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.

 

 

Mayfield: CEO Quality Award – Dean Food’s Top Honor built on TN-Southeast Farm-to-Table Dairy Heritage, Community Pride

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(Athens, TN) –  Mayfield Dairy in Athens, TN is the recipient of the Dean Foods CEO Quality Award for ice cream for 2016.  This award is the company’s top honor, and Mayfield Dairy Farms was selected over Dean Foods’ nine-other ice cream plants after a rigorous, year-long judging process.

“We are delighted with Mayfield’s excellence in protecting quality from farm to table, and we’re proud to hold them up as an example,” stated Mr. Ralph Scozzafavo, CEO of Dean Foods.  “Dean Foods holds its plants to very high standards, making for particularly stiff competition surrounding this award,” he said.

Mayfield plants in the Southeast have a history of receiving Quality awards.  The Athens plant has previously received Excellence in Quality recognition in 2016, 2015, and 2014.  The Mayfield / Barber’s plant in Birmingham AL received the CEO’s Quality Award two years in a row for 2015 and 2014

If you’ve grown up in the south, especially if you’ve been involved with dairy farming in the Southeast, “Mayfield Dairy” is a name that immediately combines the elements of high quality, in-demand milk and ice cream, and how the demand generated by such a local dairy plant impacts farms and the agriculture economy in an area.  As Mayfield has grown in sales through the decades, so has the southeast dairy farm community achieved continually higher standards of quality in on-farm practices of animal care and welfare, along with sanitation and technology of equipment in milking barns.

 

The CEO Quality Award was presented to Mayfield Dairy management and employees in Athens on April 21, 2017 by Dean Foods CEO Ralph Scozzafava.

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The Dean Foods CEO Quality Award is the culmination of an intensive assessment process. This year, five fluid milk plants and three ice cream plants, including Mayfield Dairy, were selected as Excellence in Quality Award winners based on multiple criteria such as Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program scores, training participation, and consumer complaint improvement.

Next, these eight plants were scrutinized further by Dean Foods’ senior leadership who took into account quality innovations, best practices, and the “quality culture” within the plant.  Mayfield Dairy emerged as the cream of the crop in the ice cream category.

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“I could not be more thankful for the team here in Athens,” said Scott Watson, Plant Manager.  “The products we manufacture reach the tables of families throughout the southeast and our folks do an incredible job of assuring that our ice cream is consistent day in and day out for our customers.  In short, we get to make and distribute ice cream for a living, and it it doesn’t get much more fun than that!”

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How does Mayfield stand in context with other dairy processing plants?

  1. Mayfield / Athens is one of 67 plants in the Dean Foods system, according to a 2015 article in Dairy Foods Magazine.  With revenues of over $8 Billion, Dean Foods collectively is the 2nd largest dairy food processor on the Dairy Foods Top 100 list, published this August by Dairy Foods magazine.  Summarized information about the companies on the Top 100 list, topped by Nestle, with revenues over $12 Billion, describes in more detail each of the top 100 companies.
  2. While Dean Foods has a branding footprint from coast-to-coast with DairyPure and TruMoo in some of their product lines (co-branded with time-honored regional brands), they are one of the largest supporters of LOCAL DAIRY COMMUNITIES, since each plant generally sources milk from dairy farms (many family-sized farm operations) within a close radius.
  3. In 2015, Dairy Foods Magazine published an article which related a broad-ranging description of the Athens plant complex, including some private label products,  its fluid and ice cream operations, and the quality priorities of the entire processing center.
  4. #47-225 and #47-131 – PLANT numbers are the key to knowing if your milk or ice cream brand may be processed and packaged at this award-winning plant in Athens!  To know if the milk or ice-cream you’re consuming is one of the brands or private labels processed at this award winning plant, check the Plant Code (mandated by law/regulation) found on each and every carton of dairy product processed here! The fluid plant number is #47-131, and the ice cream plant number is #47-225. The quality found at Mayfield Athens is the foundation of goodness for them all, and an indication you are supporting LOCAL farms in your area!
  5. Other southeast Dean Foods plants to watch for?   The code #01-0176 signals that an ice-cream product has been made at the Barber’s ice cream plant in Birmingham, AL, a previous winner of the CEO Quality Award.  #01-0104 signals that a fluid milk product is processed at the Dean – Barber’s plant,  also in Birmingham.  #13-230 is the code number meaning dairy products are from the Dean – Mayfield plant at Braselton, GA.   #45-01 is the Dean – Pet plant at Spartanburg, SC.   From Nashville, the Purity Dairies plant, known for award-winning chocolate milk, is #47-118, and the Country Delite plant, which processes a lot of private-label milks for independent grocery chains, carries the code #47-120.
  6. The local newspaper, the Daily-Post Athenian, just about a 1/2 mile away from the Athens plant, published a front-page report with photos of plant key personnel.

