Maury Cox: Dairy Advocate. Milk Leader. Friend.

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“It’s the people that make the difference, and there’s no better people than dairy farmers and their families.” 
This is how Maury Cox summarizes his perception of the people he’s served – mostly in Kentucky, but extended to the Eastern United States – during his tenure as Executive Director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, a position he’s held since May 31, 2009.
Cox was honored by his peers and colleagues for his service to the Dairy during the Awards Banquet of the Kentucky Dairy Partners Annual Meeting in Bowling Green, KY on February 26, 2019.
Cox had announced a retirement date of March 1st, but since the position has not been filled as of press time, he will be available for additional duties until the time a new Executive Director is named.
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Maury Cox was honored at the KY Dairy Partners to recognize his service as Executive Director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council. He was presented with a signatory crock, and was delighted to receive a new fishing pole, presented by Tom Hastings.  In case you didn’t know, Maury is almost as passionate about fishing as he is dairy cows and dairy people!
His leadership at KDDC culminates a life-long career in the dairy industry.  He began as a dairy farmer, and later worked for Kentucky Artificial Breeders Association / Select Sires.  He was a founding member of KDDC in 2005, and became the Dairy Consultant Director in 2007.
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As Executive Director, Cox worked closely with and relied on the efforts of his current team of Area Dairy Consultants, who serve four regions across the state.  From left to right (above), they are Meredith Scales, Jennifer Hickerson, Maury Cox, Beth Jones Cox, and Dave Roberts.
On any one day, Maury could be speaking to a committee at the KY Legislature in the morning, visiting a farm in in the afternoon with his barn boots on, and ending the day by promoting milk at a ballpark.
Without a doubt, Maury led his state during the most challenging time of all in 2018 as 19 dairy producers lost their milk contracts and markets.  With grace, poise, and an almost 24-hour effort, Maury led the way to 11 producers eventually finding a home for their milk with either Scioto Milk Producers Cooperative of Ohio, and some with DFA.  As an eiplogue, some of those 11 survivors have since gone out of business as well.
Maury has collaborated with many affiliated organizations to advance the dairy industry in Kentucky, in the Southeast, and across the country. For a number of years, he, working with others, such as the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, organized bus tours and educational trips on a regular basis.
Maury has always appreciated the role an ‘outside perspective’ and exposure to new ideas can play in enhancing a dairy farm when new ideas are applied. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has been one of his most valuable working partners through the years on these outside trips.  Additionally, he is considered a “Senior Statesman” of the southeast dairy industry.
He has made a point to build bridges with other state producer groups, respecting that there are differences from region to region which affect farmers in every area across the country.  When he learned something that made a difference to Kentucky, he tried every way he could to make that a reality in his home state.
A prime example is the implementation of the Market Industry Leader of Kentucky (MILK) program. With KDDC organizing a collaborative effort of co-ops and processors, the effort was designed to make strong improvements in Kentucky milk quality in order to remain competitive in today’s milk marketplace.
Over the years, this program has supported milk quality improvements, putting $8 Million dollars back into the Kentucky farm economy.  A longer term result is that the collective Kentucky dairy industry is generally more sustainable.
Communications of the KDDC also went to the ‘next level’ under Maury’s leadership.  The Kentucky Milk Matters newsletter is read across the southeast, and is considered an accurate source of current information.
As a regional policy leader, Maury played an instrumental role in the Southeast Dairy Coalition, an informal working group of grass-roots dairymen from several states who worked together to navigate the challenges of the 2009-11 Dairy Crisis, as well as influence the 2012 Farm Bill.
Sometimes as a leader, and sometimes in collaboration with others, he has been a part of many meetings concerning milk pricing and Federal Milk Market Order function, and has worked to effect change in that sector as much as possible.  Getting timely information to his producers has always been a priority.
As parting words, Maury offers this perspective on the future:
“As long as supply outpaces demand, over-order premiums in most markets will be non-existent. Premiums are where the profit is.  Until dairy farmers come together and decide they want something different, fewer and fewer will continue in business.”
Maury’s plans includes more time to recreate and travel with his wife, Sue, and their family, to devote more care to his mother, and of course, spending more time at any favorite fishing spot or watching a Kentucky Ballgame (basketball might be his favorite!)  It’s safe to say he’s as passionate about those things as dairy!
Maury is also a man of deep faith, and applies faith and prayer to every situation. He shows Christian grace in his everyday and his professional life, and his approach to some very difficult situations is a testament to faith in action.
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Maury reminisces with some folks he’s worked with through the years: Bob Klingenfus, a former President of KDDC, Warren Beeler, Executive Director of Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy, KY Dept.of Agriculture, and Eunice Schlappi, Office of Ag Marketing, KY Dept. of Agriculture.
Robert Klingenfus, a former President of KDDC, says:   “The Kentucky Dairy Community has benefited greatly from Maury’s leadership.  His dedication to serve producers was unparalleled, and he has navigated challenging events with a calm, steady hand.  We can never thank him enough for his efforts.”
Bob continues:  “Maury has been a help to countless dairy farmers. On the surface we see Maury helping with Milk quality problems, division of water issues. But what he is really good at is what he calls facilitating.  He is a good listener and when you are done venting,  he will give a few suggestions and  the names of people that can help you with your problem.  He is careful not to tell you what to do, but facilitates  you with the ability to achieve what you are seeking.  Maury has become the go-to man if you need something; he seems to know everyone. If you need a barn, Maury knows who has built one recently, or sell or buy cows same thing, he put people together to solve problems.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve you. I am a lucky and blessed guy,” were Maury’s closing words on the evening of the KY Dairy Partners banquet.

Here’s to you, Maury!  Those sentiments are a thousand times reciprocated!  We know we’ll be seeing you around!

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We have been blessed you chose to serve us.

Dean Foods Earnings Call FY 2018: Background. Context. Future?

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In an entire food sector which is facing challenges at the moment from several different fronts, Dean Foods held their FY 2018 Year-end and 4th Quarter Earnings Call on Wednesday morning, February 27, 2019.  Dean Foods sources milk from independent contract farms and co-op members all across the nation, the Southeast included.
A summary of the context surrounding the event:
  • Most of food sector is off in recent financial reports
  • Sales of Dean Foods dairy products are still good  – Sales of $1.93 Billion for the Quarter actually beat a $1.91 Billion Estimate
  • Future: unknown; don’t give up hope – engage in a productive discussion
  • Initial Stock Prices and reaction after call: Dean Foods stock has traded in the $4 to $4.50 range for a couple of months (early 2019).  It was near $4.50 early Tuesday, Nov. 26 (the day before the earnings call), then dived under $3.90 for a bit of time on Wed. Nov. 27 (day of the call) and closed at $3.92.  On Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, (day after earnings call), the stock closed at back over $4 at $4.01.   These highs and lows are par for the course after an earnings report.
 
The news from that call, and additional reports, is no real surprise to anyone who has been following Dean Foods for the past couple of years, but it has once again laid out the factors which will continue to affect the farm sector in the near future.  There is not a farm, nor a food company, anywhere, who is not affected by a changing food environment. Many big food companies, KraftHeinz included, are not having good earnings results of late, and there has been a ripple effect on Wall Street though all food business.  More closely related to dairy economics,  ‘‘Natural Cheese” was cited as one of the categories which led to Kraft’s difficult report. 
 
In many ways, we can feel a bit fortunate. Why?  Because Dean Foods is a publicly traded company, it is required by the SEC to issue reports and filings available to the general public and shareholders. Therefore, we do have a bit more knowledge about the true state of affairs.  We know (at least mostly) what we’re dealing with. 
 
Before providing the links to various reports (and not all of them are doom and gloom), I would offer this advice:  just take these reports as just that – reports. Dean Foods and its products still enjoy a lot of sales, a lot of income, and a lot of shelf space – it is the nation’s third largest dairy company.  That is a positive, and let’s be grateful for every hour we have that.
 
