Politics of whole milk: Dairies go bankrupt, Vilsack gets top pay

When it comes to ‘politics,’ DMI talks out of both sides of the mouth: Top paid executive Tom Vilsack shown here in June asking Senate Ag Committee for government ‘support’ to pay DMI’s ‘pilot farms’ to develop practices for ‘U.S. Dairy’ to reach Net Zero emissions. But ask if DMI can  support whole milk in schools and the response is: “Oh no, that is ‘political’ and we aren’t ‘allowed’ to be ‘political.'” Truth is, DMI’s current top-paid executive — Tom Vilsack — is the one who while serving as Ag Secretary, spearheaded the removal of whole milk from schools in the first place.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

The former Ag Secretary who was instrumental in removing Whole Milk from schools is now the highest-paid executive at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) whose virtual $1 million/year in 2018 came from mandatory checkoff funds paid by dairy farmers who are going bankrupt. 

On Monday (Dec. 2), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that their early look at DMI’s IRS 990 forms for fiscal 2018 show that Tom Vilsack became the highest paid DMI executive earning $999,921 in 2018, which was his first full year as an executive vice president of DMI, president and CEO of DMI’s U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and defacto leader of the Net Zero Project and sustainability and innovation platforms of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Let’s go back a decade. Think back to 2009. The bottom fell out of the dairy markets. It was arguably the worst of economic times in memory for dairy farmers as farm level milk prices fell to $10, and equity in the value of cow herds plummeted. 

As farmers were busy trying to save their farms, and the industry and lawmakers were busy outwardly debating National Milk’s version of “supply management” in the Farm Bill that year, dairy leaders and regulators holding overlapping former and current positions within USDA, DMI, NMPF, DFA and IDFA, began charting a future for dairy in terms of pursuing international dominance, developing “sustainability” frameworks, partnering for “innovation”, and focusing on the zone of investment for consolidating the milk production footprint with ultrafiltration technology as the way to move milk without the water.

It all fits together, like pieces of a puzzle — with no picture on the box to show outwardly what it will all look like when complete.

Back in 2010, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was busy on “sustainability” and getting fairlife ‘the better milk’ up and going, with the DMI Innovation Center’s sustainability council leader being none other than Fair Oaks’ / fairlife’s Dr. Mike McCloskey. 

Then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was busy too that year. In addition to restricting school milk to fat-free and 1% and promulgating rules that listed Whole Milk as “prohibited” on school grounds during school hours, Vilsack was signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) with National Dairy Council to create GENYOUth to promote that dogma, and with DMI to link the “sustainability” framework of Vilsack’s USDA to the “sustainability” framework of DMI’s fledgling Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dairy farmers were coming out of 2008-09 devastation — starved for good news — and were encouraged by all this talk of innovation and sustainability and international markets because they thought it meant the industry was looking to sell more milk and dairy products in such a way as to raise prices paid to them for their milk. 

Who could question this high pursuit of innovation and sustainability and exports – right? That’s the trifecta, the holy grail.

2014’s high milk prices seemed to validate that all was going to be right with the dairy world. But most were not paying attention to the USDA / DMI alliance that was formed and growing — and what it might mean for the future.

Quietly – without much fanfare or protest – USDA began tightening milk restrictions in the school lunch program during this time. In fact, so quiet was this shift that many parents to this day do not realize their kids are getting watered-down milk, cheese, imitation butter, and half-beef-half-soy patties at school.

As the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were implemented, a democrat-controlled Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act – under the avid lobbying efforts of President Obama’s USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for the legislation that would tighten school lunch screws even more.

The dairy checkoff had already been called “government speech” in its 2005 Supreme Court defense, so with USDA’s blessing and encouragement – under Vilsack – the low-fat and fat-free dogma became entrenched and proliferated through the GENYOUth alliance. 

And it set the stage for a new era in dairy that today’s leaders speak of. We are hearing it now. A recent DFA newsletter tells members “milk must evolve to remain relevant.” DFA / NMPF chairman Randy Mooney stated last month that the industry needs to consolidate plants to make new products. Northeast DFA leaders heard from a food science writer and DMI contractor about how dairy proteins will complete plant-based diets during their recent meeting in Syracuse. Dairy dilution is all around us. And the industry points to Dean Foods’ bankruptcy as proof that Real Whole Milk isn’t good enough, isn’t sustainable. (Well, of course not, no one is truly marketing it and the government thanks to Vilsack is prohibiting kids from having it. This is not rocket science folks.)

