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EPHRATA, Pa. – Now that elections are over, five more years of Dietary Guidelines are announced, and movement on anything of substance in Washington is up in the air, the Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition yard signs are getting a makeover.
The action word “Vote” on the campaign-style yard signs that began popping up last fall has been changed to “Drink”, but the message and reference to 97milk.com remain the same.
These are signs to make people aware of two things:
1) Whole milk is still not allowed as a school lunch choice under current federal rules, and
2) Whole milk is the best way to get Vitamin D and other immune boosting nutrition for children and elderly, whose diets are most controlled by the fat-free and low-fat rules of yet another round of 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines.
Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey has changed 300 available signs printed with the financial sponsorship of Morrissey Insurance of Ephrata and Troy, Pa.; Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland; and Wenger’s of Myerstown.
“Our main message is the same,” says Morrissey. “News reports increasingly mention vitamin D supporting the immune system in this time of coronavirus pandemic. Even national broadcasts bring on specialists citing research showing the vital role of vitamin D. The best way to get vitamin D is in whole milk, but our children are not permitted to choose whole milk at school. They can only choose fat-free and 1% low-fat milk, according to the federal government’s dietary rules.”
In fact, according to a recent health report aired on several major broadcasting networks, dozens of studies have identified the importance of vitamin D in relation to Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, the medical community identified vitamin D as a nutrient deficiency of concern among Americans.
A huge new study is underway to test causation between higher vitamin D levels and prevention of deaths due to Covid-19 after several smaller studies showed nine out of 10 deaths could have been prevented with adequate vitamin D levels.
Winter is the season of concern with Covid-19, and it is the time when vitamin D deficiency is most prevalent, say health professionals in countless interviews.
Vitamin D is one of several fat-soluble vitamins in milk. Vitamin D occurs naturally in the milk fat at some level but is also fortified in milk and has been for decades because of the longstanding concern about vitamin D deficiency and the importance of vitamin D in conjunction with calcium for strong bones and overall health.
A study at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, Canada, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017, showed children who drank whole milk had up to three times higher absorbed levels of vitamin D compared with children drinking 1% low-fat milk. Studies at the same hospital also showed children drinking whole milk were 40% less at risk to become overweight than children drinking low-fat milk.
“What we are doing with the yard signs and Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted bales and banners and the efforts of the 97 Milk education group with their website and social media is all working. The yard signs focus on the nutritional message for our children and elderly that the Dietary Guidelines ignore – immune boosting nutrition,” says Morrissey.
“This is a slow process to get things changed in Washington and Harrisburg, but we’re working on it,” he adds, praising the combined efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC and all the many people and agribusinesses supporting both grassroots efforts initiated by dairy farmers.
Morrissey said the 300 Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com yard signs are available in the vestibule at Morrissey Insurance at 890 North Reading Road, Ephrata, Pa. Signs are also available at Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland and Wenger’s of Myerstown during business hours.
“These yard signs are free because of the three businesses that paid for them – Morrissey, Sensenig’s and Wenger’s. Come and get them, but take only what you will place,” says Morrissey, wanting to be sure signs are put out for others to see, and learn and question and get involved.
Producers and other businesses wanting to sponsor the continued printing of more yard signs, or those with questions about how to participate from other areas, contact Bernie Morrissey from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at 610.693.6471.
More than a decade of research on saturated fat is again ignored: A look at the reality of where we are and how we got here.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 15, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Make every bite count.” That’s the slogan of the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released Tuesday, December 29 by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).
In the webcast announcement from Washington, the focus was described as helping Americans meet nutritional needs primarily from nutrient-dense ‘forms’ of foods and beverages. However, because of the continued restriction on saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories, some of the most nutrient-dense foods took the biggest hits.
For example, the 2020-25 DGA executive summary describes the Dairy Group as “including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and/or lactose-free versions, and fortified soy beverages and yogurt.”
At the newly re-launched MyPlate website, exclusions are listed, stating “the Dairy Groupdoes not include foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content, such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter.”
In fact, the webcast announcement flashed a slide of MyPlate materials showing consumers how to customize favorite meals for so-called ‘nutrient density’. The example was a burrito bowl, before and after applying the DGAs. Two recommended ‘improvements’ were to remove the sour cream and to replace ‘cheese’ with ‘reduced-fat cheese.’
For the first time, the DGAs included recommendations for birth to 2 years of age. The new toddler category is the only age group (up to age 2) where whole milk is recommended.
The 2020-25 DGAs “approve” just three dietary patterns for all stages of lifespan: Heathy U.S., Vegetarian, and Mediterranean. Of the three, two include 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy and one includes 2 to 2.5 cups low-fat and fat-free dairy. Protein recommendations range 2 to 7 ounces. All 3 dietary patterns are heavy on fruits, vegetables and especially grains.
In short, the DGA Committee, USDA and HHS collectively excluded the entire past decade of research on saturated fat. Throughout the DGA process, many in the nutrition science and medical communities asked the federal government to add another dietary pattern choice that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein with a less restrictive saturated fat level — especially given the government’s own numbers shared in the Dec. 29 announcement that, today, 60% of adults have one or more diet-related chronic illnesses, 74% of adults are overweight or obese, and 40% of children are overweight or obese.
As current research points out, saturated fat is not consumed by itself. It is part of a nutrient-dense package that supplies vitamins and minerals the DGA Committee, itself, recognized their approved dietary patterns lack. Full-fat dairy foods and meats have complex fat profiles, including saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats, CLAs and omegas.
But USDA and HHS chose to ignore the science, and the dairy and beef checkoff and industry organizations ‘applauded.’
National Dairy Council ‘applauds,’ NCBA ‘thrilled’
Both the checkoff-funded National Dairy Council (NDC) and checkoff-funded self-described Beef Board contractor National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) were quick to respond with public statements.
NDC stated in the subject line of its news release to media outlets that “dairy organizations applaud affirmation of dairy’s role in new Dietary Guidelines.”
The NDC news release stated: “Daily inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods is recommended in all three DGA healthy dietary patterns. Following the guidelines is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”
The dairy checkoff news release also identified nutrient deficiencies that are improved by consuming dairy but failed to mention how fat in whole milk, full-fat cheese and other dairy products improves nutrient absorption.
Checkoff-funded NDC’s news release described the DGAs as “based on a sound body of peer-reviewed research.” The news release further identified the guidelines’ continued saturated fat limits at no more than 10% of calories but did not take the opportunity to mention the excluded peer-reviewed research showing saturated fat, milkfat, whole milk and full-fat dairy foods are beneficial for health, vitamin D and other nutrient absorption, all-cause mortality, satiety, carbohydrate metabolism, type 2 diabetes and neutral to beneficial in terms of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
They did not take the opportunity to encourage future consideration of the ignored body of research. Even National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) included a fleeting mention of its hopes for future fat flexibility in its own DGA congratulatory news release.
The checkoff-funded NDC news release did reveal its key priority: Sustainability. This topic is not part of the guidelines, but NDC made sustainability a part of their news release about the guidelines, devoting one-fourth of their communication to this point, listing “sustainable food systems” among its “dietary” research priorities, and stating the following:
“While these Guidelines don’t include recommendations for sustainable food systems, the U.S. dairy community has commitments in place to advance environmental sustainability,” the National Dairy Council stated in its DGA-applauding news release. “Earlier (in 2020), the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals, which include achieving carbon neutrality or better, optimizing water usage and improving water quality.”