Remember the situation that led to this week’s report:
 
Also keep in mind that so much of this began over three years ago when Walmart announced they would be building their own milk plant.  Since then, the entire industry has been questioning how they would reckon with the Walmart monstrosity and their brutal tactics in the distribution and product acquisition sectors.  
Our area (Ky and TN, for the purposes of this post) felt that most intensely last spring when a living hell was catalyzed by the (at that time) expected June 2018 opening of the Walmart plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and over 100 farms in 8 states lost their Dean contracts.
Dean was not the only one affected or involved nationwide, but Dean, because they are publicly traded, took the great brunt of the fall and bad publicity. Dean was not the only party involved in farms losing contracts, and it could be even said, they were a victim as well of the Walmart entry into milk processing.
Since the Walmart plant opened in the summer of 2018, it is no secret they have experienced difficulty after difficulty, and still yet do not have all the bugs worked out of operations – neither at the plant, or distribution to stores from that plant.  
 
It is most sickening to think that some farms went forever-out-of-business because of fear of that new Walmart plant, which has had issue after issue, is not yet dependable, and  it is not known if it will ever be.
These million and billion dollar bad decisions by a big-box company have forever affected small communities in the east and southeast United States.  The fear and rumors related to Walmart and an assumed expansion after the first plant came on line have also been factors in the current industry state-of-affairs, although those rumors have quietened down as of late. 
 
Additional contributing factors affecting this Dean Foods earnings report: 
Sales of Milk: Generally, fluid sales of real milk (cow’s milk) are down, with the exceptions being whole milk and specialty dairy milks and dairy beverages. Let’s look at that as lessons and opportunities, and not despair, but get to work!   It is time we as farmers quit depending on hired employees as the only people who should ‘sell’ our products – we should also be full time milk salesmen ourselves!
 
Misinformation on the internet and in other places:  Don’t ever deny the impact that misinformation about milk and its health benefits, as well as our farming practices, has had on milk consumption, and milk consumption is the real reason for a dairy farm’s existence.  We, individually as farmer and industry agvocates, have got to step up our game, or the misinformation will win. Even popular sports figures are now being touted as ‘dairy free.’   (check the Dodgers!) 
 
Enormous expenses ran more than estimated related to Dean Foods plant closures – but that is largely past:  Only time will tell if it was a long-term wise move for Dean Foods main executives to decide to close 7 milk plants around the country.  However, in the short term, those costs were reflected in the two most recent quarters of financial reporting, and should be minimized going forward. 
 
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So, now back to the current Dean Foods situation, here are some links to current information, generally believed to be credible, and mostly in chronological order.  If you will pay attention to the events of Feb 27 and the timing, you can see how quickly information (of all kinds) is dispensed, so please keep in mind this is a fast-moving story, similar to that which other companies experience on the day of Earnings Reports. Any news should be considered “current” at that moment it is reported, events can change quickly, and perspectives are those of individual articles:
Mid-February, 2019:  The Milkweed reported about a “Notice of Covenant Waiver”   filed by Dean Foods, which could have had implications if not corrected by March 1st, however, it appears that situation got resolved in recent days, at least for the time being. (anecdotal, still trying to verify). 

Feb. 14, 2019: Dean Foods’ Great Brands Are on Track for a Profitable 2019

  source: by Faloh Investment – touts Dean’s recognizable brands as a positive
Feb. 26, 2019: Dean Foods Explores Strategic Alternatives to Accelerate Business Transformation;  source – Seeking Alpha, notes company is evaluating different strategies which may (but not certain) include sale of certain assets, joint ventures, more;  Stock jumped 10% with this news on the Tuesday evening before the full earnings call on Wednesday morning.  Other similar reports available with google searches, mostly different takes from the original news release.
Feb. 26, 2019: Local report about potential sale from Maria Halkas, Dallas News.com – largely uses information from the company news release above

Feb. 27, 2019 – 6:45 am:  News Release of Fourth Quarter and FY 18 Results

 

Feb. 27, 2019 – 6:57 am:  Dean Foods posts unexpected Q4 loss, suspends guidance(in layman’s terms, guidance is financial projections)
Feb. 27, 2019 – 8:10 am: Official Filing of 8-K with the SEC
This is a document required by law to be filed with the SEC.  There are some actions noted in the first few pages which may be of interest.
Feb. 27 – 9:00 am:  The Earnings Call / Webcast took place,  and a transcript was posted by 2:54 pm.  Listen for yourself to the audio of the call, or read the transcript, which are both available. The audio will take 50 minutes. .
Feb. 27 – 10:29 am: report on Benzinga titled:  Morgan Stanley: Pressures on Dean Foods Could Weigh on Company through 2019:   Report notes that $ales for QY 2019 actually beat the estimates:  Sales of $1.93 Billion beat a $1.91 Billion estimate
Feb. 27 – 12:47 pm: JPMorgan sees Dean Foods Sale as Unlikely    Ken Goldman, a seasoned financial analyst who is a frequent participant on the Dean Foods Earnin gs Calls, doesn’t think a sale is imminent for the reasons summarized at the link.
Feb. 27 – 2:02 pm:  Land-O-Lakes, a member-owned cooperative with a significant market presence in dairy products, animal nutrition, and an agronomy and crop-input division, released its 2018 Financial Statements.  Land-O-Lakes showed increased net sales, yet lowered net earnings, in 2018 when compared to 2017 numbers.  (See the first paragraphs).
  • Relationship between Dean and Land-O-Lakes:  Dean Foods (publicly traded) and Land-O-Lakes (a co-op) are separate companies, and neither owns the other, but there is a business relationship.  Land-O-Lakes sold its Fluid Milk division to Dean Foods in 2000. The Land-O-Lakes brand, presumingly through an ongoing license agreement, appears on milk cartons in the upper midwest.  And with Land-O-Lakes owning Purina and Winfield Crops, Land-O-Lakes still serves farms across the country shipping milk to Dean Foods plants.
Feb. 27 – 3:19 pm:  Slides posted from Dean Foods Earnings call:  These will provide a quick look-summary of the information discussed in the Earnings call, but should be viewed with caution without the context of the call.
Feb. 27th – 4:15 pm:  “Dean Foods: How Bad Is it?” – perspective from Value Analyst – notes company’s debt of $887 Million, compares significant financial numbers in relation to other food companies, more.
Feb. 27th – 6:22 pm:  “Here’s How Dairy Giant Dean Foods Curdled Its Own Milk” :  Karen Robinson Jacobs,  writing for Forbes, believes  that Dean’s current troubles began when Dean Foods sold the Whitewave Division, which included plant-based beverages and Horizon Organics. Consider this a review of past activity, and one writer’s opinion, but it adds to the mix of “how did Dean find itself here?”

Follow-Up Reports:

