainability discussion to it.”

Duvall reminded attendees that this meeting was Farm Bureau’s response to the words of Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack last year, when he said there would be no USDA hearing until the dairy industry reaches some “consensus” on solutions.

This set into motion an already dairy-active Farm Bureau that had formed its own task force, responding to grassroots dairy policy coming up from the county and state levels to national through AFBF’s grassroots process.

In fact, NMPF’s Vitaliano, noted that, “having Roger Cryan at Farm Bureau makes it easier to do this,” to partner on formulating dairy policy because of his background. Prior to coming to Farm Bureau a year ago, Cryan was an economist for NMPF and then for USDA AMS Dairy Programs.

The first hour of the first day included a recorded message from Secretary Vilsack and an in-person presentation by Gloria Montano Green, USDA deputy undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation.

They encouraged attendees to work together and told them what the Biden-Harris administration has done and is doing for dairy. Primarily, they went through a list of funding and assistance, including the improved Dairy Margin Coverage, the PMVAP payments, Dairy Revenue Protection, Livestock Gross Margin, dairy innovation hub grants and the recent funding for conservation and climate projects that includes 17 funded pilots involving dairy. 

They told attendees that the dairy industry is “far ahead” on climate and conservation because it has been involved in these discussions and is already mapping that landscape.

Dana Coale, deputy administrator of USDA AMS Dairy Programs, took attendees through the FMMO parameters. She engaged with the largely dairy farmer crowd in a frank discussion of what Federal Orders can and cannot do. The headline here is that this current time period before a hearing is a time when she and her staff can talk freely and give opinions. Once a hearing process begins, she and her staff are subject to restrictions on ex parte communications.

Consensus to go back to ‘higher of’ formula

If there was one FMMO “fix” that achieved a clear consensus and was given priority, it was support for going back to the Class I ‘mover’ formula using the ‘higher of’ Class III or IV skim price instead of the current average plus 74 cents method that was changed in the 2018 farm bill.

Since implementation in May 2019 through October 2022, the new method will have cost dairy farmers $868 million in net reduced Class I revenue, which further erodes the mandatory Class I contribution to the uniform pricing among the 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO), setting off a domino effect that has led to massive de-pooling of milk from FMMOs and decreased Federal Order participation.

Pa. Farm Bureau presiden Rick Ebert (left), moderated the first panel Friday afternoon (l-r) Dana Coale, deputy administrator USDA AMS Dairy Programs; Calvin Covington, CEO emeritus, Southeast Milk; Anja Raudabaugh, CEO Western United Dairies. After this panel, during the first open-microphone and roundtable breakout, attendees were urged not to leave their flip tablets blank. “Groups with blank boards will have to drink the almond juice in the back,” said AFBF economist Danny Munch, taking note of the hotel offering and to have real milk on-site — provided Saturday and Sunday by Hiland Dairy.

During his presentation Friday, retired Southeast Milk CEO, Calvin Covington, said dairy farmers lost $69 million in revenue for the first 8 months of post-Covid 2022, alone. That figure will rise to an estimated $200 million when September and October Class I milk pounds are tallied. 

Noting NMPF’s task force recommends the board approve petitioning USDA to go back to the ‘higher of,’ Vitaliano cited “asymmetric risk” as the reason.

This risk scenario was also explained by others. ADC’s Schlatter, for example, noted the current averaging formula “caps the upside at 74 cents, but the downside is unlimited.”

Vitaliano noted that whenever there is a ‘black swan’ event or new and different market factors, this downside risk becomes unacceptable for farmers, and he indicated these market events that create wide spreads in manufacturing classes are likely to continue into the future.

Dr. Marin Bozic, University of Minnesota assistant professor of applied economics, observed the way this downside ‘basis’ risk becomes unmanageable via new and traditional risk management tools. In his futuristic talk on Sunday, producers asked questions, to which he responded that, “Yes, farmers show me that they can’t use the Dairy Revenue Protection because of this basis risk.”

Bozic is also founder and CEO of Bozic LLC developing and maintaining the intellectual property for risk management programs like DRP. 

He also spoke about the concerns of the Midwest as FMMO participation declines. 

Presenting his own ideas and separately the ideas of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperativ, Bozic said Edge is seeking a consensus to support two or three lines in the upcoming farm bill to simply “enable” FMMO hearings to introduce flexibility on an Order by Order basis, so that uniform benefits can be shared instead of a uniform price. Flexibility, they believe, would enable new ‘uniform benefits’ discussion that can help maintain or encourage FMMO participation in marketing areas with low Class I utilization.