A less publicized piece of the DGA combines saturated fat and added sugars. In addition to no more than 10% of each, the new DGAs state no more than 15% of any combination of the two.
This detail could impact the way schools, daycares and other institutional feeding settings manage the calorie levels of both below that 10% threshold to comply with USDA oversight of the combined 15%.
These two categories could not be more different. Saturated fat provides flavor plus nutritional function as part of nutrient-dense foods, whereas added sugar provides zero nutritional function, only flavor.
USDA and HHS fail
During the DGA webcast announcement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said: “The new Dietary Guidelines are focused on nutrient dense foods and are based on a robust body of nutritional scientific evidence to make every bite count.”
Perdue talked about how the guidelines are there to help Americans make healthy choices. He repeatedly used the term “nutrient dense foods” to describe dietary patterns that are notably lacking in nutrient dense foods – so much so that even the DGA Committee admitted in its final live session last summer that the approved dietary patterns leave eaters, especially children and elderly, deficient in key vitamins and minerals.
“We are so meticulous and careful about developing the DGAs because we use them to inform food and federal programs,” said Admiral Brett Giroir of HHS during the DGA announcement.
At least Admiral Giroir was honest to remind us that the DGAs are more than ‘guidelines’, the DGAs are, in fact, enforced upon many Americans — especially children, elderly, food insecure families, and military through government oversight of diets at schools, daycares, retirement villages, hospitals, nursing homes, military provisions, and government feeding programs like Women Infants and Children.
“The 2020-25 DGAs put Americans on a path of sustainable independence,” said USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps during the Dec. 29 unveiling.
Lipps was eager to share the new MyPlate website re-launch — complete with a new MyPlate ‘app’ and ‘fun quizzes and challenges.’ He said every American, over their whole lifespan, can now benefit from the DGAs. In addition, the MyPlate ‘app’ will record dietary data for the government to “see how we are doing.”
In the postscript comments of the 2020-25 report, USDA / HHS authorities say they intend to look again at ‘preponderance’ of evidence about stricter sugar and alcohol limits in future DGA cycles but made no mention of looking at ‘preponderance of evidence’ on loosening future saturated fat restrictions.
The ‘preponderance’ threshold was set by Congress in 1990. Then, in 2015, Congress took several steps to beef up the scientific review process for 2020.
During an October 2015 hearing, members of Congress cited CDC data showing the rate of obesity and diabetes in school-aged children had begun to taper down by 9% from 2006 to 2010, but from 2010 to 2014 the rates increased 16%.
2010 was the year Congress passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to tie the most fat-restrictive DGAs to-date more closely to the schools and other government-subsidized feeding.
USDA, under Tom Vilsack as former President Obama’sAg Secretary at the time promulgated the implementation rules for schools, outright prohibiting whole and 2% milk as well as 1% flavored milk for the first time — even in the a la carte offerings. These ‘Smart Snacks’ rules today govern all beverages available for purchase at schools, stating whole milk cannot be offered anywhere on school grounds from midnight before the start of the school day until 30 minutes after the end of the school day.
In the October 2015 Congressional hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle grilled then Secretaries Tom Vilsack (agriculture) and Sylvia Burwell (HHS) about the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) that is housed at USDA, asking why large important studies on saturated fat funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) were left out of the 2015-20 DGA consideration.
That 2015 hearing indicates why we are where we are in 2020 because of how each 5-year cycle is structured to only look at certain questions and to build on previous DGA Committee work. This structure automatically excludes some of the best and most current research. On saturated fat in 2020, the DGA Committee only considered new saturated fat evidence on children (of which very little exists) or what met previous cycle parameters.
During the 2015 Congressional hearing, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked why 70% of the DGA process did not use studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“The (DGA) process starts with a series of questions that are formulated and then information is accumulated, and it goes through a process of evaluation,” Vilsack replied.
Answering a charge by then Congressman Dan Benishek, a physician from Michigan who was concerned about the 52% of Americans in 2015 that were diabetic, pre-diabetic and carbohydrate intolerant in regard to the fat restrictions, Vilsack replied:
“The review process goes through a series of mechanisms to try to provide an understanding of what the best science is, what the best available science is and what the least biased science is, and it’s a series of things: the Cochrane Collaboration, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the aging for health care equality, data quality, all part of the Data Quality Act (2001 under Clinton Admin). That’s another parameter that we have to work under, Congress has given us direction under the Data Quality Act as to how this is to be managed.”
Unsatisfied with this answer, members of Congress pressed further in that 2015 hearing, stressing that fat recommendations for children have no scientific basis because all the studies included were on middle aged adults, mainly middle-aged men.
“In some circumstances, you have competing studies, which is why it’s important to understand that this is really about well-informed opinion. I wish there were scientific facts. But the reality is stuff changes. The key here is taking a look at the preponderance, the greater weight of the evidence,” said then Sec. Vilsack in 2015. “If you have one study on one side and you have 15 on another side, the evidence may be on this side with the 15 studies. That’s a challenge. That’s why we do this every five years to give an opportunity for that quality study to be further enhanced so that five years from now maybe there are 15 studies on this side and 15 studies on this side. It’s an evolving process.”
Stay involved and engaged. The grassroots efforts are making inroads, even though it may not appear that way.
For their part, the checkoff and commodity organizations ‘applauding’ the latest guidelines would benefit from drinking more whole milk and eating more full-fat cheese and beef to support brain function and grow a spine.
Dairy category sales are up, Whole milk is the star, up 14.5%
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 18, 2020
SINKING SPRING, Pa. — “This is an easy message to sell, and sales of whole milk are way up,” said Eric White about the Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” grassroots milk education campaign.
White is director of marketing and communications for Redner’s Markets, headquartered in Reading, Pa. with 44 stores, 35 of them in central Pennsylvania, the balance in Maryland and Delaware.
He was not surprised by the grassroots marketing campaign for whole milk: The painted round bales started by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, the banners promoted by retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey, and the social media and website promotion by 97 Milk.
When Morrissey visited him some months ago, White was eager to join in.
The “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free stickers” are up on dairy cases at Redner’s Markets locations, White had them made with the signature red type on white background. Clover Farms Dairy, the milk bottler in Reading that supplies milk to all Redner’s stores, indicates they will be changing the case strips to promote whole milk too.
White is also putting up the “Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard signs in the store above the dairy case and on the grounds as well.
Both the grassroots stickers and the signs include the 97milk.com website where shoppers can get more information and milk education. The Redner’s Dairy cases also include the Choose PA Dairy signs, featuring photos of local farms, and the chocolate milk refuel signage from the national and regional checkoff programs.
During an interview at the dairy case in the Redner’s Sinking Spring store this week, the impact was clear: Whole milk in the jug is very much the star of the show.
In fact, the Redner’s brand, bottled by Clover, has always been whole milk. Whole milk is the only milk that gets the Redner’s name. It has always been that way, says White.
He confirmed their whole milk sales have increased dramatically. Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic has had some impact, he said: “But when I look at January through March numbers, that is how it was tracking even before the pandemic.