Feb. 28th – early morning: Market Watch notes some positives and challenges, yet questions, in addition to JP Morgan, if the company can find a buyer
Feb. 28th – early morning: Food Navigator, particularly, notes the quarterly and yearly losses were not due to a significant loss in sales, but due to enormously increased expenses.
March 1st – late morning:  James Brumley, Feature Writer for InvestorPlace, notes that the ability of food retailers such as Kroger, Walmart, and others to process their own private labels, enhanced by the ability to use milk as a loss-leader, has contributed to Dean Foods current stock price challenges.  His perspective is titled: “Dean Foods Stock has passed its Expiration Date.”
March 4th  – afternoon: from Seeking Alpha: summary of a perspective from Wells Fargo’s John Baumgartner  titled: Well-Fargo dissects M&A potential at Dean Foods. Perspective notes ‘DF sells $550MM+ of excess cream annually.’  (cream = dairy fat, rising in market demand) may be attractive to some potential buyers.  On this afternoon, 4 business days after earnings call, stock closed at $3.56.  On Thursday, Feb. 28 (1 day after call, stock was in the $4.00 range)
March 7th (Thursday):  Stock Price closed at $2.88/share, and came back to $2.91 after hours
March 9th – (morning):  Dean Foods Bonds Drop 2.2% During Trading:  reported by Lisa Matthews of Fairfield Current, a digital newspaper focusing on tech, health, science, and global events:  Article contains information on recent stock trades, and notes that on Friday, March 8th, stock traded down 17 cents / share, with a trade volume 2.5x that on a normal day: (4.34 million shares vs. avg. of 1.876 million shares per day.)  A lot of the trading volume in recent days and months has been due to institutional investors and hedge funds.
March 11th:   Two Stocks to Tuck Away: The Mosaic Company (MOS) and Dean Foods (DF): the lower half of this article notes recent volume trades of note of Dean Foods stock. Article contains lots of financial market lingo.  Article by Andrew Francis of Financial Mercury.
March 11th: Historical Performances Are Key to Consider:: Dean Foods Company (NYSE: DF) – an explanation of financial terms such as EPS, and looks back at some events coming up to the current weeks and days.  From Top Stock News.
March 12th: Analysts Anticipate Dean Foods (DF) Will Post Earnings of 15 cents/share (by Lisa Matthews for Fairfield Current):  Explanations of recent trades, even some purchased by some retirement funds.
March 12th:  Implied Volatility Surging for Dean Foods Stock Options (from Zacks) – an explanation of investors taking positions in anticipation of future stock price moves.
March 14th:  Bernstein drops Dean Foods (from Dairy Reporter) – suggests (suggests!) sale may come by division, but interesting that company itself is downsizing and in the process of restructuring.  Alexia Howard, a Bernstein representative who is a regular on the Dean Foods earnings calls, was noticeably absent from the Feb. 27th, 2019 call.
March 14th: Sentiment Still Supports the Bullish Case: Dean Foods (DF) Company:  Article by Kevin Freeman for the MonReport explains some financial terms and how they work, such as Relative Strength Index (RSI).  In this case, at the time of this post on the morning of Mar. 14th, with an RSI of 22.13, Dean Foods stock is considered to be oversold.
March 29th: Bear of the Day: Dean Foods:  Article by Benjamin Rains for Zack’s.  Notes that Dean, along with DFA and other ‘real dairy’-focused entities, are facing challenges and possible crossroads “due to the rise of alternative ‘milk’ offerings such as oat, nut, and soy, along with other non-dairy options for ice cream and more.”   Perspective goes on to note that that the “global dairy alternatives market is projected to soar  from $11.9 billion in 2017 to $34 Billion in 2024.” 
April 11th: Dean Foods Company (DF)’s Mixed Signals Lead to Crossed Wires: Article by Abby Carey for The Mon Report
April 12th: Dean Foods Attracts Takeover Interest from SaputoGlobe and Mail: reported by Seeking Alpha, with a link to a Globe and Mail story
April 15th: Saputo eyes US Dairy M&A – summary from Seeking Alpha; notes Dean shares were up 5.61% early in the morning on Monday, Apr. 15th after possibilities first announced late on Friday afternoon, April 12th.
April 15th: Saputo interested in Acquiring Dean Foods, report says:  a summary published at Food Dive.  Notes Saputo, a Canadian-owned company, owns 62 plants in 40 countries around the world, and reported an 18.4% increase in revenues at it’s last earnings report.
April 15th: Saputo to be disciplined with M&A:reported at Seeking Alpha.  Quotes Lino Saputo, “The level of discipline will be even more enhanced.” Notes Dean Foods closed up 7.48% (price $2.30/share) for the day.
April 18th: Can it sustain the pressure built by the Analysts: Dean Foods Company (DF) – article by Christopher Black for West News Now.
April 18th: Implied Volatility Surging for Dean Foods (DF) Stock Options – credited to Zack’s Equity Research, published on Zacks.com:  Article explains that “implied volatility shows how much movement the market is expecting in the future. Options with high levels of implied volatility suggest that investors in the underlying stocks are expecting a big move in one direction or another.”  Notes that a “Jun 21 $3.00 Call had some of the highest implied volatility of all equity options today,” [April 18th].
April 29, 2019: (posted mid-morning): Dean Foods Company Stock is 2.39% Higher Today, What Just Happened? – by Melanie Gerald, for FindANews.com;  article details the volumes of current and historical trades, and what they could potentially mean
April 29, 2019: (posted morning)  If You Had Bought Dean Foods (NYSE: DF) Stock Three Years Ago, You Would be Sitting on An 89% Loss, Today – From Simply Wall Street.
Timelines and charts have ‘minute captures’ of events: Access those here.
Stock closed at $1.81/share.
This Ed Bosworth article for Find A News notes to look beyond share price and consider fundamentals and future growth potential.
April 30, 2019: Analysts Estimate Dean Foods (DF) to Report a Decline in Earnings: Here’s What to Look For – (post at Zack’s Equity Research).  States there’s a Year-End Earnings report expected on May 7th, and expectations are it may be worse than expected.
At the end of the day, April 30, the stock price had dropped to $1.70/share.
May 1, 2019: How Far Dean Foods Company Will Fall Today:  (post at Find A News, authored by Peggy Goldman)
May 1, 2019:  One Stock with Low Beta Value: Dean Foods;  by Aston Bradley for Investor Place
Stock Closed at $1.61/share on this day.
May 2, 2019:  Rounding UP the figures: Dean Foods Company (DF), McDonald’s Corporation – written by Sarah Watson for FIN Bulletin.     From the article: “One metric that indicates how volatile a stock’s price is compared to the wider market is the Beta. The Beta value for Dean Foods Company (NYSE: DF) is 0.24 indicating less volatile than the rest of the market.”   Yet no predictions on what the company is going to do going forward.

 

May 2, 2019:  “Dean Foods Company (DF) Stock May Not Offer Adequate Shelter”, written by Rob Hiassen, and posted at FinBulletin. com

Directly from the article:  Institutional investors currently hold around $140 million or 92.2% in DF stock. Look at its top three institutional owners: Blackrock Inc. owns $24.27 million in Dean Foods Company, which represents roughly 18.24% of the company’s market cap and approximately 17.34% of the institutional ownership. Similar statistics are true for the second largest owner, Vanguard Group Inc, which owns 9,845,854 shares of the stock are valued at $16.74 million. The third largest holder is Dimensional Fund Advisors Lp, which currently holds $12.95 million north of this stock and that ownership represents nearly 9.74% of its market capitalization.
On May 2, 2019, Dean Foods Stock closed at  $1.54 / share.
COMPARE all of the above to this:  ABOUT A YEAR AGO:  On April 19, 2018 – the stock was $8.95, and this article was written, April 17th:  Is Dean Foods Company (NYSE: DF) Cheap for a Reason?  from Simply Wall Street
May 3, 2019: “Norges Bank Invests $6.97 Million in Dean Foods Company” – this Finance Daily post, authored by Andrew Sebastian, examines several of the volume trades which have occurred in recent weeks.  Various companies still have several differing ratings on the Dean Foods stock.
Stock closed at $1.52 on May 3rd.
May 5, 2019:  “Dean Foods Falters in More Concentrated Milk Market” – Heather Haddon, who covers food and retail policy for the Wall Street Journal, analyzes several recent trends which have affected the dairy business in general, and Dean Foods in particular across the country.

Where Do We Go from Here?

That, literally, is a Billion $$$ question, with the implications that our farms, processing jobs, related agribusiness, and extended rural communities are all at stake.
We in the Southeast, as well as other regions of the country, have seen many other episodes of dilemmas that occurred when decisions that affected our communities were made far, far away in corporate boardrooms by people that didn’t know ‘us.’
We are grateful we still enjoy cordial community relationships with our processing plants, and the folks who are employed there. Those folks have a great deal to lose as well as our farming communities – there are jobs which could be affected, and a resulting effect on the municipal economies in those regions.
At this point, I have no answers, but only questions to provoke thought:
  • How can we help the Dean Foods situation and the Dean Foods brand in our own communities?
  • What, generally, do you see as an answer to Dean Foods future?
  • If a sale occurs, do you have any idea who are the buyers you would be OK with, and buyers you would definitely not want to control our futures?
  • What are you yourself willing to do to promote the sale of milk (and specific milk brands which we can trace to our farms) to keep sales alive, and perhaps even recapture from plant-based beverages?  (Note: I am not suggesting criticizing checkoff efforts with this question.)
  • What are you willing to do yourself –  or invest in time wise or monetarily wise – to protect your future?
The truth is, there are many answers to the question about Dean Foods future, and it will take several efforts to chart a course for a brighter future.
One thing is for sure – we can’t take anything for granted!  We ourselves – as individuals and as farms – are going to have to become more active in convincing consumers that real milk is a great product! 
There will be more to come as this story evolves and as we pursue our farming futures.
(Note: some updates have been added after initial posting on March 1, 2019)

A UT National Championship – Born of Corn, with TN Ag!

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A #FlashbackFriday – 20 year Anniversary post looking back at UT’s National Championship Win in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4, 1999!  Ag was involved! 