Yes, folks, hindsight is 20/20. And here we are on the eve of 2020 with former Ag Secretary Vilsack – who was paid a $999,421 salary in 2018 from mandatory dairy producer checkoff funds and is now the top-paid DMI executive — to thank for the removal of Whole Milk and whole dairy products from our schools.

And no one cares to ask him to testify to Congress about why Whole Milk should be allowed in schools, but he is politically involved endorsing presidential candidates and writing their rural platforms, testifying in so many other discussions, including climate change and sustainability and seeking Senate approval of funds for Net Zero pilot farms.

Yes, folks, the dairy industry had and has Tom Vilsack — or vice versa.

-30-

DMI umbrella covers seen and unseen

New tax-exempt entities form — some with aliases — as checkoff funds flow to partnerships

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 20, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) umbrella keeps expanding to include a growing number and assortment of tax-exempt 501c3 and 501c 6 organizations, all having addresses of record being either DMI headquarters at 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 900, Rosemont, Illinois, or National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) headquarters at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia.

Several file their public IRS 990 forms under alias names, so these forms are a challenge to find. Some of the boards of these related organizations are not announced except on these IRS forms.

In reviewing IRS 990’s, many of these boards are comprised of the executive staff of prominent multinational dairy supply chain companies as well as executive staff and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives based in the U.S. and from other countries.

In addition to those IRS forms we could find for 2016-17, there are new organizations that are being formed since 2016-17, for which no IRS forms are yet publicly available.

One up-and-coming new organization is the so-called Center for Dairy Excellence, which is the product of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Innovation Center for U.S Dairy under their Dairy Sustainability Initiative and Dairy Sustainability Alliance.

At a recent dairy risk management seminar in Harrisburg, Pa., a panel of DMI staff mentioned the new “Center for Dairy Excellence”, which they said is unrelated to Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, it just happens to use the same name.

An internet search shows the information about this new center is available in the password-protected “members-only” area of USDEC’s website, but the word is that it will be a new hub for product innovation and sustainability.

One point the DMI panelists made really hit home: “We want to move consumers away from the ‘habit’ of reaching for the jug and get them to be looking for these new and innovative products.”

Products that are rooted in what is increasingly the very hands-on work of national dairy checkoff through these proprietary partnerships that are facilitated by this growing series of related tax-exempt organizations that are then able to push decisions about how checkoff funds are used further into the proprietary pre-competitive hands of the global dairy supply chain and multinational corporations that serve on these related boards.

The companies involved benefit from DMI’s ability to use tax-exempt status to conduct new product research and market testing paid for by dairy farmers under entities such as the Dairy Research Institute — a 501c3 organization that files under the alias name of Dairy Science Institute Inc. and includes several university laboratory sites, including Cornell, where the new fake butter made with water and 10% milkfat was recently discovered and paid for by New York dairy promotion dollars (reported in Farmshine Sept. 6, 2019).

The Dairy Research Institute is referenced at the websites for National Dairy Council and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, but most of the links to their work are in a password-protected “members-only” area. Attempts to sign up to view this information were denied.

Yes, dairy farmers pay for the research, the market testing, and so forth, and the companies then bring these products into the marketplace via the national dairy checkoff funding stream via the tax-exempt status of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Having gathered as many related IRS 990 forms as we could find (due to the confusing use of alias names), there are some interesting things to learn about how the vehicle of dairy industry consolidation and trends in promotion and research have been forming since 2008 — right under our noses — and how the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff continues to fuel the global supply chain engine.

IRS 990 forms show how executive staff for large multi-national companies – some of them based in other countries – are influential in charting this course under the mantra of “pre-competitive collaboration”, which of course makes it all confidential and proprietary.

These related organization boards include leaders of companies and cooperatives based not just in the U.S. but also in New Zealand, China, Netherlands, Canada and Denmark as they acquire assets and form joint ventures in the U.S.