“I pulled the numbers, and we have seen a 14.5% increase in whole milk sales, alone, which is tremendous,” White confirmed. “The consumer message has changed, and we see people coming back to whole milk, knowing that they don’t need to drink the lower fat milk. We give our own kids whole milk at home now. It’s better for isotonic replenishment.”
White also reported that sales for the entire dairy case are up.
“The whole dairy category is higher, with milk being the number one product selling from the dairy category, and whole milk the number one type of milk being sold,” he said.
White also sees how whole milk sales benefit local dairy farms. “There is a confluence in how these sales benefit local agriculture that we need to support more than ever. We are seeing the messages in the media. With digital and social media, the message spreads.”
“We want to thank Redner’s for being a leader,” said Morrissey. “They are pro-farmer, pro-education and pro-consumer. They are completely on the 97 Milk page of educating consumers about whole milk as immune boosting, like our sign says. Eric has been tremendous to work with. If every supermarket chain would start educating consumers about whole milk, we would see even more benefits for consumers and farmers. The secret is education, and Redner’s is the store that is out there in front of the pack, doing it.”
Eric White has been with Redner’s for 22 years. He notes that they have long partnered with Clover Farms Dairy for their milk. They feature Clover milk in all of their stores, along with other local name brands, and of course, the Redner’s brand — whole milk — is bottled by Clover.
“It’s not that hard to do this,” said White. “We are a local family-owned company, and supporting this message brings it full circle back to the local dairy farms that are the backbone.
“We can underestimate why we are in business, and it is only because of the farms producing the food,” he observed. “Dairy and agriculture are the backbone of everything here in central Pennsylvania. A lot of businesses are here because of dairy. We are here selling food and feeding people because of the farms.”
White notes that as Redner’s expands, they are also expanding the reach of the farms shipping to Clover. More distant store locations also feature brands local to those sites as well. In fact, it is Redner’s practice to work with local farms on in-season vegetables and fruits as well as year-round products like yogurt.
Morrissey agrees, he notes that the Morrissey Insurance business he founded in the 1980s is in multiple states and appreciates grocers with stores in multiple states supporting their local and regional farms. He stresses that one of the best ways to do that is to educate consumers about whole milk.
When Troutman started painting round bales with the “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” message in December 2018, he said he never thought it would go so far.
“This is a dream come true to know all that has happened in the past two years — from the stores to the signs to the website and social media — and how the message has gone to other states and around the world,” said Troutman.
He added that, “When people work with you and work together, that’s the key.”
Troutman recalled a Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon in December 2018. “I went home frustrated,” he reflected. “I looked around at what I had, and thought, I’ll paint a round bale with the message and put it out.”
The rest, as they say, is history — and it’s a history still in the making.
Morrissey recalls the first time he stopped in at Redner’s main office. “I didn’t know Eric at the time, and I didn’t have an appointment. He saw the banner I brought with me and was eager to talk with me.”
White had seen the message on round bales popping up around the area, and he was seeing the impact on Redner’s whole milk sales.
“The 97 Milk message was not much of a revelation to me because I always knew it. I drank whole milk growing up and through college. But my wife was convinced on fat-free. Now that we know drinking whole milk does not condemn us to a life of Lipitor — especially for our kids — she is buying whole milk for our family,” he says, adding that even their pediatrician recommended whole milk.
White points out that in today’s age of marketing and new products (not to mention government edicts for schools), there are a lot of opportunities for people to get off track in healthy eating — especially for children.
Morrissey, Troutman and White all agree that the beauty of the 97 Milk effort is how it has spread, and the beauty of social media is when the truth gets out, it spreads fast.
While not present for the interview, Gn Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC, added his voice of appreciation for Redner’s. “Milk education is a win-win for everyone involved. The biggest winner is the consumer. Thanks to Redner’s for being part of the milk education team,” said Hursh.
“Without Redner’s, without Eric, we could not accomplish this,” added Morrissey. “Redner’s is the leader in educating the public and being very transparent about why whole milk sales are good for consumers and for farmers.”
The importance of whole milk to consumers is evident. During the height of the pandemic last spring, White said consumers showed how much it is a staple they rely on. Even during our interview Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the forecast calling for a record December snowstorm in the area for the next day, the dairy case was very busy with shoppers and constant re-stocking of milk, especially re-stocking the shelves with Redner’s Farm Fresh Vitamin D whole milk – in demand!
LITITZ, Pa. — Whole milk sales are rising. Consumers are returning to fat, and they are looking for healthy, local foods. These trends were underway well before Covid-19 and have only accelerated since. At the same time, dairy farms look for growth in diversification or getting closer to the consumer, rather than expanding cow numbers.
For Oregon Dairy, Lititz, Pennsylvania, those paths intersected. They downsized the dairy herd from milking 500 cows to 60 in July 2019, which was the first step to becoming first in the nation (likely first in the world) to produce and market milk with “mooore omega 3” – naturally. The marketing began recently in November 2020.
“We are very proud of our milk. We have always been tied to the story of our milk from the farm to the store. But we are also looking to go to the next level in differentiating it,” says Jon Hurst, center store manager. “Now we have a story to tell about our Naturally Better Omega 3 Oregon Dairy Milk.”
In fact, shoppers at the family-owned grocery store can scan a QR code on the cap of the milk jug that takes them directly to a video about how the cows are fed to naturally produce milk with more omega 3.
The video talks about healthy omega-3 fat found in dairy foods (and fatty fish).
Therefore (as noted on the dairy case signs below), the higher omega-3 levels pertain to the whole milk (57 mg), whole chocolate milk (53 mg), 2% milk (28 mg) and cream.
While there are other milk brands that increase omega-3 by adding fish oil or algae derivatives directly to the milk in the form of additives, what Oregon Dairy has done is to feed the cows a supplement that balances the ratio between omega 3 and 6, so the cows naturally produce milk with consistently higher levels of omega-3 – and do it within a conventional dairy setting.
The distinct businesses of Oregon Dairy near Lititz, Pennsylvania include the farm, bottling at the grocery store, restaurant, ice cream shoppe and agri-tainment with four brothers, George, Willie, Curvin and Vic, owning different segments. As they partner with the next generation of siblings and cousins, communication has grown closer on a farm-to-table vision that has always had the dairy cow front and center.
Like any grocery store, other big-name brands are sold, but the focus is to continue highlighting local through what they do at the farm and other enterprises under the Oregon Dairy umbrella, as well as partnering with other local farms and businesses in the community.
Before downsizing, the farm — co-owned by George Hurst and his son Chad and daughter Maria and her husband Tim Forry — sold 90% of their milk through a cooperative in the commodity market and just 10% was purchased by the store and restaurant as needed.
Now, the various branches of the Hurst family and sector managers must communicate more directly about milk supply and marketing — putting them in the position to tailor what they do at the farm level to differentiate the milk at the store level.
With 18,000 followers on Oregon Dairy’s social media platforms, Jon has become a promotion powerhouse with the “farm fresh family fun” tagline, producing videos and contests and in-store partnerships that began before the Coronavirus disruptions and have given shoppers something to look forward to — with humor and sincerity — during this Covid-19 era.
For generations, they’ve been just bottling milk at the store and having their cream turned into ice cream by another manufacturer. But Jon and his cousin Maria, see a future of possibilities.