Early in the Class I formula loss scenario of 2020-21, Edge had suggested a new Class III-plus formula to determine the ‘mover.’ Bozic said that “the idea of returning to the ‘higher of’ is not a deal breaker for Edge in the short-term.”

Even Mike Brown, senior supply chain manager for Kroger, unofficially indicated IDFA “could be open to the idea” of reverting back to that previous ‘higher of’ formula. As dairy supply chain manager on everything from Kroger’s milk plants to its new dairy beverages, cheese procurement, and so forth, Brown was asked if the averaging formula allowed him to ‘hedge’ fluid milk to manage risk as a processor.

The answer? Not really. Brown said there are ways for processors to manage risk under the ‘higher of’ formula also, but that they haven’t done any hedging under the averaging formula with fresh fluid milk – and very little risk management with their new aseptically packaged, shelf-stable milks and high protein drinks.

Incidentally, he said, the aseptic, ultrafiltered, shelf-stable dairy beverage category “is growing faster than plant-based” in their retail sales.

This exchange and other discussions suggested the averaging formula may have been geared more toward price stability that would encourage processors to invest in expensive aseptic, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable milk-based beverage technologies that result in a storable product needing risk management. 

Fresh fluid milk is already advance-priced and quite perishable with a fast turnaround. Aseptic, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable products, on the other hand, can be packaged under one set of raw milk pricing conditions and sold to retail or consumers up to nine months later under another set of raw milk pricing conditions.

Frankly, it appears that the consumer-packaged goods companies (CPGs) may be driving such shifts, just as we heard from Phil Plourde of Blimling/Ever.Ag that CPGs are “all-in” on the climate scoring — the next big thing on the dairy challenge list.

Tacking de-pooling – regional or national?

Attendees came back to the specific concern about de-pooling, which Vitaliano and Cryan both described as an issue to be handled regionally and not through a national hearing.

This did not seem to satisfy some who raised the concern. Toward the conclusion Sunday, Cryan explained it this way: 

“De-pooling is a national issue in principle but a regional issue in detail. Every region will have different ideas, needs and situations. If there is consensus (on pooling rules) in a region, then changes could move forward quickly,” he said.

Make allowances are sticky wicket

Attendees appeared to agree that make allowances should be addressed or evaluated through a hearing, but ideas on how to handle this sticky-wicket varied.

Attendees questioned panelists, pointing out that if a farmer’s profit margin on milk is only around $1.00 per hundredweight, then raising make allowances an estimated $1.00 per hundredweight is going to be a tough pill to swallow.

Vitaliano said NMPF is commissioning an economic study with their go-to third-party economist Scott Brown at University of Missouri to show the actual milk check impact of raising make allowances that are embedded into the end-product pricing formulas for the four main products: cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey. 

He said the discussions about make allowances as a cost to farmers are “purely arithmetic” but that the “true impact” is not a straight math calculation. Instead, he said, when make allowances are set appropriately, dairy producers ultimately benefit, so in his opinion, it’s not a penny for penny subtraction.

Several other panelists and attendees observed that processors and cooperatives have been creating their own ‘make allowances’ through assessments, loss of premiums, and other milk check adjustments.

The Saturday afternoon panel of (l-r) Kevin Krentz, Peter Vitaliano, Chris Herlache, and Roger Cryan dove into Class III and IV pricing topics including make allowance formulations and structures.

Vitaliano stressed that when make allowances are set properly, the industry is stronger and better able to compensate producers. Initially, he said, raising make allowances would have a negative impact on expansion, which in turn would have a positive impact on producer prices.

When asked if raising make allowances would mean lost premiums would return to farmer milk checks, he responded by saying “that depends, and it won’t happen right away.”

In other words, raising make allowances will be painful in the short term, but in the long-term (to paraphrase) that pain leads to gain. 

Some panelists and attendees referenced an idea of “phasing in” a future raise in make allowances.

Others wondered why it is necessary with the amount of innovation happening in the 15 years since they were last raised as processors make a wider variety of dairy products – not just those bulk items that are surveyed for end-product pricing formulas.

