Farmers send June milk check data and preliminary review is revealing

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UPDATED! By Sherry Bunting, Updated from the article in July 24 Farmshine print edition

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — June milk check reports are pouring in after Farmshine’s previous article about negative Producer Price Differentials (PPD) included a request for milk check data from readers. Along with the data, we are receiving many comments.

One producer notes the PPD had typically averaged a positive $1.50 in his area of the Northeast, but for June, it was a negative $5.38, a loss he pegged at $15,000 for the month for his farm.

Another producer in the Mideast area noted a loss of over $60,000 in component value, which would not be covered in the way expected by the Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) policy he had purchased. The negative PPD loss represents “basis risk”, whereas tools like DRP, forward contracting, even DMC, mitigate “market and margin risk.”

The “markets” did their thing. Demand went up, cheese prices went up, Class III milk contracts gained, but the de-pooling in most Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMOs) ate up most of the doubled protein value and other component value gains for farms across most of the country, as reflected in a steeply negative “basis”. There’s really no risk management tool for that, and we’ve received correspondence indicating that producers who opted to manage risk, had losses where they thought they would have coverage.

It’s difficult to make sense of it all, especially when FMMO Market Administrators explain all the workings of PPDs in terms of advance pricing, sudden commodity increases that are complicated by advance pricing of Class I, pooling and de-pooling of milk when Class I milk value is lower than the blend price. But these explanations leave out the fact that Congress changed the way the Class I Mover is calculated at the request of NMPF and IDFA in the 2018 Farm Bill, without holding a milk pricing hearing that so many have requested.

This is a big concern going forward. The spreads between the higher Class III price over the Class I Mover are $9.62 for June and $7.75 (estimated) for July.

From July, forward, the lagtime is less of a factor. However, the new way vs. the old way of calculating Class I is a much bigger factor in predicted negative PPDs because as Class III has been rising, Class IV has been falling, widening the divergence.

The final math equation for the Class I Mover is the same as it was: Class I Mover = (Base Skim Milk Price x 0.965) + Butterfat Price x 3.5). What changed in May 2019 is the way the Base Skim Milk Price is determined before it is placed in that calculation. It used to be simply the higher of the two Advance Pricing Factors — Class III or Class IV — that was plugged into that equation as the “Base Skim Milk Price. Now the two Advance Pricing Factors are added together, divided by 2, and 74 cents is added to that to produce the Base Skim Milk Price for the final equation above.

Under the previous way, using the “higher of,” the August Class I Mover would have been $24.36 — $4.58 higher than the $19.78 Class I Mover announced on July 22 for August. Also, under the previous method, July’s Class I Mover would have been $19.13 — $2.57 higher than the announced July Class I Mover at $16.56.

These new concerns in FMMO pricing bring new variables into how producers manage risk, so the market value that did not make it into milk checks or risk management tools cannot be blamed completely on Covid-19 pandemic disruptions. A convergence of factors have created a situation where the mechanics of risk management like Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) — as well as forward contracting — may not work as intended for all producers in all regions in a time of disrupted markets and extreme risk, with fairly recent changes to certain milk pricing formulas.

This market disruption, and the fallout in negative PPDs, should signal to USDA and the Congress that a National Hearing on Milk Pricing is overdue. Piecemeal changes have consequences. The de-pooling exacerbates the situation. In June, de-pooling contributed to removing hundreds of millions of dollars of value from milk checks across all Federal Orders. As one producer asked, who gets that money? The answer: It depends.

First, if the end-product “market” value found was paid to the plant or cooperative or handler, and if the handler consequently de-pooled the milk and didn’t pass that value back to the farms voluntarily or contractually, then we know who has the money. If the “market” did not pay what we see in the USDA end-product pricing or on the CME spot market and futures markets, then it’s not real money.

Given the wide range in milk check data with most of the nation coming in around $5 to $7 lower than the Upper Midwest — and a $4 range in FMMO uniform prices to begin with — it’s obvious the “market” is paying. But the calculations are not passing through to milk checks, except in the Upper Midwest Order 30 where 50% of pooled milk receipts were utilized as Class III milk, even though Class III volume reductions suggest significant de-pooling occurred.

Let’s look at preliminary data from Farmshine readers around the country (Table 2 above).

So far, over 150 Farmshine readers from six of the 11 FMMOs have provided milk check data. Since only a couple responses were received from California, we did not do any math for FMMO 51 yet, until we receive more data. At this writing, we have not received any milk check data from Orders 6 (Florida), 126 (Texas and New Mexico), 124 (Arizona) and 131 (Oregon and Washington).

What is evident in the preliminary review is the significant gap between the highest and lowest gross and net prices paid.

For each of the six FMMOs — where we had enough data to do some math — we see the difference of $7 between the FMMO with the highest average gross price paid (before deductions) of $20.81 in the Upper Midwest (FMMO 30) and the lowest average gross price paid of $13.77 in the Central Order (FMMO 32). When looking at the range of price data, the spread is $8 between some check data as low as $13.02 gross pay price in Pennsylvania to $21.05 in Minnesota.

The other FMMO average data fall into place $4 to $6 below the Upper Midwest with gross pay price averaging between $14.97 and $16.15 before deductions.