[[ Note – this was originally published on 9 January 1999, in a column I contributed to the Kingsport Times-News. ]]

“Corn may not grow at all on Rocky Top, but it had a huge impact on the harvest of college football’s national championship by a Big Orange combine!

Yup, in more ways than one, summer’s slim stalks with big ears mean that we vapid Volunteer fans can at last sigh with satisfaction that a crystal football will now adorn the University of Tennessee’s trophy case! Whoever would have thought that something as humble as a kernel-filled, cylindrical-shaped object born of the soil would give birth to the reality that Tennessee footballs now reigns as pigskin royalty?

This championship born of corn actually took root last January when those corn-fed Nebraska ‘Huskers shucked our fair Vols of all hope of a ’97 championship in the Jan. 1998 Orange Bowl, whenNebraska won 42-17.  Fulmer and staff, although disappointed, made the best of the situation and learned what proper nutrition and conditioning contributed to crossing the Championship line, and they worked harder.

And, as Tee Martin and Peerless Price and Al Wilson entered spring practice with a newfound determination, so farmers entered their fields to plant seeds of corn destined to help pay for a BCS National Championship game.

It took 160,000 acres of prime cropland to grow the specialized white corn which ended up as the primary sponsor of the ‘Tostitos’ Fiesta Bowl!

Since Frito-Lay needs over 300 million pounds of corn to fill America’s demand for Tostitos, these corn fields need to be as proficient at kicking out kernels as Jeff Hall is at kicking points between the uprights!  All told, Frito-Lay utilizes over 1 billion pounds of shelled corn each year to fill all of its corn snack sales!

Tostitos became the Fiesta Bowl sponsor in 1996, and thus began a corn farmer’s contribution to Phillip Fulmer’s tortilla shower on Monday evening!  [Jan. 4, 1998].

Although the corny side of Fiesta activities was courtesy of Illinois farmers, local agriculturists have played a major role in this year’s championship season as well.

Seeing the need for a stable, reliable supply of farm inputs, a team of Tennessee farm leaders had the foresight to form an organized system of stores over 50 years ago.  Now known as Tennessee Farmers Co-op, this agribusiness shifted its marketing scheme a couple of years ago, just as the Tennessee secondary adjusted to contain FSU’s Warrick, their lightning quick receiver.

Since Tennessee’s farming community now includes a large amount of part-time farmers and rural homeowners, the Co-op system saw the need for reaching a broad-based audience with ever-changing product lines.  And what better way to reach millions than through the Vol Network?!?!

Yes, for the past several years, your farm neighbors have helped bring you the familiar resonations of “It’s Football Time in Tennessee!”  Through TFC’s sponsorship of our beloved John Ward and Bill Anderson, football fanatics everywhere have benefitted from the dollars of farmers which brought every moment of the championship march to the radios of all true UT supporters!

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The Tennessee Beef Industry Council, a non-profit organization which educates the public about beef’s benefits in a healthy diet, is responsible for the “Beef, It’s What You Want!” commercials on the Vol Network.  These advertisements are funded through beef check-off funds, collected every time a farmer sells cattle in the state of Tennessee.

[[[ Note: In 2017, The Tennessee Beef Industry Council celebrated its 30th Anniversary as a Vol Network Sponsor, and they celebrate Beef Day every season  at Neyland stadium ]]]

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And who’s to say how beef’s protein contributed to the muscle power of linemen as they protected Tee Martin and sacked opposing quarterbacks?  Would there have been a National Championship without steaks and burgers?

As a farmer’s daughter, I first became a UT fan while riding with my dad in a combine.  John Ward and Bill Anderson kept me posted on the exploits of Dewey Warren and Curt Watson.

As a student at the University of Tennessee, I sat for many long hours in the stadium with John Majors at the helm.  I swung in the Upper Deck to the stadium-wide strains of “Hey Jude” as the Orange finally defeated the “the Bear.”  [Alabama Coach Bear Bryant]

John and Bill have been my connection to Neyland in the past few years as cows had to be milked at gametime, or harvest and crops or cattle had to be tended.

UT Football is almost as much as part of my heritage as agriculture, and my memories of each overlap and become intermingled until the turf of the stadium ripples back into the pasture grasses from which it evolved.

And on a cold January night when ice had to be broken on ponds so cattle could drink, the UT Volunteers were destined to bread through the ice and drink of the joys of a National Championship!

Farming was there – and farming will be there until the next time we hear again “It’s Football Time in Tennessee!”

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Another Ag / John Ward / Vol Network tie – not a part of the original column:  Dairy Farms in Tennessee were an early sponsor of the Vol Network, through an in-state dairy checkoff program.  John Ward was in his early days as a broadcaster, and was helping to figure out a way to help introduce Coach Doug Dickey in his first season as head coach.  Ward sold ads to the Tennessee “Milk People,”  A slogan “For the Lip that Lasts, Drink Milk!”   In Mr. Ward’s Tribute in June of 2018,  Coach Dickey spoke fondly about this relationship during the Celebration of Life.  A video of Dickey’s tribute is here.

And John Ward even did some ads for Milk himself.

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PS – Where has this column been hiding for 20 years?  Kind of ‘old-school filing’  (yet very effective!) with file pocket folders and Rubbermaid tubs!

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Here’s to hoping we’ll hear those Magic Words again in the near future!  Since Coach Jeremy Pruitt has said his favorite food is ‘corn’bread, maybe that’s an omen?!?!

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To Be “Milk” or Not to Be? That is the Question!

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UPDATE: Comment Period Extended Until October 11!

August 27th is Deadline for Comments to FDA on Milk Standards of Identity

Background Information for the purpose of preparing public comments to the FDA concerning Standards of Identity for Milk

 

On March 29, 2018, FDA introduced the  “FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy,” a comprehensive effort to review labeling of foods and an impact on human health, particularly in relation to preventable and chronic diseases.

“An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”  And with those words, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a July 17 report by Politico,  amped up the debate about the relabeling of plant beverages which label themselves as ‘milk,’ which many believe are misleading and deceptive.

Although firm enforcement of FDA standards of identity should have been implemented several decades ago when “Plant Beverages” or “Nut Milks” first began to creep onto ‘dairy’ shelves, they were not.  No one knows the reasons why, but here we are, now with a debate and labeling examination which will cost taxpayers – and companies – millions of dollars.  Here’s some background:

A History:

First, it’s helpful to actually read and know about the standards as they exist:

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Standards of Identity for ‘Real Milk” were established in 1938 in the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Part of the controversy results from the “real” vs. “processed” (aka ‘fake/faux ) nutritional properties of real milk.  The Wisconsin Agriculturist, in a July 23rd, 2018 article written by Fran O’Leary,  describes it this way:

Real milk provides eight times more naturally occurring protein in every glass, is wholesome and simple, and is a minimally processed beverage. Real milk also has no added sugar. The sugar in real milk is lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar. Many types of nondairy milk, such as almond milk, contain sugar. Tell that to your friends and family members who believe otherwise.”

The Wisconsin Agriculturist concludes that article by quoting an emphatic statement from the American Dairy Coalition, which reminds real dairy advocates:

“It is crucial the dairy industry speaks up on the issue,” the American Dairy Coalition said in a statement. “We can no longer stand by” and allow plant-based beverages to be labeled as milk.

On July 26, 2018, the FDA released an official statement concerning its reasoning and approach to re-working milk / dairy labeling standards.

This statement occurred in conjunction with a July 26, 2018 Public Meeting to Discuss FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy.   Several industry stakeholders went on the record with comments at that meeting, and those comments can be accessed via links here. 

Public comments on the FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy will be taken until August 27, 2018.  (Update / 3rd week of August:  comments now taken until Oct. 11.)  Comments can be posted at this docket folder. (Electronic – OR – written/mail delivery submission is acceptable!).   It is particularly important for dairy FARMERS – those whose livelihood depends most directly on the sales of milk from their farms – to comment either individually, and via any producer organizations of which they are members!!

A Kathleen Doheny Article from WebMd:
“[Gottleib] . . . said the agency has ”probably not” been enforcing the standard of identity — and as a result, this nonenforcement has become the standard.”
– Agency will be ‘modernizing’ the standards of identity
– Comments expected be taken for a year
– Intentions to enforce standard of identity

The article also notes that plant / nut beverage sales increased 61% from 2012-2017, while Real Milk sales decreased 15%.

