Archive for Dairy Industry

U.S. dairy industry reassures global customers about commitment to exports

A message translated into 10 languages says U.S. dairy suppliers are working hard to continue shipments to other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

port of oakland

Thousands of shipping containers make for a dazzling array of colors at the Port of Oakland, one of several ports used by U.S. dairy exporters to reach overseas markets. 

Global customers are being reassured that the U.S. dairy industry is committed to exporting a continuing supply of safe, sustainable and high-quality products and ingredients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter conveying that commitment, signed by U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack, has been translated into 10 languages and distributed to U.S. dairy customers globally. 

“In response to COVID-19, we want to let you know that our U.S. dairy farming community, U.S. dairy suppliers and food-industry professionals remain vigilant and dedicated to delivering safe, sustainable and high-quality U.S. dairy products,” wrote Vilsack.

The letter expressed solidarity with global customers while acknowledging the pandemic’s disruption of global supply chains.

“Stay safe, be well, and know that we are in this together with you and will continue to operate in the best interests for the health and safety of everyone.”

USDEC microsites carry message in multiple languages

The letter is being posted on USDEC microsites in multiple languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese-Mandarin, Korean and Arabic.


A message on USDEC’s Spanish microsite reassures U.S. dairy customers.

In addition, employees stationed at USDEC’s nine international offices are personally distributing Vilsack’s message via email to U.S. customers in their markets. 

With the health challenges posed by COVID-19, it is more important than ever for people to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and dairy is a key component of that — not just for the U.S., but the world.

Exports vital to U.S. dairy industry

The United States is uniquely positioned to provide high-quality dairy nutrition to the world. Tens of thousands of dairy farmers in the U.S. work long hours – 12 months of the year – to keep the milk tankers moving.

In 2019, milk from one out of seven of those tankers was turned into products and ingredients exported to other countries, totaling $6 billion in sales that boosted the U.S. economy, particularly in rural communities.

2019 graphic -1

Truck drivers, food company employees, railroad engineers, ocean port stevedores, cargo ship captains and many others play a role in getting product to fast-growing countries that need more dairy than their own farmers can produce.

“Our stakeholders – from U.S. farmers to USDEC member suppliers – want to reinforce our commitment to be your partner in one of the most important jobs in the world, providing safe and wholesome U.S. dairy products to nourish families and communities globally,” said Vilsack in the letter.

Secretary Vilsack’s entire letter to global customers follows:

March 25, 2020

An Important Message to U.S. Dairy Customers Around the Globe

Dear valued customers and partners:

Our primary wish to you is a sincere hope that you and your colleagues, family and friends are all in good health and staying well as the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) is increasingly felt across all corners of the globe. During these unprecedented times our objective is to maintain clear and open lines of communication. As cases of the COVID-19 continue to spread in the United States and other nations, we are keenly aware of the uncertainty and disruptions you may be facing given the dynamic nature of this global pandemic.

In response to COVID-19, we want to let you know that our U.S. dairy farming community, U.S. dairy suppliers and food-industry professionals remain vigilant and dedicated to delivering safe, sustainable and high-quality U.S. dairy products.

Here’s what we can share at this time:

  1. Dairy has been identified as an essential “critical infrastructure” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As such, U.S. dairy farmers and processors have a special responsibility to continue operations during the pandemic. U.S. dairy farms will continue to harvest milk around the clock, 365 days a year along with the full force of our processing and manufacturing capabilities.

  2. We, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), are continuing our critical work both within the United States and throughout our offices in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East/North Africa. For the safety of everyone from our contacts to employees, we have taken several precautionary measures such as postponing seminars and workshops; some of our staff are also now working from home or in shifts. However, we want to reassure you that we are just an email, phone call or website click away. During these times we remain ready and available as an ongoing resource to support you and your staff’s business and innovation needs.
  3. As part of the U.S. dairy community, USDEC is in close communication with the exporting and trading establishments, which are flexible and continuously adapting to this fluid situation. We have staff on hand to help support the supply chain to mitigate disruptions, to the degree with which we can, during these challenging times.

Our stakeholders – from U.S. farmers to USDEC member suppliers – want to reinforce our commitment to be your partner in one of the most important jobs in the world, providing safe and wholesome U.S. dairy products to nourish families and communities globally. Stay safe, be well, and know that we are in this together with you and will continue to operate in the best interests for the health and safety of everyone!



Tom Vilsack
President and CEO

Source: USDEC

How the Australian dairy industry is coping with the coronavirus pandemic

A spike in demand for fresh dairy milk has provided welcome relief for the industry – which remains cautious as coronavirus spreads.

The community was already reeling from ongoing drought, bushfires and high fodder prices..

And there’s concern about what might happen to milk sales if coffee shops and the like are forced to close all together.

Our Rural Reporter Sophie Clarke caught up with Dairy Connect Chief Executive Shaughn Morgan to see how the sector is coping.

Source: 3aw

Minnesota dairy farmer proposes plan for fair wage milk

The year 2020 was anticipated to bring relief for farmers who had faced more than five years of downward trends, but the coronavirus delivered another hit to the dairy industry.

Dairy sales to restaurants, schools, and hospitality businesses plummeted, bring prices to levels that may be unprofitable for farmers this spring who need to prepare for planting input costs.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit American soil, one Minnesota dairy farmer theorized a plan to help the small players in the industry.

Mike and Joan Gilles are first-generation farmers. Mike always enjoyed working outdoors and had a love for animals. The city kids started farming full time in 1982. In 1996, they bought a dairy near Ridgeway, Minn.

The grass-based dairy farmers are limited in their herd size based on the space and efficiency of farm pastures. The Gilles family milks about 110 cows and has 100 acres of open ground for pasture grass with another 150 acres of land they rent for growing forages.

Although it is a family farm today, Mike and Joan are not sure if there is a future in the industry for their children.

“It is hard for anybody in this generation to be enthusiastic to farm when they see the struggles involved,” Mike said. “When I started, if you worked hard and managed properly, you could be successful. That isn’t necessarily the case for the next generation we’re seeing.”

As Mike wondered if his farm would make it to a second generation, he thought of a plan to keep other small producers going. He said the principle of the idea can be split among three key groups: the farmers, the processors, and the retailers.

Using general, flexible numbers for easy math, Mike said they could stabilize markets for dairy farmers by guaranteeing $30 per hundredweight for the first 1 million pounds of milk. Any milk produced past that point would receive the market price.

“At the end of 2018, using 1 million pounds for every licensed dairy farmer accounted for about 15 percent of the milk produced in this country,” Mike said. “It’s a relatively small segment, so it doesn’t impact the whole industry significantly.”

Mike admitted that to keep prices the same in retail, the balance of the market price would come down to absorb the price increase.

“The good side of it is every single farmer is going to get the exact same benefit,” he said. “We’re constantly told the milk price is falling because of oversupply, but there’s absolutely nothing in the pricing system that gives you any reason to cut production.”

Mike noted that under this system, the average farm blend price would lower as the size of the herd grows.

“It is not a quota system that tells you this is what you can milk, but the small farmer shouldn’t be paying the price for your growth,” he said. “Statistics show that 90 percent of the milk in this country is produced by the largest 10 percent of farms. That means 90 percent of the oversupply comes from the largest 10 percent. Small farms are getting pushed out for something they are not doing.”

He also pointed out that this would not be taxpayer-funded. His plan is a mandate similar to the minimum wage mandate.

Small farmers leaving the industry impacts not only their family businesses but also the communities and retailers that supported them and have also been struggling in the dairy industry decline, according to Mike.

He predicted this price plan could incentivize young people to start farming and help them receive loans if they have a guaranteed number to show the bank.

One foreseeable challenge is for dairy processors or co-ops that work heavily with smaller herds. As the farmer’s blend price goes up, so would the processor’s cost. This is where Mike proposed a tax incentive that could level the playing field among processors. The tax credit would go to co-ops accepting at least 15 percent of their milk from small producers. The tax credit could then fluctuate based on higher percentages.

The retailer may also qualify for a tax credit if shelves are stocked with what could be labeled as “fair wage milk.”

“The consumers I’ve taught to like to keep our small farms,” Mike said. “If they can go and see this part of the dairy case has a percentage of its product from fair wage milk they may support it more than the section of the dairy case that doesn’t.”

He hoped if anything, the idea would spark a conversation of change as farmers look to pass their heritage down from generation to generation.


Dairy farmers deemed essential; small farms look to survive lockdown

Cows are the Hartong family business. For three generations, Matt Hartong’s family has kept cows in a building built in 1911.

“We milk about 120 cows and we have about 200 in total,” Hartong said, standing outside the pasture gate.

He knows raising cows takes time.

The night before his News 5 interview, three calves were born on the farm. Cows are on their own schedule.

“The cows need to be milked,” he said. “They need to be fed; multiple times a day, every single day.”

And during the coronavirus pandemic, that schedule doesn’t deviate.

“Whether I’m sick or not, I have to be here,” Hartong said. “I have to feed cows, I have to milk cows because the cows don’t get sick.”

When Governor Mike DeWine announced a mandatory stay at home order for the state, he also released a list of “essential services.” The list is curated by the Department of Homeland Security and names agriculture as an industry that can continue.

Hartong knows keeping the farm’s schedule is important.

“As far as dairy markets go, it’s an extremely volatile market,” he said.

For the past few years, Hartong and his family watched their industry change.

“We’re the last dairy farm in the county, in Summit County,” Hartong said. “In the short term, we’ve been deemed an essential business. Hopefully the impact is very little.”

Without the disruption to their daily routine, Hartong is able to keep his farm running like clockwork. The cows are milked twice a day; once at 3:30 a.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.

But, while farms in the state are still able to run, they have to adhere to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control.

“And, I’m not going to tell you it’s business as usual,” said Ty Higgins. “But, being an essential part of the food system does allow producers to continue with their business.”

Higgins works for the Ohio Farm Bureau. He said he wants consumers to remember that agriculture is chain. And if one part of the chain breaks, it could mean slower delivery to markets or loss of product.

When shelves emptied out, milk went fast. “In agriculture we were concerned about, maybe, the way the consumer was thinking,” Higgins said. “But I think this proves that what we’re doing on the farm is still so valuable to not only our consumers but their diets as well.”

The stay at home order is expected to end on April 6. However, DeWine hasn’t ruled out the possibility of extending it. If the order goes on longer, Higgins said farmers will remain an essential service. “Because the only thing we all need, despite the economy, is our three meals a day.”


Italian food group Newlat agrees to buy Centrale del Latte d’Italia

Newlat has signed an agreement to buy 46 per cent stake in dairy group Centrale del Latte d’Italia, creating the third biggest domestic operator in the sector.

According to reporting from Reuters, the owner of the Delverde pasta brand said it would buy the CLI stake from a group of shareholders. This includes top investor Finanziaria Centrale del Latte di Torino, at a price of 1 euro and 0.33 Newlatordinary shares for each CLI share.

Newlat will then launch a mandatory takeover bid on the remaining CLI shares at the same price. The CLI shareholders selling their stake will reinvest in Newlat by buying a 5.3 per cent shareholding.

Newlat, which produces pasta, bakery products and baby food, said that the acquisition will boost its revenue to 500 million euros ($533 million).

CLI produces and sells about 120 products including milk and its derivatives, with brands such as TappoRosso, Mukki, Tigullio and Vicenza. CLI recorded revenues of 180 million euros ($198.04 million) last year and core earnings of around 6 million euros.

Newlat said its revenues rose 5 per cent to 320 million last year driven by pasta and dairy products.

The company said on 19 March that in the first two weeks of that month, when Italians stocked up food products in response to concerns about coronavirus, it recorded a 35 per cent rise in sales compared with the same period last year.

Read more about this story here.

UK dairy farmers ‘could go under’ despite milk demand rise

Dairy farmers are warning they will go out of business because the price they are paid for milk has fallen, despite shortages in some supermarkets.

The UK’s main milk processor Freshways, said its cut of 2p-per-litre was “unfortunate” but a drop in trade with coffee shops and pubs had forced it.

Staffordshire farmer Peter Pratt said this comes after he lost 65% of crops during floods.

The government said it was looking at the problem “as a matter of urgency”.

Payments to farmers by Freshways will also be deferred until 15 May after the “excessive decline”, managing director Bali Nijjar said.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) dairy board chairman Michael Oakes, said some dairy farmers were “particularly vulnerable” in this “highly volatile situation”.

Mr Pratt, a dairy, arable and beef farmer employing six people in Rugeley, said his family-run farm had been “hard hit”.

Peter PrattPeter Pratt
Peter Pratt said he was ‘quickly running out of money’

His 200 cows produce about 6,000 litres a day on the 1,500 acre site but he was “quickly running out of money” and wanted the government to act.

Alan Smith, from Bumble Bee Farm in Leicestershire, said the future of his 101-year-old farm, employing four family members, was now in doubt.

“We’re losing nine pence on every litre [of milk] we send but the worst of it is they won’t now pay us for 70 days,” he said.

“We can’t go on losing forever.”

SupermarketGareth Copley/Getty Images
Milk co-operative Arla Foods UK said it had experienced a “significant” increase in demand from consumers

Milk co-operative Arla Foods UK said it had experienced a “significant” increase in demand from consumers and had managed to increase supplies of milk to supermarkets significantly by “simplifying the business”.

Managing director Ash Amirahmadi, said he had spoken to the government who were “working very hard to put the framework together for us to allow more co-operation”.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of the need to redirect produce from the hospitality market to the retail market and are looking at it as a matter of urgency.

“We are working closely with representatives from the dairy supply chain to understand what short-term and long-term support the whole sector needs.”

Source: BBC

The Milk Situation

For two fleeting decades, there was no status symbol more potent than the milk mustache.

“Got Milk?” stretched across nearly 350 print advertisements and more than 70 television commercials featuring some of the most famous people in America: Beyoncé and Tina Knowles. Serena and Venus Williams. Harrison Ford. Angelina Jolie. Alex Trebek. Rihanna. Taylor Swift.

Readers of a certain age may remember the way the print ads hung, on thin and crinkly magazine pages, from their friends’ bedroom walls. Those of a slightly younger age may have worn bibs that carried the slogan.

“The campaign was very brilliant, and very adorable,” said Faith Popcorn, a marketing consultant and self-proclaimed futurist. “It took an unbranded product and made it very special. Seeing celebrities with a little mustache on makes it very infantile and funny and warm.”

What the ads didn’t do was convince people to buy milk. In 1996, three years after the campaign’s debut, Americans were drinking, on average, about 24 gallons of milk a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2018, that number was down to 17 gallons. (Meanwhile, thanks to yogurt and cheese, dairy consumption per capita is way up.)


A recent ad for Chobani’s new oat beverage.


But the mustache isn’t milk at all: It’s an oat beverage sold by Chobani, the company that made Greek yogurt cool in the 2010s. And it’s a sign of the times.

While nondairy milk has risen from the dusty shelves of health-food stores to Times Square billboards and supermarkets around the country, dairy farmers have faced economic turmoil. The question now is not whether anyone’s got milk. It’s how to sell it.

Many people view milk as a distinctly American product. Its primary consumers, in cities and suburbs, picture their gallons of two percent coming from rural idylls in upstate New York, Wisconsin and Idaho, where cows serenely graze and farmers procure their milk by hand.

More than half the states in this country have named it their official beverage. Milk is the only thing, aside from water, that senators are allowed to drink on the floor. In 2018, white nationalists were reportedly chugging it to show off their genetic superiority in lactose digestion. (It turns out that people whose ancestors were cattle herders in East Africa may also possess this genetic evolution, but OK.)

Despite their apparent attachment to milk, Americans are fairly disconnected from its agricultural underpinnings.

In an online survey by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, seven percent of respondents said they believed that chocolate milk comes from … brown cows.

Despite the quaint imagery many people still associate with milk’s creation, almost all of it is produced at a factory scale. The largest dairy farms house thousands of cows, who are repeatedly impregnated (often by artificial insemination) so they can make milk nearly year-round.

Even with a set price, Americans still aren’t buying milk in the volume farmers say they need to turn a profit. Since 1975, milk consumption per capita has dipped roughly 40 percent, according to data from Nielsen, and between 2010 and 2018, sales of milk dropped by 13 percent. The already-low price of milk, which is set by the federal government, is projected to drop even further this year.

As the new coronavirus has given rise to a global pandemic, and plenty of panic shopping for household staples and items with long shelf lives, demand for oat milk has soared, according to Nielsen.

‘Clean eating” — a catchall phrase for a mostly plant-based diet free of processed foods — has become the North Star for many Americans looking to balance their desire for health with a desire to be thin, dairy has been branded as “unclean.” Joaquin Phoenix dedicated an entire Oscars speech to its supposed cruelty. The party line in women’s media is that giving up dairy will clear your acne, make you less bloated and bestow upon you the glow and energy of Gwyneth Paltrow. (Elsewhere, people are applying it topically to soften and smooth their skin.)

“We’ve done a poor job of explaining the nutritional value of milk,” said H.H. Barlow, the executive director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council. “And we’ve done a poor job of innovation in selling our products. We’re still selling milk in that plain, simple gallon jug.”

The types of milk that are selling these days are the grass-fed, organic “specialty” milks that turn the dairy case more colorful. Consider the average American dairy case: Its heart is a sea of neutral plastic jugs, which are as visually exciting as a drawer full of worn-out socks. Things get louder and more colorful once your focus moves to the organic shelves — and then even more so once the dairy gives way to the sparkle of almond, oat and soy milk.

For those in the business of dairy milk, then, the solution may be to evolve. Here’s what a few have tried.

Elmhurst 1925, formerly Elmhurst Dairy, has turned what was New York City’s last milk processing plant into a company that “milks” things like oats, hemp seeds and almonds.

Henry Schwartz, the owner of Elmhurst Dairy, closed the plant in 2016, citing an unprofitable business. Soon, in a moment of entrepreneurial kismet, he met Dr. Cheryl Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell is a food scientist who, at the time, had recently developed a process that can break down things like nuts, seeds and grains into their smallest particles — separating stubborn fiber from protein, say — and produce a smooth, creamy drink.

Mr. Schwartz bought up Ms. Mitchell’s patents, hired her as his lead food scientist, and reintroduced Elmhurst Dairy as Elmhurst 1925, a dairy-free beverage company. The company started out with four styles of lightly sweetened “milked nuts”: almond, cashew, hazelnut and walnut. Now, they have 18 varieties and will begin selling coffee creamers this spring.