The 2011 implementation of the 7.5-cent import promotion checkoff that perhaps gave entities like Fonterra the entitlement to help shape this direction, leading UDIA to transfer ownership of the Real Seal to NMPF, which now charges companies a licensing fee to use the Real Seal. (More on that another day.)

While a main focus of the USDEC and U.S. Dairy efforts is to increase exports, it is interesting to note that these gains have had a reverse effect on dairy farm milk price revenue, according to a recent study by dairy economist and supply chain expert Chuck Nicholson (more on that, too, another day).

Suffice it to say for now that export volumes were higher in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019, while dairy farm level milk prices were lower in 2016 and 2018 compared with 2017 and 2019. In fact, former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called 2018 “a banner year for exporters.” For dairy farmers, 2018 was anything but banner.

Meanwhile, Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC and a primary leader on the board of U.S. Dairy, is heavily promoting two of DMI’s new internal campaigns: 1) The “Next Five Percent” campaign wants to move exports from 15% of U.S. milk production to 20% within the next two years, and 2) The Net Zero Initiative wants the entire dairy supply chain at net zero emissions by 2050.

Let’s open the DMI umbrella with a short summary on some of the DMI-funded 501c3’s and 6’s by their known names and aliases. (We published a timeline for some of the major pieces under the umbrella in Keep in mind that NMPF is intrinsically involved in at least two: USDEC and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. These are the two organizations spawning a growing number of new tax-exempt organizations under DMI’s umbrella.

U.S. Dairy Export Council

USDEC and NMPF share offices at 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C., according to forms filed with the IRS. According to financial audits, DMI and NMPF trade and buy services from each other, and NMPF rented offices from DMI in Arlington until 2016 when these offices were sold.

In 2017, USDEC listed NMPF as an independent contractor paid $1.85 million for “trade services”.

USDEC paid DMI $6.5 million for management services in 2017, while also listing $6.4 million in salaries and employee compensation.

USDEC’s total revenue was $24.6 mil in 2017, of which $1.43 mil came from membership dues, $5.7 mil from government grants and $17.1 mil from DMI. This means that USDEC received 71% of its funding from national mandatory dairy checkoff and 23% from government grants with just 6% of its funding coming from the membership dues paid by the corporations and cooperatives that are significantly represented on the USDEC board of 140 directors.

The chief financial officer for USDEC in 2017 was Carolyn Gibbs, who was also listed as the CFO for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Halfway through 2017, she left this position to become a principal officer of Newtrient LLC, another related organization formed under the DMI umbrella in 2017. IRS forms for this organization are not yet publicly available.

Before coming to DMI, Gibbs spent 13 years at Kraft Foods, Inc. Her consulting work today with Newtrient LLC is described as “industry outreach, strategy, Net Zero Initiative, and project continuity.”

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — a 501c6 formed in 2008 — is officially known to the IRS as Dairy Center for Strategic Innovation and Collaboration doing business as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The national dairy checkoff organizations increasingly refer to this organization simply as “U.S. Dairy,” and the website for some of its activities is USDairy.com.

According to DMI’s IRS 990 form, this organization is directly controlled by DMI.

The “collaboration” has a small budget of around $115,000 for each of the past three years and no paid staff. But it is the hub of new tax-exempt organizations as well as trademarked initiatives.

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy describes its reason for tax-exempt status on the 990 forms, as follows: “…to provide a forum for the dairy industry to identify opportunities to increase dairy sales through pre-competitive collaboration. It combines the collective resources of the dairy industry to provide consumers with nutritious dairy products and foster industry innovation for healthy people, healthy products and a healthy planet.”

On its 990 forms, U.S. Dairy lists its board of directors — a who’s who of chief executive officers and board chairs for prominent dairy cooperatives as well as multinational dairy processors. The board also includes DMI CEO Tom Gallagher and of course Vilsack.

The Dairy Sustainability Alliance

A key subset of The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is The Dairy Sustainability Alliance, trademarked by DMI in June 2017. A search for The Dairy Sustainability Alliance at guidestar.org, a database of non-profits, brings up Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform Inc.

Global Dairy Platform is a tax-exempt organization formed and incorporated as a 501c6 in 2012 and it lists its physical address as DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.

It describes its tax-exempt justification as follows: “A pre-competitive collaboration of dairy sector organizations, the Global Dairy Platform works with its global membership, scientific and academic leaders and other industry collaborators to align and support the international dairy industry to promote sustainable dairy nutrition.”