The Naturally Better Omega 3 (NBO3) Oregon Dairy Milk opens opportunities, but it really starts at the basic cow level, where the total mixed ration is balanced for omegas by feeding greatOPlus, an omega-3 nutrient supplement in the TMR mineral pack from Sporting Valley Feeds.
Their longtime nutritionist and veterinarian Dr. Robert Stoltzfus of Lancaster Vet Associates suggested the product last fall — a few months after the cow herd was downsized.
Across species, feeding flaxseed is nothing new, but it is the supplement’s algae derivatives that add additional properties for animal performance and transfer a more optimal omega balance to the meat, milk and eggs the animals produce.
“The benefits are on two levels,” says Paul Rosenberger, a consultant with NBO3, maker of greatOPlus and the largest algae producer in the country. We spoke with him by phone this week to understand the process.
“By balancing the ratios of omega 3 and 6, we get the benefit of omega-3, and in bypassing the rumen, we improve the conversion of that balance to the milk,” he explains about the natural feed nutrient.
Omega-3 has attracted attention as a healthy fat in the human diet, including reducing stress and inflammation, as well as heart health and other benefits the long chain fatty acids provide.
Oregon Dairy is one of a couple dairies Rosenberger is working with to introduce the product and acquire data.
Through Kansas State University, the Manhattan, Kansas-based NBO3 company has already received over 8000 data points from beef herds, poultry (eggs), swine, and now milk from dairy cows.
“In beef cattle, our data show improved marbling and color of the meat. In dairy cattle, there are performance benefits, but what we’re looking at with Oregon Dairy are the ratios of omega 3 and 6 in the milk,” he explains. “They are a natural for us with their retail connection providing so many attractive possibilities.”
Jon and Maria confirm the milk looks and tastes the same. (We took some home and agree, the milk is delicious as always with no difference in taste.) The difference is on the label in the milligrams of omega-3. Getting to that point took nine months of testing.
Maria explains: “We started feeding (the supplement) to our cows at a half a pound per cow in the ration, then tested, then increased our feeding rate until our tests showed we reached the omega-3 levels in the milk and were holding at those levels for months.”
Today the TMR inclusion rate is at about one and a half pounds, and the testing through NBO3 incorporates three prongs: the K-State university system, their own company labs and a third-party verifying lab.
“Once we got to the level of omega-3 in the milk and could sustain it, that’s when we got involved in the marketing and telling the story,” says Jon.
George explains that some producers are feeding the omega-balancing product to improve cow health, fertility and performance. He says they weren’t looking for specific herd improvements, but rather to improve the milk the cows produce.
Tim says the performance of the cows has been quite good in production, SCC and fertility, but again, their goal is what transfers to the milk.
“We want to niche our milk,” George relates. “Downsizing the herd was never a question of not producing milk. It was a business decision on the farm side because of the dynamics of the milk market and dairy pricing. We chose to downsize and diversify.”
The farm has gotten into custom work and a seed dealership. “We went from being 40% overcrowded to having less than 50% of our freestall capacity used, that changes a lot of things,” says Tim.
One thing it changed is feeding the methane digester that has been integral on the farm since the 1980s, so they’re fattening 180 beef heifers that go to commercial markets, along with a small number of pasture-raised Angus cattle, owned by the store, that are finished at the farm.
The beef cattle help keep the digester fed and stable to receive the other waste, to generate electricity and be part of the composting business they started over a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the store was also looking to diversify and capitalize on direct relationships with consumers.
“I go back to the concept of doing what you are good at, and this is what we are good at,” says Jon. As part of the next generation bringing their perspectives to the business, he sees local, natural, family and fun as what Oregon Dairy is good at. This omega 3 niche allows them to envision more about the future.
“We want to be thinking outside the box of how to handle the amount of milk produced and needed,” Jon observes.
“It all ties back to the consumer and the cows. Through our agri-tainment and corn maze and events, we hear consumers talk about health, we talk to consumers about milk and health. I talk to my own friends and family about cows and milk, but it always comes back to a health discussion,” Jon explains. “People in my generation want natural and local, and this is natural and local. Those two words capture carbon footprint and health, and it’s part of our story.”
“I think what is encouraging for other farms to take from this is to look for opportunities to diversify and differentiate within your sphere — to pursue and collaborate with others even in a small way, to find the opportunities whether producing milk, meat or eggs,” George reflects, adding that the beef industry seems to have a better handle on dealing with plant-based competitors where the dairy industry is playing catch up.
Differentiating Oregon Dairy’s milk with “mooore omega 3”, provides new ways to reach consumers with positive messages about the benefits of milk — things you just can’t get from plant-based lookalikes.
For Oregon Dairy, the bottom line in this first-ever product is to provide the same great milk from the same great cows at the same great price with the same local story, the same great health information – but now with a little more to show and tell.
The marketing is so fresh, Jon and Curvin Hurst don’t have a handle yet on how much their sales have increased, except that the omega 3 message dovetails with the trend they already see of consumers buying the higher fat milks.
“Whole milk sales, in general, are higher,” says Jon. “We have seen that shift increase in the last two years. Whole milk is number one now.”
That trend made this possible, because without the fat, there’s no omega 3.
At the store, the staff is trained to answer questions, the QR codes are on the bottle caps, the omega 3 milligrams are on the new labels, the ‘Don’t forget mooore milk’ signage is up with information about omega 3 health benefits, and free milk giveaway contests have been done on facebook, along with celebratory videos launching the message.
Much planning went into the launch, which they never dreamed would happen during a pandemic.
But that really doesn’t matter.
“We are already hyper-local, and now we have this extra step to further differentiate our milk,” says Jon. “As always, our story, even this new story, starts with the cows. Yes, we are proud of our milk.”
We appreciate the flexibilities rule, but it does not go far enough to benefit the healthy choices of our school children. WHOLE MILK should be offered as a choice at school meals because children and teens in trials preferred whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat milk, meaning they drank it and consumed the nutrients instead of discarding! Store sales of whole milk during the pandemic are up 14% (while other classes are down). Parents are choosing whole milk for their families because it is nutritious and offers better absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins and other immune-supporting advantages.
Research shows whole milk consumption among healthy children was associated with higher (immune-boosting) Vitamin D stores and lower body mass index, a 40% reduction in risk of becoming overweight! Children and teens love whole milk so they will drink it instead of throwing it away.
Current rules and “flexibilities” don’t even allow schools to offer whole milk or 2% reduced fat milk a la carte. We want to see flexibility that allows children to choose 2% milk and whole milk, which is standardized to 3.25% fat, so they can benefit from the healthy nutrition they love instead of being limited to fat-free and 1% low-fat milks that they throw away. Students discard the fat-free and low-fat milk then buy drinks devoid of nutrition and sweetened with a combination of high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners! At middle and high school levels, USDA rules allow the choice of caffeinated energy drinks — but not whole milk!That’s a win for big beverage and foodservice companies, but not for our children. Let the health of our children win with whole milk choice.
BACKGROUND: USDA Food Nutrition Services (FNS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register Nov. 27 that would ‘maintain’ the flexibility for school meals related to milk, grains, and sodium.
For the milk portion, the proposed rule would make permanent the choice of flavored low-fat 1% milk in child nutrition programs — without waivers. Back in 2010, low-fat flavored milk was eliminated along with whole and 2% reduced-fat white milk. This rule is a small step to solidify the change made by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to at least provide schools with flexibility to allow the choice of 1% low-fat flavored milk in 2017. At that time, flavored milk in schools was required to be fat-free.