Elmhurst arrived on the coattails of Oatly’s American debut. The Swedish oat milk brand, with its irreverent ad campaigns and its full court press on third-wave coffee shops, helped revitalize the dairy-alternative category. The plant-based milk industry saw $2 billion in sales last year, according to the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.

“Plant-based milk is really crossing over to people who are open to trying different things in their diet, whether or not that’s because of health concerns,” said Peter Truby, Elmhurst’s C.M.O. “They want to try it because they think it might taste good. We have Oatly to thank for some of that. Impossible Foods has done a lot for that.”

While almond milk is still the No. 1 seller in the category, Mr. Truby expects oat will surpass it eventually. But he’s also betting on fatty, nutty hemp seeds, which Elmhurst has begun whizzing into their coffee creamers for added fat.

“If anything deserves to have its day, I think it’s hemp,” Mr. Truby said, noting the plant’s sustainability. (Its byproducts can be used to make clothing and building materials, and it’s a fast-growing, regenerative crop.)

Sustainability and climate impact have become enormous factors in the way people talk about and purchase dairy milk and its substitutes. According to Helen Harwatt, a food and climate policy fellow at Harvard, “dairy is the second highest emitting livestock product, accounting for 4 percent of all global emissions.” (Beef, which happens to come from the same animal as dairy, is No. 1, responsible for 6 percent of emissions.)

Farming almonds for almond milk, Dr. Harwatt said, is “much less” harmful to the environment, as animals require food to produce food. She pointed to a study by Joseph Poore in 2018, which found that almond milk takes half as much water to make than the same amount of dairy, and produces a quarter of the emissions.

But dairy farmers take issue with these environmental condemnations. “I think dairy farmers are some of the country’s best environmentalists,” said Mr. Barlow, of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

For him, it’s a matter of using the land for its designated purpose: to feed the world. “You hear people say, ‘Let’s don’t have the cows in barns.’ But one acre of corn silage will feed a cow all year long. And if she’s grazing, there’s no way that can take place.”

For consumers, the issue is often less contentious. “There’s a lot of plant-based brands out there making an almond milk or a soy milk and they’re marketing it against dairy milk,” Peter McGuinness, the president of Chobani, said. “But the consumer doesn’t see it that way. Food manufacturers are creating a fight that consumers don’t want.”

In an industry that has become increasingly bleak, Chaney’s Dairy Barn is a success story born of desperation. Carl Chaney and his family have turned what was recently a foundering dairy business out of Bowling Green, Ky., into a tourist attraction that grosses over a million dollars a year.

Mr. Chaney, a second-generation dairy farmer, remembers coming to an impasse with his father, James, in 2000. “We had some rough prices,” Mr. Chaney said of that year. He recalled his father saying, “I made more money milking cows in 1943 than I am now.”

The Chaneys’s solution to the problem was more investment — but instead of buying state-of-the-art milking machinery, they opened an ice cream shop and a restaurant, and opened the farm for tours, the sort where small children can hitch a ride on a large tractor.

Agritourism of this sort has become a secondary, and sometimes primary, form of revenue for many small farms — which is to say, the vast majority of farms in America. They’re opening their homes for farm stays on Airbnb and renting out land on Hipcamp. They’re hosting tours and classes for urbanites who view their professions as picturesque pastimes. For many farmers, turning their land into a destination has been life sustaining.

“The dairy barn is what has kept the cows here on the farm,” Mr. Chaney said. “If it was not for selling ice cream, and a restaurant, and tours, and taking our trailers out off-site to sell ice cream, we would have sold the cows. We lose money milking cows.”

Consumer education is a necessity for the alternative and premium milk sector: Americans are drinking less dairy milk, but it’s still the product they’re most familiar with. For A2, a New Zealand-based dairy company that sells milk that’s free of the A1 protein that many people find difficult to digest, health benefits are a way into the fast-growing but hypercompetitive alternative-dairy market.

Milk, said Blake Waltrip, the chief executive of A2, is a “repertoire purchasing category”: The average consumer has three to four different types of milk or milk alternatives in their rotation. As far as they’re concerned, it’s all just milk. Which means that these companies need to constantly be innovating to recapture consumers’ interests.

For A2, health benefits are an easy sell. “People care more about what the product does for them than about getting deep into the science,” said Mr. Waltrip. In Australia, A2 accounts for 11 percent of all milk sales, and the company claims that 70 percent of their consumers have no milk intolerance at all. Mr. Waltrip believes it’s because theirs is a “better milk,” but it also may be that consumers, long confused about whether or not dairy milk is good for them, are relieved to have a “healthy” dairy milk to buy.

Finding new ways to market and process milk has become essential for dairy farmers looking to turn things around. But some are thinking of making bigger changes to their production.

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a dairy farmer and attorney in Central New York, said a number of New York dairy farmers have been looking to Canada for advice. She tweets about this often from her account, @NYFarmer.

“The Canadians have a system where they can only produce what they can sell,” she said. “If you produce more milk than you can sell profitably, they don’t pay as much for it.”

For the country’s struggling dairy farmers, organizing against the nearly monopolistic processing plants could be one small way to see better returns. If a cheeky mustache can’t get people to buy more milk, the answer might just be to make less of it.


Dairy losses may exceed $2.85b due to COVID-19

The demand shock experienced by the entire economy is turning what initially looked to dairy farmers like the first decent year in the last five into one of potentially widespread economic devastation, according to a letter National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) president and chief executive officer Jim Mulhern sent Tuesday morning to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“Over the last five weeks, the [U.S. Department of Agriculture’s] estimate of 2020 milk prices reflect a drop of about $2.85 billion at the farm level,” Mulhern wrote in the letter. “Further drops are possible as the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.”

Dairy farmers – whose work as part of the agriculture industry has been reaffirmed as critical infrastructure by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – expect to face price declines and unstable demand over the next several months as joblessness rises, schools remain closed and farm and dairy processing operations face unprecedented logistical challenges.

Congress and the Trump Administration have already helped by approving food purchases and offering flexibility in transportation rules. In its letter, NMPF said it looks forward to working with USDA on program implementation, trade facilitation and other areas but said additional remedies will be needed.

NMPF said USDA may need to reopen the signup for participation in the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, the main safety net for dairy farmers, especially small and medium-sized producers. DMC participation declined in 2020 because of forecasts for higher prices, which now have been radically revised in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

One month ago, USDA’s DMC decision tool did not forecast a single month in 2020 when the program’s margin would drop beneath the maximum coverage threshold of $9.50/cwt. As of March 20, that forecasting tool predicted margins below that level from March through October, with five of those months below $9/cwt.

NMPF suggested additional dairy product purchases to help Americans in need during what may be a period of very high demand at food banks. NMPF urged the secretary to make a substantial purchase of multiple forms of dairy products under Section 32 of the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC), which would help stabilize prices by sending a clear demand signal to disrupted dairy markets. NMPF is supporting replenishing the CCC’s borrowing authority to ensure that USDA can support distressed producers. A significant dairy product purchase, particularly with a focus on cheese, will also provide tremendous help by offsetting the precipitous drop in dairy foodservice sales resulting from restaurant closures and school and foodservice cancellations across the country.

NMPF is also seeking compensation for potential milk disposal. As an example, in a letter Foremost Farms sent its farmers on March 17, it told its members that due to the extreme nature of the coronavirus situation and the impact on the economy, they believe the ability to pick up and process milk could be compromised. “We also need to be prepared for scenarios that would require our members to dump milk on member farms, ship milk to digestors or dispose of it in some other manner,” the letter stated.

In the letter to Perdue, NMPF acknowledged that some dairy farmers or processing plants may be forced to dispose of milk due to transportation or logistical disruptions or if demand from domestic or international markets diminishes. Given the potential for supply chain interruptions as seasonal milk production peaks this spring and many schools remain closed, elements of existing USDA programs could provide the basis for a means to compensate farmers or processors, potentially with an incentive to donate milk when possible.

Th letter noted that in the past, the Wildfires & Hurricanes Indemnity & Milk Loss program “has assisted producers who have had to dump milk because of contamination from natural disasters; perhaps this program could be refashioned to assist in this situation.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which Congress passed and the President signed, included an additional $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. “We are eager to work with your department to ensure that dairy products make up a substantial amount of the assistance provided under this provision,” Mulhern said.


New Zealand rules driving farmers out

New farming rules around sustainability are driving elderly farmers out of the dairy industry, says agri-economist Phil Journeaux.

He says over the past three years, there’s been an increase in farmers, in their 60s and 70s, looking at other options.

Journeaux, AgFirst Waikato, spoke at a Smaller Milk and Supply Herds (SMASH) seminar in Te Aroha last week. Attended by about 50 farmers, the event went ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Journeaux told Rural News that he was getting on average one enquiry a week over the past three years.

“Now this doesn’t sound much but there’s been an increase,” he says.i

“We are getting reasonable amount of inquiry particularly from older dairy farmers with small dairy farms: they are looking at the option of what do I do next.”

Journeaux says there’s a range of reasons for farmers thinking of quitting dairying. Some are thinking retirement, but proposed environmental regulations are one of the main drivers.

“They are getting sick of all the pressure coming on the dairy industry, particularly on the environmental side.

“And they are thinking, before I spend lot of money to deal with this I need get out.”

Horticulture is attracting a lot of interest among these famers, but options are wide ranging: recently two farmers advised by Journeaux converted into chicken farming.

The dairy sector is expecting a milk payout of around $7.30/kgMS this season: a competitive payout by industry standards.

But Journeaux says dairy farmers suffered “a helluva fright” in 2015 when the payout slumped to $3.90/kgMS.

“It has certainly improved from that but our monitoring says the average dairy farmer needs 6 bucks to break, even 7 bucks if they can pay off the principle debt.

“We are in that range but these farmers are thinking I’m not seeing myself getting ahead that much at 70 so I am out.”

At AgFirst they run through options for farmers looking to get out of dairying: doing financial, risk and environmental analysis for them. The final decision rests with the farmer.

Journeaux told the SMASH seminar that farmers must do their homework before choosing their new venture.

He says it is very important to know the value chain the farmer is getting into.

Like the dairy industry, horticulture, pipfruit, kiwifruit sectors have strong value chain and extension service.

“But if you choose something like nut crops, they have a pretty weak value chain: if you do those sorts of things, you will end up with the task of creating the entire value chain.”


Australian milk companies adapt to demand

Independent specialty fresh milk processor, Riverina Fresh, has introduced production changes to keep up with changing demand for its products due to the coronavirus threat.

The company has experienced a reduction in demand from its central city barrister customers, but has seen an increase in demand in suburban cafes and restaurants.

The Wagga Wagga based company has also been trying to keep up with increased demand due to panic buying in the supermarkets it supplies.

Riverina Fresh CEO, Rob Collier said they were ramping up production to meet demand.

He said the company had been handling a surplus of milk in recent times and they were now capturing that extra supply for their customers to meet the unprecedented demand.

“We are making some changes and adjusting shifts to meet that demand, mainly from supermarkets.

“It is difficult in that we don’t know whether the extra demand will last for a week or six months.”

The company has About 5000 specialty coffee shop and café customers.

He supported the VFF’s recent remarks that there is enough milk production in Australia to meet consumer demand and there is no need to stockpile.

“Milk is flowing from the farm into the factories.”

In a cruel twist of fortune, the company has been selected as the official supplier of milk to the World Barrister championships which were to be held in Melbourne, but have had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The competition focuses on promoting excellence in coffee, advancing the barista profession, and engaging a worldwide audience with an annual championship event.

Mr Collier said it was a huge honour to have their milks used in the championships and a reflection of the high regard in which Riverina Fresh milk was held in the specialty coffee industry.

The company has introduced protocols to minimise contact between staff and instructed its contract tanker drivers to introduce practices to minimise contact with farmers and their staff.

Riverina Fresh has suppliers mainly in the Riverina region of New South Wales as well as some in northern Victoria.

Dairy Australia and regional teams are currently working on industry-specific information to assist dairy farm businesses to manage changing workforce conditions as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

 This includes information abut:

  • Maintaining health and safety in the dairy industry
  • Legal obligations and responsibilities of employers
  • Rights and responsibilities of staff
  • Managing farm operations such as milking, calf management and feeding in changing workplace conditions
  • Working with contractors and suppliers
  • Farm biosecurity
  • Protocols for tanker operators and farmers regarding milk pick-ups


EMB says coronavirus has potential to be worst crisis yet for dairy

For example, the Global Dairy Trade index dropped as much as 3.9% this week, after a steady decline in recent weeks. Further significant price decreases are also being seen on the Italian spot milk market. These prices have shrunk by almost 7% compared to February.

Following the same trend, the rates for milk-product futures on the European Energy Exchange (EEX) have dropped significantly. Contracts for May went down 5.7% to €3,300 ($3,544)/tonne.

Iindividual dairy-market stakeholders are already taking action to limit the fallout of the coronavirus crisis, the EMB said.

For example, Mila, an alpine-milk dairy in South Tirol, recently asked its producers to voluntarily reduce their production volumes to adapt milk supply to this crisis situation.

It has become clear over the past few days that during crises, everyone needs to act in concert in order to deal with the arising issues effectively, the EMB said.

It is not enough for individual regions to react or for different regions or institutions to implement measures that are all very different from each other, the EMB warned, adding the measures must be aimed at everyone and must enjoy broad support to bring the coronavirus crisis under control.

In many areas, the amount of milk being produced on farms is too high for existing processing and market capacity, the EMB argued. The spread of the coronavirus is leading to major difficulties in procurement and logistics in the processing industry. This is further compounded by possible personnel shortages, as well as the collapse in demand for certain products.

An effective way to bring real relief, the EMB said, is to actively reduce the pressure caused by these surplus milk volumes in the EU.

It has urged the European Commission to immediately start preparing for the launch of a voluntary volume reduction scheme with capping. As the situation continues to worsen as is currently expected, volume reduction must be promptly activated. 

In this way, the EMB says farmers will jointly reduce production on their farms. This action, coordinated at EU level, can then adapt production volumes to current circumstances and can keep the economic consequences in check.

The EMB said failure to react risks the entire sector falling into its worst crisis yet.

Even after the health consequences of the coronavirus crisis start to subside, the economic fallout will continue to wreak havoc, it said, adding that in the major crisis of 2016, the voluntary production reduction scheme was launched too late.


Dairy products see surging demand; will it continue?

Panic-buying at grocery stores in response to the coronavirus has led to a surge in demand for food staples such as milk and dairy products, but dairy analysts say the pandemic’s impacts on food service, the supply chain and export markets pose long-term concerns.

More immediately, the statewide stay-at-home order has Tulare County dairy farmer Ron Locke’s Top O’ the Morn milk-processing business “slammed.” The farm markets a portion of its milk in glass bottles, selling to retailers and through its home-delivery and drive-through business. As a small processor, Locke said he’s now running at 140% capacity to keep his customers supplied.

“The home delivery side, we literally had to shut our website off for a while because the demand was so high that we couldn’t handle it,” he said. “We actually have a waiting list right now on home delivery customers.”

He noted his wholesale business has been “getting calls every day,” with retailers asking for “as much milk as you can deliver,” while his drive-through business also has been “really busy.”

On the farm, there have been no disruptions to production and no shortage of raw milk, though Locke said he worries about running short on glass bottles and began rationing six half gallons per customer. With the state’s shelter-in-place order, he said he expects his home delivery and drive-through business will “stay pretty consistent” and remains “hopeful … that this will reenergize the fluid-milk market.”

“Now everybody is scrambling to get milk, so milk is back in their diet,” he said. “Kids are home, and I’m sure they’re eating cereal.”

Ben Laine, a dairy analyst for Rabo AgriFinance, said the recent retail buying frenzy could be short term, adding that the initial surge in sales will slow once shoppers “feel a little more confident and do less stockpiling.” In terms of what they’re buying, Laine noted people are stocking up on dairy products “across the board.” For example, sales of natural cheese, processed cheese and ice cream all rose, according to retail scanner data for the week ending March 8, said Mary Ledman with RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness.

Though school closures have reduced the sale of fluid milk to the national school-lunch program, which consumes about 7% of the nation’s milk supply, Ledman said dairy companies from California to New York reported gains at the retail level have more than offset those losses.

Because many schools were already on spring break and the school year finishes in May, Laine said the timing of school closures and their impact on food service was “not as bad as it could have been if it were to happen in the fall.”

With about 40% of U.S. cheese production consumed through food-service channels, Ledman said some losses—but not all—will be offset by increased retail sales.

Laine said the challenge now for dairy companies is trying to suddenly shift product mix and distribution channels to satisfy soaring demand from retail customers.

Organic dairy farmer Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma, said company operations continue “on a regular full-time schedule, balancing the higher demand for retail products with the softening of orders from restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses serving the public.”

It’s been “business as usual” for Tulare County dairy farmer Tom Barcellos, who noted his employees feel fine and are being cautious. But he said he remains concerned about pressure on the overall supply chain, particularly at the processing plant, which he said already gave notice to farmers about penalties for overproducing milk should the plant experience processing bottlenecks due to the virus and stay-at-home orders.

Having already reduced his herd due to unprofitable milk prices, Barcellos said he’s not too worried about producing over his base, “but going forward, things could change in the next few weeks or the next few days.”

As a large producer of nonfat dry milk, California will see immediate disruptions to the powder market, Ledman said, as China is expected to import about 20% less milk powder in 2020. Not only does China have large carryover stocks from 2019, she noted, but impacts from the virus also led China to convert more of its own milk production to powders.

“We’ve already seen the nonfat dry milk market suffer because of the coronavirus and the disruption to global trade because of it,” she said.

Meanwhile, sales of whey, much of it fed to pigs, continue to be down due to African swine fever, which has decimated China’s supply of hogs, Laine said.

Devaluation of the Mexico peso also could put at risk U.S. exports to Mexico, the largest importer of American dairy products, as the weaker peso will make U.S. exports less competitive, Ledman said.

Milk powder sales rocket during coronavirus crisis

And it’s not just toilet rolls that are flying off the shelves: powdered milk sales are up 375% since the company started tracking 756 categories on February 15.

Marta Cyhan, chief marketing officer at Catalina, said the company’s buyer intelligence database captures up to three years of purchase history, and more than 2bn Unique Product Codes are scanned daily, so the company can provide customers with near real-time insights and sales data that help inform their marketing decisions and even stocking and supply chain activities.

Infographic: Catalina

“Store trips began growing around March 1 and really took off last week – with visits peaking around March 13. For the week ending March 14, total dollar sales per store were up 60%, driven by 17% more shopping trips and basket sizes that increased an average of 37% versus the prior year,”​ Cyhan said.