This proliferation of plant-based beverages has led to sales of those products which are expected to reach over $16 Billion (in US Dollars, but referring to the total world market value)  by the end of 2018.  That competition is in two forms: 1) dollars which have been removed from dairy communities & economies across the United States, and 2) Hundreds of Millions of gallons of real milk from real cows which no longer has a home, and has led to a long cycle of depressed prices which is steadily killing rural economies.

Much of that market displacement – and resultant stress on rural economies –  is believed to be because plant “milk” is a term which cannibalizes and preys on the goodness of natural milk, and the proven knowledge milk is natural protein source, readily absorbed by the human body.  

Spirited Plant-Based Advocacy Organizations and Individuals will challenge Real Dairy / Real Cow-Goat-Sheep-Mammal Advocates:

It should go without saying, but never doubt that those organizations and businesses who continue to build their financial empires while opposing the enforcement of standards of identity of “Real Milk”  will be relentless and tireless in their fight to bend the narrative in their favor.

A collaborative editorial in a Boulder, Colorado, web-based publication, advocates for the blurred lines and gray areas which are the basis for the advocacy of truth-in-labeling for those who believe traditional standards of identity exist for a reason.  Their citations to many will be questionable, and in some cases, outdated in their accuracy, particularly in the Greenhouse Gas Emission discussion.   At least one commenter suggests alternative beverages be called ‘milk substitutes.’

The Good Food Institute, whose website has the tagline “Creating a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply,’ has already submitted this letter on July 23rd, before the July 26th hearing.

Food Navigator, in an article written by Elaine Watson, relays views of a firm which recently raised $24 Million to commercialize ‘animal-free proteins.”  According to the article, the company ‘takes food grade yeast, and adds DNA sequences . . . which instruct the yeast to produce the proteins found in milk.”

[Note: Admittedly, this technology is morbidly fascinating, but also gives real meaning to the terms “Sci-Fi Food” and “Frankenfood.”  We really, really need to ask ourselves:  just because we can – should we?”] 

 

Dairy Farming: continued decline, will it stabilize, or more consolidation?

It is no secret that the dairy farming industry is in a sea change of transition from smaller (400-head or smaller) herds to large herds of 1000 cows or more. And with that change, rural ag economies, the agribusinesses and services which serve those dairy farms are at risk themselves.

From New York, to Virginia, to Georgia, to Wisconsin, and to other regions, reports of dairy farms exiting from the industry are almost of epidemic proportions.  If these were job losses from a ‘factory in a big building’ closing, the public outcry would be deafening. However, because dairy is so scattered across the landscape and not contained in a single building like an industrial building, the loss of these economies is often a silent erosion that gets little public notice.

One example of some of the abuse that has occurred:

From The Cheese Reporter: Sunflower Butter!  A bid request from the USDA itself

But let’s give credit to #TraderJoes, who actually has an acceptable label on their plant beverages!  Kudos to them, and I’ll be back in their stores because they get it right! This is an example to others that it can be done!

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Additional Links to Consider (and look for others to be added before Aug. 27th!):

From Feedstuffs:  Gottleib:  “FDA . . . is invariably likely to get sued”

For now, please begin to do your homework, and draft your comments.   It could be as simple as “Real Milk comes from Cows, Goats, Sheep and other mammals.  Make this simple, and have “MILK” be labeled that way!”

From the American Dairy Coalition – Background & bullet points:

You can save time, and comment via electronic means directly to FDA via the portal.  As you do this, please remember your comments may be able to be viewed by the public.

And here’s a link to the portal to comment by October 11 deadline – Comment here.

  • As of 5:00 pm on Monday, August 20, 496 comments were received.
  • As of 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 26, 2,303 comments had been posted.

Please make sure that by late evening, on Monday, August 27, and now on October 11, your voice will be among them too.

#MilkTruthMatters  #IdentityMatters  #RulesMatter

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Michigan Spartan LLC: Major ‘Processing Campus’ to be built in Michigan

A News Digest about Michigan’s $510 Million Processing Complex: DFA, Glanbia, Select Milk, and Proliant are Partners

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On Thursday, August 9, 2018, Michigan announced a monumental project which will fill part of the void in worldwide dairy processing capacity.
Michigan Spartan LLC is the business entity developing a ‘world class dairy processing facility’  expected to process over 8 million pounds of milk a day when fully operating, said to be by September of 2020.  American Cheese is projected to be a primary product, with whey permeates, a by-product of cheese production used for food and feed applications, also a product offering.
The new facility is a partnership between Dairy Farmers of America (DFA),  Glanbia, Select Milk Producers, and Proliant Dairy Ingredients.  The venture is said to be similar to Southwest Cheese, a previously existing partnership of DFA, Glanbia, and Select Milk.
Michigan Milk Producers will also be a milk source for the facility.
The evolution of the project included a number of local and regional economic development and government agencies, with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Michigan Strategic Fund board an integral player.  The Michigan Department of Agriculture was also involved.
The sheer magnitude of all the agencies and efforts involved in this monumental project offers many lessons to others considering dairy development efforts in any location.
The project is multi-national in scope, and involves worldwide dairy industry heavyweights.   Dairy Farmers of America is North America’s 2nd largest cooperative and 8th largest dairy company.  Select Milk Producers is North America’s 8th largest dairy cooperative according to Progressive Dairy, (6th largest on USDA’s Top 100 Ag Co-ops – last available, 2016 numbers) and 14th largest co-op on that composite  ranking.  Glanbia Nutritionals is North America’s 22nd largest dairy company, and a subsidiary of Glanbia PLC, based in Kilkenny Ireland. Proliant is based in Ankeny, Iowa.

Following is a digest compiled from media reports of today’s (August 9, 2018) from Michigan and other areas:

From the Detroit News:  “We really try to grow the value of the agriculture industry so that most of the commodities stay here in the state, have them processed here, keep the farmers here,” is a statement from  MEDC CEO Jeff Mason. The project is slated to receive $26.5 Million in Tax Abatements over 15 years. 

From the Lansing State Journal (makes one marvel at the effort put into project):  the project involved a number of state and local government agencies, included tax concessions on several levels, with these project parameters:
  • 146 acres in the site
  • Will process about 8 Million pounds of milk a day (mostly American style)
  • Will produce about 300 million pounds of cheese per year
  • Will operate  24/7, 365 days per year
  • Notes similarities to Southwest Cheese in New Mexico [another Glanbia / DFA / Select Milk joint venture]
  • Will use by-products from each layer of processing (whey from cheesemaking, then permeate from whey concentrated for dairy solids)
  • 259 jobs at the cheese plant
  • 38 jobs at the adjacent whey permeate plant

From Crain’s Detroit Business;  a business publication in the area:

  • Another $40 Million in Tax Incentives likely to come in the future may drive total investment from $510 to $550 Million
  • The project is part of Michigan’s Agriculture Processing Renaissance Zone initative, a program which assisted with another $58 million dairy processing facility (Foremost Cooperative) and a soybean processing facility earlier this year
  • “Adding this capacity to our ecosystem . . . is really going to bring stability to the market” – Peter Anastor, Division Director, Michigan Department of Agriculture

From The Charlotte Observer (an AP story)

  • Glanbia will oversee commercial, tecnical, and business operations
  • The project considered other sites in other locations

 

A worldwide milkshed suffering from a lack of modernized processing capacity should benefit from this project.

Note: Additional links and updates may be added in the future to this blog post.