On the net mailbox price (after deductions), the difference is almost $7 between the highest mailbox average of $19.74 for FMMO 30 and the lowest average of $12.97 for FMMO 32. Average net mailbox price for FMMOs 1, 33, 5, and 7 trail FMMO 30 by a difference of $5 to $6. (See Table 2.)

Respondents for each of the FMMOs so far are a mix of mostly co-op members, but also some independent shippers, and a range of cooperatives — national and regional — are represented in the data.

In the Upper Midwest FMMO 30 for June, where PPD was least negative and Class III milk utilization was the highest (50%), the Uniform price already reflected the smallest negative PPD in the $3s compared to negative $5s and $7s everywhere else. At the same time, reports indicate the cheese plants and co-ops in that region even shared some of that smaller loss, knocking it back into the negative $2’s.

While large penalties for overbase milk still remain part of the pricing equation, it was not a major factor for most producers in June, perhaps because producers are reducing production as well as dumping, donating or utilizing overbase milk differently to avoid these penalties. This process is continuing into July. In the Northeast and Midatlantic region, reports of milk dumping were confirmed in July. Mostly this was due to producers wanting to avoid overbase penalties, but at least one report involved temporary “plant equipment issues”.

Of the milk check data shared with Farmshine, most showed producers were shipping 93 to 99% of their base for June. But some data includes producers seeing significant assessments on small amounts of overbase milk by both smaller regional cooperatives and larger national footprint cooperatives — except in the Upper Midwest. Also, in pockets of the Southeast, check data show some penalties were waived as a base / overbase blend was shown on checks, but then in another spot, the stub reported “revenues available to pay” a better price. In those instances, it appears the overbase penalty was eliminated and market adjustments reduced, which added 30 to 50 cents to what the location blend would have been.

Elsewhere, producers overbase deductions ranged $1.50 to $6.40.

Another variable was “market adjustments”. No “covid” deductions were seen in June check data, however, many had “market adjustments” deducted to the tune of 13 to 24 cents. In a few cases, the “market adjustment” was described in an earlier letter stating that the “covid” deduction for co-op costs incurred in April and May was being spread out evenly over several months forward.

The averages for the Northeast and Mideast FMMOs belie the wide range in prices. For Pennsylvania, alone, the range in gross pay prices before deductions was more than $4.00/cwt.  Even after adjusting for butterfat, the range was $3.50. The lowest net mailbox prices submitted by anyone in any FMMO came from Pennsylvania producers, with instances as low as $11.20/cwt mailbox for June. Overbase penalties and market adjustment deductions contributed to these lower nets.

In Pennsylvania, the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) over-order premium (OOP) was set large for June, but was a small factor on most milk checks. It does appear that the western half of the state in Order 33 received at least some OOP benefit to make up for taking a more significant beating from negative PPDs.

Very few producer milk checks showed numbers other than zero in the PMMB OOP line item. However for Pennsylvania producers shipping directly to some Pennsylvania bottlers in the Mideast order, the benefit was $1.25 to $2.00/cwt listed as a line item and serving to simply pull them up closer to where the Northeast blend price sat. Remember, negative PPDs in the Mideast Order, which includes western Pa., were in the $7s. Negative PPDs in the Northeast Order, which includes eastern Pa., were in the $5s.

Meanwhile, out-of-state bottlers buying Pennsylvania milk and selling into the Pennsylvania minimum retail price market passed on about 10% of this floor-setting OOP in June at about 30 to 50 cents.

June’s PMMB OOP was over $4 per cwt because $3.68 was added to the normal $1 to make the difference between the USDA Class I Mover and a temporary $15 Class I floor. The PMMB used the OOP to temporarily accomplish this, but then became an island as USDA did not follow suit. The USDA had canceled a hearing requested by cooperatives petitioning it do the same nationally.

Looking at the milk check data we have received, it is obvious that USDA would have done well to have followed PMMB’s lead — as they were petitioned to do in April — to set a temporary Class I Mover floor at $15 through August.

At the time that the PMMB took its action, USDA AMS Dairy Programs had indicated in correspondence shared with Farmshine that a date was set to meet with petitioners to hear evidence for a national temporary Class I floor.

But, when word got out, certain dairy economists, such as at the University of Minnesota, along with Minnesota Milk Producers and other entities, including Walmart, protested that this idea of a temporary Class I Mover floor would “decouple” Class I milk and be unfair to the Upper Midwest where Class I utilization is low. Mainly, they complained that a move to stabilize Class I would “disrupt” milk markets and affect the Dairy Margin Coverage.

Well, folks, that disruption happened anyway — in reverse.

What we have seen, in the absence of a Class I floor, is total disruption and instability due to the inherent lagtime in Class I pricing reflecting market trends, and additional severity because of how the Class I Mover calculation was changed by Congress, with no hearing at all, just placed in the 2018 Farm Bill at the direction of National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

The so-called “markets” have not worked for any of the FMMO’s dairy producers except for the Upper Midwest where the complaints over flooring the Class I Mover arose.

The change in the calculation of the Class I Mover in the 2018 Farm Bill was implemented one year ago in May 2019. By using an average instead of the “higher of” to determine a base value for components or fat/skim, the Class I Mover no longer moves in concert with the highest value of components or fat/skim.

This is a problem because there is no way to assess market value on Class I in an of itself. Class I beverage milk is a designated loss-leader by the 800-lb retailer-processor gorillas like Walmart and Kroger. Also, in a couple states, the retail milk price is regulated to some degree.