Cyhan said that as well as milk powder, other previously declining categories have seen increases, including dry, hearty soups, up 235%, and aluminum foil, up 86%.

And, because of lifestyle changes, at least in the short term as workers stay at home, entertainment such as books and magazines have seen a rise in sales, with books up 42% and games and puzzles rising 23%. And with people not heading into the office, cosmetics, perfumes and grooming products are seeing a decline.

“Our role as a strategic partner to retailers and brands is to share data insights that help them unearth the facts, understand buyer behavior, and plan accordingly to continue meeting the needs of their shoppers, while also preparing for the months ahead once the precautionary measures surrounding COVID-19 have passed and people return to their normal routines,”​ Cyhan said.


Tasmanian milk production record on target to be broken

Good weather conditions means good news for Tassie dairy farmers who help to supply bulk of Australian milk

Tasmania’s current milk production is on track to exceed the state’s annual production record of 913 million litres, which is good news for the sector as it, alongside Gippsland in Victoria, continues to supply the bulk of Australia’s milk.

Dairy Tasmania executive officer Jonathan Price said the state’s production levels were up 4.9 per cent in January.

“So July through to the end of January we produced 592.5 million litres of milk, which is 10 million litres up on the same time last year,” Mr Price said.

“Depending on how the autumn conditions unfold we may exceed the previous state production record … the early indications are that autumn could be quite favourable.”

He added that the main input continued to be high grain prices.

The state’s production levels however are in contrast to the rest of the industry, with Dairy Australia forecasting a drop in national milk production of between 3% and 5% to 8.3 to 8.5 billion litres for the full 2019/20 season.

Dairy Australia said the bulk of Australia’s milk production was coming from Tasmania, as well as Gippland in Victoria, which is shoring up national milk production levels and offsetting challenges elsewhere.

This is allowing Tasmanian farmers to capitilise on favourable weather conditions and high farmgate prices, “where pressure on milk supplies within Australia has prompted some processors to announce farmgate price increases, despite the ongoing economic risks associated with Covid – 19”.

Dairy Australia insights and analysis manager John Droppert said good weather conditions were key for southern producers.

“A recent recovery in national milk production, together with substantially more favourable weather conditions across many dairy regions have been positive developments at a time of strong local and global dairy market fundamentals,” he said.

“These have come amidst a tumultuous backdrop combining global disease with local drought and bushfires. Despite relatively stable supply and demand conditions, international trade faces the dual challenges of the ongoing African Swine Fever outbreak, and still-escalating Covid-19 crisis.”

As Covid-19 continues to create issues for various sectors, dairy farmers particularly in southern Australia remain currently shielded from the impacts, as supply and demand of dairy products “is yet to be materially impacted”.

Mr Price said Dairy Tasmania would continue to monitor Covid-19 impacts daily, and take necessary steps according to the best information available.


Five key technology innovations in the dairy industry for 2020

From transportation and farming technologies to ingredients solutions and lab-grown milk, the dairy industry is rife with technological advancements. Here, FoodBev provides a roundup of some of the industry’s most recent innovations. 

‘Supercooling’ technology

Transporting fresh products internationally is a challenge for many global dairy companies. In 2019, major European dairy cooperative Arla began testing a new natural, preservative-free technology to enable this international movement of goods using a new technique.

Arla’s ‘supercooling’ tool enables fresh products to travel long distances by ship. Lars Dalsgaard, SVP product and innovation at Arla said: “We’re seeing more and more markets requesting chilled, fresh-tasting and natural products rather than frozen products that require defrosting or products with preservatives.”

“The relationship between time and advanced cooling is one of the keys to unlocking portfolio limitations in markets outside of Europe,” Dalsgaard explained. “Controlling these variables enables us to put the product into hibernation mode”.  

The first shipment of supercooled Castello Decorated Cream Cheeses, which cannot be frozen, successfully reached Australia from Denmark, having been stored in special containers under supercooled conditions.

This supercooling technology will be particularly beneficial for global dairy companies and those with the aim of creating new global growth opportunities.

Mastitis detection technology

An udder infection in dairy animals known as mastitis has devastating impacts on the dairy industry worldwide. According to Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, global dairy industry losses are estimated to reach a staggering €30bn per annum. This is due to poor milk quality, significant milk losses and culling of chronically infected animals.

Early diagnosis for bovine mastitis is crucial for dairy farmers, and EIO Diagnostics new technology has done just this using a combination of machine learning and multi-spectral imaging. The start-up began in 2017 and was backed by food innovation incubators and accelerators, including Food-X and Yield Lab.

Dairy animals with mastitis will show specific patterns of swelling and heat in their udders. Co-founder, Tamara Leigh said: “Our technology combines advanced sensor imaging and machine learning to detect these early indications of infection days before there any physical signs of infection in the udder or the milk.” 

EIO Diagnostic’s technology is game-changing for the dairy industry. The sooner infected animals are detected, the sooner they can be pulled from production and treated, ultimately saving the dairy industry billions. 

Blockchain technology

Transparency in the dairy industry’s food supply chain is key to gaining consumer trust, from sustainable sources to ingredients and processing claims. In 2018, Nielsen claimed transparency was driving the growth of food in fast-moving consumer goods.

Earlier this year, food safety company Neogen entered a partnership with Ripe Technology ( to bring blockchain technology to its food safety diagnostics and animal genomics. essentially enables companies in the food industry to use its blockchain technology platform to ensure transparency in their food supply chain.

Blockchain is a digital technology platform that ‘chains’ together information ‘blocks’ to create a permanent record. This blockchain creates a history of products and animals in food and livestock in the dairy industry throughout the whole production cycle. 

Neogen’s CEO, John Adent said: “There are countless potential benefits to adopting the technology. For example, the genomic profile of a dairy cow could be connected with the feed the animal eats, its medical history, barn environment, quantity and quality of the milk it produces, etc. Blockchain can serve to optimise the entire supply chains of many of the markets that Neogen serves.”

This technology ultimately adds a high level of transparency for the dairy industry from the beginning of the supply chain all the way to consumers.

Flavour advancements

Consumer demand for clean label and ‘clean taste’ is high in the current dairy market. There have been various technological developments in the ingredients sector in recent years that focus on improving the texture and taste experience of dairy products. 

One example is US-based Synergy Flavors Inc’s taste solution ‘Dairy by Nature’, developed to address the needs of dairy and plant-based applications alike. The solution claims to provide the means to cleanly build back the creaminess of full-fat dairy and mask undesirable off-notes in plant-based alternatives. 

Synergy claims to have created technically-layered ingredients for taste and enhanced functionality by combining flavour science with modern dairy fermentation expertise. For example, unlike typical flavours that add a singular top note, such as caramelized butter or condensed milk, Synergy has developed advanced solutions that enhance quality, mouthfeel and flavour retention.

Its applications range from fresh and cultured dairy products to nutritional, bakery, beverage and confection, as well as savoury applications such as dips or cheese. 

‘Dairy by Nature’ is a key technological development for the dairy and dairy-alternative industries as it offers a simple natural flavour enhancement of dairy indulgence.

Synthetic dairy

Cow’s milk is extremely versatile and used in many products all over the world. For instance, in Canada alone, 70% of milk sold goes on to be used in further processing. However, according to an IPSOS survey, 48% of consumers buy both dairy and plant-based milks. 

The industry has seen its fair share of innovation in plant-based milk alternative products over the years, with soy, pea, oat, almond and rice milk taking the foreground. But what if scientists could grow a vegan lactose-free version of cow’s milk, without cows?

One of the main technology innovations mentioned in our dairy trends for 2020 article was lab-created dairy. California-based startup, Perfect Day Inc., has developed a form of genetically modified microflora that produces whey and casein –  the proteins found in cow’s milk. The company claims this lab-grown dairy provides the same high-quality nutrition as conventional dairy protein. 

This innovation could have a significant impact on the dairy industry, as many consumers may want to reduce their intake of dairy products but enjoy the taste of cow’s milk.


Canada announces measures to shield the agri-food sector from coronavirus fallout

Prime Minister Trudeau announces support for farmers and agri-food businesses under Canada’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.

Canadian farmers and food businesses work hard so Canadians have quality food on their grocery store shelves and kitchen tables. In these times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make sure that they are supported so they can continue providing the good, healthy food that nourishes our families.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced important new measures to support farmers and agri-food businesses in Canada facing financial hardship due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Farmers and food producers work hard to put food on tables across our country, and they should not have to worry about being able to afford their loan payments or having enough money to support their own families. We are taking action now to give them more flexibility to meet the challenges ahead in these times of uncertainty,” he said on Monday. 

Farm Credit Canada will receive support from the Government of Canada that will allow for an additional $5 billion in lending capacity to producers, agribusinesses, and food processors. This will offer increased flexibility to farmers who face cashflow issues and to processors who are impacted by lost sales, helping them remain financially strong during this difficult time.

In addition, all eligible farmers who have an outstanding Advance Payments Programme (APP) loan due on or before 30 April will receive a Stay of Default, allowing them an additional six months to repay the loan. This important measure, which represents $173 million in deferred loans, will help keep more money in farmers’ pockets during these critical months.

The Stay of Default will also provide farmers the flexibility they need to manage their cashflow when facing lower prices or reduced marketing opportunities. Applicable farmers who still have interest-free loans outstanding will have the opportunity to apply for an additional $100,000 interest-free portion for 2020-2021, as long as their total APP advances remain under the $1 million cap.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food commented:

“Like many Canadians, I am truly grateful for our farmers and food business owners and employees, who continue working hard so we all have quality food on our grocery store shelves and kitchen tables. Their continued work is essential to our plan to manage COVID-19. The measures announced today will provide farmers and food producers across the country with important financial flexibility they will need during these challenging times.”

The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting Canada’s agricultural sector to ensure that farmers and businesses have the support they need to provide for their families and all Canadians during this critical time.

Quick facts for cattle farmers

Farmers will continue to have support under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The comprehensive suite of business risk management programmes are designed to help manage significant financial impacts and risks beyond farmers’ control.

The new deadline for outstanding Advance Payments Programme Loans is 30 September 2020 for cattle and bison producers. 

Read more information from the Prime Minister’s office here


Dairy product sales booming amid coronavirus outbreak

The grocery store was the first stop for a lot of people when the coronavirus began to spread.

As people began to rush to the grocery store to stock up on necessities such as milk, dairy farms noticed a boom in business.

Milkhouse Dairy Farm’s owner, Caitlin Frame, said, “”Our farm store and the rest of our wholesale retail accounts were going way up and it has consistently stayed up for the past ten days.”

Similarly, another family owned farm, Pumpkin Vine Family Farm is well on its way to a surge in business this year.

As farm owner Kelly Roopchand said, they are shifting their focus from their bestsellers to stocking the shelves with items that will keep the public healthy amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We really feel that the milk is a huge boost and the yogurt is probiotic. We have a regular following for years where everyone would come in and get their milk and their yogurt but we’ve just had this huge increased interest,” said Roopchand.


COVID-19: Dairy council wants industry to be labelled an ‘essential service’

The Quebec dairy council is calling on the government to grant “essential service” status to the food-processing sector, in particular for dairy products.

The Les Producteurs de lait du Québec (PLQ) said workers in this sector have children of preschool and school age, and the organization believes that it is necessary to ensure maximum availability of this workforce, which is “qualified and essential to our activities.”

The Government of Quebec has already decreed that day care services, otherwise closed to the population, must be maintained for young children of workers in “essential services” such as employees in the health sector, firefighters and police.

The PLQ requests that the food processing sector also benefit from this status of essential services in order to “be able to continue to meet the food needs of the population.”

In a news release, the chairman of the board, Charles Langlois, said that global and national guidelines “are rigorously applied in all dairy manufacturing units,” and that dairy producers “deploy robust prevention plans to protect their employees, suppliers and production lines.”

Langlois also said that “it is scientifically recognized that milk and milk products are not modes of transmission of the coronavirus.”

The council includes around 90 dairy businesses in Quebec and some 50 service providers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 17, 2020.

Canada’s dairy farms decline even with strict quota system

Even with its strict production quotas and guaranteed high milk prices, dairy farms in Canada are disappearing at a rate not far below what is happening in the United States. The country’s latest agricultural census shows a 14 percent decline in the number of Canadian dairy farms from 2011 to 2016.

By comparison, U.S. dairy farms shrunk by 18.5 percent in the same five years.

The actual numbers, released earlier this month, showed 10,525 farms with milk cows in 2016. In the United States, dairy farm numbers declined from 51,291 in 2011 to 41,809 in the same five­year period.

Overall, Canada counts 193,492 farms of all types in its census, a 5.9 percent decrease from 2011, the lowest rate of decline in the last 20 years. As farm numbers have declined, the average area per farm has grown from 779 acres in 2011 to an average of 820 acres in 2016.

Dairy cattle numbers in Canada also declined in the census period to 1.4 million head, settling 3.8 percent lower than five years earlier, but milk production increased because of greater productivity and efficiency. The average number of dairy cattle per farm increased 11.9 percent to 100 in 2016, considerably smaller than the U.S. average.

More significant than the raw numbers is the picture the census provides of the distribution of dairy farms and thus the political influence that has helped protect the supply management system through a succession of governments, both liberal and conservative, for more than half a century. The quota system seeks to “balance the supply and demand of milk and maintain stable production throughout the year and throughout the country,” Statistics Canada explains.

It also shows that Canada’s dairy farms are concentrated in Quebec and Ontario – the two most populous provinces – which together account for more than threefourths of all dairy farm numbers in the country. With 42 percent of the nation’s total in Quebec and 34.9 percent in Ontario, and most of them small¬scale operations, their political clout is enhanced.

The number of small (200 dairy cattle or fewer) specialized dairy farms (operations reporting dairy cattle but no beef cattle) decreased, while the number of large (more than 200 dairy cattle) specialized dairy farms increased from 2011 to 2016, suggesting some consolidation.

While some producers left the business, remaining farmers were able to grow by buying quotas from those who left. On farms reporting dairy cattle in Quebec, the average number of dairy cattle per farm increased by 9 percent to 85 in 2016. Ontario saw the same trend, with the average dairy cattle per dairy farm rising 12.1 percent to 98 in 2016.

The government report notes that efficiency in the dairy industry was achieved through improvements in feed quality and management, genetics, and advancements in technology, including the use of robotic milking. According to census data, 8.9 percent of the country’s dairy operations now use robotic milking. Mid¬sized farms are more likely to report robotic milking than small and large¬sized farms, with 44.7 percent of farms with 101¬200 cows using the practice.

“In addition to using robotic milking, the improved efficiencies of many dairy type farms can be linked to advancements in animal housing, milking technology, herd management and feed management,” the census says. “In 2015, almost half of dairy type farms reported using automated environmental controls for animal housing or automated animal feeding technology. Investment in innovative technology contributes to the dairy industry producing more with less.”


  Source: Agri­Pulse

Study examines environmental footprint of California dairy cows over 50 years

Producing a liter of milk in California emits less greenhouse gas and uses less land and water than it did in 1964, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of California, Davis.

“We compared 1964 through 2014 and found a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases to produce the same quantity and quality of milk,” said senior author Ermias Kebreab, professor and Sesnon Endowed Chair in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis. “The magnitude of change is surprising.”

Scientists conducted a lifecycle environmental assessment of cows from the time they are born to the time they leave the farm gate. The study included such inputs as producing feed for the animals, and the machinery and transportation needed to produce milk.

Cows belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as part of their digestive process. The study found the biggest emission cuts came from reductions in these emissions, known as enteric methane, compared to reductions in emissions from manure.

“Reductions in enteric methane intensity (i.e., methane emissions per gallon of milk) are primarily a result of better genetics and breeding and better nutrition for the animals,” said Professor Kebreab.

Water and land use

In addition, water use in the industry has dropped by 88 percent, due primarily to efficient water use in feed crops and the use of crop byproducts for feed such as almond hulls. Water use in housing and milking also dropped by 55 percent.

The amount of land it takes to produce a liter of milk compared to 1964 has also decreased. This is largely due to improvements in crop genetics and production practices that have increased yields of grain, hay and silage for cows on the same amount of land.

“We’ve saved an amount of land equal to the size of Connecticut,” said Professor Kebreab.

Over the last 50 years, dairy production in California has undergone significant improvements and advancements in animal husbandry, feeding and housing practices, and in animal and plant genetics and crop production methods.

Total greenhouse gas emissions from cows overall has increased in California as more cows are needed to feed a growing population. But cows are now producing much more milk. In the 1960s, one cow could produce about 4,850 kilograms of milk per year. Now a cow can produce more than 10,000 kg annually.

“There is a lot of discussion about how cows have a huge environmental footprint, but no one is talking about how the dairy industry has changed,” said Professor Kebreab. “Dairy farmers are doing a lot to help reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.”

Scientists continue to look for ways to reduce enteric methane emissions through better animal nutrition, including feed additives. In a previous study, Kebreab found that feeding dairy cows a small amount of a seaweed called Asparagopsis armata along with their feed, reduced methane emissions by up to 60 percent.

California is the top dairy producing state, and milk production is the third largest agricultural industry in the United States.


The dairy industry today is much cleaner and more efficient than 60 years ago

Producing dairy today is cleaner than it was 50 years ago, a study finds.

Each liter of California milk requires less land, water, and releases fewer emissions than in 1964 to produce, reports a new study from the University of California, Davis. The study takes into account inputs as producing feed for the animals, the animals themselves, as well as the machinery and transportation needed to produce milk.

California is the top dairy-producing state, and milk production is the third-largest agricultural industry in the US.

Udder progress

“We compared 1964 through 2014 and found a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases to produce the same quantity and quality of milk,” said senior author Ermias Kebreab, professor and Sesnon Endowed Chair in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis. “The magnitude of change is surprising.”

A life cycle environmental assessment of California cows, from the time they’re born until they leave the farm, suggests that modern agricultural advancements really do help slash emissions and the environmental footprint of our food. The study included an analysis of inputs such as the feed, machinery, and transportation required to produce milk. The figures were then compared to their equivalents from 1964.

The largest cut to methane emissions seen in the study came from a decline in enteric methane — basically, cow belches. Reductions in emissions from manure were also recorded, but they were less dramatic than enteric ones.

“Reductions in enteric methane intensity (i.e., methane emissions per gallon of milk) are primarily a result of better genetics and breeding and better nutrition for the animals,” said Kebreab.