One idea suggested by a Wisconsin dairy producer was to tie make allowance increases to plant size — much the same way that dairy farmers are only assisted up to a production cap of 5 million annual milk pounds. Cryan said he heard a similar proposal previously to use a graduated scale for make allowance increases according to plant size and presumably age.

This is the crux of the make allowance issue because the new state of the art plants produce many types of products, both commodity and value-added; whereas some of the smaller and older plants that are still vital to the dairy industry are more apt to specialize in producing a bulk commodity with a more limited foray into value-added non-surveyed products.

Modified bloc voting?

While there appeared to be consensus that changes to the FMMOs should be done by USDA petition through the administrative hearing process, not through Congressional legislation, some of the discussion at tables and the open-microphone noted the importance of a producer vote after hearings and USDA final decisions. Many felt farmers should have an individual vote on FMMO changes. 

Currently, cooperatives bloc vote for their members to assure that FMMOs are not ended inadvertently by lack of producer interest in following-through on a vote. 

One compromise suggested by Bozic was to have a preliminary non-binding vote by individual producers, followed by the binding vote done in its usual way.

This, he said, would at least increase accountability and transparency in the FMMO voting process and bring producer engagement into the FMMO hearing process. To be continued

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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.

From DMC to FMMOs, from price ‘movers’ to ‘make allowances’: House Ag hearing reviews farm bill dairy provisions

By Sherry Bunting, June 24, 2022

WASHINGTON — It was a lot to wade through, but after two panels and nearly four hours, many cards were on the table, even if the full deck was not counted. 

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday, June 22 was a 2022 review of the current farm bill’s dairy provisions. Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) set the stage with his opening remarks, noting a significant part of the hearing would be devoted to the dairy safety net, namely the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), but also to talk about the Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) to learn if this system is “the best fit for today’s world.

“We want to continue to listen to farmers and navigate the issue for the best approaches to any changes,” he said, setting the next stage for listening sessions.

Those testifying talked about building consensus for FMMO changes, a charge handed down from Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack last December, and again more recently, when he said a consensus agreement by stakeholders on one plan was needed before a national hearing on milk pricing could be held.

On the Class I ‘mover’ change in the last farm bill, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Dana Coale noted that the change was authorized by Congress after an agreement was reached between NMPF and IDFA to change the ‘higher of’ to a simple average plus 74 cents. This was designed to be revenue neutral, she said, but the pandemic showed how an unforeseen market shock can create price inversions that significantly change this neutrality. (testimony)

Coale noted that “market abnormalities” brought on a situation where Class I was below Class III, which doesn’t typically happen, and this created losses.

“In the 2018 farm bill Congress authorized a change to the Class I price mover. We implemented that in the department in May 2019. This change was a consensus agreement reached between NMPF and IDFA to benefit the entire industry. Implementation in the farm bill was designed to be revenue neutral. However, nobody foresaw a pandemic occurring, and no one could have projected the implications that pandemic would have on (prices), particularly within the dairy sector. What we saw occur from mid-2020 through mid-2021 was a significant change in that revenue neutrality. As you look at the Class I mover before the pandemic and moving out of the pandemic, it is maintaining pretty much a revenue neutral position compared to the prior mover. However, due to the (class) price inversions that occurred, we had some major losses incurred by the dairy sector.”

Dana Coale, Deputy Administrator, USDA AMS Dairy Programs

On the primary dairy safety net, Farm Service Agency Deputy Administrator Scott Marlow went over the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and explained the beneficial changes that have been implemented since the 2018 farm bill. (testimony)

He noted that supplemental DMC would have to be made permanent in the next farm bill in order for that additional production history between the 2011-13 figure and the 5 million pound cap to be covered in future years.

“In 2021, DMC payments were triggered for 11 months totaling $1.2 billion paid to producers who enrolled for that year, with an average payment of $60,275 per operation. At 15 cents per cwt at the $9.50 level of coverage, DMC is a very cost-effective risk management tool for dairy producers. Ahead of the 2022 DMC signup, FSA made several improvements. The program was expanded to allow producers to enroll supplemental production (up to the 5 million pound cap). In addition FSA updated the feed cost formula to better reflect the actual cost dairy farmers pay for alfalfa hay. FSA now calculates payments using 100% premium alfalfa hay, rather than 50% of the premium alfalfa hay price and 50% of the conventional alfalfa hay price. This change is retroactive to January 2020 and provided additional payments of $42.8 million for 2020 and 2021. We are very concerned about the margins. It is very important the way DMC focuses on the margin. Farmers are facing inflation of costs beyond the feed that is part of this calculation. This margin based coverage has proven to a model and is something we need to look at for other costs and commodities.”