Class I’s new “averaging” method is contributing to the removal of hundreds of millions of dollars from Federal Order pools through de-pooling.

It’s hard to predict what “reality” or “alternate reality” the USDA NASS All Milk price and Dairy Margin Coverage milk margin will reflect when they are announced on July 31.

This is a serious problem, given the widening divergence between Classes III and IV on the futures markets. This divergence is a warning that the current four-class system should be re-evaluated. When two manufacturing classes for stored products can be averaged to produce the basis of value for fresh products and beverages, it’s easy to see how large entities in the marketplace can make decisions that affect imports, storage, supply and demand to move one side of an “averaging” equation and create lopsided returns outside of FMMO pools. If milk moved to its highest value use and components were valued on multiple cross-class markets, a stable Class I base could be established as one piece of an overall value mix with less incentive to de-pool lopsided value.

For example, the July Class III contract stood at $24.41 on the futures markets as of July 27 — now $10.76 higher than the Class IV contract at $13.65. August Class III stands at $22.11, $8.39 higher than the Class IV contract at $13.72. September Class III, at $20.49, is $6.34 higher than the $14.15 Class IV contract. October Class III, at $18.90, is $4.51 higher than Class IV at $14.39. November Class III, at $17.53, is $2.95 higher than Class IV at $14.58. The gap narrows for December, but as of July 27, the difference between the two classes is still more than the $1.48 ‘magic number’ with December Class III at $16.60, $1.81 higher than Class IV at $14.79.

Creating even more value loss in every FMMO in June — whether priced by multiple components or fat/skim — is the amount of Class III milk that was de-pooled. Total volume pooled across all Federal Orders was 9.5 billion pounds in June, down 36% from a year ago and down 28% from May (May 2020 was down 13% from year ago).

While June milk production was reported on July 21 at 0.5% above year ago, milk dumpage in June was down considerably in terms of what showed up on FMMO pools. We know farms are dumping and diverting to avoid overbase penalties, but the pooled “other use” milk, including dumpage and animal feed, was down by 44% compared with a year ago in June. The only Federal Order to have more “other use” milk in June than in May was the Appalachian Order 5, and Central Order 32.

Table1_YTD_MilkDumped(Bunting)rTable 1 (above) shows the “other use / milk dumpage” pooling data. What is mind-boggling is that year-to-date milk dumped totals at 566.7 million pounds for just the first 6 months of 2020, is 125 to 150 million pounds greater than the 12-month annual totals for each of the past five years.

Dairy producers wishing to submit June milk check data as well as next month’s milk check data for July to broaden this survey geographically, please send: Gross price, net mailbox price, PPD, butterfat and protein, other deductions (especially ‘market adjustment’ deductions), overbase penalties if applicable, along with your location or the FMMO in which your milk is marketed and information stating whether you market with a cooperative or as an independent. There is no need to provide your name or your specific co-op or plant affiliation unless you choose to include that.

Please consider emailing me at agrite2011@gmail.com or text/call 717.587.3706. All information is aggregated anonymously by state, region and FMMO.

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‘Consumers are smarter than us, they are buying more fat.’

Covington more optimistic for dairy in 2019

(Above) Calvin Covington is the retired CEO of Southeast Milk, Inc. and formerly with American Jersey Cattle Association and National All Jersey. He has published many articles in Hoards Dairyman and other publications and is respected for his insights on milk marketing. Covington came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from his home in North Carolina on Jan. 29 to talk about dairy markets — from the Northeast perspective — at the R&J Dairy Consulting winter dairy meeting. The previous week, Covington spoke at the Georgia Dairy Conference in Savannah, giving the Southeast outlook and perspective there. He also shared with producers that butterfat is driving milk check value because consumers are smart, they are choosing whole milk, butter and full-fat natural cheeses. He urged producers to hold their industry organizations accountable on selling and promoting fat and flavor. He encouraged farmers to focus on pounds of components to improve milk prices at the farm level.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, February 1, 2019

EAST EARL, Pa. — Bringing a bit of good news, along with good understanding, of dairy markets, Calvin Covington kicked off R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy seminar Tuesday (Jan. 29) talking about what needs to happen for milk prices to improve.

He had the full attention of the 300 dairy producers who gathered at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl for the meeting, where they learned that Covington anticipates 2019 Federal Order blend prices in the Northeast to improve by $1.00 to $1.50 in 2019 compared with 2018.

“But it’s going to be a walk, not a run. they will move up gradually,” he said. “Last year, I was pessimistic. This year, I am a lot more optimistic.”

Covington also talked about the “4 C’s” that need tochange as the major factors to improve farm level milk prices: Consumption, Cow numbers, Components and Cooperation.

“The most important is consumption,” said Covington. “What is the consumer telling us?”

He showed a graph of how overall dairy consumption has steadily increased on a solids basis from 2000 though 2018, and he displayed a chart (above) showing that the consumer is telling us they want the milkfat — that it’s the solids in the milk — the bufferfat and protein — that give milk value.

“Exports are growing. That’s where most of our growth in demand has been coming from… but we export commodities — milk powder, whey, lactose,” he said. “We export very little butter and cheese.”

While he said exports are of course important to the milk check, he emphasized the need to focus on domestic demand, which has been overlooked and “presents real opportunity. What can we do to lift domestic demand and make that happen?”