The recent new rule up for comment was issued as an administrative step to insure that USDA is complying with a 2018 court ruling that challenged these flexibilities. The ruling required a comment period for the rule. Schools currently have this flexibility temporarily in all USDA child nutrition programs through June 30, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.
USDA says it is “committed to listening to and collaborating with customers, partners, and stakeholders to make these reforms as effective as possible, and encourages all those who are interested in school meals to share their comments and recommendations for improvement through regulations.gov.”
This is an opportunity for communities to respond and ask USDA for better flexibilities.
The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk will post to Regulations.gov docket — again — the 30,000-name petition with hundreds of comments supporting the choice of whole milk in schools. As customers, partners and stakeholders in child nutrition programs, parents, teachers, school foodservice staff, farmers and community in general have a stake in what USDA allows and doesn’t allow as beverage choices in schools.
But… when given the opportunity, teens choose regular fresh whole milk
By Sherry Bunting (Farmshine, Nov. 13, 2020)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – On one hand they say they are not involved in reinventing school milk and then, well, they say they are.
Siips is the new low-fat, shelf-stable grab-and-go “teen milk” from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). According to Dairy Management Inc (DMI), checkoff led the way on the innovation and test launch in selected locations over summer.
“Siips is a result of DMI’s fluid milk revitalization efforts and is targeted to improving the youth milk experience with relevant packaging and flavors,” according to a recent edition of Your Checkoff News.
During last week’s Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call, a portion of the hour was devoted to questions and answers with DMI leaders, and we learned more about revitalization, innovation, and reinvention.
According to Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president for global innovation partnerships at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), DMI has been working since last summer to “understand perceptions of milk in schools.”
He said products like siips represent what DMI has learned from students in a variety of demographics so that milk can compete again.
“Siips is grab-and-go milk in an aluminum 8-oz. can in the flavors of caramel, mocha and chocolate,” he explained. “Products like this will make milk competitive in the school ala carte area, and we are working with other partners for other ala carte grab and go products.”
Ziemnisky noted that DMI is also working with processors and technology companies to develop dispensers like those used in foodservice where students can choose their milk ‘formula’ or ‘flavors’. He said Covid set the test launch back for those, but they are coming.
The bottom line is, he said: “We are looking at new packaging systems… aseptic sustainable packaging, all in the process of starting up. We are working with the industry to line up 6 to 7 tests in key systems to create a catalytic effect across the whole industry.”
A dairy producer submitted this question: “We are seeing grants from checkoff to develop a ‘kids milk’ at Cornell. We already have a ‘kids milk.’ It is called whole milk. We are frustrated. Why would our checkoff spend money on this rather than spending money to get whole milk back in schools?”
DMI president Barb O’Brien replied that she is “not familiar with the ‘kids milk’ project. We are not involved in specialized formulation for school milk,” she said. “But we can tell you about the research programs we have invested in.”
Ziemnisky picked up from there to explain that, “Everything we do has to start with consumers to make sure what we do is relevant.”
He said DMI’s partners, including MilkPEP, are the experts in marketing and advertising while DMI is the expert on consumer research and insights.
O’Brien and Ziemnisky explained that what DMI does is “back-end strategy with brands to advance U.S. Dairy’s priorities.”
They said the brand partners spend “10 to 20 times our investment in bringing to market these innovations.”
“Three years ago, the milk revitalization alliance was formed,” said Ziemnisky. “By partnering with brands, we unlock new platforms and then leverage that to access their customers.”
O’Brien said that’s how DMI has managed what is essentially a $300 million state and national budget to become the equivalent of $3 billion in consumer access and increased per capita dairy sales.
Ziemnisky reported that whole milk sales grew by $1.8 billion on a value basis over the past five years to 41% of net sales at retail. He owed this to what he said were DMI’s “57 whole milk studies.”
(We can’t find any whole milk studies on the list of 57 studies, just a few studies related to full-fat cheese.)
The problem with 40 years of declining overall fluid milk sales, said Ziemnisky is that “the sector has gone 40 years without innovation.”
(The sector has also gone 40 years under what have become increasingly fat-restrictive USDA enforcement of its Dietary Guidelines, but that wasn’t mentioned.)
Ziemnisky pointed out that the gains made in whole milk sales have come at the expense of fat-free milk sales.
“We have a fix for that too,” he said. “Our goal is to make milk relevant again with high protein, low carb, portability, as well as reinvention at schools, foodservice and e-commerce to fit changing consumer lifestyles.”
As for the simple choice of whole milk in schools? DMI leaders were asked if they would fund and support a research trial like the one done last year at one middle/high school in Pennsylvania showing 65% gains in milk sales and sustainable reductions in waste of 95%.
O’Brien was “thrilled” to hear about that study and said exceptions can be granted for research, but quickly turned the conversation over to Ziemnisky to talk about the research and innovation of school milk DMI is already investing in.
Look for more in the next edition on DMI’s partnership with DFA on plant-based blends – why and how and other topics.
ALBANY, N.Y. – As part of the 2021 checkoff funds for Cornell dairy research approved recently by the New York State Dairy Promotion Advisory Board is the first phase (2021-22) of a two-year project to develop and build a “Kids Milk” for schools, foodservice and retail. The first phase is to complete the successful multi-step innovation process (remove lactose and add sugar), and the second phase will be to implement the “future view” (remove whey to improve shelf-stable flavor and reduce transportation cost and refrigeration).
The project was one of 12 presented by Cornell, which is one of five universities that are part of DMI’s Dairy Research Institute (DRI). The DRI was formed as a 501 c 3 non-profit by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy a decade ago in August of 2010.
Reading through this project’s innovation process and vision, in essence, by year two, ‘Kids Milk’ (aka ‘school milk’) could be compositionally the same as the ultrafiltered / microfiltered cheese starter milk that has the lactose and whey removed. In essence large-scale-cheese-vat-ready-milk would be positioned as ‘Kids Milk’ tested and touted as beneficial for children’s taste, tolerance and nutritional reasons, of course. (Think about this within the context of the large-scale cheese processing shifts now occurring in the dairy industry.)
According to the researchers’ slides presented to the NY Board in September, the ‘Kids Milk’ will be stripped of lactose, but then have sucrose (sugar) added in order to “achieve a higher sweetness intensity and achieve higher liking scores without increasing calories from carbohydrates in 1% fat chocolate milk,” for example. A copy of the Cornell researchers’ presentation is available online with the NY Board’s minutes at https://agriculture.ny.gov/dairy/dairy-promotion-order
The ‘Kids Milk’ would also be a high-heat pasteurized, extended shelf-life product, and the second phase talks about making it shelf-stable. In concert with this, another NY checkoff-funded Cornell project, in its second year of research, is determining how to solve off-flavors in extended shelf-life and aseptically-packaged shelf-stable milk products by removing the ‘offending’ whey — with an eye to the school foodservice applications in terms of transport and refrigeration.
The ‘Kids Milk’ research project is jointly sponsored by the NY State Dairy Promotion Advisory Board (checkoff) approving $76,269 per year for the portion conducted at Cornell, along with H.P. Hood and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) funding the portion being conducted at North Carolina State University’s dairy research center. Hood’s contribution is $50,000 per year and DMI’s checkoff contribution is $20,000 to $30,000 per year.