Scott Marlow, Deputy administrator usda fsa farm programs

Dr. Marin Bozic, Assistant Professor Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota gave some long range trends and observed the factors that are decreasing participation in Federal Milk Marketing Orders. (testimony)

He mentioned that a consideration not to be ignored is the status of vibrancy and competition as seen in transparency and price discovery. When asked about proposals to improve this, Bozic said the proposals need to come forward from the industry, the stakeholders, and that the role of academia is to provide numbers, trends, and analysis of proposals, not to decide and determine these marketing structures.

“Farm gate milk price discovery is challenged by this lack of competition,” he said. “If a corn producer wishes to know how different local elevators would pay for corn, all he needs to do is go online or tune in to his local radio station. Dairy producers used to be able to ‘shop around’ and ask various processors what they would pay for their milk.”

Bozic was quick to point out that, “We should not rush to generalize from such anecdotal evidence, but in my opinion, it would also be prudent not to ignore it.”

“FMMOs start from a set of farmer-friendly ideas… They have somewhat lost luster due to declining sales of beverage milk. In regions other than Northeast and Southeast, fluid milk sales no longer provide strong enough incentives for manufacturers to choose to stay consistently regulated under FMMOs. My estimates are that the share of U.S. milk production in beverage milk products is likely to fall from 18.3% in 2022 to 14.5% by 2032. Do Federal Orders suffice to deliver fair market prices to dairy producers? The critical missing ingredient is vibrant competition for farm milk. Whereas just six or seven years ago, many producers had a choice where to ship their milk, today it is difficult. When some dairy producers have asked for milk price benchmarking information from their educators or consultants, those service providers have in multiple instances faced tacit disapproval or even aggressive legal threats from some dairy processors. Further research and an honest debate on competition in dairy is merited.”

Marin bozic, ph.d., department of applied economics, university of minnesota

Where FMMO changes are concerned, Bozic noted some of the broader issues to come out of the Class I pricing change that was made legislatively in the last farm bill. For example in future reforms, when there is lack of wide public debate on proposals, he said: “It increases odds of a fragile or flawed policy design, and lack of grassroots support for the mechanism in changing markets. FMMOs have a comprehensive protocol for instituting changes through an industry hearing process. The Class I milk price formula can be modified through a hearing process.”

From Bernville, Pennsylvania, representing National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and DFA, Lolly Lesher of Way-Har Farms shared the benefits of the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program through FSA and other risk management tools through RMA. She said they purchase the coverage at the highest level each year as a safety net for their 240-cow dairy farm. (testimony)

DMC is intended for smaller farms producing up to 5 million pounds of milk annually, but other farms can layer it in with other available tools at the tier one level on the first 5 million pounds or choose to pay the tier two premium to cover more of their milk through that program, but other tools like DRP are also available, Marlow explained.

Turning to the Class I pricing change in the last farm bill, Lesher said the change was an effort to “accommodate a request for improved price risk management for processors, while maintaining revenue neutrality for farmers… but the (pandemic) dramatically undercut the revenue neutrality that formed its foundation.”

“As valuable as the (DMC) program has been, many farmers have not been able to fully benefit because the underlying production history calculation is outdated. It is critical that the (supplemental DMC) production history adjustment be carried over into the 2023 farm bill… The events of the last two years have shined a spotlight on the need for an overall update to the FMMO system. Class I skim milk prices averaged $3.56/cwt lower than they would have under the previous ‘mover’. This undermined orderly marketing and represented net loss to producers of more than $750 million, including over $141 million in the Northeast Order. The current Class I mover saddles dairy farmers with asymmetric risk because it includes an upper limit on how much more Class I skim revenue it can generate… but no lower limit on how much less… those losses become effectively permanent.”

lolly lesher, way-har farm, bernville, pennsylvania, representing nmpf and dfa

According to Lesher’s testimony: “The dairy industry through the National Milk Producers Federation is treating this matter with urgency and is seeking consensus on not only the Class I mover, but also a range of improvements to the FMMO system that we can take to USDA for consideration via a national order hearing.”

Lesher serves on DFA’s policy resolutions committee and she noted that DFA, as a member of NMPF “is actively participating in its process (for FMMO improvements), which involves careful examination of key issues to the dairy sector nationwide… We look forward to working with the broader dairy industry and members of this committee as our efforts advance.”

