Dean Foods (Estate) Fails to Pay FMMO Producer Settlement Funds in Florida, Southeast, and Appalachian Orders

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Payments to Farmers Late at Best, in Question for the Future

A May 13, 2020 memorandum from USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service, Appalachian Order, reads as follows:

TO:  Regulated Handlers

FROM: Harold H. Friedly, Jr., Market Administrator, F.O. 5

SUBJECT: Producer Settlement Fund Non Payment

On May 12, 2020, Dean Foods, DIP (debtor-in-possession), a regulated handler on the Appalachian Order, did not pay its obligation to the Producer Settlement Fund (PSF) as required by Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations. USDA recognizes the significance of this non-payment and is continuing to work with the Department of Justice to attempt to recover these monies as part of the Dean Foods, DIP, estate.

When payment is not made to the PSF, Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations prescribe procedure for how the remaining marketwide pool monies should be distributed to handlers (1005.72).  When PSF monies are not sufficient to make full payments to handlers, the Market Administrator shall reduce uniformly such payments to handlers due a payment from the PSF.

Accordingly, for milk pooled on Order 5 during April 2020, payments to handlers from the PSF have been reduced pro rata.  Should the PSF payments be recovered from Dean Foods, DIP, Estate at a later time, full payments will be distributed.  In the meantime, Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations provide for reduced payments to producers from regulated handlers who did not receive full payment from the PSF (1005.73(c)). Consequently, the enforced minimum payments to producers will be at the pro rata amount.

USDA will continue to monitor the situation and work to assist the dairy industry. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available to all market participants. Please feel free to contact Jason Nierman, via nierman@malouisville.com, or (502) 499-0040, ext. 222, if you have any questions.

The memorandum also had this addendum included:

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This schematic explains workings of a Producer Settlement Fund:

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News could not have come at a worse time:

From an industry viewpoint, this non-payment could not come at a worse time for the farmers themselves.

When monies are received by the Producer Settlement Fund, they in turn are paid back out to handlers (co-ops or agents), who then distribute the money to farmers, paying them for milk sold (see the diagram above).  This process is highly regulated by FMMO rules, and has proven to be predictable, and reliable for decades.

Farmers then use their money to pay bills to any number of agribusiness and service firms with whom they do business.   Since this process has been so reliable, most farmers have set-up automatic withdrawals to pay supply companies.  Farmers will now be dealing with any issues related to those automatic withdrawals and any repercussions due to lack of funds. Agribusinesses will lose money as well, and incur any number of extra costs.

Ravaged by a myriad of challenges due to Covid-19, farmers are facing financial stress of an untold magnitude, and many multi-generational farms with long histories of serving consumers are at risk of being lost. The mental health and fortitude of those farmers is a prime concern across the country, due to the stresses which were already in place. Many fear that this news could catalyze additional health issues in farm communities.

An industry insider, who asked not to be identified, said this Dean Foods payment to the PSF could normally be in a range from $160-$250 million, affecting dairy co-ops, individual farms and the communities they serve in many states.  (Note – this figure will be verified and updated if needed – Covid 19 has changed almost everything.)

 

PERPLEXING:  WHY did this happen given Chapter 11 processes?

This payment, which is a regular course of business in both a predictable amount and timing in getting farms and co-ops paid for milk,  had regularly been made by Dean Foods during the course of the Chapter 11 proceedings.

Therefore, it stands to reason that attorneys, accountants, and consultants representing Dean Foods should have budgeted and accounted for these payments as Dean Foods books were closed out over the course of the next few months. In the last months of the process, fluid milk sales were up substantially according to many sources, which should also have added to Dean Foods income.   (An email inquiry to an attorney representing Dean Foods in the proceedings has not received a response as of this posting.)

This gets even more perplexing since farmers were named as critical vendors in the early days of the Chapter 11 process.  Dean Foods officials filed motions, which were granted by the Court, to ensure that those payments were indeed accomplished. It was believed those financial obligations to farmers for products delivered would have been honored until the last payment was due.

Impact on an individual farm:  During this payment cycle, any single farm would be due payments from thousands of dollars to even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the herd.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS OR HOPE AHEAD?

At this time, this is a profound question with unknown answers.  Some of those answers might be:

  • Payment to Settlement Funds in all FMM Orders might come at one of the later dates in this payment cycle, being only a few days late
  • Payment to the Producer Settlement Fund might come later, as accounts receivable from product and property sales come into the Dean Estate
  • Payment to farmers might not come at all, which is a bitter pill to swallow at this juncture in history.

Whatever the answer is, farmer co-ops and individual farmers deserve that answer, and deserve it quickly.  Perhaps a projected payment schedule could be stated by the Dean Foods Estate officials.  Even if it’s a worst case answer, to know what that answer is will honor the dignity of earnest farmers who deserve an answer so they can make some possibly excruciating decisions,  instead of ‘the system’ tap dancing around farm families like performers on a Broadway stage.

According to the Dean Foods / Southern Foods Group, LLC Chapter 11 website, two additional Omnibus Hearings are scheduled for May 20 and June 24. 