In their presentation of the two-year research and innovation phase (2021-22), the Cornell researchers explained that they have proof of concept as of August 2020 for the first step in the two-step process of removing lactose and adding sugar to replace it. They explain in a power point slide that once they achieve success in the innovation research, they will move to the “view into the future” for ‘Kids Milk,’ using the microfiltration whey-removal research being done simultaneously at North Carolina State.
The “view of the future” for ‘Kids Milk’ is revealing and was described by researchers as follows:
Step 3 – “Increase the protein content by ultrafiltration to have 1% fat and 6 to 7% protein to build mouthfeel, achieve a calcium and protein per serving higher than regular milk, and bring the product to a milk solids-not-fat that would allow it to comply with standard of identity for milk and to be labeled lactose-free ultrafiltered milk.”
Step 4 – “Increase the protein content by ultrafiltration by a combination of ultrafiltration and microfiltration. Microfiltration removes milk derived whey proteins from milk. The milk derived whey proteins have been identified in our research as the ones that cause the objectionable cooked sulfur flavors in the UHT (extended shelf-life) milks. Our goal is to remove these proteins to build a milk that will taste good to children and meet nutrition guidelines while being shelf-stable. This will reduce shipping and distribution costs for milk by reducing the number of deliveries and the need to separate refrigerated delivery to schools.”
Back on August 5, 2020, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher in an ‘open mic’ call addressed the grassroots push to get whole milk back as a choice in U.S. schools. He stated to the farmers, board members and media on that Aug. 5 call that, “Farmers are great, and our product is great… but even if whole milk is eventually recommended for kids, we still need innovation to get it to the kids in a style that they like.”
Voila: ‘Kids Milk.’
Meanwhile, as reported in the August 7, 2020 edition of Farmshine, a simple trial at a middle and high school in Pennsylvania was conducted without fanfare — and anonymously due to USDA ‘milk rules’. It found that teenagers like milk the way it is, without the reinvention.
In fact, this anonymous 2019-20 trial simply offered all fat percentages of milk, and within the first month, found students choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over the lower fat options. Five months later, students responded favorably to the surveys.
Whole milk is also shown to be tolerated by many who claim to be lactose-intolerant as the amount of lactose is slightly less when more of the fat is retained, and the fat slows the rate of absorption of the lactose carbohydrate. This finding is both anecdotal and referenced in an official USDA Dietary Guidelines comment by Dr. Richard Theurer, adjunct professor in the Dept. of Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University. In his comment (2018 and 2020-25) to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, he supports a reversal of the DGA’s misguided recommendation that children over age 2 be offered only fat-free and low-fat milk (now required at schools and daycares) instead of the healthy choice of whole milk.
Does milk need to be reinvented with farmer checkoff funds in order to “get it to the kids in a style that they like” as DMI CEO Gallagher suggested during the Aug. 5 open mic call?
Looking at year two of the checkoff-funded Cornell ‘Kids Milk’ project, the presenters own words offer a clue. They described a successful outcome “will reduce shipping and distribution costs for milk by reducing the number of deliveries and the need to separate refrigerated delivery to schools.”
Author’s postscript: Think about this in the context of Coca Cola now owning 100% of the fairlife ultrafiltered milk brand and the potential for reducing school milk (‘kids milk’) to the equivalent of milk protein concentrate (MPC) added to sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for shelf-stable concentrate reconstituted in soda-style — ‘just add water’ — beverage dispensers. Get the picture?
EPHRATA, Pa. — It’s campaign season, and here’s a campaign everyone should be able to get behind: “Vote WHOLE MILK — School Lunch Choice — Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition.”
The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC are urging citizens to contact their local school boards and other community leaders about adopting resolutions to show federal and state governments they support the right to offer the simple choice of whole milk at school.
Campaign-style yard signs are now available to help communities show their support for the immune-boosting nutrition children love.
Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Morrissey Insurance, Ephrata, Pa. and Nelson Troutman, the Berks County dairy farmer who painted the first “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” round bale, are working together to print yard signs (pictured with this article) and gain sponsorships from additional agribusinesses to make them available to customers and the public.
The first print-run of 300 were supported by and are available from these PA businesses: Wenger’s Equipment of Myerstown, Sensenig’s Feed Mill of New Holland, K&K Feeds of Richland, Triple M Feeds of Lebanon, and Morrissey Insurance of Ephrata and Troy.
“We are continuing to work on this issue of whole milk choice in schools and are concerned about children having this choice. The signs are professional campaign-style 24-inch by 18-inch yard signs, and it is important that we get them placed as soon as possible,” said Morrissey. “We are looking for others to join us as concerned citizens for children’s immune boosting nutrition, to get a sign, or several signs, and get them placed. They catch attention and show support.”
Morrissey just ordered a second round of 300 signs, so there will be more available shortly for more businesses to get involved in sponsorship and distribution. Companies that want a supply to give out to customers and/or the public can call Bernie at 610.693.6471 to acquire them at cost.
These yard signs include the 97milk.com website where people can go for information about the issue and the effort to bring whole milk choice back to schools.
A “Take Action” tab at the 97milk.com website provides online visitors with information about the issue and how school boards can adopt supportive resolutions. There, they also learn about the Dietary Guidelines process, as well as two bills in Congress and how to send a message to Senators and Representatives asking them to cosponsor and support the bills that would simply allow schools to offer a choice of milks, including whole milk (3.25%) and reduced-fat milk (2%), which are currently banned.
In January 2019, Rep. Glenn G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania introduced the bipartisan House Bill 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids with co-sponsor Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Today, it has 42 cosponsors but has not been considered by the House Education and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 1810 Milk in Lunches for Kids was introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson in June 2019 and has only 3 cosponsors.
Having publicized the “Vote Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice” effort on social media, 97 Milk received hundreds of shares, likes and comments and a few emails with additional questions. After one school asked for a sample resolution, such a template was developed.
To-date, one school in Wisconsin reports formally adopting the resolution, while two other schools report they are looking at it.
Asking school boards to show support for whole milk choice is one way to help the legislative efforts that are currently stalled in Congress. As schools adopt resolutions, this sends a message to USDA.
An earlier effort consisted of submitting a 30,000-plus-signature petition to members of Congress, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, legislative committee chairs, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the DGA Federal Register Docket for Comment, and others.
The petition brought awareness but failed to increase the number of cosponsors for the two bills. This means members of Congress are un-moved on this issue despite over 30,000 signatures from across the country requesting the choice of whole milk in schools.
Over the past year, a few representatives of dairy checkoff, dairy industry organizations and a couple dairy processors have indicated in conversation that schools do not support whole milk choice because they can’t afford whole milk.
The idea behind the “Vote Whole Milk — School Lunch Choice” yard signs — and the sample school board resolutions — is to get parents and communities involved and to give schools the opportunity to show their tangible support for children’s immune boosting nutrition. This is a way for schools and communities to send a signal to state and federal policymakers that they want children to simply have the right to choose whole milk at school instead of being restricted to fat-free and 1% low-fat milk. Enough is enough.
This effort also seeks to make more parents aware that the federal government indeed currently restricts school milk offerings to be only fat-free or 1% low-fat milk. This is something many parents, teachers and even individual school board members are not fully aware of.