Representing International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Mike Durkin, President and CEO of Leprino Foods Company stressed the “extreme urgency” of updating the “make allowances” in the FMMO pricing formulas. These are processor credits deducted from the wholesale value of the four base commodities (cheddar, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey) used in FMMO class and component pricing as well as within the advance pricing for fluid milk. (Leprino is the largest maker of mozzarella cheese in the U.S. and the world. Mozzarella cheese is not reported on the USDA AMS price survey used in the FMMO class and component pricing.) (testimony)

Durkin also noted the importance of making the Dairy Forward Pricing Program that expires September 2023 a permanent fixture in the next farm bill for milk. This program allows forward pricing of milk used to make products in Classes II, III and IV so that longer-duration contracts can be used by this milk when also pooled under FMMO regulation without fear of the authority expiring in terms of the FMMO minimum pricing. (Milk that is used to make products in Classes II, III and IV is already not obligated to participate in or be regulated by FMMOs.)

“The costs in the (make allowance) formula dramatically understate today’s cost of manufacturing and have resulted in distortions to the dairy manufacturing sector, which have constrained capacity to process producer milk. Congress can improve the current situation by directing USDA to conduct regular cost of processing studies to enable regular make allowance updates. The need to address this lag is now extremely urgent. While our proposal to authorize USDA to conduct regular cost surveys will eventually provide data to address this in the longer term, steps must be taken now to ensure adequate processing capacity remains. Updating make allowances to reflect current costs will enable producer milk to have a home. Making the (Dairy Forward Pricing Program for Class II, III and IV) permanent could also facilitate additional industry use of this risk management tool for longer durations without concern about the program expiring.”

Mike Durkin, president and ceo, leprino foods, representing idfa

Lesher also thanked House Ag Ranking Member G.T. Thompson for his Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, seeking to bring the choice of whole and 2% milk back to schools. The bill currently has 94 additional cosponsors from 32 states, including the House Ag Chair David Scott and other members of the Agriculture Committee. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Other key dairy provisions were reported and questions answered, including a witness representing organic dairy farmers. There’s more to report, so stay tuned for additional rumination in Farmshine and here at Agmoos.com

Recorded hearing proceedings available at this link

Written testimony is available at this link


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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.

Future of Federal Milk Pricing Forum got ‘wheels turning’

‘We need to figure out a way to get farmers’ voices incorporated into this discussion’

Table I reflects a decade of change in FMMO participation as total U.S. milk production grew 13.3% from 2011 to 2021, and the percentage of milk pooled on FMMOs fell from 82% in 2011 to 60.5% in 2021. California became an FMMO in 2018 after previously being a state order, so California’s production is not included in the 2011 pooling comparison so the pooling percentages are relative to production in FMMO and unregulated regions. Class I pounds as a percent of total production fell from 28.7% in 2011 to 18.6% in 2021. Figures for 2021 are shown both ways, including and excluding California to compare to 10 years ago when the number one dairy state had its own state order with different pooling and classification rules and incomplete data, but the percent of change is nonetheless eye-opening. Chart compiled by S. Bunting 

By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Feb. 18 and 25, 2022

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Do dairy farmers want to save the baby, save the bathwater, change the flow of the bathwater, or tighten the plug on the drain before the bathwater drains to the point of taking baby with it?

That’s a brutal take after 90 minutes and a lot of information, starting with the basics and hearing perspectives and questions during the American Dairy Coalition’s Future of Federal Milk Pricing Forum on Feb. 15.

It was a first step in what ADC sees as a continuing conversation and effort to engage dairy farmers to lead the process. They said the next forum will be in March.

Geared specifically for dairy farmers, the forum attracted 160 participants from across the country, representing every element of the dairy industry — including dairy farmers.

The virtual format was moderated by Dave Natzke, markets and policy editor with Progressive Dairy magazine. Featured presenters were Calvin Covington, retired co-op COO with 45 years of experience in federal and state marketing orders; Frank Doll, a third generation Illinois dairy farmer involved in American Farm Bureau’s dairy policy committee, and Mike McCully, industry consultant on the IDFA dairy ingredients board and economic policy committee.

Included were comments presented by attendees, who pre-registered for three-minute slots. Others typed into the queue.