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Proposal for Multiple Component Pricing in Southeast Withdrawn

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National All-Jersey has withdrawn their request  for a USDA-AMS Dairy Program FMMO Hearing to consider implementation of Multiple Component Pricing for the Southeast (FMMO 7) and Appalachian (FMMO 5) Milk Marketing Orders.
The withdrawal of this proposal culminates a process of several years of discussion and evaluations by producer groups and several dairy cooperatives on how Multiple Component Pricing in the Southeast might affect producer pay checks.
Following is the timeline of this spring’s events:
April 2, 2018: National All-Jersey submitted their 80-page proposal  requesting a hearing.
May 2, 2018:  USDA-AMS then posted an Action Plan.
May 16, 2018: An information session was held in Knoxville, in Knoxville, TN, which was coordinated by Tennessee and Kentucky Farm Bureaus.  The session was recorded in two parts, and each are available for viewing:
  • Part 1:  A 1 hr – 39 minute video recorded by TN Farm Bureau (Dana Coale, explaining FMMO process)
  • Part 2:  A 1 hr. 14  minute video recorded by TN Farm Bureau  (FMMO Administrators and officials explaining the specifics of the process leading to acceptance or denial of an MCP hearing)
June 1, 2018:  Two additional proposals were submitted to USDA-AMS:
  1. A  7-page request from Michael Brown, Director, Dairy Supply Chain for Kroger, stated: “We ask USDA to also include the a proposal to lower the minimum amount of Class I Sales required a distributing plant to achieve pooling status from 50% to 25%. “
  2. The Tennessee Dairy Producers Association, with Stan Butt as Executive Director, submitted a 16-page proposal in opposition to Multiple Component Pricing, with this opening statement:  “Opposition to the proposal submitted by NAJ to changing the current pricing structure in FMMOs 5&7 is based on the proposition that the majority of producers in both orders will be negatively affected.”
June 11, 2018:  A letter-to-the-editor written by John Harrison, Sweetwater Valley Farm in opposition to Multiple Component Pricing was posted by Progressive Dairyman.
June 28, 2018:  The letter withdrawing the Hearing request,  written by Erick Metzger, General Manager of National All-Jersey, posted at USDA-AMS – Dairy Program,  contains these statements:

 
“Marketing conditions in the Appalachian and Southeast Federal Order Marketing Areas are in a state of flux, aggravated by challenging national dairy product markets.
 
The proponents therefore withdraw their proposal for a multiple component pricing hearing in Orders 5 and 7 at this time.”
The letter closes with:
 “We anticipate resubmitting the proposal when the current marketing  challenges have stabilized and resources necessary to advance the proposal again become available.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
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All USDA-FMMO processes are directed and defined by a set of rules, including procedural rules.  It is up to farmers themselves – those most affected by FMMO rules and regulations – to learn the process, and to participate in the process. 
This spring, and the preceding years and months of information seeking, are an example of civil discourse which can occur.
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TN June Dairy Month: Kickoff Luncheon & Then 4-H at work!

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It’s ‘Raise A Glass’ Time in Tennessee!!

For several decades, the Tennessee June Dairy Month Kickoff has been the launch for events across the state highlighting Tennessee’s collective dairy industry.  The 2018 event was held at Battle Mountain Farm, the event venue of Hatcher Family Dairy Farm, College Grove, TN on May 30.  The rural setting, with Holsteins and Jerseys grazing in a nearby pasture, emphasized that tasty and nutritious dairy products truly do begin on a farm.

This event honors several aspects of Tennessee 4-H involvement in dairy related activities.  4-H County Chairmen, who conduct dairy promotion and awareness events across the state are recognized.  The Tennessee 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl Finals are held. And always, an inspirational speaker brings life’s insights to 4-H’ers as they return home to begin June Dairy Month events.  Their activities allow them to compete for awards in several categories, which are presented at the next years events.

This year’s event was organized by Denise Jones, of The Dairy Alliance, who put the engaging tables and decor together and set a great dairy mood as folks entered the beautiful event venue.  She was assisted by Joan Benton and Cindy Cooper of The Dairy Alliance.

Following are some photo highlights of the event.

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Emma Mull, McMinn County, Grace Rich, Clay County, and Elizabeth Bright of Loudon County, are three of several County Dairy Month Chairs who have a full slate of activities planned.

You can follow Grace on Instagram as ‘udderlylegendairy,  Emma will be social on Facebook as McMinn County June Dairy Month, and Elizabeth Bright’s creative videos and spots are on Facebook at June Dairy Month – Loudon County.  Look for other social promotions and public activities from chairmen in your area of TN!

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Part of the setting front and center of the banquet hall, framing the dynamic Denise Jones, the event organizer, of The Dairy Alliance!  Did you know MILK is Tennessee’s Official Beverage?  It was given that designation in 2009 by the Tennessee Legislature.

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Three 4-H’ers, who will become future consumers, related how their participation both in Dairy Production Projects and Nutrition, Health, and Fitness projects, have made them appreciate dairy’s unparalleled nutritional benefits, along with the hard work of Tennessee farmers who produce that milk. Abigail Ferguson, Ashley Bell, and Kathryn Fellhoelter all gave great presentations.

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Marshall County is the winner of the Dairy Quiz Bowl Competition, and will be headed to the National Contest later this year.

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Some more of our Tennessee County 4-H Chairmen!  Do you know who the 4-H Dairy Chairman is in your county?

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Jeff Aiken, President of TN Farm Bureau, and a former dairy farmer himself, represented the organization as an event sponsor, and brought words of encouragement to those attending.  He was accompanied by many Farm Bureau staff members from across the state, as they came to support the TN June Kickoff event.

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Do You Know “What’s Your Why?”

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George Wilson, who retired from the Tennessee Titans after an NFL career with several teams, challenged the audience with the question “What’s Your Why?”  A two-time Walter Payton Man of the Year in the NFL, he inspired with point after point:

  1. Be the first to show up, and the last to leave. Be grueling, tough, and unrelenting in the pursuit of your dream!
  2. Be mindful of what you do and the choices you make, and of those whom you allow to make decisions for you.  [He began at an SEC school, Arkansas, on an academic scholarship, walked-on and made the football team, and then was able to receive a football scholarship because someone got arrested and lost the scholarship they had.  And that set the stage for his 11-year NFL career.]
  3. Sometimes in life, “Opportunity is Disguised as Hard Work!  [It took 15-16 years of hard work and sweat on the football field to finally get a starting position on an NFL team and an interception against the cowboys on national TV.]
  4. “I give of myself because others gave of themself to me.  THAT’S MY WHY! He prayed, “Lord, if you you allow my dream, I will give back.  And then noted, “that is a debt I’ll never repay!”
  5. Why does he care about Fuel Up to Play 60?  Because his thoughts were captured by this statement: “We could be raising the first generation of kids who won’t outlive their parents.  FUTP 60 puts power and decision-making in the hands of students who participate in the program.”

 

Celeste Blackburn, President of TN American Dairy Association, served as MC for the event, and gave Mr. Wilson an appreciation gift featuring some of Tennessee’s farmstead dairy products.

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At the event close, Jimmy Hopper, Assistant Commissioner of the TN Department of Agriculture overseeing TDA’s Consumer and Industry Services Division, was honored with the TN Outstanding Dairy Promoter Award. One of Hopper’s responsibilities was overseeing the Dairy Quality Division, charged with quality and safety on dairy farms and in milking barns, in processing plants, and addressing retail dairy sales outlets.  Jimmy went above and beyond a ‘job description’ to serve Tennessee’s dairy industry.  And he did it with class and respect for all he worked with. During his tenure, Tennessee’s first robotic milking barn was installed.

The Tennessee Cooperator has a great summary of Hopper’s career.

Always a man of humility, Hopper encouraged young folks present to find a dairy farmer and work with them for a while.  He noted there was no better role model for developing a work ethic that would serve one well throughout a career.

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McMinn & Loudon 4-H’ers Helped with a Milk Drive on World Milk Day!

Wasting no time getting started with June Dairy Month promotions, and in a way that serves others, the McMinn Co. 4-H Chairman, Emma Mull, and Loudon County’s Elizabeth Bright spent World Milk Day (June 1) helping Second Harvest in East TN at the Randy Davis Memorial Milk Drive. 

The event they participated in was held at Lenoir City, in Loudon County, Tennessee’s #1 Dairy County.   On that one night, in a 4-hour period, 1457 gallons of milk were purchased and loaded on a Second Harvest refrigerated truck, destined for distribution to neighbors in need in their 18-county East TN service area.

These annual events, held onsite with the cooperation of Ingles Groceries in East TN, encourage purchases of milk at the groceries for the purpose of distributing milk to hungry neighbors.  With their hands-on approach, the onsite drives encourage human-to-human connections in the spirit of giving back, and ignite a life-long spirit of being a benefactor to the community.