School Boards and other groups adopting resolutions are urged to contact their representatives in Congress and their state agriculture and education departments, as well as USDA Food Nutrition Services Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipp to let them know of their action.
They are also urged to email firstname.lastname@example.org in order to be added to a public list of resolution adopters.
Those who are interested in talking with their school boards about adopting a resolution can use the sample, which can then be customized by their board. This sample is also great for state legislatures, town boards, county commissioners, even civic, educational, health, nutrition, agricultural, and parent-teacher organizations to consider adopting. The more the merrier!
Even in this uncertain time of Covid-19, when schools are doing a combination of on-site and virtual learning, the breakfasts and lunches provided to students learning from home must also align to the same USDA Food Nutrition Services regulations that are dominated by the Dietary Guidelines.
Even the school meal “flexibilities” announced by USDA for bulk meal pickups during the pandemic require schools to obtain waivers and fill out paperwork explaining why low-fat and fat-free are not available — before they can offer the whole milk (3.25% fat) or reduced-fat (2%) milk.
With supermarket sales of whole milk rising 6.5% January through July, and fat-free milk sales falling 22% compared with a year ago, it’s obvious more parents choose whole milk for their families at home. Therefore, children should be able to choose the milk they love – the milk they have shown they will drink and not discard – at school.
It’s time to remove the federal government’s heavy hand on school meals and allow schools to simply offer the choice of whole milk for children’s immune boosting nutrition.
Congress and USDA and the Dietary Guidelines process are all dragging heels on this simple change despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits.
Our schools and community leaders can help get Washington’s attention by adopting resolutions.
Our citizens can help show community support by placing yard signs and talking to their school boards.
And our businesses can help by sponsoring and distributing more yard signs and even talking with the civic and community organizations they may belong to.
By Sherry Bunting, Republished from Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — One school in Pennsylvania had the courage to just do it.
For the 2019-20 school year beginning in September, they conducted a trial that simply offered the choice of whole milk and 2% next to the required fat-free and 1% to middle and high school students daily for breakfast and lunch. They did not promote the trial or call attention to it, just waited to see how students would react and what their responses would be.
The results are too important to ignore!
Within a short time of expanding the milk choices last September, students were choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat milk.
In January, four months into the trial, they found that allowing students to choose from all varieties of milk fat levels increased overall milk consumption by 65% and reduced milk waste by 95%.
Just before schools closed in March due to the pandemic, students were surveyed to learn what they had to say about their milk consumption behavior. Here’s a sampling: 60% said they had thrown away milk in the past before the trial, but only 31% said they had thrown away milk AFTER the whole milk trial.
Only half the students said they were aware of the restrictions on what type of milk could be offered at school.
Incredibly, the percentage of teens at this school who said they were choosing milk at breakfast before the trial was 67%, after expanding milk choices to include whole milk, 80% were choosing milk at breakfast.
All of this data and more in just seven months at a middle school and high school in Pennsylvania. We are withholding the name of the district and its foodservice director to shield their identity from potential backlash due to the USDA rules on fat content of purchased ala-carte “competing” beverages.
The foodservice director who set up the trial, with the support of the school board, states that students have now tasted the difference. Now that the school is using the intermediate unit as the vendor for packaged pickup meals and can only make 1% milk available, the kids are asking: “Where’s the Whole milk?”
“I am 100% convinced that most parents do not know about all that is going on with the school meals programs,” the Pennsylvania school foodservice director said. She is letting them know about the Dietary Guidelines and school nutrition rules so they can become aware and perhaps be led to be involved.
The official public comment period on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report has ended. USDA and HHS are using the DGA Report to finalize the next five years of Dietary Guidelines.
To bring the choice of whole milk back to schools, contact your representatives in Congress to cosponsor House Bill 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids and Senate Bill 1810 Milk in Lunches for Kids. Also, contact school boards and other governmental and non governmental organizations and ask them to consider adopting resolutions in support of this choice.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Government and industry dairy donations and record-setting CME cheese prices all got their starter fuel from grassroots dairy producers in what has become one of the good news stories of the COVID-19 era.
Today, USDA has systemized the donating through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and dairy processors, cooperatives and checkoff organizations have partnered with food banks and non-profits to extend the reach of efforts begun originally by generous dairy producers and their agribusiness partners supplying grateful consumers.
Also in April, farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) purchased 228,000 pounds of block cheddar, immediately moving the CME block cheese price from its $1/lb plummet to $1.20 (adding $1.00 to Class III milk values at the same time).
This DPA move, working with charities for distribution and a Midwest processor to turn their CME-style bulk purchase into consumer-packaged goods for donation, gave a green light to other cheese market participants. Within a week of that purchase and the initial 20-cent gain in blocks that followed, block cheese continued its climb to $1.80/lb, and the upward momentum has not stopped — fueled now by huge government purchases and food-service pipeline re-stocking.
On the heels of these grassroots efforts, dairy checkoff organizations began getting involved to work with their partners and “convene” the industry to do big donations in May.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress had passed the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in April, with $3 billion of the $19 billion set aside for the Farmers to Families Food box purchases. But it was mid-May before USDA announced those first-round contract awards totaling $1.2 billion in fresh food — $317 million of it for fluid milk and dairy products – for distribution May 15 through June 30.
This week, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue called the food box program a “trifecta, win-win-win”, pointing out how the program is getting farmers, processors and non-profits together to directly provide fresh food to people without burdening food banks with refrigerated inventory they aren’t prepared to handle.
In April, when block cheddar was plummeting to $1.00/lb, the farmer-funded Dairy Pricing Association based in Wisconsin with member-contributors nationwide, purchased 228,000 pounds of block cheese to be cut-down for distribution by several charities. DPA Facebook photo
This was the model of grassroots groups and individuals on their own dime and time doing dairy donation drive-throughs, milk-drops, and whole milk gallon challenges from late March to the present. It was also the model of DPA, funded by voluntary dairy farmer milk check deductions, when DPA purchased the block cheese in April for cut-down and donation. Also in April, we saw the partnership initiated in Pennsylvania between 97 Milk and Blessings of Hope. They raised funds to buy local milk for donation to families in need.
As these grassroots efforts began having an impact, Midwest Dairy got approval from USDA in May to use checkoff funds to donate cheese, and UDIA of Michigan was allowed to provide minimal funding to food banks for “handling costs” associated with receiving cheese donated in May by DFA.
Now, with USDA systemizing that smart approach — started by grassroots efforts — the department stated in a news release that as of June 23, its CFAP Farmers to Families Food Box Program had delivered more than 20 million boxes of fresh food, including milk and dairy products, to families impacted by COVID-19.
The initial round of USDA CFAP contracts ends on June 30. But this week, USDA announced it will extend “well-performing” first-round contracts for similar amounts in a second-round from July 1 through August 31 to total an additional $1.16 billion.
The share of this second-round to be devoted to fluid milk and dairy purchases was not specified in the USDA announcement. One thing USDA did note is that even though most of the second-round dollars will be spent with “selected” current contract awardees, a few new contracts may be awarded to previous applicants that had been passed over due to technical errors or to provide boxes in areas identified as “underserved.”
Throughout the USDA CFAP food box delivery process, regional dairy checkoff organizations have been involved as “facilitators.”