One dairyman has often said “The dairy industry at the grass roots level is a dairy community full of really good, decent people who want to earn an honest living and contribute to their communities. However, those good people often have to endure some very wicked events.”

Dean Foods has historically paid its ‘independent producers’ well, which is much appreciated.  It is sincerely hoped that Dean Foods closes its chapter on a better note than this non-payment, and quickly rectifies this payment shortfall to farmers.  For the sake of the mental and physical health of many farmers and their families, lets hope they do just that.

 

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Dean Foods Sells Majority of Assets to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) & Prairie Farms

 

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DALLAS  – May 1, 2020  – Dean Foods Company (“Dean Foods” or the “Company”) today announced that is has completed the previously announced sales of substantially all of its assets, including the sale of the assets, rights, interests, and properties relating to 44 of the Company’s fluid and frozen facilities to subsidiaries of Dairy Farmers of America (“DFA”).

Dean Foods also announced that it has completed the sale of the assets, rights, interests and properties relating to eight facilities, two distribution branches and certain other assets to Prairie Farms Dairy. The Company also completed the sale of its facility in Reno, Nevada and its “Berkeley Farms” trademark and related intellectual property to Producers Dairy Foods.

These transactions follow a Chapter 11  process which began with a filing under the official name of Southern Foods Group, LLC, on November 12, 2019 in the US Federal Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston. As early as the day the Chapter 11 was announced, DFA was named as the leading contender to purchase the company.  The Honorable Judge David Jones has served as  the presiding judge.

At the current time, three additional hearing dates are posted on the Epiq website which has been housing the dockets and filings of the proceeding.

  • May 11, 2020: Governmental Bar Date
  • May 20, 2020: An Omnibus Hearing
  • June 24, 2020: An Omnibus Hearing

The process has taken place during a time of monumental chaos in agriculture and dairy created by shifts in consumer behavior exacerbated by the Covid-10 Pandemic.  As consumers followed “Shelter At Home” guidance issued across the country, fluid milk sales rose astronomically for 2 months.  Although they have leveled off a bit, fluid sales are still at much higher levels than in recent years.

The stage seems to be set for  the new owners to capitalize on consumer sentiment to reinvigorate fluid sales of the Dean brands, which have risen considerably during the past two months.  It is not known if  the new owners will maintain,  consolidate, or alter brands as they assume the reins.

“We are pleased to complete these transactions which maximize value for our stakeholders and will enable substantially all of our businesses to continue operating and serving customers across the country,” said Eric Beringause, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dean Foods.

“Our team has put in considerable work over the last several months to find the right partners for our assets that would enable them to continue to succeed while preserving the most jobs possible and to ensure a smooth transition for our customers and partners.

The completion of these sales is a testament to our employees’ efforts. I also want to thank our entire team for their commitment and dedication to Dean Foods not only over the last several months, but over the past several years.  Their hard work has helped Dean Foods build and grow brands and products that customers love, and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work side-by-side with this extraordinary group.”

The Company also announced that as part of the US Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) approval of Dean Foods’ transaction with DFA,  DFA has entered into a Consent Decree with the DOJ under which DFA has committed to hold separate and ultimately divest the dairy processing plants located in DePere,WI, Franklin, MA, and Harvard, IL together with certain assets related to the operations at each plant.

Upon closing of these sales, Mr. Beringause has stepped down from his role as President and CEO.

As previously announced on April 4, 2020, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas (the “Court”) also approved the sale of Dean Foods facility in Miami, Florida to Mana Saves McArthur, LLC, for $16.5 million. The company anticipates completing the transaction early next week.

As previously announced on April 30, 2020, Dean Foods completed the sales of the Company’s Uncle Matt’s business to Harmoni, Inc., and of its Hilo facility and related distribution branches on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui, as well as a license to the Meadow Gold Hawaii brand name and related intellectual property, to MGD Acquisition, LLC.

Additional information is available on the restructuring page of the Company’s website, DeanFoodsRestructuring.com.

In addition, Court filings and other information related to the proceedings are available on a separate website administered by the Company’s claims agent, Epiq Bankruptcy Solutions LLC, at https://dm.epiq11.com/case/southernfoods/dockets, or by calling Epiq representatives toll-free at 1-833-935-1362 or 1-503-597-7660 for calls originating outside of the U.S.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and Norton Rose Fulbright are serving as legal advisors to the Company, Evercore is serving as its investment banker and Alvarez & Marsal is serving as its financial advisor.For Court filings and documents:

To read more about the Department of Justice report – a posted news release:

1 May 2020:   Justice Department Requires Divestitures as Dean Foods Sells Fluid Milk Processing Plants to DFA out of Bankruptcy  – Department Also Closes Investigation into Acquisition of Other Dean Plants by Prairie Farms.

The DOJ news release closes with these words:

As required by the Tunney Act, the proposed settlement, along with a competitive impact statement, will be published in the Federal Register.  Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed settlement during a 60-day comment period to Eric Welsh, Acting Chief, Healthcare and Consumer Products Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 Fifth Street NW, Suite 4100, Washington, DC 20530.  At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois may enter the final judgment upon finding it is in the public interest.

Sources: Business Wire, News Releases, and Industry Reports

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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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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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.