Customers coming in to the grocery stores can contribute in two ways:  they can make monetary contributions, which the Milk Drive Team uses to purchase milk from the store, or  they can purchase the milk themselves and bring to the waiting Second Harvest Refrigerated Truck.

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Tennessee Agriculture has had a very difficult spring in 2018, dealing with price and market challenges in all sectors of agriculture, Dairy included.

With future consumers enthusiastic and connecting with farmers and industry leaders present, the 2018 TN June Dairy Month Kickoff served as a happy occasion to remind us all in the TN Dairy Industry to reflect:

So, “What’s Your Why?”

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Dean Foods to close 7 plants in 2018; No additional producer letters expected soon

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(NOTE:  This is an evolving story affecting Dean Plants across the country.  Sources are a variety of public information and anonymous sources.  Updates will be made as warranted).

Dean Foods will be closing 7 processing plants in seven states in the next months, with the plants located in Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.

News of the plant closings began to emerge through local news outlets in some of the cities involved through the day Tuesday, May 22nd, yet, at this posting, there are yet no official statements from Dean Foods corporate officials.

This announcement follows the jolting announcement in early March that over 100 farmers in 8 states, marketing milk as Dean Dairy Direct (independent producers, meaning not members of a co-op or marketing agency) producers, would have their contracts terminated as of May 31, 2018.  At this point, many of those farmers have found new markets, several elected to disperse their herds, with several still struggling to find a market and income source for their farm’s milk.

The navigation of stormy, wind-tossed oceans of milk in the overflowing worldwide dairy milkshed has led to the announcement that these processing plants will be shutting their doors during the late summer and fall.   Intense competition to find a processing market/plant for milk, exacerbated by declining milk consumption the world over, has converged in a perfect storm of farmers getting caught in the crosshairs with no markets for their milk, along with employees in processing plants losing their jobs as well.

Competition for the prime retail real estate of grocery store shelf space is also a factor in these events.

In the southeast, the two Dean Foods plant closures at Braselton, GA and Louisville, KY follow the early May announcement of the closure of a Fulton, Ky plant, owned by Prairie Farms.  In that event, processing operations will cease, but the facility will remain a distribution center, with 12 of 52 employees remaining.

An anonymous Dean Foods source says that “no more farmer/producer contract terminations via letters from Dean Foods are expected in the near future.”  However, we all know that increasing consumption of fluid milk is the quickest way to stabilize the future of all dairy farms across America.

The Dean plants said to be closed are:

  1. (News report: not initially confirmed by Deans)
  2. (News report: Member of founding family not bitter) 
  3. News report:  (Processes gallons & half-gallons, 120 employees)
  • Braselton, GA [Mayfield brand]   (2015 Dean’s CEO Quality Award Recipient)    (Visitors Center closed in 2014, reopened, Over 1 million folks a year to learn) (Reports from anonymous employees who received notices)
  • Louisville, KY    [Dean’s brand] News report link to WKYT) “That loss will cut production at the company’s Louisville plant, which will shut down.”

This announcement is only one in a series of cost-cutting measures Dean Foods has taken over the past several years.  A PET milk plant in Richmond, VA was closed in the fall of 2017.   In a Food Business News report of March 1, 2018, phrases such as “increasing competition,’ ‘6% decline in volume,’ and ‘reset cost structure,’  were signals more changes are to come.

The Louisville plant closure comes as no surprise, due to its distribution overlap into Indiana of retail centers to be served from the new Walmart milk processing plant opening in Fort Wayne, IN.  However, the opening of that Walmart plant has now been pushed to late summer, for a variety of reasons.  A recent report by Sherry Bunting, which appeared in the Farmers Exchange, features an interview with a Walmart spokesperson on that project’s status.

The closure of the Braselton, GA, Mayfield plant, may have come as a bit of surprise to some folks.  In 2016, this display in the Visitor’s Center relayed some stats which were current at that time, however, today’s employee count is closer to 150.  It is not known if this includes distribution networks.

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Dean Foods, as of an annual Dairy Foods (magazine) report, last published in the August 2017 edition, is the United States second largest milk processor, with Nestle being #1.

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As is common with any company treading in difficult waters, reports of a sale of the company, or of a merger and acquisition, are commonplace.  Sometimes they prove to be nothing, sometimes they prove to be true, and only time will tell which is the case with Dean’s.  It truly will be in the best interest of the United States dairy industry for the company to stabilize, due to the number of farms for which it provides a market, and for the number of employees in plants across the country.

The hardest truth of all of this is that ultimately, farmers in local regions, the rural economies that depend on a viable market for those farmers, and employees at plants, are the ones suffering the most from battles at all levels of the worldwide milkshed. 

Updates, and corrections if needed, will occur as more news becomes available.

 

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Multiple Component Pricing for FMMOs 5 & 7; A Meeting, Action Plan, Information

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Will Multiple Component Pricing be implemented in the Appalachian (FMMO 5)  and Southeast (FMMO 7) Milk Orders?
Multiple Component Pricing, a way to value milk at the farm level based on components found in milk (protein, butterfat, and other non-fat solids),  rather than the skim/butterfat pricing currently implemented, is on the table for the two geographically largest milk orders in the Southeast United States.
Florida and Arizona do not price milk based on MPC, and those areas are not included in this current request for change.
An April 2nd request for a hearing to evaluate the implementation of Multiple Component Pricing for Federal Milk Marketing Order 5 (Appalachian) and FMMO 7 (Southeast) was filed with USDA-AMS by National All-Jersey, Inc.  The 86-page document can be reviewed here.
A great article concisely summing up the request and important factors has been written by Dave Natzke of Progressive Dairyman; read his perspective at this link.
The Tennessee and Kentucky Farm Bureaus have joined together to host an information meeting before the request for Multiple Component Pricing is fully evaluated; A Federal Order Hearing on the matter is tentatively scheduled for July 30, 2018
This May 16th meeting provides producers with a means of direct contact with FMMO officials who can explain not only the MCP proposal, but milk market pricing in detail, and how producers’ milk checks are affected by various market factors.
The details about this FB Information meeting, scheduled for May 16th in Knoxville, TN, are:
What:  Meeting with Dana Coale, Deputy Administrator for USDA -AMS Dairy Programs, along with several officials of Market Administrator Offices in Federal Orders 5 & 7
For:  Any dairy farmer in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 & 7
Organizers:  Meeting has been organized by TN and KY Farm Bureau organizations
Several state Farm Bureaus have been involved in dairy farm matters in the past few months – please give them a THANK YOU!)
Date: Wednesday, May 16, Knoxville TN  11:00 am
Time:  Sandwich Lunch @ 11 am; Lunch begins promptly at Noon EDT
Where: University of TN Ag Campus, Hollingsworth Auditorium. Plant Sciences Bldg.
             2505 East J. Chapman Drive; Knoxville, TN  37996
For:  Any dairy farmer in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 & 7
Purpose:  To discuss current market procedures and proposed market changes
RSVP / Register by May 11th: 
        Roxann Sanders – Email at rsanders@tfbf.com – OR
                                      Phone at 931-388-7872, ext 2231

The Invitation Letter and Announcement:

Jeff Aiken, TN Farm Bureau President, and Mark Haney, Kentucky Farm Bureau President, co-authored this meeting invite, which was also mailed to dairy producers:
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The Meeting’s suggested agenda:

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Following the announcement of these Knoxville, TN meetings, USDA-AMS has posted an “Action Plan” with a proposed calendar of activity related to Multiple Component Pricing.  Please note additional proposals can be accepted until June 1st!
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Resources for Additional Consideration  (Highly suggested reading!!!):

Multiple Component Pricing (MCP) first began taking place in the Federal Order System in the Great Basin Milk Marketing Order in 1988.  [The Great Basin Order is referenced in this 2002 testimony to a Western Milk Marketing Order Hearing.]
Since that time, several orders have consolidated, but the great majority of the United States dairy producers are paid on a MCP basis.  At this time, this map generally defines the geographic locations of FMMOs across the United States, however, California was conducting a producer referendum, in which voting ended on May 5th to finalize entry into the Federal Order System:
FederalMilkMarketingOrderAreas
Producer groups in the southeast, including the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, the Georgia Milk Producers Association, and the North Carolina Dairy Producers, have endorsed a Multiple Component Pricing structure.  The Tennessee Dairy Producers Association is currently opposed (as of May 10th).
Each and every producer should take the time (and it may take a few hours) to evaluate Component Pricing and how it will affect your farm’s income in the future!  Isn’t your farm’s future worth that time?
AND – each producer is highly encouraged to attend the May 16th meeting in Knoxville to have a chance to ask direct questions to USDA-AMS officials.
Your future income depends on accurate information – please make the most of this meeting opportunity!
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3 Southeast Dairy Events: Networks Working Together to Find Solutions

A Compilation of stories and news about 3 challenges affecting Southeast Dairy Producers:  Dean Foods, Maryland-Virginia and Piedmont

 Southeast Dairy:  In the News. Pushing Forward.
 