Overall, water use in the industry overall dropped by 88% compared to 1964 levels, the team explains, primarily through more efficient water use in feed crops and the use of by-products such as almond hulls for feed. Water use in housing and milking also dropped by 55%. Land use per liter of milk has also decreased, mostly through the introduction of better crops and agricultural practices.

While per liter efficiency has definitely increased, total greenhouse gas emissions from cows in California has increased, as more animals are being reared today. The team notes, though, that a cow in the 1960s could produce about 4,850 kilograms of milk per year, while one today can produce over 10,000 kg annually.

“There is a lot of discussion about how cows have a huge environmental footprint, but no one is talking about how the dairy industry has changed,” said Kebreab. “Dairy farmers are doing a lot to help reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.”

On the one hand, I definitely find the results encouraging, and I applaud the farmers that are doing their part to clean up the industry. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much they can clean. In the context of climate change, the most effective choice is simply to not breed any more cows. But I do love cheese, and I’m quite a fan of meat, so I secretly hope that we’ll be able to still put these on the table and safeguard the health of ecosystems around the world. In a previous study, Kebreab found that feeding dairy cows a small amount of Asparagopsis armata seaweed along with their feed, reduced methane emissions by up to 60% — so maybe there is still hope.

The paper “Greenhouse gas, water, and land footprint per unit of production of the California dairy industry over 50 years” has been published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

A2 Milk expands North American footprint with licensing deal

A2 will give Agrifoods access to its intellectual property and marketing systems, as well as work with it to get the necessary milk from Canadian dairy farmers.

Chief growth and brand officer Susan Massasso said it was part of the company’s plans to expand its North American market.

“It is an extension of the learnings and marketing assets that we’ve established in the US, but it is an exclusive licensing agreement with Agrifoods Co-operative. So in a sense we’re leveraging the learnings, we’re leveraging the existing marketing assets and Agrifoods are thankfully expanding our brand for us in North America.

“It allows us to expand our footprint in North America without being a distraction to our core business with our core team.”

She said it was similar to the licensing agreement it had with Fonterra in New Zealand.

As a licence owner, the company would benefit from royalties.

Agrifoods has more than 2700 members.

Source: RNZ

Market growth for Australian milk sector

Australia’s dairy sector can expect continued growth in demand while overall production will remain flat to 2030 compared to 2018 levels, according to research released by ANZ today.

The Milk Run report found that despite recent challenges faced by the industry, the market opportunities which have driven dairy growth and innovation over the past two decades remain as strong as ever.

Commenting on the report, Head of Agribusiness at ANZ Mark Bennett said as with most major agricultural industries, the Australian dairy industry had been through a period of significant structural change in recent years.

“However, for those producers who are profitable today, the outlook is strong for prices as processors look to secure supply,” Mr Bennet said.

The outlook for exports also remains strong with demand from East Asia continuing its positive growth, particularly for fluid milk and cheese exports.”

“For consumers, the pricing outlook for retail milk and dairy product is unclear, and will be driven by a number of variables.

Factors that will impact shelf prices include changes in sourcing, offtake-pricing and milk production, as will strategic and marketing decisions made by retailers about milk prices in relation to wider supermarket pricing strategies.

At the same time, the growing range of new dairy products available to consumers continues to present fresh opportunities for newer and smaller processors.

The Milk Run — key findings:

The continuation of current trends would see milk production remain flat for the next decade compared with 2018, as higher cash costs would see milk production rebounding on the dip in production felt in 2019 but rising to just over 9400 Ml/year compared with the 2018 production year.

A constrained domestic production and ever-increasing demand for milk and dairy products in East Asia is likely to spell future strong prices for those dairy producers remaining in the industry.

The impact of the recent bushfires, while locally devastating, is unlikely to have a significant impact on national milk supply.

Australian milk production looks set to continue to be flat for the short term with current trends resulting in production in Queensland continuing to decline, while the primary source of growth being seen in the southern states, particularly Tasmania, where production would rise by 20 per cent by 2030.

Lower production in the major production countries should bode well for prices in the future, however many in the industry are concerned that consumers have limited tolerance for higher prices.

The future of retail milk prices remains uncertain following the end of $1 milk in the major supermarkets. Depending on whether retailers continue to keep a lid on prices, the price of a litre of milk could increase at an average of between 1.4 and 2.8 per cent a year until 2030.

Processors are likely to face the most significant challenges going forward as they look to make best use of manufacturing capacity and growing export markets with lower milk supply and a shifting supply base.


A Minnesota dairy farm survives and thrives after a blizzard of bad luck

A year ago, a blizzard collapsed the Hoffman family’s barn in Chatfield, Minn., killing several cows and nearly driving a century-old family farm out of business. Today, the Hoffmans have a new barn, a new herd and a new appreciation for the friends and neighbors who helped them through.

Bad weather, bad markets and bad luck nearly drove a century-old Minnesota dairy farm out of business last year.

The new year has been kinder to the Hoffman family.

They have a new herd under the new roof of their new dairy barn and a new appreciation for the friends, neighbors and strangers who helped them through.

“You hear so much that’s negative in the news,” said Corey Hoffman, who runs the North Creek Dairy in Olmsted County with his father, Gary, and brother, John. “This sort of made you realize that people are good. There’s not just bad events happening throughout the country.”

In Chatfield, Minn., the sun is shining, the ground is thawing and the barn doors are open wide to let the cows enjoy the breeze. A year ago, blizzards were roaring across Minnesota, collapsing barns and battering farms already crushed by trade wars and commodity prices too low to pay the bills.

One out of every 10 dairy farms in Minnesota — more than 300 of them — went out of business last year. North Creek Dairy could have been one more.

After the first section of barn collapsed, killing 13 cows, the Hoffmans scrambled to get the rest of the herd to safety. A neighbor down the road offered a fair price for the herd, sight unseen, and the community rushed in with trailers to help get the cows.

“We had about 40 trucks and trailers that came and moved them out,” Hoffman said. “Half the people, we had no idea who they were. They were people who wanted to help out.”

As the cows moved into their new home, the 290-foot barn continued to collapse under the snow and ice while the family waited to see whether insurance would cover the cost of replacing the 12-year-old structure.

For the first time since Corey and John Hoffman’s great-grandfather established the farm in 1903, there were no cows to milk at North Creek Dairy.

“We’d never gone a day without milking cows in 116 years, so that was pretty heartbreaking,” said Corey Hoffman, who knew every cow by name and had them so well-trained, they responded to voice commands like 1,500-pound puppies.

As word of the family’s misfortune spread, they were showered with calls, letters, gift cards and good wishes from around the state. The Hoffmans talked about getting out of the dairy business, but when the insurance check came through, they were ready to rebuild the barn, restock the herd and get back to work. State officials visited and the Legislature approved zero-interest loans to help farmers repair and rebuild after the brutal winter.

By summer, a sturdy new barn was rising, with better ventilation and a roof that should stand up to any weather Minnesota throws at it. By October, they’d found a family getting out of the dairy business and looking for a good home for their herd. That family still visits the cows occasionally, and Hoffman sends them pictures whenever there’s a new calf.

“They’re almost like pets. You have these animals, you work with them every day,” he said.

He’s not quite on a first-name basis with the entire new herd, he said, but he’s getting there.

“There’s a lot of faces to remember,” he said with a laugh. “But for the most part, we’re getting to know them pretty well. Everything’s been going very, very good with them.”

Dairy prices even started to improve last year. At least, until the markets took a hit from coronavirus.

“Every previous generation has gone through their struggles,” Hoffman said. “This is just ours.”

Hoffman’s grandfather was only 12 or 13 when his father died and he took over the farm, just as the country was sliding into the Great Depression. One day, he took 12 steers and 20 hogs to market, hoping to use some of the money from the sale to buy a new pair of shoes.

“What little he got [from the sale], he couldn’t even afford a pair of shoes,” Hoffman said. “That’s how bad it was then. He came home and he sat on the front steps and bawled his eyes out. He didn’t know what he was going to do.”

His grandfather saved the farm for the next generation — and the one after that.

“If he can get through that,” Hoffman said. “We should sure be able to get through this.”

The Hoffman brothers have small children of their own now. Maybe someday they’ll tell them the story of the bad storm and the good neighbors.

“This was, obviously, a horrific event, but there was a lot of good that came out of it,” Hoffman said. “Everybody rallied around us to support us. … If the government could get along as good as the ag community, this country would be in a lot better shape.”


How two years of changes in dairy led to two major bankruptcies

Struggling with competition from milk alternatives, innovative startups and private label, this timeline shows how Borden and Dean Foods got here and what’s next for the industry.

Within two months, two of the largest milk processors in the U.S. filed for bankruptcy. First came Dean Foods, which made the announcement in November. By January, Borden Dairy was doing the same. So what happened?

For at least two years, the dairy giants have increasingly struggled with competition from milk alternatives, innovative startups and deeply discounted private label dairy.

“It’s going to take some disruptors to wake up some of the folks who haven’t made those decisions to invest in the future. If you’re not investing in the category today, you’re going to have a major challenge to survive,” Paul Ziemnisky, EVP of global innovation partnerships at Dairy Management Inc., told Food Dive.

Consumer preferences shifted, but Borden and Dean didn’t change enough, leaving them in dire financial straits and facing significant debt. Dean Foods’ net income dropped from $61.6 million in 2017 to a loss of $327.4 million last year. And while Borden once had a presence in all 50 states, as of last summer, it offered only 35 products in parts of the Midwest, South and Southeastern U.S.

“The company continues to be impacted by the rising cost of raw milk and market challenges facing the dairy industry,” Borden’s CEO Tony Sarsam said in a statement when it filed for bankruptcy. “These challenges have contributed to making our current level of debt unsustainable.”

Although for Dean and Borden, the troubles date back further than just 24 months, the issues have accelerated to a breaking point.

Eric Snyder, partner at law firm Wilk Auslander and chairman of the firm’s bankruptcy department, told Food Dive that for both Borden and Dean, debt was building as people were drinking less traditional milk. He said that dairy processing facilities are also extremely cost intensive, and it can be very difficult to scale down businesses like these.

“It’s just too much debt on the books for businesses that can no longer support it,” he said.

For decades, milk consumption has been declining while new innovations and plant-based options have taken away some consumers who once turned to the popular drink. Non-dairy milk sales in the U.S. increased 61% from 2013 to 2017, while overall sales of dairy milk dropped 15% from about $18.9 billion in 2012 to $16.12 billion in 2017, according to Mintel.

“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” Dean Foods’ CEO Eric Beringause said in a statement when the bankruptcy filing was announced.

Although the economy is strong, certain industries have seen increased bankruptcies because of changing consumer demands, Snyder said.

“It’s a function of the times, it’s a function of the cause and it’s a function of the debt. So it doesn’t look good for dairy just like it doesn’t look good for coal and it doesn’t look good for retail,” Snyder said. “There are certain businesses that just don’t have bright futures and we know what they are.”

Snyder said that about 90% of bankruptcies end in a sale today.

In February, Dairy Farmers of America agreed to buy a substantial portion of Dean Foods’ business for $425 million. If the deal is approved by the bankruptcy court and the U.S. Department of Justice, DFA will acquire 44 of the company’s fluid and frozen facilities, but could still face the same issues that have weighed down Dean for years.

Kenneth Rosen, a partner focused on bankruptcy and financial reorganization at Lowenstein Sandler, previously told Food Dive that Dean is facing “a lot of problems” that likely won’t just be resolved with a change in ownership.

Ziemnisky, however, believes there is a bright future for dairy when looking at the growing international market and the players that are adapting, finding innovative ways to produce and sell the staple beverage.

New Zealand’s a2 Milk’s products, for example, lack a protein that can cause stomach discomfort, and more than doubled its retail count in 2018. Meanwhile, Fairlife, a joint venture with Coca-Cola, produces ultra-filtered milk, a higher-protein and lower-lactose product that has seen substantial growth.

Retailers themselves are launching their own products into the space.

In 2018, Walmart held a grand opening for its first U.S. food production facility, a milk processing plant that produces whole, skim and chocolate milk under its own Great Value brand — a move that led Dean to cancel its contracts with more than 100 dairy operations across eight states. Kroger and Albertsons have also introduced private label lines.

“So retailers today, if you’re a mainstream product and you’re not bringing innovation in the market, they’re asking what are you going to do to drive a category,” Ziemnisky said.

Below is a compilation of some of the major events that happened over the last two years, offering the big picture of how Borden and Dean got here and what’s next for the industry.


The rising cost of keeping Queensland (AUS) dairy farmers in business

Queensland dairy farmers who have survived deregulation and dollar-a-litre milk are finally being paid closer to their break-even point by all but one major processor.

Maleny Dairies key points

Key Points:

  • Maleny Dairies raises prices to pay more to farmers
  • QDO says 73 cents a litre is needed to keep farms sustainable
  • 1,200 Queensland dairy farms have closed since deregulation 20 years ago

Whether it will be enough to keep about 300 remaining dairy farmers in business will depend on the coming seasons.

Despite recent rain, it will take time to reduce the spiralling cost of grain and hay due to drought.

Maleny Dairies has publicly pledged its continued commitment to its 11 suppliers launching a new campaign called ‘Because We Care’.

Owners Ross and Sally Hopper have raised the wholesale price of their milk by 12 cents a litre and adopted a ‘We Care Dairy’ logo.

The first price rise in five years has enabled the couple to pay farmers an average between 73–75.5 cents per litre — up from 64.9 cents in January last year.

“They are [Queensland dairy farmers] still disappearing at a great rate of knots,” Mr Hopper said.

The couple has invested around $10 million in factory upgrades, including plastic bottle blowing and recycling.

“The cost of operating the farms in today’s environment with grain prices is prohibitive.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position where after protracted negotiations (with retailers), we could put our price up (through Coles and Woolworths and IGA) and we’re passing the majority of that on to the farmers.”

Maleny Dairies made headlines in January after losing a tender to supply the Queensland Government’s Metro North Hospital and Health Service to French-owned Lactalis — which has since announced further cutbacks and closed Parmalat’s Rockhampton factory, sacking 47 workers.

“In 2000 Lactalis and Lion, as they do today, had custody of the Queensland dairy industry,” Mr Falcongreen said.

“There were 1,500 farms. There’s now around 300. That’s 20 years under their watch.”

Loyal customers rallied behind the family business, which has won a much smaller contract to supply Sunshine Coast Council with 600 litres of milk every week.

Relief for farmers

“This is just a breath of fresh air, it’s just marvellous,” Witta dairy farmer and Maleny Dairies supplier, Rob Cork said of the farmgate price rise.

“I think last year is probably the worst year on record in the 20 years since deregulation because of our commodity prices.

“We’re paying $700 a tonne for grain, four or five years ago it was only $330 a tonne and all the other costs associated with drought have gone up, so it’s been really tough.”

“It’ll make a big difference to us and it’s given us the incentive to milk more cows as well,” his wife Anne added.

Tough times

But farmers’ margins remain incredibly tight —73 cents per litre is the figure deemed sustainable by the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation.

Queensland is importing cheaper milk from the southern states, with demand far outstripping supply.

Norco CEO Michael Sampson said the cooperative was offering the industry’s best price to around 220 fresh milk suppliers in Northern New South Wales and Queensland.

“Norco is currently forecasting to pay its members in northern NSW and Queensland an average of 77.5 cents per litre from January to June 2020,” Mr Sampson said.

“Norco has increased its price significantly over this time to assist with the cashflow effects of the drought, and we thank our loyal customers who continue to support us, which in turn supports our farmers.”

Support for farmers

Maleny Cheese founders Sara and Markus Bucher are proud to pay an average of 75 cents a litre to four local farmers as well as sourcing milk from their family-owned ‘Obi Obi Dairies’ at Kenilworth.

“All of our farmers are in the hinterland and we have always paid above average,” Ms Bucher said.

By January next year, the Federal Government’s Mandatory Code of Conduct will require all dairy processors to publish details of their contracts with farmers, including the price they pay per litre for milk.

ABC Rural has been told that Lactalis is offering around 72 cents a litre.

Lagging behind

Pressure is mounting on Lion Dairy and Drinks to pay more to farmers.

Formerly Japanese-owned, the company has been in a state of transition.

Last month the ACCC announced it would not oppose its acquisition by China Mengniu Dairy Company, after ‘closely considering the potential impact of competition’.

“We’re still around 10 cents behind the opposition at the moment and that’s ridiculous,” Lion supplier Joe Bradley said, at the Maleny Dairies launch.

The Dayboro dairy farmer supplies Lion Dairy and Drinks and said the company paid between 62 to 67 cents a litre to around 75 Queensland dairy farmers.

“At the moment they haven’t and it’s very disappointing because on the current prices it’s unsustainable for us to continue.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Queensland is in dire straights and what Maleny has done is brilliant. They’re paying their farmers a sustainable price.”

Mr Brdaley said Lion did increase farmgate prices by 4 cents a litre on January 1, and pointed the finger at retailers for not supporting the industry.

“I can tell you the farmers are being ripped off. There’s no ifs or buts. The supermarkets can put all the spin they want in the world.

“It’s not just us — the processors are hurting too.”


Dairy production in Canada is ethical, responsible and progressive

Sylvain Charlebois’ article is a study in contradictions. On one hand, he acknowledges supply management has given Canadians access to fresh, high-quality, local milk at stable prices for years. On the other, he calls for its elimination.

He observes how urban consumers are increasingly disconnected from farmers (“dairy farming is a mystery” he notes), but chides the industry for its efforts to showcase real dairy farmers and help Canadians understand what modern dairy farming is all about.

He describes a dairy industry that is local, ethical and responsible, then attempts to justify alternatives that would be “very taxing on the environment if purchased in Canada.”

First and foremost, Canadian dairy farmers share consumers’ desire to be mindful of the environmental footprint of the products they consume. Good stewardship is actually one of the foundations of our national quality assurance program, proAction. Dairy farmers are also governed by extremely high standards of animal welfare, milk quality, food safety, traceability and biosecurity — a far cry from the ‘short-sighted’ industry he claims doesn’t listen to consumers.

Supply management in dairy production is part of a desire to produce enough milk to meet the country’s needs. Our American neighbours overproduce and export dairy at a rate of 15 per cent annually, overburdening that country’s natural resources so that products can be exported around the world. Unlike U.S. production, our model of sustainable agriculture encourages the consumption of local products while preventing food waste.

Milk production also contributes to enriching the land, which in turn plays a crucial role in carbon sequestration. It is thus in line with the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published last summer, which stresses the importance of good management of agricultural and forest soils in carbon capture and the importance of avoiding soil degradation.