Chaired by Rick Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the Global Dairy Platform (GDP), has a board of 12 executives representing the following corporations, cooperatives and organizations: Fonterra (New Zealand), Saputo (Canada-based multinational), Leprino (multinational), Land O’Lakes, Meiji Holdings Ltd. (China), FrielandCamprino (Dutch multinational), Arla (Denmark multinational), China Mengniu Dairy Company and the International Dairy Federation.

Donald Moore was paid nearly $600,000 as GDP executive director in 2016, the most recent IRS 990 form available. Moore currently also serves as chairman of the International Agri-Food Network and the Private Sector Mechanism to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.

DMI senior vice president Dr. Greg Miller is listed as the research lead for the GDP, and he is currently also serving on a food and sustainability committee with the UN World Health Organization. He was the highest paid DMI executive in 2017 at $1.49 mil (including benefit package and deferments).

GDP had revenue of $3.74 million from DMI in 2017 — $2.6 mil for program services and $1.12 mil in the form of grants in 2016. According to the IRS 990, $583,329 of this revenue came from the import checkoff assessment. Research projects accounted for $1.85 million of expenses.

Newtrient LLC

Until July of 2017, Carolyn Gibbs was listed as chief financial officer of USDEC and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, where she assisted with the launch of Newtrient LLC, another tax-exempt 501c6 formed in 2018, according to Gibbs’ bio at newtrient.com.

Newtrient falls under the Dairy Sustainability Alliance (Global Dairy Platform), which comes under the Dairy Sustainability Initiative.

No IRS 990 forms are available yet for Newtrient LLC.

Newtrient is described at its website (newtrient.com) as “an entity focused on turning waste into renewable energy and other commercially viable products, while reducing dairy’s environmental footprint and improving economic returns for dairy farmers.”

Dairy Research Institute

The Dairy Research Institute is a name trademarked by DMI, but the IRS recognizes this 501c3 as Dairy Science Institute Inc. doing business as Dairy Research Institute with a physical address at DMI headquarters in Rosemont, Ill.

The Institute describes its tax-exempt status to the IRS as “created to strengthen the dairy industry’s access to and investment in the technical research required to drive innovation and demand for dairy products and ingredients globally. The Institute works with and through industry, academic, government and commercial partners to drive pre-competitive research in nutrition, products and sustainability on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the National Dairy Council and other partners.”

The Institute is primarily funded by DMI with reported revenue of $1 million in 2016 and $785,935 in 2017. However, from 2013 through 2017, the Institute received a total of $24.3 million from DMI, including it’s first-year startup grant of $19.16 mil. in 2013.

Its officers are listed as Dr. Gregory Miller, president, Tom Gallagher, chairman and Carolyn Gibbs, CFO through July 2017 (before heading over to Newtrient and being replaced by Quinton Bailey).

Dr. Miller is also the research lead for Global Dairy Platform and chief science officer for the National Dairy Council (NDC), a 501c3 tax-exempt organization formed in 1969 and today controlled by United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) and managed by DMI.

GENYOUth

While the sustainability organizational rollouts have been ongoing since 2009-10 memorandums were signed between USDA and DMI, another organization was simultaneously formed while Tom Vilsack was Ag Secretary in 2010 through a three-way memorandum of understanding between National Dairy Council, USDA and the National Foodball League.

This 501c3, of course, is Youth Improved Inc. doing business as GENYOUth, describing its tax-exempt status as “activating programs that create healthy, active students and schools, empowering youth as change-agents in their local communities, engaging a network of private and public partners that share our goal to create a healthy, successful future for students, schools and communities nationwide.”

DMI is listed as GENYOUth’s controlling organization and paid one of its partners, the NFL, $5.6 million for promotion in 2017, according to IRS filings. 

At the same time, in 2017, GENYOUth’s most expensive “charitable activity” was listed as Fuel Up to Play 60, costing $5.4 million and giving considerable advertising exposure to the NFL among future fans. That year, the NFL contributed less than $1 million to GENYOUth.

Alexis Glick, a television personality until 2009, has been GENYOUth’s CEO since its inception in 2010. In both 2016 and 2017, she was paid $259,584 as “compensation for services provided under an independent contractor agreement.”