“This is complicated, and many people say it can’t be fixed, but we have a great amount of expertise and value here. We covered a lot,” said Laurie Fischer, CEO of ADC at the end of the forum. “We can’t just let this drop. We need to continue to move forward.”

“We heard a lot of good information that has everyone’s wheels turning,” added ADC president Walt Moore of Walmoore Holsteins, Chester County, Pa. He encouraged producers to reach out and engage to tackle the hard topics.

The goal of this initial forum was to inform dairy producers on the Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) and pricing process to become engaged and have a greater voice in guiding future policies.

For its part, American Farm Bureau Federation spent the past couple years going through a similar working group with policy recommendations coming from states to national and back to states. 

Several commenters concurred with the position of ADC, Farm Bureau and other organizations that Class I pricing should return to the ‘higher of’ method until future policies can go through what could be a long hearing process of potential revision for the future.

In fact, one eye opener during the Forum was Doll’s confirmation that Farm Bureau policy now includes support for going back to the ‘higher of’ — plus adding 74 cents — in the calculation of the Class I mover price, while remaining open to other ideas.

Doll said consensus was hard to find in the Farm Bureau working group of 13 members from across the country due to regional differences in the makeup of processing. But general recommendations found agreement, including the reference to Class I as well as modified bloc voting where co-ops can vote for their members on Federal Orders, but farmers can cast their own votes and be encouraged to do so.

Several attendees cited the need for a vehicle for producers to have real input without fear of retribution, that farmers should collectively ask questions of their cooperatives, seek better representation and together, hold their cooperatives accountable to represent their interests. 

“We need to figure out a way to get farmers’ voices incorporated into this discussion. I hear from producers all the time, but there is fear of retribution, the threat that your milk is not going to get picked up. If you are on a board and speak up, you’re not there very long,” said Kim Bremmer, representing Venture Co-op in Wisconsin, a third-party ‘testing co-op’ qualified by USDA.

She addressed bloc voting, saying: “What’s the point of having a hearing if producers can’t vote? We don’t have great representation from some of the groups that say they represent us.”

Bottomline, said Bremmer: “We have to address how to get more of the producer voice and not just the processor voice — because they’re not the same.”

She asked: “Is it a conflict of interest if you’re a processor and you’re marketing milk and you’re also advocating for producers? I think that’s an important question that needs to be answered. We need to stay engaged in this and be able to ask the tough questions and demand some answers.”

ADC’s Fischer said the organization wants to work with farmers and their state and national organizations to provide a vehicle to bring farmers together and compose a list of pricing policy items to explore further with experts.

One clear change in the dairy industry formed the crux of the discussion: The growth of milk production in the U.S. — in concert with growing export sales and declining fluid milk sales — put export sales volume above Class I volume as a percentage of total milk solids in 2021.

McCully described this as “a seismic change.”

Covington confirmed that Class I sales — as a percentage of total milk production — fell below 20% in 2021. The percentage of Class I milk within the 137 billion pounds pooled on 11 FMMOs in 2021 was about 30%.

Contrary to the widely held belief that FMMOs regulate a majority of the milk, they simply do not. Covington confirmed that the 137 billion pounds of milk pooled on 11 FMMOs in 2021 represents only about 60% of U.S. milk production.

The FMMOs aren’t designed for this direction that the dairy industry is going toward global markets, according to McCully.

He said the world will look to the U.S. as the “go-to market,” claiming New Zealand and the EU are maxed out. He described the “white gallon jug” as being the most prime example of a low-margin commodity and predicted ‘value-added’ products will return more dollars to farmers in the future. These are recurrent themes heard from speakers at winter meetings this year.

(Author’s note: In contrast, current industry-wide discussion on the ‘sustainability’ side is for a ‘stable’ U.S. cattle herd to be an indicator of dairy’s climate neutrality. If exports grow, and the U.S. herd remains ‘stable’, then export milk will have to come from growth in output per cow and displacement of Class I production. One can see how geographic camps can set up, since fresh fluid milk sales are vital to the viability of dairy farms in areas outside of the earmarked growth areas for dairy manufacturing in the Central U.S. — the question is how to bridge it.)

At the same time, dragging feet doesn’t seem to be much of an option.

If dairy policy remains ‘status quo,’ leaving the FMMOs ‘as-is,’ they could eventually cover less and less milk and potentially collapse, according to McCully.

Covington also addressed this, noting that FMMOs “were designed for fluid milk, but today, fluid milk is a minority use. People used to drink their milk, now they are eating their milk.”