As a result of producers’ ongoing efforts and research — the sorts of innovation he says are lacking — milk production accounts for only 1 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions. Moreover, the sector’s environmental footprint is steadily decreasing. According to the most recent environmental life cycle analysis of dairy production, Canada ranks among the best in the world. From 2011 to 2016, we have reduced the environmental impact substantially, reducing the carbon footprint of production of a glass of milk by 7 per cent, its water consumption by 6 per cent and its land use by 11 per cent.

The vast majority of Canadians believe that dairy farmers do an excellent job of producing quality milk. Moreover, 88 per cent of Canadians believe milk is an important food for health, including 82 per cent of millennials.

What further illustrates the opinion of consumers is our sales. General demand for all dairy products is on the rise, contrary to what Charlebois claims. Between 2015 and 2017, we have seen a 15 per cent increase in total Canadian demand. Between 2013 and 2016, the demand for butterfat increased by 23 per cent in Canada, largely due to scientific research that has shown that milk fat is not linked to the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Dairy production in Canada is ethical and responsible, which addresses the concerns of most Canadians. Dairy producers communicate seamlessly with consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, on the various digital platforms, social media and other mediums they use.

Whether Mr. Charlebois likes it or not, our dairy farmers have long been committed to sustainable production. Accusing them of “burying their heads in the sand” may be entertaining, but it doesn’t make it a reality.

Pierre Lampron is President of Dairy Farmers of Canada

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada

‘This isn’t the way I wanted it to end’: Dairy farm shuts down after 148 years

One at a time for six days, the 27 livestock trailers pulled up to the barn at Adams Dairy Farm, as if part of an extended funeral receiving line. 

They came from other parts of Wisconsin, and Iowa and New York, picking up youngstock first, then their share of 600 cattle.

When the last rig eased over to State Highway 93 on Tuesday, dairy farming ceased on this expanse of Trempealeau County land that’s been in Paul Adams’ family since shortly after the Civil War. 

“It’s amazing how long it takes to wind something like this down,” he said while watching the farm’s last milking session before those cows were sorted and walked up ramps into the trailers. 

Adams Dairy went organic in 2002, so most of the tractor-trailer rigs were headed to an organic operation east of Dallas with about 2,000 cattle. The last four rigs headed to a slaughterhouse in Omaha, a move Adams said was upsetting but unavoidable because he couldn’t find another buyer for those cows. 

Equipment on the farm, which is about $8 million in debt, is going up for auction and the land will be listed for sale with a real estate firm.

“This isn’t the way I wanted it to end, but at least it’s a definite stop,” Adams said.

At 68 years old, he has been a dairy farmer since he graduated from high school in 1970 and completed the industry’s “short course” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Back then, his parents milked 30 cows.

Today, he and his wife JoAnn live in a home they inherited that overlooks the farm but isn’t part of it. Their daughter Becky lives in the farmhouse where she grew up. She has worked with her father for 15 years and was poised to take over the business as he neared retirement. She managed the herd and supervised nearly 20 employees.

“Becky has been pretty amazing, watching out for everybody,” Adams said.

Now, she and her two children will lose their home. The plan is to move to Altoona, closer to Eau Claire, and figure the next steps out.

“Everything she had worked for, the equity in the farm, is gone,” Adams said. 

Even then, there might not be enough revenue from the liquidation to pay off the crushing debts. If that happens, a bankruptcy filing could be in order.

“I’m at the point where I’m not trying to save anything,” Adams said.

Taking the right steps 

The collapse of family dairy farms has been changing the landscape of Wisconsin — literally and figuratively — for years. Wisconsin branded itself America’s Dairyland 80 years ago, and family farms are ingrained in the state’s identity.

But many of those operations have been losing money or are barely hanging on. In 2019, about 820 dairy farms shut down in the state, a rate of more than two a day. Low commodities prices, intense competition, declining consumer interest in milk and an oversupplied marketplace have conspired against farmers.

The collapse of Adams Dairy, however, generated some shock waves given it had followed the script for survival.

Through the years, the Adamses grew the size of their herd to take advantage of economies of scale. They also added land; today they own 800 acres and lease 300 more. They found a niche to specialize in, and their Holsteins and Brown Swiss were from award-winning genetics. The family invested in new machinery and kept the farm modern. They did everything by the book and then some.

Becky Adams even traveled to Mexico to better understand where many of her workers came from — the families they left behind, the dreams they had of returning, the challenges they faced so far from home.

“When you see the quality of the barns, the cattle and everything going on here, this was clearly a family farm that was looking to the future,” said Danielle Endvick, communications manager for the trade group Wisconsin Farmers Union, as she watched the cows being loaded onto the trailers. 

Even as the milk price improved some this year, more dairy farmers have called it quits, too deep in the hole to benefit.

“It’s hard to watch these losses and have a lot of hope,” said Endvick, whose family lost its dairy farm years ago. 

“There was no doubt that I would be the next generation running that farm. But I remember my dad telling me point blank, ‘These are the numbers and here’s why it’s not going to pencil out,’ ” Endvick said.

For a time, outlook was bright

Not long ago, the market for organic milk was growing at a rapid clip. Adams raised cattle feed on land where the nutrients and natural processes were kept in a careful balance. His cows grazed on postcard-perfect hillsides. 

“I saw a beautiful future in organic,” Adams said. “I learned that if you manage the soils right, you’re going to have healthier crops, healthier cows and healthier people.”

For quite a while, the business thrived. The price the farm received for its milk was high enough to cover the additional costs of organic farming — mostly higher feed costs — and assure a nice profit. The milk was shipped to a bottler in New Jersey, and the farm kept growing.

Then, in November 2017, Adams lost his contract with that processor when it found it could get milk cheaper from farms with thousands of cows in Texas. 

He found another milk buyer, in Rochester, Minnesota, but the price kept falling as the organic market became saturated by big farms in the Southwest. At least once at the Rochester plant, he saw tanker trucks with Texas license plates. 

A handful of mega-sized dairies in the Southwest now produce more certified organic milk than all of Wisconsin’s 450 organic dairies combined, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Critics contend the industrial farms skirt the rules calling for, among other things, a minimum amount of grazing time for cows in order for the milk to be certified organic.

“It’s really hurting the organic label, which is bad because it took many years to get it where it was three or four years ago,” said Darin Von Ruden, an organic dairy farmer from Westby and president of Wisconsin Farmers Union. 

“As the industry got bigger, I thought that some of the rules would save us from the competitive downhill rush. But it hit us anyway,” Adams said.

“The system is broken. We can’t modify it. There has to be an overhaul,” he added.

‘We have pretty well lost everything’

Two years ago, Adams put the family farm up for sale. But there were no offers and the farm’s outlook worsened as the milk price remained below the cost of production amid a deep industrywide slump.

Adams drained his retirement savings to plant corn for the cattle and keep the business afloat. Then his local bank sold his loans to an out-of-state investment firm that demanded higher monthly payments and he lost another milk contract.

Earlier this year, “it became impossible to continue,” Adams said. “We dragged down our equity to the point where we are now hoping to sell the entire business and come out at net zero.”

It bothers him that the industrial dairies have come to control much of the organic milk market by hauling in massive amounts of organic cattle feed from other places and getting around the grazing requirements. Yet he understands the cost pressures; his own farm nearly qualified as a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, and the rules that come with that designation.

“I am not really that negative on the organic CAFOs,” he said. “I just thought that consumer demand for better milk would stay ahead of the demand for cheaper milk. But it didn’t.”

Lowering standards was unacceptable

 He might have saved the business by lowering his expenses and standards over the years. But that would have gone against what he believes in, Adams said. 

“I have never been a low-cost producer,” he said. “I want to treat my cows right and my people right. I know the quality of the milk we are producing.”

Adams says he doesn’t know what he’s going to do now that he isn’t working on the farm seven days a week. 

“One thing I will miss is harvest time … getting to play with the big toys,” he said. 

At one time, there were four other dairies on a mile stretch of road between his place and Eleva, a village of about 650 people on the Buffalo River. Now there are none.

Becky Adams, who studied dairy science at UW-Madison, says she may pursue a career in natural health practices for people, not livestock. 

“My original plan was to become a veterinarian and not come back to the farm. But while I was at UW, I realized I wanted to work with the healthy cows on our farm rather than everyone else’s sick cows,” she said. 

At one point, tears welled up in her eyes while she helped sort and load the cows onto the caravan of trailers leaving the farm for the 16-hour trek to Dallas.

“I will miss the friendly ones, my pets,” she said.

Will the 36-year-old dairy farmer who worked 15 years on her parents’ farm ever get back into the business? 

“Right now I am pretty emotional,” she said. “I don’t think so, but time heals wounds. We’ll wait and see.”

Join us at the Midwest Dairy Symposium March 16 in Platteville

Gov. Tony Evers, Journal Sentinel reporter Rick Barrett and dairy experts from across the state will meet March 16 at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to discuss the dairy crisis and — just as important — solutions for Wisconsin farmers. Travis Forgues of Organic Valley Cooperative will be the keynote speaker.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

Dairy sector responds to study on breast cancer and milk consumption

A new study was released on Feb. 25, which associated dairy milk intake with greater breast cancer risk. The study, entitled Dairy, soy, and risk of breast cancer: those confounded milks, was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and funded by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the World Cancer Research Fund (United Kingdom).

As expected for such a topic, media around the world picked it up rather quickly, with stories published in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, CTV News in Canada and ABC News in the United States.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) provided the following statement from Isabelle Neiderer, DFC’s nutrition and research director, to several media outlets: “We are aware of a new study looking at the associations between dairy consumption and breast cancer risk. DFC is concerned the findings of this research study could be misleading.”

  • DFC also cited evidence from a study by the World Cancer Research Fund International, considered the authority on diet, weight, physical activity and cancer risk, which suggests total dairy product consumption is either not associated with risk of breast cancer or may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Milk is specifically not associated with risk in both pre and post-menopausal women;
  • The International Dairy Federation (IDF), which represents the global dairy sector and ensures the best scientific expertise is used to support high-quality milk and nutritious, safe and sustainable dairy products, states research generally does not support a strong association between consumption of milk or dairy products and breast cancer risk, although further research is needed;
  • DFC also cited a 2016 study by researcher Jing Wu and his colleagues’ revealed risk of breast cancer decreased by four per cent with skim milk intake. Yogurt and low-fat dairy consumption have also been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer (Zhang et al 2015).

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) does not support the findings of the study. DFO strongly supports educating Canadians on dairy’s contributions to a healthy and sustainable diet using all available scientific evidence to support those claims, and will continue educating the public about dairy’s benefits via community-based programs and events, and through various advocacy efforts and initiatives.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Ontario

Dairy State: Cheese Producers Wrestle With Climate Change Amid Already Struggling Industry

Wisconsin’s dairy industry is integral to the state’s identity, but the industry is struggling — and the threat of climate change hasn’t helped. Flooded fields, washed out roads and rising temperatures are making an already challenging job more difficult to manage. In this series, WPR is exploring how the state can adapt to and mitigate the affect climate change is having on some of Wisconsin’s most iconic foods.

On a cold, sunny day in December, a row of dairy cows chews through a precise mix that contains corn, alfalfa and soybeans at Crave Brothers Farm outside of Waterloo.

Those crops, grown on 3,000 acres of farmland, feed Crave Brothers‘ 2,200 cows. In turn, the cows produce enough milk for the roughly 15,000 pounds of cheese coming out of the farm’s cheese factory each day.

“Our story is crops to cows, cheese to the consumer,” said George Crave, who runs the farm with his three brothers. 

But there are costs to producing dairy products.

Dairy farms make a measurable contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. And globally, greenhouse gases from agriculture production create a vicious cycle — a hotter planet makes food production more difficult in many places. 

Farmers like the Craves believe a farm that runs efficiently is ultimately better for the environment.

That’s one reason the Craves installed two anaerobic digesters — producing enough electricity for the farm, cheese factory and 300 homes in the community from the methane in cow manure, as well as fertilizer for the fields and bedding for the cows.

Recent years have been tough on dairy farmers — plummeting milk prices, oversupply and an overwhelming trend toward consolidation have led to a record number of bankruptcies across the state. Amid those struggles, climate change has emerged as yet another adversary. Wisconsin is a warmer and wetter place than it was a generation ago, and will continue to be so.  

Experts say the agriculture industry needs to fundamentally change to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. But dairy farmers, in an industry that is already stressed at the seams, have questions on what that means — and who’s going to help them do it.

Increasing Temperatures Tough On Dairy Cows

It takes a lot of milk to produce cheese. 

While it depends on the style of cheese, Mark Johnson, assistant director of the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it averages to about 10 pounds of milk for 1 pound of cheese.

But as the state warms, farmers are concerned about seeing their dairy cows produce less and less milk. 

Cows like it cold and are particularly sensitive to heat stress, so every August and September there’s a dip in milk production, Johnson said. This could be problematic for cheesemakers who rely on milk that’s high in fat and protein.

Sarah Lloyd, a dairy farmer and director of special projects at Wisconsin Farmers Union, echoed Johnson’s concern, and added that summer nights don’t seem to cool off like they used to.

“It definitely reduces production,” she said. “You can see it immediately that day.”

Ninety percent of the milk produced in Wisconsin goes to making cheese. And while changes in tastes and lifestyles have led to a steady free fall in the consumption of drinking milk for decades, Americans are eating more cheese than ever before. 

Since 1950, Wisconsin has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. By 2050, scientists expect the state to warm by an additional 2 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit; the likelihood of greater frequency in heat waves will also rise.

Graph courtesy of Dan Vimont, director of the Center for Climatic Research

A dairy cow’s optimal temperature range is between 25 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit — when temperatures reach 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, milk production can decrease by about 10 percent. Above 90 degrees, production can dramatically decrease, often by more than 25 percent, according to UW-Extension.

On Crave Brothers Farm, the cows are kept in open air, free-range barns designed to keep them comfortable and productive.

“If the temperature is over 75 degrees, they get water sprayed on them periodically, and we have large fans that continually cool them … keeps them eating, keeps them productive,” Crave said.

Out in the field, where the Craves grow the crops to feed their cattle like many other dairy farmers in the state, the last few years of intense rainfall have been tough on crop production.

‘The Ground Is Just Always Saturated’

There used to be dry-offs between rains, Crave said.

“But now it’s like, OK, here’s 2 more inches and there’s 2 more inches and there’s 2 more inches,” he said. “And all of a sudden in July, you get 7 inches. In August, you have 7 inches of rain, which is totally unheard of.”

“I can think of 2018, where I dumped 10 inches of rain out of the rain gauge in a one-week period,” Crave continued.

Yet, Crave considers his farm among the lucky ones. They’ve still been able to farm and work most of their ground — although he admits not very efficiently. 

In other parts of the state — particularly in the western region — and the wider Midwest, so much rain has been devastating, delaying or altogether preventing crop plantings across the region.

Between disruptions to freeze and thaw cycles, dealing with washed out bridges and roads and increasing feed prices, farmers are feeling the pressure. The added unpredictability can be discouraging, but Crave said he’s not an alarmist.

“When Mother Nature really keeps stopping you from advancing, it’s frustrating for everyone,” he said. “It makes more work, and no one pays us for that extra work either.”

“When Mother Nature really keeps stopping you from advancing, it’s frustrating for everyone,” dairy farmer George Crave said. “It makes more work, and no one pays us for that extra work either.”

2019 was the wettest year on record in Wisconsin, and the 2010s went down as the wettest decade on record by a large amount, said Dan Vimont, director of the UW-Madison Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research.

“Boy, you look across Wisconsin this summer, it was shocking how much standing water there was,” he said.

If annual average precipitation keeps increasing at current rates — around 20 to 30 percent since the mid-20th century — it will be catastrophic, said Chris Kucharik, chair of the UW-Madison Agronomy Department. 

“In the last 10 years, our average rainfall is pushing 40 inches,” Kucharik said “It’s to the point that a lot of the landscape can’t handle that.” 

Consensus among climate models suggests Wisconsin will be closer to 10 to 15 percent wetter in coming decades — meaning dry years will likely be mixed in.

“The law of averages suggests, well, maybe the next 10 years we’re gonna be 10 inches below normal each year,” he said. “If we get to like averaging 50 inches a year, you’re going to start seeing lakes appear in places that they weren’t.”

Graph courtesy of Dan Vimont, director of the Center for Climatic Research

Changing Risk

Adverse weather events are becoming more frequent and more extreme, often in different places at the same time, said Molly Jahn, a UW-Madison professor and leader of Jahn Research Group, which researches risk in food systems. 

And that’s challenging risk management and responses to natural disasters. 

Farm credit services exist to cushion the risk farmers face, but as weather patterns are changing so are the risks they face — and there are concerns that risk profiles aren’t adapting as quickly as patterns are changing, she said. 

“The whole system is affected in ways that intersect,” Jahn said. “A connects to B to C, etc.”

“But we frequently don’t think about the risks as intersecting,” she continued. “We have historically separated them and assess the likelihood of each one.”

Risks from events like flooding and drought can be pooled, Jahn said. And she expects there will be innovative risk mitigation measures going forward that come from a variety of stakeholders, such as insurance companies. 

“Insurance isn’t the only solution, but insurance can provoke a set of actions or can organize,” she said. “Because ultimately … if we link capital to good behavior, we will see good behavior.”

A Low-Tech Vs. High-Tech Response

A thick cloud of steam pumping into the sky is immediately visible at Crave Brothers Farm. That steam is a byproduct of the two 750,000 gallon anaerobic digesters that capture the methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere — from manure and turns it into electricity. 

Crave is frank that digesters aren’t a good, or economically viable, fit for all farms.

“Everything’s dependent on volume, efficiencies of size and scale. And it does take a lot of biomass or fuel, which in our case is the manure to power these,” he said. “There’s truly economic value to being certain sizes — and balanced in size, just getting bigger doesn’t guarantee anything.”

There are about three dozen digesters in Wisconsin. Farms have to be a sophisticated operation to make them work because they can take a fair amount of maintenance and capital, Jahn said. 

Producing electricity alone isn’t enough to make the digesters worth the investment, Crave said. Electricity in the U.S. is cheap, so for digesters to make economic sense, they needed to find additional ways to add value through cow bedding and fertilizer.

Anaerobic digester at Crave Brothers Farm. Mary Kate McCoy/WPR

Lloyd, of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, calls digesters a high-tech approach to climate change. On her family farm outside of the Wisconsin Dells — where they milk 400 cows — digesters don’t make sense because of the smaller size of their herd. 