In a word, said Covington: “Milkfat. That’s number one. We in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers are a whole lot smarter than we are. They are figuring it out. They are buying more fat… and we need to sell thatt.”

He said that the average fat content of all types of fluid milk sales from fat-free to whole milk — nationwide — is 2%.

“If that moved up by just 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 percent, the difference in farmer milk checks would be substantial. Fluid milk sales have been declining (in total), but whole milk sales are up three years in a row,” Covington explained.

“Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it.”

He also pointed out how per capita butter consumption is at its highest point in over 10 years.

“That’s big, and that’s why the butterfat price in your milk check is double the protein price,” said Covington, explaining that in addition to butter, natural cheeses are one-third fat, that we forget about.

“Natural cheese consumption is higher, but it’s the processed cheeses, that contain less fat, that are moving lower,” he said.

He noted that for many years, the research said fat is bad for us.

“Now smart people are showing this to be false and we have books and articles about how butter, cheese and whole milk are good for us.”

Covington noted that what the industry needs to focus on is giving consumers more of what they want and not being afraid to “sell more fat. That will up your milk price,” he pointed out, encouraging producers to focus on pounds of components because this is the majority of how their milk price is determined.

He shared a story about meeting Queen Elizabeth in England with one of the oldest Jersey herds in the world. Those cows produce more than 6% fat, and that’s what she drinks and she’s 92 years old.

He also observed that the Queen knows as much about cows and agriculture as about anyone he’s met.

Look for more highlights and details from Covington’s fascinating discussions and his 2019 market outlook for the Northeast and the Southeast in a future Farmshine.

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Global dairy thoughts Part I: Whirlpool of change. Who’s minding the store?

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

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, April 27, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Even though U.S. per-capita milk consumption is in decline, consumption of other dairy products is strong. As the industry devotes resources to new milk markets abroad and puts the fluid milk market here at home on commodity autopilot: Who’s minding the store?

While it is true that the U.S. dairy market is ‘mature’ — not offering the growth-curve found in emerging export markets — the U.S. consumer market is still considered the largest, most well-established and coveted destination for dairy products and ingredients in the world.

As U.S. milk production continues to increase despite entering a fourth straight year of low prices and market losses, industry leaders look to exports for new demand that can match the trajectory of new milk.

The U.S. has already joined the ranks of major dairy exporting nations, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) has set a goal to increase exports from the current 15% (milk equiv) to 20%. Keep in mind that as our percentage of exports increases while our milk production also increases, the volume of export markets required to meet this goal is compounded.

On one path at this fork in the road is the mature domestic market with its sagging fluid milk sector that is increasingly filled in deficit regions by transportation of milk from rapidly growing surplus regions.

This dilemma of getting milk that is increasingly produced away from consumers packaged and moved toward consumers was cited as a “tricky challenge” by Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Markets and Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his presentation on Changing Dairy Landscapes: Regional Perspectives at the Heartland Dairy Expo in Springfield, Missouri earlier this year. In this presentation, Stephenson pegged the Northeast milk deficit at 8 bil lbs and the Southeast deficit at 41 bil lbs. (More on this in a future part of this series).

On the other path at this fork in the road is the industry’s desire to expand exports within a global market that needs a 1.5% year-over-year global production increase. But, as the USDEC reported in its February global dairy outlook, global milk output is growing by twice that rate, mainly from gains in Europe.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulatory pricing structures are based on milk utilization. As the total dairy processing pie grows larger, the neglected fluid milk sector becomes a shrinking piece of the expanding pie, and income is further diminished for dairy farms.

The emerging export markets are rooted in the demographic of rising middle-class populations improving diets with dairy. And yet, just because these new markets offer new growth curves for new milk production, the anchor for this ship is still the U.S. market, still No. 1 as the largest dairy consumer sector globally, and still moving milk via Federal Order pricing that hinges on that shrinking piece of the expanding pie: Class I.

What are the obstacles to improving this sagging fluid milk sector? How are regulated promotion and pricing constraining restoration of declining fluid milk sales?

Over the past three years, two prominent and longstanding milk bottlers in the New York / New Jersey metropolis have either closed their plants (Elmhurst in New York City), or sold their dairy assets (Cumberland Dairy in New Jersey sold to DFA). Amazingly, the former owners of both plants are expanding into the alternative beverage space — adding new plant-based beverages to the proliferation of fraudulent ‘milks’ that already litter the supermarket dairy case.

GlobalThoughts(Chart1).jpg

While dairy milk sales decline, plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed.

At the Georgia Dairy Conference in January, Rob Fox, Dairy Sector Manager of Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisors, talked about big picturedairy trends, and he showed graphically the way these alternatives are eating into the U.S. dairy milk market. While dairy milk sales decline, the plant-based beverages are a growth market, though the pace of growth has slowed. (See Chart 1)

Fox also showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil., with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil. (Chart 2).

GlobalThoughts(Chart2)

Rob Fox showed a pie chart of combined supermarket sales of dairy and plant beverages at $17 bil with dairy accounting for $15.6 bil. and plant-based at $1.4 bil.