McCully noted the need for dairy innovation. He said make allowances have facilitated large-scale commodity plant construction supplied by large-scale farms, suggesting it is these built-in make allowance ‘margins’ that favor commodity production and deter innovation. 

“If end-product pricing continues, the make allowances will have to be raised,” he said, citing a new make allowance study “fresh off the press.”

In 2019, USDA commissioned Dr. Mark Stephenson, dairy economist at University of Wisconsin-Madison, to do the study. Stephenson recently announced it is complete and will soon be released by USDA. McCully’s glimpse at the report shows make allowance calculations to be “significantly higher” than the amounts embedded currently in end-product pricing formulas.

Western Pennsylvania dairy nutritionist Harry Stugart offered his concise, data-driven argument that the make allowances be removed from the formula for the ‘advance’ Class I mover price because these make allowances do not pertain to fluid milk. In January 2022, he said they amounted to $2.67 per hundredweight.

Another crucial part of the discussion was how FMMOs actually work and what they do, besides pricing.

Covington gave attendees a primer of key points to think about as discussions move forward. What he shared may be old news to some, but it’s surprising how many people do not know these facts:

— FMMOs are not required by law, they are simply “enabled” to exist by law. This means producers vote to have them (California in 2018) or to terminate them (Idaho 2004).

— Only Class I fluid milk plants are required to be regulated under FMMOs.

— Class II, III and IV plants participate voluntarily, and they tend to do so “when it’s economically feasible.” Rules of participation vary from Order to Order.

— FMMOs establish other things besides minimum pricing for regulated plants. This includes setting payment terms, providing market information and market services such as testing and auditing.

— The last FMMO reform (2000) was complicated and took four years. It was a combination of legislation (1995 Farm Bill) and an administrative rulemaking process.

— Today, there are four classes of milk, but that was not always the case.

— Today, the Class I mover (base price), as well as the Class II, III and IV prices are established to be the same in all FMMOs, but in the past different FMMOs had different mechanisms.

— Cooperatives are not required to pay FMMO minimum prices even if they own regulated Class I plants because cooperatives are viewed by the FMMOs as one big producer and can make their own decisions about distributing the revenue received to their farmer-members.

— Today, over half of the Class I fluid milk plants in the U.S. are either owned by cooperatives or by large retail supermarkets. Over the past 60 years of consolidation, FMMOs have gone from regulating 2250 fluid milk plants in 1960 to just 225 in 2021.

— Cooperatives balance the Class I market at a cost. Excess milk can go to unregulated buyers at a price that is several dollars below the minimum price. Some co-ops run their own balancing plants. These costs can result in paying farmers below minimum price.

“Milk pricing should return a fair cost to producers, processors and retailers. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” said Sherry Bunting, speaking on behalf of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee. She also highlighted the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, H.R. 1861, explaining how support for this legislation is essential — no matter how milk is priced.

“In the process of working on this legislation, our (Grassroots PA) committee has identified other concerns. It is hard for producers to advocate when even such a simple and good thing as whole milk in schools is rebuked,” said Bunting. “Farmers hear from leaders and inspectors: ‘If we sell whole milk in schools, do you think we can just stop making cheese and other products?’ Or ‘All you are doing is disrupting markets and creating a butterfat shortage.’ Or ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ These are veiled threats.”

Bunting highlighted the need for greater competition, accountability, transparency and timeliness of price reporting. 

“Dairy farmers have farms to run, cows to care for, and they become paralyzed by the complexity and lack of transparency in the system and their milk checks. They become overwhelmed and unconfident, even fearing retribution,” she said.

Bremmer specifically addressed milk check transparency.

“We have members with attorneys that cannot interpret their milk checks. That has to stop,” said Bremmer. “Why wouldn’t processors want to show farmers what they are paying them? What is the reason? To have attorneys and others looking at it and they can’t figure it out, that’s a real problem. We think they’re probably re-blending some things to make another ‘make allowance’. We know these things are happening all across the United States.”

Payment terms are critical in this conversation. Even the best-made plans for risk management mean nothing if farmers don’t receive timely and consistent payments for their milk due to the high capital costs and cash flow needs of running a dairy farm. 

One commenter said farmers want their income to come from consumers, not from the federal government. He wondered why Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMOs) are even needed to guarantee payment.