Introduction:
In the past two weeks, in a time of already depressed milk prices, there has been a three-fold challenge to dairy farms in the southeast.  Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina all have farmers affected, with varying degrees of uncertainty about their milk buyer futures.
To say these past days have been painful and a flurry of concern, high emotions, and rumor mills have resulted is an understatement, but yet, as the dust settles, some activity has encouraged some hope, and herd owners are beginning to look forward. Many are making decisions based on faith, and in a calm fashion based on what they believe best for their farm. Some of those farms are being public, while others are remaining cautious and quietly seeking answers behind the scenes.
Bright Spot? Yes!   One farmer asked if there was going to be any good news to share about this whole mess, and yes, actually, there are two:
First, phone calls, texts, and Social Media outcries have indicated loudly and clearly that consumers, government officials, fellow farm organizations, and economic development personnel are indeed concerned about preserving ‘local’ or ‘regional’ milk in their areas, and appear to be eager to learn how they can help accomplish that.
Hopefully, this newfound energy can be channeled for long-term purchases of local milk, from local farms.  Time will tell. Consumer outreach is going to have to continue.
The second is this:  We still have upwards of 40 herds (at least in TN) shipping to Dean. The company is still the largest volume buyer of ‘local’ milk in TN at its three plants.  Putting that in perspective, every Dean Direct herd in Indiana,  with the exception of one, received letters of notice. Several were herds well over 1000 cows.
Background:  The three part challenge:
1.) Dean Foods:  On Friday, March 2, news broke of upwards of 115 (tallies still underway) farmers in 8 states receiving 90-day termination notices of their supply agreements to Dean Foods plants.  10 Tennessee herds and 22-25 Kentucky herds were affected, with 25-27  in Indiana, 42 in Pennsylvania, 6 in the Carolinas, and a yet unknown number in New York.  Three plants in our area – at Athens, TN, Spartanburg, SC, and Louisville, KY are involved in the contract termination decisions.   Herd sizes in all states range from under 100 to 1000 cows; 20 Million pounds of Indiana milk will need to find a new home, or be removed from the already overabundant nationwide supply.
The herds involved were Dean Direct producers, meaning the farm itself had a purchase agreement with Dean Foods plants, instead of gaining access to the plant through a milk co-op. Farmers who were members of co-ops did not receive these termination letters.  All of this activity followed a Dean Foods Earnings Announcement on Monday, Feb. 26 in which the phrases such as ‘rescaling the supply line’ foretold of company wide cuts to come.
2.)  During:  the week prior to the Dean Foods announcement, rumors began to circulate that Piedmont Milk Producers, based in Blountville, TN and serving farms in TN, VA, and NC,  was restructuring their business. (Story below with a video link)
3.)  MD-VA Milk Cooperative with 1,500 members from Pennsylvania to Florida, and some in Kentucky and Tennessee, sent a Feb. 27th letter to all of its members that their advance milk payment checks, expected at the end of the month, would fall to levels of $12.62 cwt in FO 5 & 7, and $10 in FO 1 and $33. The company said it was working on financial restructuring and was renegotiating credit facilities. Over the weekend, sources have begun to indicate that the problems may have been resolved to some degree, but the company has not made any official announcements. With settlement checks expected within a couple of days, some direction will be known.
In the days since, there has been a flurry of activity following the first notices: meetings of  farmers, meetings of farmers and agribusiness personnel, meetings of dairy organizations, and frequent phone calls between many parties in positions to help chart a future course.  AgCentral has been busy assisting producers in a variety of ways in a three-state area. While we have yet to have a formal working group to address what can be done and how to approach a dairy future, a tremendous amount of contacts have been made information gathered.
Following is a “Digest” of some the best information available, in no particular order – stories mentioned include stories of the Watsons and the Stooksburys, as well as a couple of stories from Ohio which further outline the far-reaching affects of the Dean announcements:
1.) Dave Natzke, an experienced and respected dairy industry reporter, now with Progressive Dairyman, published a broad perspective view of the Dean Foods story, and puts it in context with the dairy industry and events across the country. In his article, Dave reports that the Walmart plant was originally announced as a $165 Million Dollar venture, and provides a glimpse into how the Walmart plant may source their milk.
2.) Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, reports with a focus on PA, where 42 herds lost Dean contractsShe notes hauling routes were a factor in terminated Pennsylvania herds, and reports the loss of a Food Lion contract, which was a factor which triggered a decision regarding 5 TN herds in Greene and Hamblen Counties.
From the article: “This affects all size herds and is not a large or small farm thing,” said [Reace] Smith, [of Dean Foods Corporate Communications.]  While she was unable to supply specific information about the farms that were terminated, she said the widespread volume adjustments at multiple plants across four Federal Orders was necessary do to the new Class I plant (Walmart) coming online this month and the loss of a contract through a competitive bidding process. (Food Lion).” 
It is the loss of that Food Lion contract, previously filled largely through a Carolina plant(s), which created a shift in milk hauling from plant to plant, and created an excess at the Dean/Pet plant at Spartanburg, SC, which had to be eliminated.  The milk from five (5) producers in Hamblen and Greene Counties in TN was being hauled to Spartanburg. Those producers are now searching for new markets or making decisions to sell cows.
Dewey Morgan, of the Daily Post-Athenian, in the hometown of the Mayfield plant,  cites these significant stats:
Regarding declining consumption and increased production: “Americans are drinking about 3 gallons less per person since 2010, and 11 gallons less than 1975, while every year, 350 Million more gallons of milk are produced than the year before.”
Amount of local milk: The Dean Foods plant in Athens ‘still sources 90% of our milk from Tennessee.’
The Watson Family: their stories on WVLT-TV and on the Knoxville News-Sentinel website:
The Watsons, who farm near Sweetwater, TN, were one of the southeast TN farms who received 90-day notices.  The senior generation is Robert and Rosemary Watson (mom and dad), who farm with their sons Josh and Caleb.  The family is known for being extremely generous members of their community.  Both Josh and Caleb have been featured in news stories in Knoxville, TN media:
  •  Josh: From WVLT-TV, a story and video clip: Josh states that he doesn’t entirely blame Dean Foods. He adds: “there’s a lot of jobs that revolve around the dairy – it will hurt them.”
  • Caleb: Both a video and a photo album have been posted at the Knoxville Sentinel website. Caleb notes the family will continue to look for a milk buyer, and will look at other options to diversify, he says they will survive.
  • Front Page: The Knoxville News Sentinel published a front page story featuring Caleb on Tuesday, March 13.
Piedmont considering new business structure and how the company operates: story on Knoxville WBIR-TV
  • Brant Stooksbury, and his father Brian in Jefferson County, currently ship their milk through Piedmont Milk Sales, with offices at Blountville, TN. Piedmont, who represents farms in Northeast TN, Virginia, and North Carolina (the great majority are in NC) is making business changes.
 
Farm & Dairy:  Provides additional details on  WalMart distibution
WKBN-TN at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania – a video story describing some of the trickle down effects.
Ongoing:  This story will continue to evolve over the next few weeks, and spring crop work is already cranking up.  We know this challenge is great, but this region has overcome challenges before: at this time 25 years ago, many of us were digging out from a record blizzard, and some went without power for days. 27 years ago, in February of 1991, 400 herds received notices of a Pet bankruptcy, and lost a month’s worth of milk payments, along with having to scramble to find new milk handlers – there were no 90-day notices.
No doubt, our dairy industry is changing, but we have proven we can survive.
P.S.   Rod Carmichael has scheduled a complete herd dispersal for April 27.  Please mark that date on your calendars and keep Rod and Donna in your thoughts.