Doing the math, Fox remarked that the plant-based alternatives now represent 8.9% of the combined dairy and plant-based ‘milk’ market. He said that in other countries with mature dairy markets, these alternative beverages tended to level off in growth when reaching 10% of total dairy market share. But at the same time, the combined dairy and plant beverage sector has also declined from 6.4 billion units in 2013 to 6.1 in 2017, according to Fox.

He noted the alternatives are also infiltrating other dairy product categories and that these ‘next generation’ products are offering much better nutrition than earlier versions. “But they will never compete with dairy milk, nutritionally,” Fox said.

What these alternative beverages have going for them, said Fox, is very high margins for processors and investors.

He explained that plant-based dairy products have low ingredient costs, are easier to manufacture, package, market and distribute and are seen as ‘greener’ and animal friendly. They are better positioned for e-commerce and kiosk-type retail outlets and are made by innovative marketing companies and startups with a market and margin profile that attracts investors.

Meanwhile, dairy milk is a highly regulated market with a prevailing commodity mindset worn down even more-so by supermarket price wars at the retail level, making it difficult for the dairy milk sector to adapt to U.S. consumer market trends.

U.S. consumer trends gravitate toward innovation and specialization so everyone can be a ‘snowflake,’” Fox explained, adding that areas of growth for the dairy milk sector will be full-fat in smaller containers, dairy protein in sports nutrition, and non-GMO branding. (No joke: Look for more later on genetically-modified, aka GMO, lab-manufactured products like Perfect Day that are actively defending what they see as their right to use the term ‘animal-free dairy’ because their product is said to be compositionally the same as milk, derived from genetically modified laboratory yeast exuding a white substance they say IS milk.)

That said, where is the true and simply original dairy in its re-branding process? What efforts are being made to compete to reverse this fluid milk market decline? Wouldn’t revitalization of the fluid milk sector also provide a demand pull for U.S. production growth?

Fresh fluid milk is not interchangeable on the global stage as are milk powders, fat powders, protein powders, cheeses, butter and aseptically packaged shelf-stable fluid products.

Meanwhile, the fastest growing surplus regions of the U.S. are busy aligning with retailer/processors and utilizing the Federal Order pricing schemes to pull their production growth into milk-deficit regions, leaving the milk-deficit region’s producers sending their milk to manufacturing homes in other Orders, or even looking for ways to export from eastern ports.

The U.S. has the water, the feed, the space, the transportation, logistics and support infrastructure, as well as a large existing domestic market to anchor the base production level of our nation’s farmers. The U.S. also has a legacy of dairy producers that are respected for their progress, animal care and food safety.

The ingredients for global success are here, but other factors need evaluation because the success is eluding dairy farm families as they face their fourth year of low prices and lost markets forcing increased numbers to exit the business.

In future installments of this multi-part series “Global Thoughts,” we’ll look more closely at the export side of this fork in the road, including the product trends, product and trading platform differences, imports, transportation and logistics, the role of regulatory pricing and cooperative base programs at a time when the dairy landscape is being forever changed.

As this series proceeds, thoughts and questions are welcome: agrite2011@gmail.com

 

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Flashback: two NY/NJ dairy plant owners shift assets from regulated ‘commodity’ dairy milk to freedom of branded non-dairy ‘milk’

nondairymilk.jpgAuthor’s note: Below are two articles from two interviews August 2016 and November 2017 with two separate owners of two separate plants in the New York / New Jersey metropolis that were closed or sold in the past two years. Today, the Schwartz family (Elmhurst Dairy, Queens, NY) and Catalana family (Cumberland Dairy, Bridgeton, NJ) are involved in developing and launching new non-dairy plant, nut and grain based beverages in the supermarket dairy case. This trend toward making plant-based versions of animal protein products is also becoming a problem for the meat industry.

For dairy milk, the root of the issue is the alliance between USDA and the anti-trust-protected national-footprint milk cooperatives. First, USDA designates dairy milk as a “commodity” with an FDA standard of identity that is only enforced on dairy milk, not on plant-based ‘milks.’ USDA also runs the federal order milk pricing system on fresh fluid milk. USDA also dictates what schoolchildren are permitted to drink, currently allowing only fat free or 1% milk, despite scientific proof to the contrary that whole milk (3.25% fat) is the most healthy value. USDA also dictates what the dairy promotion boards may and may not do to promote fresh fluid milk using money the USDA mandates every farmer must have deducted off their milk checks for said promotion. USDA and the promotion boards push the lowfat agenda despite it being proven to be less healthy than full-fat dairy.

In their separate situations, Henry Schwartz and the Catalana brothers got out of commodity dairy milk and are developing and launching plant-based beverages with free rein in the supermarket “dairy” case.

BELOW ARE THEIR STORIES…

Story #1 – By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine August 2016

New York City’s last milk plant, Elmhurst Dairy, closes doors

JAMAICA QUEENS, N.Y. —  He says the commodity milk category is ‘unsustainable’ and that the future lies in new brands.

At 82, Henry Schwartz has witnessed the evolution of dairy. Food and farming look very different today compared to when he was six years old, spending his youth on the family’s former dairy farm and in their milk plant.

His family’s Elmhurst Dairy was the combination of two dairy farms and milk plants in Queens County, New York — one owned by his paternal grandparents, the other by his maternal grandmother.

The farms have been gone since 1948, and in October (2016), the Elmhurst Dairy plant in Jamaica, Queens, New York, will close its doors too.