Other employee compensation totaled $517,165, including vice president Mark Block, at $221,000. Pension plans and other employee benefits totaled $110,026 and other professional fees paid to contractors totaled $2.36 million.

Since 2010, the organization has brought donors to the table including some of the multinational dairy and foodservice corporations DMI is working with in other tax-exempt product innovation and ‘sustainability’ ventures.

-30-

Vilsack reveals ‘Net-Zero Project’ in Senate testimony, Climate policy table set

Vilsack lays out plan for USDA to partner in ‘Net Zero’ pilot farms, using results to set governmental policies and incentives

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 24, 2019

(Above) DMI’s checkoff-funded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was formed in 2008, the year Tom Vilsack became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. This timeline shows the events from 2008 to 2019 around the Innovation Center, sustainability programs, FARM program and various MOU’s with USDA while Vilsack was Secretary and after he became president and CEO of U.S. Dairy Export Council in 2017. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — FARM program evaluations over the past few months have yielded reports from dairy producers on new questions they are being asked about their feeding practices and usage, nutrient management plans, manure management systems and cropping practices, feed rations by class of cattle, livestock and feed inventories on the farm and heifer inventories raised off the farm, milk receipts and receipts for cattle sold for beef purposes, energy and fuel usage and costs, specific questions about wetlands on farm properties as well as new questions about human resources.

Over the past two years, the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) has added new ‘silos’ to the 4-part program. In addition to Animal Care, the newer portions are Environmental Stewardship, Antibiotic Stewardship, and Workforce Development. With all four in place, virtually every management aspect of a dairy farm falls under the FARM umbrella.

The FARM program is funded by the mandatory dairy checkoff through DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. FARM is administrated by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

98% of milk enrolled

According to its 2018 Report, 98% of the milk produced in the U.S. is enrolled in FARM. The Animal Care silo is mandatory for all 115 participating cooperatives and processors, and 20 of the 115 adopted the Environmental Stewardship module by the beginning of this year.

Development of the Environmental Stewardship (ES) module began at FARM’s inception in 2009 but did not become a ‘silo’ in FARM until 2017. The FARM website states that this portion is currently “voluntary for program participants.”

This simply means that the 115 cooperatives and processors that are participating in FARM can voluntarily add the ES module. When added by the participating cooperative or processor, the components of the module become — in effect — mandatory for the farms.

The FARM materials clearly state that FARM is not a legal document. And yet, its modules have expanding levels of authority beyond a milk shipper’s legal milk contract obligations, without expanding compensation.

FARM’s Environmental module was developed, according to the 2018 annual report, as “a tool participants (co-ops and processors) can use to communicate progress towards reducing their carbon and energy footprint.”

The report says further that the Environmental portion of FARM is geared toward assuring dairy customers and consumers of the dairy industry’s commitment to “ongoing environmental progress (by) asking a set of questions to assess a farm’s carbon and energy footprint and then providing farmers with reliable, statistically robust estimates.” It also “tracks advances in dairy production efficiency.”

The questions and data are evaluated based on a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of fluid milk conducted by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, incorporating modeling piloted on 500 example dairy farms across the country.

Checkoff-funded GHG calculator

This LCA development was launched in 2009 at the inception of FARM. By 2010, the greenhouse gas (GHG) LCA was completed, and by 2012, the comprehensive environmental LCA was completed. The program’s ‘Farm Smart’ tracking tool was piloted on the ‘model’ farms in 2013-14.

Farm Smart became a transitional tool in 2016 during a period of analysis, replication, system testing and piloting. In 2017, the FARM program added the Environmental module and began using this ‘Farm Smart science’ to establish the GHG calculator.

FARM environmental audits

For those producers who are being asked these new questions during their FARM evaluations in the past few months, their answers are recorded, and farm data are entered into a spreadsheet, from which annual Environmental audits will be randomly selected.

A video at the FARM website explains the process evaluators use to enter the farm name, zipcode and most recent daily milk shipment in pounds of fat and energy-corrected milk.

The spreadsheet automatically groups these farms by 3-digit zipcode and automatically ranks them within their geographic area by production quartiles — the top 25% of farms with the largest daily milk shipments are in quartile 1 and the smallest 25% are in quartile 4 with the other two quartiles automatically segregated.