 

 

The Faith of Billy Graham: Sowing Seeds in Fertile Soil for Everlasting Life

William Franklin (Billy) Graham. Son of a Dairy Farmer.

Man of God. Seeds of Life.

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This past week, the world learned of the HomeGoing of the much beloved Reverend Billy Graham. His impact on humanity is much lauded, yet he, the man, remained humble, with all credit to his Heavenly Father for any of his success.

The impactful evangelist has proclaimed for several decades that faith and the Grace of God would lead him, and anyone who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, to a Heavenly home. He himself explained it this way:

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Graham, oft-described as the most influential religious leader of the 20th century, illustrated that while devout and fiercely true to his own faith, he could treat people of all religions with respect and kindness and sow seeds of peace and hope.

The Reverend Graham began life as the son of dairy farmer near Charlotte, NC.  And from the minute one steps on the grounds, The Billy Graham Library, only a few miles from the original Graham Brothers Farm, honors those agrarian roots.

An engaging display with animatronic cows immediately captures the attention of any visitor.   The ‘boss cow’ tells us that a young Billy Graham perfected his oratory skills by preaching to the cows while they were in the milk barn!  From that point on the Library is a walk through modern history, with exhibits devoted to how “America’s Pastor” was witness and influencer on world events of the 20th Century.

Favorite verses and parables, such as Phillipians 2:3, are on display throughout the Library on walls, and in exhibits.

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The Parable of the Sower – Luke 8, NIV

The Parable of the Sower, one of the most often quoted of the Parables of Jesus Christ, inspired a breathtaking bronze statue which is the centerpiece of the main exhibit hall at the Library.  As the Library was being completed, Franklin Graham believed this parable illustrated his father’s ministry better than any other.  The design was brought to life by sculptor Tom White.

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The Parable itself was considered so important to the Christian faith, it is found in three different Gospels:  Matthew 13: 1-23, Mark 4: 1-20, and Luke’s version, found in the NIV Bible, Chapter 8: verses 1-15 (also shared below:),

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him,and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 

12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

How will WE live the Parable of the Sower?

It is up to us to determine the seeds we will sow as our legacies, and it is up to us to help cultivate fertile soil which will receive those seeds.  James 2: 14-17 is summed up with the last verse, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  

Therefore, these thoughts to contemplate:

If your own life, or your farm, or even your business or means of earning income is the place seeds are to grow, will it be a dirt path, rocky ground, thorns, or the good soil?

It takes both wonderful seeds and productive, fertile soil for a bountiful crop to grow – a healthy crop which nurtures mankind.

Will this year’s seeds be seeds of hope, or seeds which lead to destruction? In times of trouble, will your seeds be ones that still grow the Kingdom of Christ, and let your faith shine through?

Will this year’s seeds be seeds that lift others up, help others through hard times, or seeds that beat others down?

If they are good seeds, will they fall on fertile soil, or on unproductive dirt along the path, among thorns, or on rocky ground?

And if the word of God isn’t the foundation of actions by your conduct, or your farm, are you building a long-lasting foundation or one that will crumble?

Will your farm,  and your life, be a farm which hears the Word, understands it, and practices its teachings by example?

Will your farm, and your life, be an example that sows the milk of human kindness, and places your faith in an everlasting God, even in times of trials?

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In this springtime of 2018, many seeds will be planted.  In this world of agriculture, there are many uncertainties, and in fact, much fear about “whose farm will be next to get heart breaking news?”   The agriculture consensus is that many farming operations may not make it through the year, and there is a dark undercurrent of  ‘who will survive?’

However, the Bible is the Book of Hope, and tells us in John 24 that even when something dies, a seed remains whose destiny is to grow  and create new hope, new fruit, new beginnings, and new life:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

We in agriculture on farms of all sizes are going to have to dig deep in our faith, and in our actions, if we are to survive the rough waters ahead.

Billy Graham, the son of a humble dairy farmer, went on to be one of the Greatest Faith Leaders in recent centuries, with some even comparing him to the Apostle Paul.  In order to become that incredulous leader, he had to leave his dairy farm beginnings, and he had to trust and follow the call of God to do that.  The Bible, in Joshua 1:9,  tells us we too, can ‘be strong and courageous,’ and do that, even in the darkest of times.

Billy Graham’s faith roots began growth on a dairy farm. However, his seeds flourished only when they reached out to a faith-starved world.  May we see the Word he spoke of, and may we Hear the Word he proclaimed!

My prayers are that the world of agriculture, and indeed, the entire world, finds fortitude, hope, grace, and comfort in a Boundless Faith taught by Billy Graham. Son of a Dairy Farmer. A Giant Man of God, who sowed Seeds for an Everlasting Life.

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Postscript: The author of this blog, a former dairy farmer, was blessed beyond measure to experience a profound visit to the Billy Graham Library a few summers ago.  She was accompanied by a wonderful friend, the wife of a current dairy farmer.   A visit to the Billy Graham Library is highly recommended to anyone who loves history, is of an agricultural background, or who is on their own faith journey.  Billy Graham was Christian, but his life’s message can be a bridge to all in search of deeper meaning of any faith.