With this closure of New York City’s last fluid milk plant, a long and storied series of chapters in the milk business will end.

But with every end, comes a beginning, and Henry Schwartz sees light at the end of his tunnel.

“I’m not depressed anymore,” he said in a telephone interview with Farmshine. “We have other businesses that are related to dairy, and they are successful. We will be bringing out new products under the Elmhurst name.”

Henry referenced the family’s Steuben Foods, Inc. plant near Buffalo, N.Y. where 600 people are employed. Its aseptic packaging spawned a new line of beverages in June of 2015, called Elmhurst Naturals — an offshoot of Henry’s son Cyrus’ business Dora’s Naturals. (Examples include Banana Water and Mango Water). Henry also referenced the family’s Mountainside plant near Roxbury, N.Y., where filtered milk with a longer shelf life has been bottled since 2006.

With both plants already expanded into aseptic packaging and Natural market lines, the next sequence, said Henry, will be further expansion at Steuben into grain, nut and seed beverage products already set to generate half a billion in sales.

Henry was quick to give heartfelt thanks “to a great many people who worked so hard for so long to see that we succeeded.”

He also cited the “enormous economic impact” the company has had in the area through the dairy business.

But, he said, in order to continue to have positive economic impact, things had to change. They had to break free of commodity milk.

“The future of the milk business is value-added,” said Henry. “The milk business as I knew it is unsustainable. Nobody talks about the price of milk anymore, they talk about all of these other things. They talk about quality and services. That is the evolution and an indication that we do not have a totally sound business model in (conventional) milk, so we are trying to diversify in the marketplace.”

When asked whether brand marketing within the conventional dairy milk category can help save this seemingly “unsustainable future,” Henry commented that there are “outstanding people in the marketplace coming out with cutting edge new products.”

He mentioned what fairlife has done to bring out what is basically milk and to market it as a brand.

He mentioned what Chobani did to “take limited assets and build a billion dollar company inside of seven years on branding an old-style yogurt right in front of our eyes.”

He talked about how Daisy revived the sour cream category by specializing in it and branding it.

And he mentioned other products, like the genesis of Lactaid milk right out of Atlantic City and later sold to Johnson and Johnson.

He also mentioned Organic milk as a branded category that “started from scratch into a billion-dollar category.”

“We can create with milk and dairy products tremendous success stories and brands if we are willing to work at it,” Henry elaborated. “In many ways, our Steuben Foods — operating as an offshoot of Elmhurst but now much bigger — is doing that.”

Yes, the Schwartz family of businesses, including Dora’s Naturals started from scratch by Cyrus, is transforming itself according to the wishes of the urban New York City consumers.

Henry’s word of wisdom to the dairy farmers who ship milk to the New York City plant that is closing? “Diversify.”

It was obvious after a 45-minute conversation that he has a soft-spot for dairy farming. But his family’s younger generation is following the trends. They value the economic contribution to the community and dairy legacy of the generations before them, but they see even more economic opportunity and job creation in diversifying their efforts into a variety of beverages and breaking free of the commodity-milk market.

Henry could barely bring himself to call them all ‘milk,’ but he had enthusiasm as he talked of the future. He said that “exciting new products” — derived from grains, nuts and seeds — will be the wave of the future as the family diversifies into branded plant-based beverage businesses, which their website refers to as ‘grainmilk’ and ‘nutmilk’.

Already one of the largest Organic dairy milk processors in the nation under contract for Horizon and other brands, the Schwartz family’s Steuben Foods and Roxbury plants will continue in dairy milk, but Steuben will also branch out into the newer non-dairy beverage categories as well.

Henry said the Roxbury plant is expected to expand opportunities in both the dairy and non-dairy fields also. He said the family has many interesting and proprietary product concepts in store.

“We will continue to be a large milk handler,” he said. “We will also be doing a lot in grains and nuts and seeds. Part of our future will be cow’s milk. That will certainly continue. I have had my whole life in it. There is a bright future ahead and the continuation of something our family started over 130 years ago when my great-grandfather opened the first family farm plant in Middle Village in the 1880s. We are pleased to continue in this milk business, but that continuation will look different in the future than it did in the past.”

The Jamaica, Queens property — where the ubiquitous red barn and silo label of Elmhurst Dairy now fades — will become the site of any one of a number of projects Henry said his family is currently working on.

“I spent a good deal of my youth at my grandmother’s farm plant, Juniper Valley Dairy, where she milked 200 cows, bottled the milk and delivered it until 1948. She was the last farm in Queens County,” he said. Meanwhile, his paternal grandfather’s dairy farm spawned the original Elmhurst Dairy plant, which was started by Henry’s father and uncle at their father’s dairy farm in nearby Middle Village.

“They got all of that together here in Jamaica, Queens in 1948, where we are the last milk plant in the area. Now that it is closing, we expect to make use of the land in a way that is more beneficial to ourselves and to the community,” said Henry.

“It is an evolution of what was once dairy farms that became a dairy company and now is going into other fields that will be beneficial,” he added.

“Yes, it is sad. I spent 76 years, my whole life in it. When I saw the end coming, I was initially upset. But now I realize it is for the best. Even though it is a big change, we are going to use the property in a way that will be good for the community, and we will continue in the milk business near Buffalo, New York, through other forms — both cow’s milk and with grains, nuts and seeds,” he said.