Week after week, Farmshine has received press releases from dairy checkoff organizations, and there have been numerous social media posts, about the CFAP milk and dairy box donations. Regional checkoff organizations say they are working with processors, cooperatives and non-profits — in conjunction with the USDA CFAP food box program — and that area dairy farmers are involved as volunteers to hand out the boxes.
According to National Dairy Council president Barb O’Brien, dairy checkoff organizations began “convening the industry” before CFAP.
“We have leveraged the checkoff’s unique ability to convene companies from across the value chain to identify a number of ways to redistribute excess milk and other dairy products to families facing food insecurity,” writes O’Brien in an email response to Farmshine recently.
In a specific cheese example she had mentioned in a media call described as block cheese being purchased and cut into consumer size portions, our inquiry for details was met with this response:
“In response to lost food-service markets and dairy farmers being asked to dispose of milk, we’ve worked to connect coops to partners that donated processing capacity for any excess milk available for food banks,” O’Brien wrote. “Many other dairy companies — such as the example I gave from DFA of cheese donations in Michigan — provided massive quantities of dairy products to food banks before the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program was even put into place. Moving forward, it will be important that we continue working together as an industry to target the greatest needs and find long-term solutions to our nation’s hunger crisis.”
O’Brien cites DMI’s “long-time partner” Feeding America and other relationships with local food banks and pantries. Former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, now a top dairy checkoff executive with DMI, sits on the Feeding America board of directors.
O’Brien also noted in her response that dairy checkoff “counseled industry partners and others on how to direct dairy products toward the greatest needs.”
She reports that, “This widescale approach enabled us to pinpoint some of the biggest barriers in getting excess dairy products to hungry families during the pandemic” and to “rapidly initiate an industry response.”
As communities began doing their own grassroots efforts through the generosity of dairy farmers, agribusiness and individuals purchasing milk or contributing milk for dairy donations in the early days of the COVID-19 ‘stay-at-home’ orders, checkoff organizations took note and began to look at what they could do in terms of refrigeration equipment and setting up refrigeration trucks for industry and governmental efforts.
Grassroots whole milk donation events like this one just outside of Lancaster, Pa. in May, have been providing whole nutrition to families across the state and region since the height of COVID-19 ‘stay-at-home’ orders in April. Photo by Michelle Kunjappu
While many of the grassroots-organized milk donations were comprised of whole milk purchases vs. low-fat milk, this week marked the first time a checkoff news release showed red-cap whole milk gallons or even referenced whole milk in their facilitation of USDA CFAP box deliveries. This is another win led by early grassroots efforts.
ADA Northeast (ADANE), for example, indicated in a press release this week that 200,000 gallons of milk will have been handed out in the Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region by the time June Dairy Month ends. The release stated that 20,000 gallons would be donated this week, alone, from DFA, Upstate Niagara and Schneider’s Dairy to be given out in New York and Pennsylvania through the Nourish New York state funds and CFAP food box federal funds.
For the first time among the many news releases sent by ADA Northeast (ADANE) touting checkoff ‘facilitation’ of fluid milk and dairy donations, whole milk is in the box! Here, dairy farmer Joel Riehlman of Fabius, N.Y., and a 4-H member, hand out whole milk in mid-June at a Nourish New York and USDA CFAP Farmers to Families Food Box donation drop in Syracuse. Photo provided by ADANE
In a recent Watertown, New York drop point for these donations, ADANE board member Peggy Murray of Murcrest Farm, Copenhagen, N.Y. volunteered, and she noted in the ADANE press release that, “It was heartwarming to see their gratitude – especially for the whole milk — and to know that people really want the products that we produce on the farm.”
This has been the experience of so many farmers and ag community members involved in the grassroots distributions, as well as the industry and governmental distributions, because each event affirms that consumers love milk and dairy products, especially whole milk, and that they want to support local farms — as evidenced by their comments and long car-lines of families eager to receive these products. In some cases, recipients gave money asking it be put toward more drive-through dairy events.
In the Southeast and Midwest, CFAP contract recipients Borden and Prairie Farms have also been visible this month with Dairy Alliance and Midwest Dairy checkoff organizations often as partners, along with several state dairy producer group members joining in as volunteers and location coordinators.
Overall, the CFAP food boxes have been well-received. The program was designed by USDA to give farmers and food providers a presence within their communities, working with local food banks and non-profits without creating inventory hardships. In this way, USDA has taken what local communities were doing at the grassroots level — on their own dime and time — and systemized it with federal funds and contracts.
While dairy’s share has not been specified in USDA’s announcement of the second round of $1.16 billion in fresh food purchases in the contract extensions through August 31, it is believed fluid milk and dairy purchases will be similar to the first-round total of $317 million because several non-profits indicate they will be supplied with all their milk and dairy needs through the USDA until at least August 31.
This includes Blessings of Hope, which had partnered with 97 Milk in April, and raised over $50,000 for purchasing and/or processing local milk for families they serve in Pennsylvania.
Farms in southeast and southcentral Pennsylvania that were wanting to donate “over-base” milk for this 97 Milk / Blessings of Hope program will have to wait until after August 31, when the USDA CFAP food box program is set to end. It is possible that the CFAP program may again be extended until all $3 billion in food box funds are exhausted.
When Dairy Pricing Association (DPA) first ran an ad in the Cheese Reporter in early April looking for 200,000 pounds of USDA-graded cheddar cheese less than 30 days of age, the calls they received could not fill the order. By requesting USDA-graded cheese, the delay in their eventual purchase of 228,000 pounds showed a void in supplies that led to the initial turnaround in the plummeting block cheese price on the CME, which fueled the advances in manufacturing milk value. CME cheese prices drive Class III milk futures, which have risen rapidly since the DPA purchase bridged the gap in April. Current market strength has been extended through the large USDA food box program demand occurring at the same time as the re-opening of the food-service sector. DPA Facebook image
A positive outcome for farmers from all of these efforts — now extended by these large government purchases — is the real impact they are having in helping drive dairy markets higher since that first farmer-funded DPA purchase of block cheddar in April turned the CME away from its $1.00/lb record-low plummet.
Block cheese is traded every day around noon on the CME spot auction, and the price has set several new record-highs in June, including the most recent record-highs of $2.70/lb on Monday, June 22 and $2.81/lb on Tuesday, June 23.
This rally has pushed Class III milk futures into new contract highs for June, July, and August, while adding strength across the board.
In CME futures trading Monday (June 22) the June Class III milk contract hit $21, up $9 from the USDA-announced May Class III price of $12.14. July’s contract topped at $22.19, and August edged into the $20s. Monday’s Class III milk futures averaged $17.98 for the next 12 months, and Tuesday’s futures trading held most of that level, even adding to the July contract.
Trade sentiment is mixed on how long the upward momentum in dairy markets can last.
On the one hand, cheese prices are being driven by the combination of USDA CFAP purchases now continuing through August, re-stocking of food-service pipelines as the country re-opens, and the USDA Dairy Market News reports of consumer buying strength shown in strong pizza sales throughout the Covid period, and stable to strong retail sales meeting tighter supplies of milk and cream.
On the other hand, some experts warn of weakness ahead as these record-setting prices may prompt milk production expansion by fall when demand may wane after the USDA CFAP food box purchases end and food-service pipelines are re-stocked.
Much of the future will depend on how the re-opening of America goes for families, the food-service sector, schools, sports, and the economy at-large.