“That’s the risk, that you’re like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, technology will fix this,'” she said. “And it’s not to say that someone can’t come up with a technological fix. But then you just go back to that question of: who controls the technology, who has the money to access the technology?” 

“The average dairy farmer right now is not that person,” she continued.

Lloyd is concerned solutions requiring a high amount of capital will only exacerbate the trend of consolidation and larger farms across the state.

“The risk is you devastate the small- and medium-scale producers … by not having the economy of scale, but they are creating a lot of other values,” she said.

While Lloyd considers anaerobic digesters a high-tech response, she calls rotational grazing the low-tech response.

Grazing is about making agriculture mimic the natural landscape as much as possible, said Randy Jackson, professor of agronomy at UW-Madison who leads Grassland 2.0, a recent USDA-funded project focused on transforming livestock agriculture from grain-based to perennial grass-based.

Perennial crops are a huge part of both adaptation and mitigation, he said. Perennial grasses improve the ability of soil to hold onto water, prevent erosion and runoff, and are much more resilient than row crops in the face of flooding.

“We’ve modified the grasslands and the wetlands and the forests so much that those modifications have basically cracked them open and made them leaky and made them unable to support biodiversity and do the things that we’d like them to do,” he said.

Jackson said all livestock raised for milk and meat production can be grazed. 

But it’s not without challenges. Most obviously, grass doesn’t grow all year in Wisconsin. And if grazing isn’t managed properly — say, allowing cows to eat the grass down to a nub — it’ll undermine all of the environmental benefits.

“Management intensive rotation grazing is not your grandfather’s grazing,” Lloyd said. “It’s not like dumping your cows out to wander around, (it’s) much more like you’re a grass farmer.”

There’s also a productivity cost, grass-based milk and meat production provides lower yield than grain-based. But Jackson counters that studies show grazing is more profitable than confinement operations by reducing machine, production and feed costs.

“If we want to have something out on the landscape that’s more benign environmentally, that holds onto nutrients and carbon, we’re going to have to take a little bit less yield out of the landscape,” Jackson said.

“If we want to have something out on the landscape that’s more benign environmentally, that holds onto nutrients and carbon, we’re going to have to take a little bit less yield out of the landscape,” said Randy Jackson, a professor of agronomy at UW-Madison.

What Does It Mean To Be Sustainable? 

Experts agree that agriculture needs to be a more resilient, less intensive system. 

Globally, it’s estimated that about 25 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to agriculture. U.S. dairy farms are estimated to contribute about 1 to 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. 

Graph courtesy of Matt Ruark, UW-Madison professor in the Department of Soil Science

Studies show dairy farms can significantly lower their emissions, while increasing profitability, through improving feeding strategies, cow genetics and manure management. 

But the costs of making the changes to a more sustainable system can be out of reach for many farmers, and it’s left them wondering who will cover the cost, who’s responsible for what, and how they are supposed to get there.

“Right now, coming off of five years … of these low, low prices, it’s very difficult to imagine doing anything drastic that’s going to be risky or take investment into a new enterprise,” Lloyd said.

Graph courtesy of Matt Ruark, professor in the Department of Soil Sciences at UW-Madison

Yet Carol Barford, director of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, said that to feed a growing population on a limited amount of farmland, it’s far more efficient to feed people on plants than on animals.

The majority of corn grown in Wisconsin goes toward feeding livestock and producing ethanol. And corn as far as the eye can see is not a stable system, she said.

“We have to feed people, and if we want to do that and produce less greenhouse gas, we should feed people mostly on plants and not feed so many animals first … that’s a big change for a lot of people,” Barford said.

Back on his farm, Crave said contemporary farms like his often shoulder the blame for environmental problems because people have lost touch with where their food comes from, and who produces it.  

“To say we’re not paying attention or we’re wasteful or that we don’t know what’s going on or that we don’t care is a misrepresentation of how we really run our businesses,” he said.

Crave Brothers Farm outside of Waterloo, Wis. Mary Kate McCoy/WPR


Could specialty cheeses save dairy farms?

Since 2002, Vermont has lost half of its dairy farms. 

But one dairy product may be the Vermont industry’s saving grace: premium cheese. 

For the past year, the consulting firm Karen Karp and Partners has studied market challenges and opportunities for Vermont’s dairy farms. And the firm identified cheese as a hot new opportunity, largely because Americans are eating so much more of it. 

“These cheese retailers, they love Vermont cheese,” KK&P consultant Ben Kerrick told lawmakers Wednesday. “They say the cheese from Vermont is the highest quality in the U.S.” 

The new report was requested by lawmakers who are trying to find a way to spur market revitalization of Vermont’s dairy market. 

At a joint hearing last week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry heard about the impact of five years of low prices on Vermont’s dairy industry. Farmers are struggling to keep up with agency regulations and there’s a decline in academic research driving dairy market innovation, according to KK&P’s research. 

Blocks of Eligo, a goat and cow milk blend, age at the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, a cheesemaker in Greensboro, in October. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

While specialty cheese may be the answer for the state’s dairy farmers, Vermont isn’t leading in cheese sales, Kerrick said. He recommended that Vermont’s cheese producers reimagine their brands. The fact that a cheese is from Vermont isn’t enough to hook consumers into buying a premium product. 

“Cheese brands that sell well in the New York and Boston markets, sell well because … they have interesting stories,” Kerrick said. “When someone comes into a high-end cheese retailer in Manhattan … they’re not looking for Vermont cheeses, they’re looking for the story of Jasper Hill. They’re looking for the story of Spring Brook. And those stories really resonate.” 

Millenial and Gen Z buyers, who are taking up a larger portion of the United States’ consumer base, are also looking for food products that provide an experience. 

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“It’s often said that food is the new rock,” KK&P consultant Christophe Hille told lawmakers. He suggested that dairy farms could attract customers by providing tourism experiences on their farms. 

Kerrick said consumers are more apt to buy more expensive dairy products that promote more natural ingredients. 

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, said it was “exciting” to hear that Vermont could expand the premium cheese market. 

Starr supports a “price order” on certain dairy products. A price order is a fixed amount that dairy products can be bought and sold for, based on other market factors. The price would likely be fixed by a state commission, similar to Maine’s system, which Starr pointed to as a potential model for Vermont. 

“So everybody can make some money,” Starr said, “but no one would get it all or get none.” 

Rep. John O’Brien, D-Tunbridge, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said it’s unrealistic to think that many of the Vermont dairy farms the state has lost could be brought back. 

“Everybody’s gotten so good at making milk,” O’Brien said, “When you hear about a 50,000 cow dairy starting in California, how do we compete with that?” 

O’Brien, a sheep farmer, is more focused on preserving the small farms still left in the state. He’s thinking about introducing legislation that would make it easier for smaller Vermont dairy companies to compete with big-name brands in grocery stores. Placing local products at the same shelf level as Hershey dairy products could make a big difference, he said.


Coronavirus Outbreak impacting dairy industry

The dairy industry is starting to feel the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. Milk prices are dropping again after a brief rebound from a five year stretch of low prices.

What kind of an effect is the outbreak having on the industry?

“High Tides raise all ships,” said Joe Osterkamp, dairy producer.

Osterkamp is a fourth generation dairy producer and was one of hundreds of other dairy producers who attended the High Plains Dairy Industry in Amarillo on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dairy producers and many others who work in the dairy industry keep an eye on the markets. Milk prices have taken a hit in January and in February of 2020, due to the outbreak of Coronavirus.

“When one thing happens in one part of the world, it affects all of us and with as global as our economy is with those exports, the markets the way they are today, anything in the world can have an effect,” said Osterkamp.

The viral outbreak is a potential hurdle as the dairy producers wait to see if China makes good on the agreement to purchase at least $40 billion of agriculture goods from the United States.

The Bovine Coronavirus that gets into cows, dogs, cats and swine is something that has been around for years and veterinarians have treatment options to deal with that strain of Coronavirus.

“You can vaccinate and it’s very successful program,” said, Ralph Zimmerman, New Mexico State University veterinarian. “The young calves you can vaccinate their moms before they’re born. They get enough immunity through the colostrum that will get them over the worse edge of diarrhea as youngsters.”

The dairy farmers who attended the two-day conference tell ABC 7 News when they leave they will depart with newfound knowledge that will best prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead.

“It lets you know that you’re not alone out there and other people are going through the same thing you’re going through,” said Osterkamp. “It provides more of a perspective of what’s going on around you.”

Like so many who export goods to a foreign country, it’s a wait and see approach as long as the virus spreads it will feed more trade uncertainty.

The United States is one of largest milk producers. Most of the milk exported goes to China and Mexico. If China stops importing milk for months because of the Coronavirus it will drive the price down further.


China approves tariff exemptions on US dairy as part of ‘phase one’ trade deal

China released new lists to exempt 65 types of US commodities that have been subject to the Chinese retaliatory tariffs and launched a tariff exclusion process for 696 types of US imports in February.

These will enable China’s commitment to buying more US goods as stipulated in the terms of the US-China phase one trade deal. It also supports China’s efforts to contain the Covid-19 outbreak through increasing the imports of medical apparatus and instruments from the US.

Tariff exemptions on 65 US imports

On February 21, China’s Tariff Commission of the State Council announced Shuiweihui Announcement [2020] No.3 containing two lists – exemption list 1and 2, which respectively exempt 55 and 10 types of US products from paying additional Chinese tariffs.

The two lists will be effective for one year from February 28, 2020 to February 27, 2021. During this period, US imports included in the two lists won’t be subject to additional tariffs.

List 1 covers timber, presswork, hydraulic motor, laser, magnetic resonance imaging device, microscope and the diffraction equipment, among 55 other items.

Enterprises importing goods from list 1 may apply to customs for refund of the duties already paid, but must do so within six months from the date of the promulgation of the list.

List 2 covers non-invasive ventilators, temperature sensors, infrared spectrometers, and gene sequencers, among other 10 items.

The products in list 2 will be exempted from additional tariffs although existing tariffs will not be subject to refunds.

China launched a tariff exclusion process for two batches of US imports in 2019. The two exemption lists released in February are a result of the exclusion process for the second batch of US imports, which is worth US$60 billion and has been subject to additional Chinese tariffs since September 24, 2018.

In September and December 2019, China released three exemption lists for the first batch of US goods worth US$50 billion – two lists covering 16 types of US commodities and one list covering six types.

In the February 21 announcement, the Tariff Commission also said that it would continue the work on the exclusion of additional tariff-levied goods from the US and release subsequent lists on due course.

Tariff exclusion process for 696 US imports

In addition, on February 17, the Tariff Commission announced a tariff exclusion process for 696 US goods in the Shuiweihui Announcement [2020] No.2, as the government seeks to fulfill commitments made in the phase one trade deal with the US.

The 696 products (the list is available here in Chinese) include various US goods, like pork, beef, soybeans, wheat, corn, sorghum, ethanol, liquefied natural gas, crude oil, steel rails, and some medical equipment. This is considered the most substantial tariff relief offered by Beijing by far.

From March 2, 2020, the Tariff Commission will start to accept applications from Chinese companies that intend to sign contracts to purchase and import related goods from the US.

Firms seeking exemptions should fill in and submit the application as required through the website: Within one year from the date of the successful approval, goods within the approved amount will not be subject to China’s retaliatory tariffs.

Chinese company given the green light to own Dairy Farmers Australia

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC ) has given the green light to a $600 million deal that would see China Mengniu Dairy acquire Dairy Farmers.

Under the deal, which still needs Foreign Investment Review Board approval, Mengniu will acquire big-name Australian dairy and juice brands including Dairy Farmers, Big M, Pura, Daily Juice and Berri , the sale also includes Malanda Milk.

The Dairy Farmers Co-operative Milk Co. was formed on January 15, 1900, It was then sold to Japanese company Kirin in 2008, becoming a brand of National Foods, ending 108 years as a co-operative company.

After Kirin Holdings acquired the alcoholic beverage company, Lion Nathan, in 2009, National Foods & Lion Nathan merged to become “Lion Nathan National Foods”. Lion Nathan National Foods later became Lion Dairy & Drinks.

The proposed Mengniu/Lion deal was announced in November, shortly after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg gave conditional approval to Mengniu to buy Australian infant formula company.

Director of the Dairy Farmers Milk co-op and Milla Milla Dairy Farmer James Geraghty has said: “some people may be upset that another Australian asset has been sold to overseas interests, but Dairy Farmers has not been in Australian hands for some time.”

“Really, if we had a choice between a Japanese brewer who doesn’t want to be here and a Chinese milk company who wants to be here, we’ll take the Chinese,” he said.

Mr Geraghty is hoping that the new owners will play hardball with Coles and Woolworths “Australians are going to have to pay more for milk, or there won’t be any”


Even though it will change from one set of overseas hands to another, Member for Hill, Shane Knuth said “he has always been a strong supporter of Australian ownership and that sadly relying on a foreign company reveals what little effort our governments have played to protect the dairy industry.”

“I believe in the old co-op system with dairy farmer ownerships, I am very disappointed with consecutive governments. Time and time again despite the desperate situation they’ve rejected everything that has been put forward by the dairy farmers to help – from a minimum price scheme to the fair milk logo legislation and reining in on the supermarket giants,” Mr Knuth said.


Could speciality cheeses save dairy farms?

Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, right, questions Christophe Hille, left, and Ben Kerrick, consultants with Karen Karp & Partners, during discussion of a dairy industry marketing report before a joint meeting of the House and Senate agriculture committees at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Since 2002, Vermont has lost half of its dairy farms. 

But one dairy product may be the Vermont industry’s saving grace: premium cheese. 

For the past year, the consulting firm Karen Karp and Partners has studied market challenges and opportunities for Vermont’s dairy farms. And the firm identified cheese as a hot new opportunity, largely because Americans are eating so much more of it. 

“These cheese retailers, they love Vermont cheese,” KK&P consultant Ben Kerrick told lawmakers Wednesday. “They say the cheese from Vermont is the highest quality in the U.S.” 

The new report was requested by lawmakers who are trying to find a way to spur market revitalization of Vermont’s dairy market. 

At a joint hearing last week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry heard about the impact of five years of low prices on Vermont’s dairy industry. Farmers are struggling to keep up with agency regulations and there’s a decline in academic research driving dairy market innovation, according to KK&P’s research. 

Blocks of Eligo, a goat and cow milk blend, age at the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, a cheesemaker in Greensboro, on Friday, October 11, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

While specialty cheese may be the answer for the state’s dairy farmers, Vermont isn’t leading in cheese sales, Kerrick said. He recommended that Vermont’s cheese producers reimagine their brands. The fact that a cheese is from Vermont isn’t enough to hook consumers into buying a premium product. 

“Cheese brands that sell well in the New York and Boston markets, sell well because … they have interesting stories,” Kerrick said. “When someone comes into a high-end cheese retailer in Manhattan … they’re not looking for Vermont cheeses, they’re looking for the story of Jasper Hill. They’re looking for the story of Spring Brook. And those stories really resonate.” 

Millenial and Gen Z buyers, who are taking up a larger portion of the United States’ consumer base, are also looking for food products that provide an experience. 


“It’s often said that food is the new rock,” KK&P consultant Christophe Hille told lawmakers. He suggested that dairy farms could attract customers by providing tourism experiences on their farms. 

Kerrick said consumers are more apt to buy more expensive dairy products that promote more natural ingredients. 

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, speaks during discussion of a dairy industry marketing report before a joint meeting of the House and Senate agriculture committees at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, said it was “exciting” to hear that Vermont could expand the premium cheese market. 

Starr supports a “price order” on certain dairy products. A price order is a fixed amount that dairy products can be bought and sold for, based on other market factors. The price would likely be fixed by a state commission, similar to Maine’s system, which Starr pointed to as a potential model for Vermont. 

“So everybody can make some money,” Starr said, “but no one would get it all or get none.” 

Rep. John O’Brien, D-Tunbridge, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said it’s unrealistic to think that many of the Vermont dairy farms the state has lost could be brought back. 

“Everybody’s gotten so good at making milk,” O’Brien said, “When you hear about a 50,000 cow dairy starting in California, how do we compete with that?” 

O’Brien, a sheep farmer, is more focused on preserving the small farms still left in the state. He’s thinking about introducing legislation that would make it easier for smaller Vermont dairy companies to compete with big-name brands in grocery stores. Placing local products at the same shelf level as Hershey dairy products could make a big difference, he said.

Cows in their barn at the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury. Seen on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Source: VTdigger

CWT Assists with 4.1 Million Pounds of Dairy Product Export Sales

Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) member cooperatives accepted 44 offers of export assistance from CWT that helped them capture sales contracts for 2.166 million pounds (960 metric tons) of Cheddar, Gouda and Monterey Jack cheese, 782,641 pounds (355 metric tons) of butter, 562,179 pounds (255 metric tons) of cream cheese, and 661,387 pounds (300 metric tons) of whole milk powder. The product is going to customers in Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East and North Africa. The products will be delivered from March through June 2020.

CWT-assisted member cooperative export sales contracts for 2020 total 4.896 million pounds of American-type cheeses, 1.190 million pounds of butter (82% milkfat), 1.390 million pounds of cream cheese and 5.291 million pounds of whole milk powder. The product is going to 19 countries in six regions. These sales are the equivalent of 121.5 million pounds of milk on a milkfat basis.

Assisting CWT members through the Export Assistance program positively affects all U.S. dairy farmers and all dairy cooperatives by strengthening and maintaining the value of dairy products that directly impact their milk price. It does this by helping member cooperatives gain and maintain world market share for U.S dairy products. As a result, the program has significantly expanded the total demand for U.S. dairy products and the demand for U.S. farm milk.

The amounts of dairy products and related milk volumes reflect current contracts for delivery, not completed export volumes. CWT pays export assistance to the bidders only when export and delivery of the product is verified by required documentation.

All dairy farmers and dairy cooperatives should invest in CWT. Membership information is available on the CWT website.
The Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) Export Assistance program is funded by voluntary contributions from dairy cooperatives and individual dairy farmers. The money raised by their investment is being used to strengthen and stabilize the dairy farmers’ milk prices and margins. For more information about CWT, visit

The Dairy Farm of Your Imagination Is Disappearing

To lure drivers off Interstate 65 at Exit 220, about 70 miles southeast of Chicago, the roadside ads lean hard on wordplay. A metal corncob the size of a speedboat carries the words, VISIT EAR OFTEN! A sign with a cow on it promises A DAIRY GOOD TIME FOR THE FAMILY! Another billboard shows a wide-eyed kid with a fruit-flavored ice cream in his hand: BERRY TEMPTING!