“Why? So you get paid,” replied panelist Covington. “The FMMOs all establish dates when advance and final payments are made. Having been a co-op manager working with fluid milk plants, I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.”

He also pointed out the important auditing, weights and measures, and market information the FMMOs provide.

McCully said these other services provided by FMMOs are “something we need more of going forward. We need less (price) regulation and more (market) information,” he added. “What’s not working is the milk pricing.”

Here’s where the crux comes into play: The FMMOs are not set up to regulate a global product market, and the industry has set its sights on exporting even more. This is leading the dairy industry to look at how other countries price milk as it relates to the U.S. pricing system and its ability to “be globally competitive.”

As the percentage of Class I sales have declined in relation to growth of U.S. milk production over the past decade, the percentage of milk pooled on FMMOs has also declined from 82% in 2011 to 60% in 2021 (See Table I).

Covington explained how pooling plays out within the FMMO system: “A regulated plant is required to pay its direct shippers and any co-op supplying milk a minimum blend or uniform price. Each Order takes the revenue from each class at the minimum price and pulls it together into one pool to come up with the uniform price.”

He said Class I differentials “have two purposes, to move milk to fluid use and to gain additional revenue for dairy farmers.” They range from $1.60/cwt in the extreme northern U.S. to $6.00/cwt in Miami, Florida and are added to the base Class I mover price. 

The regulated Class I plants pay the difference between the uniform price and the Class I minimum price into the FMMO. Other class plants voluntarily participate to take a draw from the FMMO to add to what they pay their producers. That’s how it has worked most of the time – until now.

Diminished Class I sales as a percentage of total milk flip this switch, and the 2018 Farm Bill change to averaging Class III and IV skim plus 74 cents — instead of the ‘higher of’ — along with the advance pricing element, have increased the de-pooling pressure on this system, especially during times of volatility.

When asked about wide price inversions that occurred in some months over the past two years, both Covington and McCully observed the impact on bottlers paying above minimum prices to attract milk away from then higher-value Class III.

In thinking about the future, Covington reminded attendees of the past. He said at one time some Orders had individual handler pools — not marketwide pools — a nod to the idea of how FMMOs could continue to regulate Class I, if handlers in the other classes lose interest in participation.

Back when California was a state order, virtually all milk was pooled. Plants had to make decisions about pooling annually by January 1. 

McCully contended that this scenario led to dumping of milk and inefficient transport to other areas. According to his analysis, the idea of making the pooling rules more restrictive and uniform across all FMMOs would lead processors to completely leave the system, and they can do that because their participation is voluntary, except for Class I.

Risk management was on the mind of several commenters, including Doll. He pointed out how the ‘holes’ in the Class I pricing change were exposed by the pandemic volatility. (Significant losses to Class I value are occurring again in the February and March 2022 Class I price.)

Joining Doll as a fellow Illinois dairy farmer was Bryan Henrichs. He said the class price inversions during the pandemic left many farmers on the losing end of what they thought were ‘safe’ $18 Class III forward contracts. The up to $9 negative PPDs kept them from achieving that price when the Class III price exceeded the contract level, but the farmer didn’t receive that price in the milk check — a double whammy.

Henrichs and others noted that milk should be priced competitively and simplified. Henrichs mentioned the idea of pricing milk at one price — no matter what it is used for — allowing market participants, including farmers, to manage risk and trade location basis, like for corn.

Arden Tewksbury’s comments from Progressive Agriculture Organization based in Meshoppen, Pennsylvania were presented by Carol Sullivan — highlighting the need for cost of production in the pricing equation, along with a realistic supply management program. 

Annual FMMO pooling decisions (instead of in and out), and his longtime support for whole milk in schools were other key points offered by Tewksbury.

One attendee stated that if processors are looking to raise their ‘make allowances,’ why not add a ‘make allowance’ for producers?

On cost of production, McCully pointed out that the range is wide between a 50,000-cow dairy in western Kansas and a 40-cow dairy in northern Vermont, for example. He said interstate movement of milk and the fact that FMMO participation is voluntary for over 80% of the milk outside of Class I creates issues for using a blanket national average cost of production.

McCully said ‘cost-plus’ contracts are being used today by some processors and producers, but this is only for milk sold outside of the FMMO system.

As confirmed by Covington, 40% of the U.S. milk supply was priced outside of the FMMOs in 2021. He said this could increase as Class I becomes a smaller slice of the growing pie, especially in areas of the country where Class I is already quite small.

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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