Bottom line according to Henry Schwartz: The future is very much agriculture-based but not 100 percent dairy-milk based. That can be said of the future for the Schwartz family in the post-dairy era as it can be said of the urban food and beverage marketplace of New York City for which they are building new brands and expanding in plant-based beverages.

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Story #2 – By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, November 2017

DFA buys Cumberland Dairy, New Jersey’s last independent fluid milk processor

BRIDGETON, N.J. — Cumberland Dairy, the last independent fluid milk processor in New Jersey, was acquired by Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.  The plant has been co-op supplied through Land O’Lakes and its predecessors Atlantic and Interstate as well as Maryland-Virginia milk cooperatives, since its founding, according to president Carmine Catalana IV.

In a phone interview with Farmshine Tuesday (Nov. 7), Carmine said they are moving forward with their current milk supply, which includes a few DFA members commingled on local milk routes.

He acknowledged that the Bridgeton, New Jersey company had interest from other buyers, but that a big consideration in accepting DFA’s acquisition offer — at an undisclosed price – was that Carmine and his brothers would continue in the leadership of the company with the backing of the nation’s largest milk cooperative.

Cumberland Dairy, founded in 1933 by Charles Catalana, is run today by third generation brothers Carmine IV, Frank and David.

The business will continue to operate as Cumberland Dairy, and the (180) employees will retain their current positions, according to DFA’s public announcement of the acquisition. The announcement stated further that, “The Catalana family and existing management team will continue to manage all day-to-day operations, including customer relationships, milk procurement and production.”

“We have the opportunity to move the company forward with the blue-chip customers we serve, and other benefits are sure to come with the backing of a national milk cooperative with 13,000 dairy farms behind them,” said Carmine.

In its press release last Thursday (Nov. 2, 2017), DFA described Cumberland Dairy as a company “proudly serving some of the nation’s top quick-service restaurants, convenience and grocery chains, wholesale food distributors, fine-casual restaurants and dessert concepts to a variety of customers,” stating that the acquisition aligns with DFA’s strategy… to expand into extended shelf life processing.

“DFA approached us because we are one of several extended shelf life (ESL) plants, and they were looking to enter this marketplace and acquire our technology and customer base,” Carmine told Farmshine.

Since the mid-1980s, the plant has been doing ultra high heat pasteurization ESL products in ultra clean packaging to deliver shelf life over 75 days for refrigerated liquid dairy products.

Their ESL process is different from the UHT aseptic packaging that DFA currently uses on the West Coast to package California Gold — a primarily 3.5% fat shelf-stable drinking milk with a non-refrigerated shelf life of one year — which is shipped to Walmart and other chains in China. Those fluid milk sales to China have grown every year since 2014.

“We have not taken the big financial and technology step into the aseptic shelf-stable non-refrigerated dairy market,” said Carmine. But, over the last 30-plus years, the Catalanas have been innovators in the ESL space, before the concept of extended shelf life had a name or an acronym.

DFA noted in an email response that upgrades for aseptic shelf-stable technology may be considered for export from this East Coast plant.

Carmine notes that once his family had implemented an ESL process with a flavor close to fresh milk, “we stopped doing the regular pasteurized milk as a relatively small player, and sold our roots off to a customer, and did nothing but ESL,” Carmine said as he explained the company’s evolution of moving away from conventional milk bottling toward producing their own ESL liquid dairy products under the Freshlife brand and especially into co-packing for private labels.

For example, they do milk and dairy products for Rosenberger’s and other dairies, like Rutters, Schneiders, Wawa, Gallikers, Turkey Hill, and Turner Dairies. While they do everything liquid and refrigerated — from skim milk to heavy cream to dessert mixes — the emphasis is on the ESL products like egg nog, half-and-half and other cream products.

Cumberland Dairy also makes McDonald’s milkshake mix, Rita’s frozen custard, Shake Shack sakes and Kohr Bros. frozen custard, to name a few. In fact, the company’s website shows photos marking when the company began making milkshake mix for “that new drive-in restaurant in the area called McDonald’s” in 1971.

“Most of what we produce has someone else’s label on it,” said Carmine. “We do these products for other dairies, these family businesses that we hold dear as our customers.”

He sees a bright future for the products they currently manufacture. “We have had some conversations with DFA about where this portion of the business is going and how it has continued to grow,” Carmine related. “We felt like this was not something we had the ability to do on our own, and that in DFA, with that many dairy farmers behind them, we had the best partner for the future.”

In an official statement, Carmine said that, “A future with DFA means that we can continue to focus on our values as a company while accelerating our opportunities for growth. This is a very exciting time for the entire Cumberland Dairy family, and we look forward to this next chapter with DFA.”

For DFA’s part, the acquisition “represents a commitment by our farmer-owners to expand our investments in processing and to continue to grow the U.S. dairy industry,” said DFA president and CEO Rick Smith in a DFA press release.

“There are not many independents dairy plants left in this business,” Carmine reflects. “We were the last independent fluid milk processor in New Jersey.”

The Catalana family’s sister business — Innovation Foods LLC, founded by the Catalanas in 2008 — is not included in this transaction with DFA. It will remain independent and wholly-owned by the family, according to the announcement.