You’re in for even more of this sort of thing if you take the exit. At the BP gas station, the little food market inside is called the Dairycattessen. There’s Central Bark, a green area to let your dogs run around in, and an adjacent Cowfé where you can get cheese sandwiches and milkshakes. The water tower is mottled like a Holstein, but just about every other structure in sight conforms to the red-and-white motif of the classic American barnyard. Among them is a hotel with two towerlike extensions painted to resemble grain silos and an indoor pool with a slide that looks like a big wet cow’s tongue. These attractions, however, are for later, after you visit another barnlike building two doors down. On its face, big white letters in a Playskool-esque font announce: YOUR ADVENTURE STARTS HERE.

relates to The Dairy Farm of Your Imagination Is Disappearing
Fair Oaks Farms pumps out 300,000 gallons of milk a day from 33,000 cows.
Photographer: Lucy Hewett for Bloomberg Businessweek

This is Fair Oaks Farms, an Indiana tourist attraction designed to entertain road-weary families and deliver them back to the highway reassured that American agriculture is headed in the right direction. With more than 33,000 cows that pump out some 300,000 gallons of milk daily, it’s also quite a bit more. “Welcome to our home, a functioning Modern farm, where our Animals are the center, led by a team with country Charm,” says a sign by the counter where you buy tickets for the tour. “There’s nothing here that’s hidden…. Everything here is from the heart. If you’re ready for Ag-venture, Fair Oaks Farms is the place to start.”

The grounds are immaculate, and if you’re in the mood to celebrate milk—“the most wholesome food on earth,” according to the recorded script that’s broadcast on the bus tour—you’ll probably love it as much as Cargill Inc., Land O’Lakes Inc., and other corporate partners apparently do. But outside of these 19 acres, in much of the rest of rural America, dairy hasn’t been celebrated much in recent years. Instead, it’s been agonized over, lamented, even eulogized.

In Wisconsin alone, between two and three family dairy farms go out of business every single day. (Some of these farms still operate, but no longer as dairies.) That rate has held steady for about three years, which is particularly striking given how few farms remain left to fail. In the early 1970s, the state had more than 75,000 dairies. Today it has about 7,400.

Across the western border in Minnesota, officials recently reported that the median household income rose last year to about $68,000, roughly 10% higher than the national average. Dairy farmers had nothing to do with it. In 2017, the median income for a dairy farm dipped just shy of $44,000 in the state. In 2018, it plunged all the way down to $14,697. Half of Minnesota’s dairy farmers failed to break even for the year. There, too, thousands of dairy farms have simply vanished.

In the midst of this mass extinction, a counterintuitive fact remains true: Americans are consuming more dairy products than ever before, primarily because yogurt and cheese have compensated for a steady drop in fluid milk consumption. Americans consumed 646 pounds of dairy per person in 2018—the highest consumption rate in 56 years.

As small farms fold, the balance of production tilts further toward huge, efficient, industrial dairy operations that can more easily weather price downturns and manage a razor-thin profit margin through the power of scale. Places, in other words, like Fair Oaks Farms.

“Thirty years ago, when I got started, if you would have asked me what a large farm was, I probably would have said 15 or 20 cows, something like that,” says Mark Stephenson, the director at the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability. Now a concentrated animal feeding operation—a CAFO, as factory-style farms like Fair Oaks are known—can house thousands or even tens of thousands of cows. Today, more than 53% of America’s milk is produced by less than 3% of its farms. That helps explain how, in the face of a massive reduction in the number of total dairies, the U.S. continues to produce more milk and cheese than the market consumes—in 2019, America’s cheese surplus reached 1.4 billion pounds.

“People still have this image of red barns, of cows in the field,” Stephenson says. “We’ve all been there—it’s an image, and it feels like a warm hug, somehow, and that’s what you want to think of when you think of a dairy farm. But that’s not the reality anymore.”

Everywhere you look at Fair Oaks, you’ll find something that imitates, if not exaggerates, the precise strain of countrified charm that industrial agriculture is often blamed for destroying. It makes a direct and unabashed attempt to tap into those warm-hug feelings with facsimiles of the homespun and pastoral, while at the same time celebrating the efficiencies that come from the advances that replaced them. The tour guides plug a notion that at times contradicts the imagery: Industrial-scale dairies may be quantitatively and qualitatively better than small, traditional, family-operated ones—for consumers, for the environment, and even for the cows.

Mike and Sue McCloskey, the founders of Fair Oaks, are close to royalty in the dairy industry. Mike started his career as a veterinarian in California and eventually became a partner in dairy farms there and in New Mexico. After spending several years as the chief executive officer of Select Milk Producers Inc., one of the largest and most powerful dairy cooperatives in the country, he moved with Sue to Indiana in the late 1990s.

Industrial-scale operations had already thoroughly transformed the meat and poultry industries, and dairy was poised to follow suit. The business model faced a predictable obstacle, however: the generalized perception that large-scale farming was bad for just about everything except productivity and profitability. Fair Oaks, the McCloskeys announced, would directly and transparently confront those they labeled the “anti” activists—animal-rights groups and environmental campaigners.

“The farm was founded out of necessity to counter the very loud, very well-funded, and often, very misleading voices against modern farming and animal agriculture in particular,” said Sue McCloskey in an interview with Food & Winein 2018. “Having come from a non-generational farming background”—that’s another way of saying she doesn’t come from a family of farmers—“and growing up in the consumer-centric East Coast, I knew the ploy of these organizations.”

In an introductory video shown to tourists at Fair Oaks, Sue is seen mingling with her “girls,” the cows. The animals spend almost all of their time in barns or, if they’re calves, inside small plastic hutches. To preempt the idea that they’d rather be grazing in open pastures, the informational materials emphasize that the sheltered cows are freed from the ravages of wind, rain, and extreme temperatures. Tourists are driven through a barn-turned-exhibit, where, from behind the windows of a bus, they can watch a few hundred cows lying hip-to-hip in metal-railed stalls. A recording playing over the bus’s sound system assures visitors that there’s no better place for cows to be than here, where they’re free to eat, drink, and socialize. “They love to hang out at the drinking fountain and interact with other cows in the herd,” the recording says.

relates to The Dairy Farm of Your Imagination Is Disappearing
One of the attractions at Fair Oaks. Behind the polished tourist destination is a massive working dairy farm.
Photographer: Lucy Hewett for Bloomberg Businessweek

The tour also touts the environmental benefits delivered by this style of containment. One display says an operation like Fair Oaks uses 90% less land and 65% less water than dairy farms once did to produce a gallon of milk. Some of that can be attributed to selective breeding managed through artificial insemination, and also to nutritional supplements; the average dairy cow today produces more than four times as much milk per year as she did in 1950, and today’s most productive heifers pump out 14 times more.

The centerpiece of the farm’s story of environmental sustainability, though, is its anaerobic manure digesters—large tanks in which waste is heated and turned and the methane produced by the process is captured. A typical dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of waste every day; multiply that by 30-odd thousand, and let your imagination fill in the details of that picture. On the farms of old, where cows roamed and grazed, manure management wasn’t much of a problem; it nourished the same grass the cows ate. In a typical industrial-scale farm, manure is dumped into pits and lagoons, and the resulting methane releases into the atmosphere. Because the gas has an atmospheric impact 25 times greater than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it effectively accounts for 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle alone are responsible for 53% of methane emissions generated by manure, the EPA says.

Fair Oaks Farms’ four digesters help the operation reduce its emissions while also producing compressed natural gas, which fuels the operation’s trucks and provides electricity to the barns. Fair Oaks casts it as an elegant solution, and the system has been widely lauded as a model that one day could result in a dairy with net zero carbon emissions. But some critics complain that such digesters fuel a harmful cycle. The government grants millions of dollars to large farms every year to build digesters (Fair Oaks received federal and state funding for its system), which reinforces the methods that created the problem in the first place.

Last year a Florida man named Richard Couto read about the Fair Oaks tour and decided to fly to Indiana to check it out. He was, to say the least, skeptical of the benefits the farm advertised—Couto is founder of the Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM, which launches what it calls tactical missions to expose animal cruelty. “I took the Dairy Adventure tour, and I knew right away I was being lied to,” he says. “I knew it was staged.”

Couto wanted to see everything that wasn’t showcased on the tour, the other 90% or so of the operation. His way in, he determined, was through the labor force. As in most CAFO-style dairies, many of the jobs are both low-paying and physically demanding—the kind often filled by immigrant laborers. (More than half of all dairy workers in the U.S. are immigrants, according to a 2015 study by Texas A&M University.) Couto sent people to Indiana to apply for jobs at Fair Oaks, and they were quickly hired. One began clandestinely filming his co-workers. For nearly three months he compiled footage, until someone at the farm figured out what he was doing and tipped off the McCloskeys, Couto says.

The couple released a video statement on social media in April, informing the public that activists had infiltrated their operation to “misrepresent our practices and [what] we are about,” Mike McCloskey said.

If the message was meant to preempt whatever backlash might arise from an eventual video release, it didn’t work. In early June, ARM posted videos that showed Fair Oaks workers dragging calves by their ears from vehicles, tossing them through the air into plastic enclosures and transport trailers, and beating them in the heads with milk bottles and branding irons. Dozens of examples chronicling multiple forms of abuse were exposed. Protests against Fair Oaks were staged in Chicago and elsewhere. Some targeted the Coca-Cola Co., which was partnering with Fair Oaks and Select Milk Producers, where Mike McCloskey is still CEO, to produce the Fairlife brand of premium milk. In its marketing push for that product, Coca-Cola advertised that the milk was sourced from family-run farms that pursue “the highest standards of milk quality, agricultural sustainability, and animal comfort.” Lawsuits were filed alleging fraud. Late last year eight of those suits were consolidated into a single consumer-fraud case. Milk from Fair Oaks Farms is no longer being used in Fairlife products.

The farm announced that the employees who could be identified in the video had been fired, and said it would post cameras throughout the farm, hire a new animal-welfare supervisor, and implement frequent animal-care audits. The McCloskeys released more videos promising that animal care was a top priority and pledged that their commitment to total transparency would be stronger than ever.

After numerous requests over the course of several months, before and after the release of the ARM video, Fair Oaks and the McCloskeys declined to be interviewed for this article. The tours continue as before, however, and dairy industry groups accuse the activists, in effect, of provoking a few bad apples among the farm’s workforce into bad behavior. The trade organization Dairy Management Inc. has stood by Fair Oaks as a model for the evolving industry. “Big is not bad,” says Marilyn Hershey, the group’s chair.

Mike Yager smooths a copy of his latest federal milk check on a table in his equipment barn and studies the numbers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates and controls the complex pricing schemes that put money in the farmers’ pockets. The milk check lists all of the factors—price differentials, premiums earned, deductions—that together determine how much money Yager gets each month. One of the deductions listed on the check in front of him, a figure that last year averaged about $1,000 a month, is for advertising and marketing. It’s a mandatory deduction that helps fund groups such as Dairy Management Inc. That line item irritates Yager every time he looks at it; sometimes, he says, it seems like the industry he helps support is promoting trends that put his way of life in jeopardy.

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Yager at his farm in southern Wisconsin.
Photographer: Lucy Hewett for Bloomberg Businessweek

His farm in Mineral Point, Wis., sits in the Driftless Area, a part of the upper Midwest that wasn’t ironed flat by glaciers during the last ice age and is defined by its rolling hills. Not so long ago, with 300 cows, his farm would have been considered reasonably large. Now he considers himself one of the little guys, barely managing to stay afloat.

The price of milk is determined by a complicated government framework that, generally speaking, has insulated the industry from volatile ups and downs. But in recent decades, even with state and federal buffers, the price of milk—both what farmers receive and what consumers pay—has lagged behind inflation. This is part of a general drop in the relative price of grocery staples; since the 1960s, the percentage of income Americans spend on food has fallen by roughly half. As the dairy industry has shifted to large farms, and production has continued to outpace demand, profit margins have grown increasingly tight. This has put a squeeze on everyone in the industry, including the major companies that depend on smaller farms for supply. In November, Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy; in January, Borden Dairy, founded in 1857, did the same.

Last fall, Yager attended the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., where industry leaders floated plans to help dairy farming thrive. There was a lot of talk about the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which allows American producers access to an estimated 3.6% of the Canadian market, up from the previous limit of 1%. The plan, which was signed into law in January, didn’t impress Yager. “Canada’s dairy industry, total, is about $18 billion, and the state of Wisconsin alone is about $45 billion,” he says. “So this 3.6% that the government is talking about? This number that’s supposed to be a big deal? It’s peanuts. It’s nothing.”

At that same expo, some attendees began talking about the threat of laboratory-made, animal-free milk—the dairy industry’s answer to the meatless burger. Big agriculture companies including Archer Daniels Midland Co. have invested in projects to use cellular cultures to produce dairy proteins. Yager was incredulous. “The major corporations that have made their money off the farmer are putting their money back in, reinvesting, to put us out of business!” he says. Later, at the same event, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue talked to reporters about the consolidations that have troubled so many farmers. “Now, what we see, obviously, is economies of scale having happened in America—big get bigger, and small go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, have a guaranteed income or a guaranteed probability of survival.” Maybe he was just stating a hard truth, but to a farmer like Yager, it sounded as if the architects of the U.S. dairy industry had all but agreed on a shared assumption: Small farms are destined, sooner or later, to fail.

The stress farmers end up feeling, however, is rarely associated with these sorts of big-picture discussions. The challenges are always hyperlocal, and they often trigger a circular pattern of collapse. First the farmers struggle to make ends meet, then the related businesses that help populate small towns and townships—the seed wholesalers, the equipment dealers, the trucking companies—respond to a dwindling customer base by raising prices where they can. In the end, the hardship circles right back to the farmers.

One day last year, the bearings went out in one of the axles of Yager’s manure spreader. No big deal. He drove to the local equipment dealer, who charged him $165 for new bearings. Six months later, the bearings on the other axle went out. Again: no tragedy. But this time the same dealer charged him $310 for the same service. The ad hoc inflation would be forgivable if it didn’t seem like it was compounded every single day. Yager sells most of his milk to a local cheese processor, and in 2016 he paid the processor $4,800 to truck his milk from the farm to the processing plant. Last year, for the same service and for roughly the same amount of milk, the processor charged him more than $38,000.

relates to The Dairy Farm of Your Imagination Is Disappearing

Yager’s 300-cow farm, once considered a sizable operation, is one-hundredth the size of Fair Oaks.

Photographer: Lucy Hewett for Bloomberg Businessweek

Crazy, you might say, and—save a choice word or two—you’d be echoing Yager’s thoughts exactly. In 2019 he considered taking out a loan, buying a big truck, and shipping the milk to his processor himself. But when the processor realized farmers were willing to resort to such measures, it started levying a surcharge on all farmers who trucked their own milk. Other local processors did the same.

“Every time you come up with a plan to maybe make things better, I just feel like there’s someone who’s already a step ahead of you,” Yager says. “So what do you do?”

A lot of people go out of business.

In the summer of 2019, about a dozen farm-loan officers, equipment dealers, manure storage technicians, and other agricultural professionals filed into a conference room in a county building in West Bend, Wis. They’d signed up for a half-day workshop designed to help them respond to dairy consolidation in their communities.

The programs bore titles such as “Embracing Option B” and “Making the Connection: Communicating With Distressed Farmers.” An instructor briefed them on the basics of mindfulness meditation, the differences between empathy and sympathy, and how to use EARS (Explore, Affirm, Reflect, Summarize) when talking to a troubled farmer. As the attendees took notes from a slide showing “Tips to Take Back to the Barn,” the instructor asked how many of them had encountered farmers who’d exhibited worrying signs of depression. Every one of them raised a hand.

In dairy-producing communities nationwide, local agriculture extension offices are launching programs to encourage stressed farmers to try new ventures. Wisconsin’s agriculture department, for one, provides farmers with information about how they might transition farms into bed and breakfasts, petting zoos, or farm-to-table restaurants.

Mention these ideas to farmers and other agricultural professionals, and chances are fair you’ll witness a roll of the eyes. Jerry Gander, who helps manage herd nutrition for farmers across the state, including Yager, shakes his head in disbelief. “I mean, come on. Really? They really think we’re going to sustain this region with a bunch of bed and breakfasts?”

Gander, just by expressing his doubts out loud, seems to tap a deep reservoir of frustration. “There’s got to be something other than saying, ‘Well, you have to be big to survive,’ ” he says. “Maybe this is getting a little radical, but it reminds me of medieval times. Like we’re going back to that. We’ll have our kings—the owners, the corporations—and then we’ll have all the people who work the land. That didn’t work well centuries ago. Because taking ownership, taking pride—that’s what makes things really work. We’re gonna lose that. And think about conservation. Think about water quality. I don’t think you find land conservation, water quality, and animal care any better, anywhere in the world, than you do on these family farms. You absolutely will not!”

He stops himself, apologizing for getting carried away. “It’s just that these are big cultural questions we’re gonna have to deal with, and we’re stuck right on the forefront of it. People in town, they just don’t have any comprehension,” Gander continues. “We’re gonna watch our schools disappear. Our governments disappear. Our roads fail. That’s a coming thing. It’s not just B.S.”

Amid all that angst, some farmers have found a way to profit on smallness itself.

Paul Aubertine grew up on a plot of land overlooking the St. Lawrence River on the northern edge of New York state, near Cape Vincent. He was poised to be the seventh generation of his family to take the reins of the 50-cow dairy farm, but in 2002 his father and grandfather determined they couldn’t keep the business afloat any longer. Aubertine went to college, pursued a career in sales, and started a family.

The older he got, the more he recognized and valued all that had been lost. There’d been 35 or 40 dairies in the community when he was growing up; now, wracking his brain, he could come up with four. “I really wanted my kids to experience what I’d experienced, to give them the chance to grow up on a farm and be exposed to the same thing,” he says.

He and his brother-in-law, a computer scientist, decided in 2015 to restart the dairy. They crunched the numbers and saw that trying to compete with the 1,000-cow mega-dairies on their terms was a recipe for disaster. “I’ve never had an interest in having employees, and $300,000 tractors, and all the other stuff you need for that,” says Aubertine, who’s now 37. Instead, they decided to produce milk that could be certified as grass-fed and organic. Their cows would graze in the field. Aubertine would buy no herbicides, no grain feed, no nutritional supplements, no hormone treatments. Instead of acquiring the huge, high-powered heifers that produce 90 pounds of milk a day, he assembled a herd of smaller cows that might give him 35. Because of the animals’ reduced stress, he could keep them on the farm longer, saving on livestock costs.