Another built-in formula then sorts the farms by 3-digit zipcode and then by production quartile to break out ‘subset’ lists from which 33% of each subset will be randomly selected for annual audits.

Evaluators are told in this training video that the information they are collecting is “purely informational and will be used by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) at a later time.”

So, as FARM evaluators come to the dairy farm, ask new questions and record new information to develop profiles of farms to run through a Farm Smart GHG calculator, the tracking of the milk supply is well on its way.

This tracking eventually becomes a point of oversight and internal regulation to reach the goals set by the checkoff-funded DMI Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Checkoff sets GHG goals

During a Senate hearing on Agriculture and Climate Change this week (May 21), former USDA Secretary and current president and CEO of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council stated that “U.S. Dairy” is “on pace” to meet its goal (set while he was Secretary in 2009) of reducing GHG by 25% by 2020.

Vilsack also announced that the new benchmark set by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is net-zero emissions (by 2030).

When introducing Vilsack at the hearing, the Senate Ag Committee leadership referred to him not only as the honorable Secretary, but as president and CEO of the dairy “exports and innovation.”

The former Ag Secretary in his current role is instrumental in DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy as this entity partners with multi-national corporations operating global supply chains sourcing dairy products and ingredients.

In fact, Vilsack spent much of his time in front of the Senate Ag Committee Tuesday pressing for government support and partnership in setting up pilot farms where all technologies for meeting the net-zero benchmark can be “measured, verified, cost-assessed and then marketed.”

He said the dairy industry needs a “showcase” of pilot farms and ecosystem markets, and he said business opportunities and jobs will follow. Vilsack also indicated that a net-zero achievement is necessary so “U.S. Dairy has a marketing advantage to be competitive in global markets.”

In the past, the ‘showcase’ dairies for the various pursuits of DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, have included Fair Oaks, and Mike McCloskey of Fair Oaks, based in northern Indiana has been a key driver in DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, headquartered an hour or so north in Chicago. The Innovation Center also provided funding for fairlife as a startup over the past decade of these developments.

Vilsack involved from inception

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was implemented by DMI in 2008. The FARM program came under that umbrella in 2009. Both the GENYOUth and the Sustainability Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) were signed by DMI and USDA in 2009 and 2010 near the beginning of Vilsack’s 8-year tenure as Secretary. And, in 2010, DMI’s Innovation Center set a goal to reduce the already tiny carbon footprint of dairy by 25% by 2020. As now DMI employee Vilsack testified Tuesday, the Innovation Center’s new goal is net-zero by 2030.

In fact, in the final days of the Obama administration, on January 13, 2017, former Secretary Vilsack stepped from the office of the USDA Secretary on Independence Avenue, Washington D.C., and just 11 days and 4 miles later on January 24, 2017 stepped into his current office as president and CEO of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council, sharing offices with National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) on Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia.

As noted, the dairy checkoff — under the increased guidance of the Edelman public relations and marketing firm — started down this road in 2008 with the formation of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and the close working relationship with Vilsack while he was Secretary of Agriculture.

Through the MOU’s signed with USDA at that time, it is clear that DMI and its fledgling Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was working closely with the USDA for all eight years Vilsack was Secretary and has carried the same direction and workload over to his employment with DMI in continuing to set benchmarks for dairy ahead of the current anti-cow discussions that have percolated over that same time within federal agencies through the influence of activist non-governmental organizations.

The DMI Innovation Center partnership with World Wildlife Fund became solidified in 2016, as Vilsack’s term as Ag Secretary was expiring.

Barely two years into his employment through dairy checkoff, Vilsack is back before the Senate Ag Committee talking about net-zero emissions, pilot farms, ecosystem markets and other concepts that align with the Green New Deal outlook on cows as a problem that needs to be solved by meatless Monday and have its methane button turned off in order to be acceptable in the EAT Lancet world where billionaires have invested in the replacement technologies of fake meat and fake dairy while simultaneously investing in U.S. global policy initiatives that were initiated while Vilsack was Secretary and were referenced by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) during Tuesday’s hearing (that’s another story).

Again, instead of partnering with the private sector and organizations that understand the already small emissions of cattle when looking at the complete carbon cycle, dairy checkoff has aligned with groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and companies with technologies that are geared toward capturing methane and achieving net-zero GHG emissions.