At the Cumberland Dairy website, the Catalana family’s retained Innovation Foods LLC is described as “producing high-acid beverage products for our partner NextFoods under their GoodBelly brand.” According to their website, NextFoods, Inc. was founded by Steve Demos, the founder and former president of WhiteWave (makers of Silk soymilk, almondmilk, etc) along with Todd Beckman, a former vice president of business operations at WhiteWave. Their website explains that Demos and Beckman built their NextFoods team to include many who worked at WhiteWave where they helped launch Silk Soymilk “into the stratosphere.”

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Dairy market fluidity

041213FarmshinePage4.inddDairy market fluidity

By Sherry Bunting, Milk Market Moos, Farmshine, February 2, 2018

Picking up from the previous dairy export ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ discussion… Let’s look at what has happened to the fluid milk market in the U.S.

There is a difference between Class I utilization declining and actual packaged milk sales declines. For example, the 2017 year figures are not yet in, but for the last reported month of November, USDA reports that packaged conventional fluid milk sales for January through November 2017 are down 2.1% from year ago and organic fluid milk sales are off by 0.2%.

While consumers are drinking less dairy milk on a per capita basis, Class I — as a percentage of all milk sold — is declining faster because the processing of milk into other growing dairy product sectors is increasing.

Some of the increase in these product sales reflects domestic growth, but the kicker is that as exports increase as a percentage of total milk production, Class I utilization as a percentage of total raw milk sales is pushed lower — even if consumers drink more milk.

Let’s identify how the markets are changing and how to value them back to the raw milk producer rather than laying blame for over production that leaves the farmers in the position of “deserving the price they get.”

Supply management is not the answer, nor is it at this point really possible. It is a distraction. We need to be looking at the dairy trade in a way that both prepares farmers for the future and prepares the industry for dealing fairly with producers.

Case in point. How concerned has the National Dairy Council and the dairy industry  been about the fraudulent use of the word ‘milk’ on plant juice labels? NMPF’s efforts to right this wrong came only within the past two years — and 15 years after these sales of fake milk started eating into the fluid dairy milk sales.

How serious have they been about the milk that our children drink in school? It is interesting that GENYOUth was “founded in 2010 as a partnership between the National Football League and National Dairy Council, convening leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

One example given at the GENYOUth website recognizes U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Vilsack for his accomplishments for dairy farmers while serving as Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama. In his current role, Vilsack’s salary is paid by DAIRY FARMERS via the mandatory promotion checkoff.

Specifically a December GENYOUth gala recognized Vilsack for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids. Under Sec. Vilsack, USDA partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children. Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

school lunchThat is certainly a mouthful, considering that something else occurred in 2010-11. This was the very same year that schools were forced to offer only 1% or fat-free white milk and flavored milk could only be offered as fat-free!

Unfortunately, this did not improve school lunch meal nutrition, and it has cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales.

In fact, Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives stated recently — during a panel of dairy producers and policy folks at a Congressional viewing of the New England documentary Forgotten Farms I attended in Washington D.C. earlier this month — stated the impact of the school milk issue on milk sales, surpluses and pricing.

ForgottenFarms2web.jpg“For the last six years, we have not been able to sell even 1% (fat) milk in the schools,” said Gray about being forced to sell fat-free. “We have lost 288 million pounds of milk in half-pints that were not consumed by schoolchildren because of this move, alone.”

But maybe this is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors becomes less for the many other products that need to be more competitive globally.

Technology is driving some of these trends. New opportunities and new knowledge are improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain. But marketing direction often leaves more questions than answers when it comes to spending money dairy farmers are forced to pay for it.

Meanwhile, as Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, pointed out as a speaker last week in Lancaster County, Pa., the advances in technology are driving production from an efficiency standpoint. What these advances do for agriculture is to help less productive farms improve yields. “Technology improves the bottom end and that creates surplus, said Kohl. “And that is why we need export markets.”

To my thinking, exports are to be keenly pursued, but pursued with a strategy that does not ignore the market profile of dairy sales here at home, especially when the highest valued product classification under federal price regulation for dairy — fluid milk — is being treated like the Cinderella sister with odds against her, while her sisters get ready for the Prince’s ball.

There are plenty of great innovations in dairy products and distribution — including export markets — that deserve our attention. However, while Cinderella is ignored in plain clothes in the increasingly cluttered dairy case full of fake substitutes, she deserves an invitation to the ball. And a glass slipper or two sure wouldn’t hurt.

Whole milk up, fat-free way down

USDA’s January estimated fluid milk sales report indicates that whole milk sales for the first 11 months of 2017 were up by 2.5% over year ago and November, alone was up 3.5%. Meanwhile lowfat and fat-free losses drove the entire category lower as nearly 12% less fat-free milk was sold compared with year ago, 6.7% less 1% and 2.8% less 2% milk. Similar patterns were revealed among organic milk drinkers with fat-free down almost 20% Jan. through Nov. while whole milk was up 6.2%.

Author’s Note: Re-inventing this Ag Moos blog for the times….  Milk Market Moos is a column I’ve been writing in Farmshine since 2003. Find some of it here, at Ag Moos, along with other dairy and beef market related stories, agriculture news, and, in between, the stories and images of the inspirational people of agriculture… but you can get it first, and you can get it all, in Farmshine Newspaper, just $15/year. Farmshine is a weekly newspaper published in Brownstown, Pennsylvania — now in its 39th year of publishing all-dairy, all-the-time.