Global dairy thoughts Part 3: Do regulated milk checks reflect true value?

KYTour-223w.jpgBy Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 1, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — To discuss the U.S. role in global dairy trade and the role of global trade in how the value of milk is, or is not, reflected in milk checks at the farm level, we first have to understand our product differences.

For starters, there are subtle differences between global skim milk powder (SMP) and domestic nonfat dry milk (NDFM), traders say they view the two as one market. Global SMP trends translate promptly to CME trends for NFDM.

Product listings describe SMP as a standardized product with a minimum 34% protein, whereas NFDM is variable, ranging as high as 38% protein. The U.S. price for NFDM normally lags the global price for SMP, in part because it lacks the standardized specifications. Thus, the lag is even more significant on a per-protein-unit basis.

The U.S. makes more SMP today than 10 years ago, but NFDM production, typically a byproduct of butter production, remains more than four times larger than SMP. Year-to-date SMP production through March trailed year-ago by 15% while NFDM production was up 15%.

According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), the U.S. exports 50% of its combined production of SMP and NFDM, and the U.S. has about 25% of the total export marketshare for these powders.

Butter is also different. Globally-traded European style butter is fermented (soured) before churning, mostly sold unsalted and contains 82 to 85% butterfat. U.S.-produced butter is churned from sweet cream that is not cultured, contains 80% fat, and is available salted or unsalted.

More European style butter is made today in the U.S. than 10 years ago, and it has curried favor with urban chefs for its cooking and baking properties.

Specialized dairy ingredients, like milk protein concentrate (MPC) and whey protein concentrate (WPC), are also significant globally and rely on specialized technologies and markets. The U.S. makes and exports a lot of whey products, WPC and WPI as byproducts of cheese production. These products have significant value to ingredient markets.

At a meeting in Lebanon, Pennsylvania last fall, Dr. Mark Stephenson, University of Wisconsin-Madison, indicated how some cheese plants view the whey products as primary to the cheese. Specialty plants have also come online to make MPC and MPI for infant formula, sports and geriatric beverages, and other products for dairy ingredient markets.

Another product that is important globally, and traded only on global platforms, is whole milk powder (WMP). It is a market equalizer. The global market performance of WMP gives insight about both the fat and the protein sides of the market.

China’s current demand for WMP may be driving what is now being described as a potential “acute” global shortage of butter.

Like whole fluid milk sales in the U.S., WMP sales globally represent whole milk finding one market rather than being broken down for various markets. Often, this product is purchased by countries that reconstitute it for drinking milk and flavored dairy beverages. The bakery and confection industries also utilize both SMP and WMP.

More U.S. plants are making WMP. Interestingly, USDA’s March Dairy Products Report showed production of WMP at 21.6 mil lbs — up 11% from February and a whopping 93% greater than a year ago. It was the highest level of WMP production since 1993.

GlobalThoughtsPart3_CHART#2In fact, going back through USDA records to 1983, the U.S. once made up to 700 metric tons of dry whole milk powder (Chart 2). We don’t hear about that.

In the 1980s we also exported a lot of WMP, up to 420 metric tons of it (Chart 3). We don’t hear about that either.

GlobalThoughtsPart3_CHART#3One reason we don’t make more WMP today is we have a large and growing domestic market for cheese and butter and cream products. U.S. manufacturers want to keep the cream and not sell it overseas, whereas other dairy-producing nations — like New Zealand with its much smaller consumer population — make a lot of WMP for Asia.

China is a large, but erratic, buyer of WMP. In first quarter 2018, the U.S. exported 20% more WMP than a year ago, but the amounts are small compared to skim powders.

In fact, the drive of consumers away from margarine has led to greater sales and production of butter in the U.S. As more butter is made, and more cream salvaged for other products, NFDM production also increases as part of that model.

 As fluid milk sales decline in the U.S., more WMP can be made, and as whole fluid milk demand is restricted by dietary guidelines, more fat becomes available as a byproduct to dairy processors.

Right now, China is buying a lot of WMP and paying higher prices. So high, in fact, that Australia is seeing limitations in infant formula sales in their country due to China’s pull on powder stocks from that country.

GlobalThoughtsPart3_CHART_#4One lesser-known category of exports that grew by 85% in the first three months of 2018 is UHT shelf-stable milk. China is the biggest buyer, and DFA is a primary supplier with its California Gold, a primarily 3.5% fat, shelf-stable drinking milk with a non-refrigerated shelf life of one year. This product is shipped to Walmart and other chains in China. These sales have grown significantly since 2006. (Chart 4)

(Interestingly, here in the U.S. during the first five months of 2018, major supply-chain-related absences of whole milk from supermarket shelves — while fat free and lowfat rows are stocked full — have been observed across a wide swath of the U.S., mainly east of the Mississippi, and across a variety of supermarket chains with a sort of random consistency)

With the U.S. system set to keep the cream and export as much powder as possible, problems arise when geopolitical factors interrupt that export market pipeline. This can have big consequences in a market where demand for cream vs. skim is out of whack — in part because the U.S. dairy industry’s processing, marketing, pricing, promotion and exporting schemes have been designed to work in tandem with 40 years of flawed lowfat government health guidelines.

A national dairy pricing hearing is needed to look at the reality of today’s domestic and global markets.

Are dairy farmers receiving the true value of the milk they produce? If the true value of milk components were passed through the supply-chain to the farm level more accurately, could this help encourage right-sized production growth?

Can the pricing of “growth milk” be more directly aligned to global market growth trends? We’ll explore that in a future part of this series, and it is an important question for the industry to tackle.

In Part Four, we’ll look at the differences in U.S. and global trading platforms and pricing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so forth, and so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PHOTO CAPTION

GDC18-Day1-56

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