This all sounds good, right? But what does it really amount to?

Net-zero by the numbers

The current benchmark set by DMI and USDA via the MOU in 2009-10 set the goal of reducing U.S. Dairy’s GHG by 25% by 2020. U.S. GHG inventories — according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — show that total agriculture accounts for 9%. Dairy and livestock, combined, account for half of agriculture’s contribution at 3.9%. Dairy, alone, is at 1.9% on its way, presumably, to 1.5% by 2020.

Even at that point, 25% of 2 is a savings of 0.5% of total U.S. GHG. Part of the FARM program’s tracking of GHG is to look at the number of animals culled for beef so that a portion of their GHG calculation can be pushed over onto the beef footprint and out of the dairy footprint. Can we see how the minutia goes on and on over tiny fractions of impact vs. standing tall to tell the true story about how small the cow’s impact really is?

Vilsack (above): ‘It’s time to get to net-zero’. Mitloehner (below): ‘Cattle do not increase global warming’.

Methane facts vs. fiction

Scientists are pointing out how the methane focus on cattle is being misplaced, or at least not evaluated properly. They point out in a new report that methane is a ‘flow’ emission, not a ‘stock’ emission. In other words, it doesn’t stick around or build up.

Slightly muted Tuesday was the expert testimony given by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, world renowned GHG expert and professor at University of California – Davis. He separated fact from fiction on the carbon footprint of livestock and dairy.

More importantly, he described methane, which is the main GHG of concern for agriculture and especially livestock and dairy. He explained how methane differs from the other two greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – that together make up total GHG.

“For example, carbon dioxide lives for 1000 years, once we emit CO2 with our vehicles, let’s say, it stays there for 1000 years, same for nitrous oxide,” Mitloehner testified. “But methane is very different… with a lifespan of only 10 years.”

He described how a 1000-cow dairy after 10 years, for example, is no longer an emitter of new methane because the methane emitted is also being destroyed at the same rate, becoming part of the carbon cycle through plant photosynthesis, ruminant consumption of these plants and so forth on a continuum.

He explained this destruction process – hydroxyl oxidation – that “occurs constantly,” saying that, “Any kind of discussions that I am part of is a discussion where that fact is left out, and it shouldn’t be left out because it’s critical.”

In fact, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said “Some of us are pretty struck today because we have heard that methane is horrible, we need to reduce our livestock herds, and we should have meatless Mondays. We’ve heard that time and time again. It’s been done in various federal agencies in past administrations.”

Mitloehner pointed out that while methane is an important climate pollutant and almost 30 times more potent than CO2, “If we maintain constant livestock herds and flocks, then we are not increasing methane and therefore not increasing global warming as a result of that.”

In that context, mitigating methane becomes a tool to counteract global warming, which is a different discussion and one that gives the methane mitigation a valuation for potential compensation.

Surprisingly, Mitloehner’s contribution received far fewer questions from Senators than one would expect. Most of the Senators gave Vilsack multiple opportunities to come back to his theme of driving dairy and agriculture to net-zero and the business opportunities and marketing advantages this would provide for “U.S. Dairy” in global markets.

Meanwhile, a growing number of scientists are agreeing with a more realistic perspective on methane, that a more ideal approach would be aimed at zero emissions for stock pollutants that are long-lived such as carbon dioxide (through a combination of energy efficiency, more food per lower energy inputs and carbon sequestration through crops, grasses and forages) while aiming for flow pollutants like methane to be low and stable instead of zero because methane is short-lived and part of a continuous sun-powered carbon cycle in which cows are already an integral part on the positive side.

GHG tracking

With dairy farms representing 1.9% of total U.S. GHG and the transportation sector representing 80%, who is then calculating the GHG impact of transportation in a consolidating industry where the new term coined by Vilsack of ‘ecosystem markets’ substitute on a larger scale for the ‘environmentally-friendly’ concepts of regional food systems and eating ‘local.’

On the methane tracking in this deal, a split in thought processes is beginning to emerge.

Meanwhile, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — and its birthing of the FARM program — provide the vehicle to meet the net-zero benchmark this checkoff-funded entity has set. The pilot farms the former Secretary wants the government to partner in supporting would develop another template of practices and technologies farms can implement to meet new Environmental FARM criteria so the net-zero benchmark can be met and marketed over the next 10 years.  