“I’m a realist, and I expected bumps on the road, but—and I shouldn’t say this out loud, probably—but it’s been beyond my expectations, what we’ve been able to do,” Aubertine says. The price he commands for grass-fed organic milk isn’t double that of regular milk, but it’s close, and his expenses are a fraction of what a modern dairy would require. He can raise his kids, take them on vacations, buy nice things, and preserve precisely the things about dairy farming that he believed were worth preserving.

“It’s not even so much the prices you’re paid, but it’s the consistency of the prices,” he says. “We can make a budget, because we know what we’re going to be paid—we’re guaranteed each month’s prices a year in advance, and they don’t come off that price, unless they go up and pay more. So I’m not one of those dairy farmers going to the mailbox every month and worrying about what’s going to be in the milk check.”

He sells to Maple Hill Creamery LLC, a venture-capital-backed company specializing in organic milk from grass-fed cows. It collects milk from 158 farms, all in upstate New York. The average farm keeps 48 cows. CEO Carl Gerlach says he believes increasing demand for milk from grass-fed cows has the potential to transform the American dairy farm. “When I think of what dairy will look like in 20 years,” he says, “I believe it’ll look like it did 100 years ago.”

If that transition actually occurs, Aubertine knows it’s unlikely to be a smooth one for farmers currently operating within the standard, modern dairy system. Aubertine’s organic certifications—the ones that enable him to get premium prices—require that his land, for example, has been free of herbicides and synthetic fertilizers for at least three years. “If that’s what your farm is running on, how is a farmer going to just stop doing that for three years, and still keep his head above water?” he asks. “So we were kind of lucky, in a way. It’s easier to start from scratch.”

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The Birthing Barn at Fair Oaks, a short walk from the main campus building. Visitors enter and walk past several newly born calves behind glass.
Photographer: Lucy Hewett for Bloomberg Businessweek

When dairy cows no longer pay for themselves, they’re often culled—the polite term for being sent to slaughter. As small farms fold, their cows are rarely incorporated into the herds of large dairies; older animals don’t handle the transition to a new milking system well and produce less milk than those raised in the system. According to industry figures, only four times in the 25 years before 2019 did the national weekly total of slaughtered dairy cows exceed 70,000. Every one of those times occurred in the second week of January, when slaughterhouses reopen after a holiday hiatus and catch up on a backlog of work. In 2019 it was a rare week when the cull total didn’t exceed 70,000.

Yager, on his farm in Wisconsin, watched his nephew try to sell off his cows last fall. “Anything that was over four years old, people didn’t want,” he says. “He had to haul them out to be culled.” The very thought pained him. “I know every one of my cows,” he says. “I love these animals.”

On a winter weekday morning at Fair Oaks Farms, a traffic light outside the Birthing Barn, a red-painted structure near the Cowfé, turns green. That means another show is about to commence inside. About 30 people gather on bleachers in an amphitheater-style room. Two cows stand onstage, separated from the crowd by a glass wall. Jumbo TV monitors hang above them. The backside of one cow faces the audience; extending from it is a small, glistening hoof. The cow, breathing heavily, convulses slightly. The hoof extends further, exposing a foreleg. “Ewwwww!” a little girl in the crowd says. “Is that a baby pig coming out?”

Within minutes—at 11:48 a.m., precisely—a Fair Oaks employee tugs hard on the calf’s protruding legs, and with one final push from its mother the animal falls in a messy heap on the straw-covered stage. It’s one of about 80 to 100 calves born that day, and every day, at Fair Oaks.

After the mother licks the calf awake, the newborn is ushered offstage and outfitted with an ID tag: 36,873. —With Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany

Source: Bloomberg

America’s Dairyland a step behind Minnesota in attempting to rescue the state’s dying dairies

MIDDLETON, WI: Wind turbines rise up above farmland near Middleton on November 19, 2013. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Wisconsin had the highest number of farm bankruptcies in the country last year and lost over 40% of its dairy farms in the last decade, according to numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). 

Yet overleveraged farmers in the state were only able to see relief when they looked across the border, where the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is paying to keep its suffering dairies alive.

Multiple facets of the farm crisis were addressed in the overall state budget passed last year by the Minnesota State Legislature. Highlights were increased funding for rural mental health and an investment in rural broadband infrastructure. 

The bill also funded the Dairy Assistance, Investment and Relief Initiative (DAIRI), which provides financial assistance to small and mid-sized dairies participating in the federal Dairy Margin Coverage program. Minnesota lost over 800 dairy farms in the past three years and over 300 last year. 

Less than a year after its creation, Thom Petersen, MDA commissioner, said the department has already cut two rounds of checks through the program. 

“Some of that money will help farmers pay a bill or two, and it’s going to help them catch up,” said Petersen. “Hopefully we can start to stem the tide on dairy.” 

Ashley Bress, grants supervisor for DAIRI, provided a follow-up on the program to the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division on Feb. 13. 

“We determined that if all eligible producers in the state enrolled in the program, the department would be able to confidently issue checks to them immediately,” said Bress.  

She said the program came together pretty quickly at the end of the legislative session this summer, with $5 million included in the ag budget and another $3 million in the jobs bill. 

According to Bress, anyone eligible who submitted a complete application got a payment by November. Farmers who applied right away had their first checks by July. 

“For many of these producers, this was the first time they had a transaction like this with the state,” said Bress.

Roughly 1,800 producers participated in the DAIRI program and a total of $7.9 million was dispersed to farmers, according to the department. The average check was for $1,885.

America’s Dairyland graveyard

The slogan “America’s Dairyland” has been on license plates in Wisconsin for more than 75 years, but prospects for small and medium-sized dairies in the state continue to darken.

According to data recently released by U.S. Courts, the state lost more than 10% of its dairy operations last year, in a fifth consecutive year of low milk prices. 

It’s more than just dairy farms, said Randy Romanski, interim secretary for DATCP. He said between low prices, unprecedented weather and trade disputes, most farmers in the state have had a rough few years.

DATCP interim secretary Randy Romanski (Photo: DATCP)
DATCP interim secretary Randy Romanski (Photo: DATCP)

He said to the best of its ability, the agency is “helping to open markets as opposed to closing them down”. 

The department has a division that works with farm organizations and businesses to market their products around the world, which Romanski said helps all farms and not just dairies. 

“Our international team is well respected, and has good relationships with Wisconsin businesses and solid relationships around the world,” he said. 

Although the details of recent international trade agreements are not yet known, Romanski is “hopeful that some of the disruptions in international trade will mitigate so farmers can start building those markets back.”

But unlike the department in Minnesota, DATCP has chosen not to subsidize dairy farms that are most in jeopardy.  

Romanski said that Wisconsin doesn’t have programming in place that compares to DAIRI, but that the state is  “working on more and more programs every day.”

He referred to the Dairy Task Force 2.0, which was created under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. The task force released a report last June that made dozens of recommendations for things that could be done to strengthen the dairy industry in Wisconsin. 

Romanski said DATCP has followed through with some of those items, like working with the Department of Workforce Development to help provide resources to farmers that might be displaced. Another longer-term example he gave is investing in the Dairy Innovation Hub, which was included in Gov. Tony Ever’s budget last year.

More recently, Evers called for a special session on agriculture to take up bills he forwarded to offer relief to the state’s struggling farm sector. Most of Evers’ bills proposed additional resources and personnel for DATCP and focused on assisting farmers in various market-growing strategies. Republicans in the legislature discarded most of the governor’s bills in favor of their own package, consisting of two tax-cutting measures and three directed at the University of Wisconsin and UW System. The GOP took up two of Evers’ special-session bills, one only after a major rewrite. 

The pending package of Wisconsin legislation has passed the Assembly with bipartisan support and would also need to pass the Senate in order to advance to the governor’s desk. 

In all, the state’s response to the dairy crisis, especially compared to Minnesota, is lacking.  

Vacancy in leadership

When Evers named Brad Pfaff as Secretary of DATCP in late 2018, the decision was praised by both Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Farmers Union presidents. 

Ag Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff talks with farmers in Trempealeau and Buffalo Counties (Photos submitted by county farm bureaus with letter to senators and Gov. Evers support Pfaff.)
Ag Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff talks with farmers in Trempealeau and Buffalo Counties (Photos submitted by county farm bureaus with letter to senators and Gov. Evers support Pfaff.)

But amid the continued clash between a Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic administration, a statement released by Pfaff last July sparked friction between himself and Republican lawmakers and eventually led to his ousting. 

Pfaff accused the Legislature’s GOP-controlled budget committee of abandoning the state’s farmers after the release of funding was delayed to help farmers battling mental health issues. In a press release, Pfaff said the department had just five more counseling vouchers left to give farmers seeking care. 

“If the Joint Finance Committee doesn’t want to move this funding forward immediately, then they have a choice to make: which five farmers will it be?” 

Republicans accused Pfaff of politicizing the issue, and in November the state Senate voted 19-14 to fire Pfaff, with all Republicans voting against his confirmation and all Democrats voting in favor. 

Petersen knows Pfaff well, and the two had planned to do an exchange of meetings in Pine City, Minn. and in Grantsburg, Wisc. before Pfaff’s removal. He said he was shocked by the firing, and it led him to moon over his own fate.  

“We serve until we are not confirmed,” said Petersen, who has yet to be confirmed after being appointed commissioner in January 2019. 

The lead role in the department would go to Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel if Petersen were somehow removed. To be promoted from acting commissioner to commissioner, he said she’d have to face the same process. 

“It could just continue, this spiral,” said Petersen. “I think it does add some uncertainty.” 

Romanski, who previously served as DATCP’s deputy secretary as well as secretary, said his position now is “similar in nature” to his role as deputy secretary but with some additional responsibilities.

“When the governor asked me to take on the interim role, I referenced that I would do my best to keep on with the good work the agency has been doing,” said Romanski.

It’s never an easy transition going from deputy secretary to secretary, said Romanski, who’s now done it twice. The first time came while he was serving as deputy secretary for Rod Nilsestuen, who he called his mentor and friend. Nilsestuen, who was 62 at the time, drowned in Lake Superior in 2010.  

In a statement following his death, Gov. Jim Doyle said that under Nilsestuen’s leadership, Wisconsin saw the “greatest and most beneficial transformation of agriculture in generations”. 

“Having been part of that transition was difficult because of losing Rod,” said Romanski, who served as interim secretary until he was appointed to secretary by Doyle. 

Romanski said the experience taught him how dedicated the DATCP staff was and he became well-versed on the agency’s programs. 

“That was helpful to me when I came back to the agency when Secretary Pfaff asked me to join him here,” said Romanski.

The interim secretary said that Pfaff’s removal, and the fact that it appears to have stemmed from his  public challenge of the Legislature, hasn’t changed the way the agency communicates publicly. 

“I think we’ve stayed consistent with our message, which is DATCP sees itself as a resource to farmers and citizens of Wisconsin,” said Romanski. 

With the vacancy left looming in Wisconsin, Petersen said he’s heard from some groups in the state that have voiced worries about DATCP’s  capacity to meet the critical needs of farmers.

“Especially with agriculture in general, and it being such a tough time and past year,” said Petersen. “Then to have that happen to your director.”

Source: Wisconsin Examiner

‘America’s Dairyland’: Wisconsin’s farmers see bleak future

Collapsing prices, the rise of mega farms in warmer states and fluctuations in demand have led to a spate of bankruptcies

A cow stands in a barn at the Lake Breeze Dairy farm in Malone, Wisconsin.
A cow stands in a barn at the Lake Breeze Dairy farm in Malone, Wisconsin. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Goodman family has been milking cows in Wisconsin since 1889. Jim Goodman is the last of his line. The 66-year-old farmer has sold his herd and the land where they grazed. His children have chosen other careers.

“One of our old neighbors used to say that farmers who encourage their children to farm could be charged with child abuse. It’s condemning them to a future where there is no certainty that they could even make a living,” says Goodman, sitting in his old farmstead near the tiny village of Wonewoc in the center of the state.

Wisconsin still styles itself the dairy state. Car number plates come with the slogan “America’s Dairyland”. Last year it was also the state with the highest number of farming bankruptcies – 57, its highest total in a decade. The number of dairy farms across the state has fallen by 49% over the past 15 years.

The decline is fundamentally changing Wisconsin’s rural landscape as schools and small businesses collapse taking the rural communities that supported them with them. Wisconsin is an avatar of a wider problem in the dairy industry. America’s largest milk producer, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy last November. Borden, founded in 1857, filed for bankruptcy in January.

The milk industry’s woes have been a long time in the making and no single factor accounts for them. Collapsing prices, the rise of mega farms in warmer states such as Texas and Arizona, the increasingly international trade in dry milk products like whey protein, Trump’s tariffs, the fluctuations in international trade and shifting consumer habits have all played a part.

The irony is that as the number of farms in bankruptcy rises, milk sales and prices are also on the rise. Per-capita dairy consumption reached 646 pounds per person in 2018, the most popular year for dairy in the US since 1962.

America is not drinking as much milk as it once did but the popular narrative that milk alternatives are killing dairy doesn’t hold up. The percentage of milk sales lost to plant “milks” is small compared with other drinks – bottled water in particular – that have already taken a share and milk still outsells plant-based imitators by a margin of more than 11 to 1. And the US is still buying cheese, butter, yogurt, milk powders in infant formula and protein in bars and shakes.

For a state that has defined itself by dairy, the consequences of change are profound.

Goodman was born on the farm. Growing up, local towns would have their own grocery stores, a drugstore, car dealers, machine dealers, says Goodman. “Our little town down the road, had a movie theater, lumber yard. You know, they were all doing well.”

As those farms have gone so have the businesses. School districts don’t have enough children to stay open. “Now you can drive through any small town and if they don’t have a good share of their main street boarded up, they’re doing really well.”

The economics are tough. Milk prices have come back recently to about $17.55 per hundredweight in February 2020, but that is still way down from around $25 in 2014. Prices are expected to rise but in the meantime global forces have battered farmers. Feed prices rose as ethanol production took more crops, China bought more soy and tariffs increased equipment prices. For too many small farmers even as prices recover from a long slump, the cost of producing milk exceeds the prices they can sell it for.

“There was a period in 2013 when China panicked and started to buy every drop of milk on the planet,” says Peter Vitaliano, chief economist at the National Milk Producers Federation. “We had milk prices that dairy farmers would tell their children about.”

The buying spree followed the melamine crisis when Chinese producers had been adulterating milk, baby formula and other foods with melamine, a chemical that is toxic in large quantities, to increase their apparent protein content.

US milk producers started oversupplying milk. Smaller farms like those in Wisconsin produce more of their own feed than the huge players so for a while they were at an advantage. But when China got its milk industry back on track and feed prices came down, the advantage vanished and the collapse started in earnest. “It was particularly brutal on the smaller operations,” says Vitaliano. “That pressure is, unfortunately, likely to continue.”

Goodman made the shift to organic in 2014 and for a while it worked. Organic fits his values; the back of the car outside his home carries an old Occupy “We Are the 99%” sticker and one for Elizabeth Warren. But organic prices collapsed as vast industrial-style dairies in Texas and other warm states with 10,000 or more cows flooded the market with cheap milk. Competing with confinement dairies – “concentrated animal feeding operations” as they are curdlingly known – was impossible.

The huge farms were shipping organic milk from Texas into Wisconsin for a lower price than Goodman was getting paid. “You know, you can’t compete with that,” he says.

As prices collapsed a planned sale fell through. He sold the land and then the cows. “I guess for me, that may have been harder than actually selling land because here you tend to be pretty attached to your cattle.”

Each cow in his 50-strong herd had a name. Lara was his favorite. “When I would come in, she would always just turn around and kind of look at me, looking for someone to scratch her head,” he says. “It seemed like whenever she saw you, she just had to stop and look at you like she sort of was making that connection that you’re OK.”

A holstein cow stands in the field on a dairy farm in Plymouth, Wisconsin.
A holstein cow stands in the field on a dairy farm in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Photograph: Sara Stathas/The Guardian

In Elkhorn, some 130 miles south of Wonewoc, Dave Kyle is hopeful he has found a solution. Kyle, a youthful, trim 60-year-old with hands that look like they could snap a girder, raises brown cows, not the black and white Holsteins that are the most popular breed of dairy cattle in the US. His 150-strong herd produces “A2 milk” that mostly lacks a form of β-casein protein called A1 that proponents argue is easier for people with milk intolerance to digest.

He and his wife Laurie also run Perkup, a cosy cafe in Elkhorn, where you can get an A2 latte – but no nut milks.

Unusually in a rapidly ageing industry Kyle also has an heir. Hayden Kyle, 26, works with his dad and aims to one day take over the farm – in an industry where the average age of a farmer is 58, that is a big advantage.

Hayden Kyle wasn’t interested in farming when he was younger. After college he worked at a department store for a year then told his dad: “I think I want to farm.”

It’s not a popular choice among his peers. “There were 250 kids in my high school class and maybe one other kid is farming,” says Hayden Kyle.

For those less fortunate, life can look bleak. “I know of some farmers that have committed suicide,” says Kyle. “They were third or fourth generation and now the farm ends with them and they feel that terrible burden of, you know, it was on my watch that this fell apart,” he says. “I could see where it gets very overwhelming.”

Farm Aid, the farmers’ support group, started a crisis line during the farming crisis of the 1980s. Goodman says people at Farm Aid have told him the level of calls is now higher than back then. He says farmers should know that the forces ranged against them are beyond their control.

“You can’t just categorically say, well, it was my fault, I did something wrong, because you didn’t. You just happen to get caught up in a system that’s not working.”

In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255
. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at

Source: The Guardian

Nearly 9% of U.S. Dairy Farms Closed Doors in 2019

According to the USDA’s latet milk production report, nearly nine percent of the nation’s dairy farms closed their doors in 2019. The report says there were slightly more than 34,000 licensed dairy farms at the end of the year, down more than 3,200 from 2018.

Leasing the was with the most lost dairy farms was Wisconsin, down 780 or nine percent. Other large losses reported were in Pennsylvania (-470), New York (- 310), Ohio (-260), Minnesota (-250), and Michigan (-190).

Seventeen states lost at least 10 percent of their licensed herds.

The average herd size last year dropped by 0.7 percent while overall milk production increased 0.4 percent.

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