While achieving, marketing and capitalizing on net-zero emissions sounds great, what does it mean for all of the farms being forced to pay into the dairy checkoff with expectations that this money is for promotion and research of the milk they produce and the care they have always taken of the resources they steward?

When benchmarks, streamlining vehicles, government cross-over specialists, evolving science, assumed needs and fuzzy baselines, converge and align, where does this leave the single-family farm of 50 to 200 cows or multi-generational dairy farm of 300 to 1500 cows?

Will they be credited for destroying as much methane as they produce by keeping their herds fairly stable in size?

Without the financial incentives or compensation to implement template technologies to achieve net-zero, how will their tiny profiled-and-tracked GHG emissions be handled in FARM Environmental Stewardship audits and mandatory correction plans in 2020, 2025, 2030?

The drive toward installation of methane digesters to actually capture the methane is great science, and it works for some farms, but not others. It’s a pathway to net-zero, and yet it is unclear whether these other factors regarding methane will be highlighted in the Farm Smart GHG calculator developed by the DMI Innovation Center for the NMPF FARM implementation. Once in place, this GHG calculator will track dairy farm GHG progress as their cooperatives and processors add the Environmental ‘silo’ to the FARM requirements of shippers.

From Innovation Center documents and USDA MOU’s and WWF partnerships documents, the descriptions of the work done between 2010 and 2016 on the GHG calculator have a tracking focus on the same thing the anti-cow folks are focusing on, and that is methane’s 30-times greater heat-trapping capabilities compared with carbon dioxide, and totally ignoring the fact that the methane is short-lived at 10 years vs. carbon at 1000 years so the livestock and dairy industries have already dramatically reduced methane by having fewer animals producing more food today than 30 and 40 years ago.

Will appropriate credit be given to small and mid-sized dairy farms that have had modest growth rates over decades or generations putting them in a place of zero new methane? Or will they need to capture methane to satisfy the net-zero benchmark their checkoff program has set in order to make space for new cows to be added in the rapid growth and industry consolidation areas of the country?

In fact, as part of a flow pattern that involves plants (feed) and cows in reducing the GHG heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide and methane, combined (see fig. 2), what’s newsworthy is  science does support more accurate modeling to credit the sequestration of long-lasting carbon and accounting for short-lived methane destruction.

On methane, Dr. Mitloehner stated that the mere fact that there are 9 million dairy cattle today compared with 24 million in 1960 and producing three times more milk shows that dairy producers are collectively not only emitting zero new methane, they are reducing total methane as old methane and carbon are eradicated by the carbon cycle and less new replacement methane is emitted.

The problem may be this: Year-over-year cow numbers for the U.S. creeped higher from 2014 to 2018 before backing off a bit in 2019. While still much lower than three or four decades ago, the issue emerging for DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is how to accommodate growth of the new and consolidating dairy structures to attain the expanded global export goal if dairy farms in other areas remain virtually constant in size or are grow modestly by comparison.

To reach the Innovation Center’s new net-zero goal, cows would have to leave one area in order to be added in another area, or they will all have to have their methane buttons turned off or the methane captured because now the emissions are being tracked in order to meet one collective “U.S. Dairy” unit goal under the DMI Innovation Center and NMPF / FARM. Dr. Frank Mitloehner testified that dairies already create zero new methane but this can be tricky when cattle move from one area to another (as we see in the industry’s consolidation).

Will all dairy farms have to get to net-zero to survive over the next 10 years under the GHG calculator developed by the checkoff-funded Innovation Center, which has now been added to the FARM program? That’s the big question.

Before the Senate, Vilsack repeatedly went back to his main premise that the Net Zero Project is  “critical for U.S. dairy.” His written testimony specified that the Net Zero Project comes out of the collaborative work of several dairy checkoff-funded entities along with various global dairy food companies, including DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in combination with DMI-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council, and checkoff-supported Newtrient LLC, as well as an industry consortium called the Global Dairy Platform.

According to Vilsack, the Net Zero Project presents a  “global marketing advantage for U.S. dairy,” he said.  “This is how U.S. Dairy will compete.”

-30-