 

Mary Williams is the manager of the Mayfield Division of Dean Foods, which include the Mayfield Athens plant, a plant a Braselton, GA, and an ice-cream plant in Birmingham, AL, also known as Barber’s.  She also acknowledged the daily commitment and dedication of the Mayfield employees and associates which led to this quality award.

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The brand MAYFIELD is much more than ‘a carton to pick-up’  to the ‘home folks’ in southeast Tennessee, and a wider southeast radius about 200 miles from the site of the original Athens plant.  MAYFIELD is the key to consumer shelf space at grocery stores, and therefore a LOCAL connector between dairy farm families and marketplace.  Those MAYFIELD cartons mean that area farms are able to pay bills, support their families and local churches, pay property taxes which support local governments, and are a driver for the southeast Ag Economy.

Mayfield employees and area dairy farmers are neighbors, sometimes cousins, sometimes husband and wife, and often go to the same churches.  To say this is a LOCAL DAIRY Community is an understatement; the bonds of history are deep, and wide, and strong.  All take mutual pride in the success of each other in various family, community, and business, and personal achievements.

The Agriculture community adds their “Congratulations” to the many already received by Mayfield.  Farmers also say “THANK YOU” to Dean Foods for supporting our neighborhoods and dairy futures.  Many farm young folks have committed to a future in the dairy industry by investments in milking barns and housing facilities for maximum animal welfare.  The continued support of Dean Foods will bolster those futures as young farmers aspire to help feed the world well into the future.

Here’s to more Mayfield awards in the future!

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Southeast Milk Litigation: All Payments to be Finalized in Fall of 2016

Sun Photo by Phil GentryFederal Court House

Sun Photo by Phil Gentry Federal Court House

(Greeneville, TN)  All payments to class members in the Southeast Milk Litigation (SEML) will be final this fall with the completion of up to two additional payments from different settlements in the historic Class Action.

One of those payments will complete the cycle of payments in the Dean Foods portion of the Settlement. Individual recipients should expect to receive an amount similar to the previous Dean payments.

“Almost unbelievably, there are some uncashed checks from previous payments which need to be cleared before those payments can be finalized,” says John Harrison, Class Representative for the plaintiffs.

“Those uncashed checks must be accounted for or reconciled before final payments can be made, since everything must zero out before final closure of the Settlement accounts.”

Letters, some containing reissued checks, have been sent to the owners-of-record of those uncashed checks, with a reminder that those checks must be deposited within 30 days  of check issue (approximately, by the third week of August).

ANY QUESTIONS?  Act Immediately!  If anyone believes that they fall into this category of ‘uncashed checks,’ or if anyone believes they are due a payment which they have not received in previous cycles, they are asked to immediately contact the Attorneys-of-Record of each of the Litigation subclasses as follows:

Independent producers, as well as all other producers belonging to co-ops other than DFA, should contact Baker-Hostetler, by phone at 202- 861-1500, or via mail at:

Southeast Milk Litigation

Baker & Hostetler LLP

Attn: Robert Abrams, Greg Commins, or Danyll Foix
1050 Connecticut Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20036

 

DFA producers should contact Brewer & Terry, by phone at 423-587-2730, or via mail at

     Southeast Milk Litigation

Brewer & Terry, P.C   Attn:  Steve Terry or Gary Brewer

1702 W. Andrew Johnson Hwy

Morristown, TN   37816

The Dean Foods Settlement, a total of $140 Million dollars to be paid over five scheduled payments, was final in June of 2012, with four of those payments already paid to class members.   This fall’s payment will be the last.

The second expected payment, much smaller, will reflect the final apportionment of the Dairy Farmers of America and Related Entities Settlement, which received final approval by the Court in May of 2013.  The initial $140 Million Settlement phase was paid out in one lump sum at the end of December, 2013, and was prorated to individual class members according to production in defined time frames. This fall’s payments will distribute any remaining funds.

All activity in this case was conducted following Federal Class Action laws and directives, and all procedures took place accordingly, under the supervision of the Court.  Judge Ronnie Greer presided over the case.

The amounts of the total Settlement in this case, which totaled in excess of $280 million dollars, set a record in the US Federal Court, Tennessee, Eastern District of Tennessee, and is one of the highest ever reached in dairy or food industry history in the United States.  Terms of each of the Settlements state  that none of the defendants admitted guilt.

For court documents and more information on the litigation, please refer to www.southeastdairyclass.com.  In addition, various articles are posted at www.milkshedsblog.com, or please google search “Southeast Milk Litigation.”

#NationalHugABaristaDay; Hugging Bovine Baristas!

Who even knew there was a #NationalHugABaristaDay?   By Twitter algorithms, it’s today, June 11th!  (Don’t you just love the twitterverse we live in?)

So I’m celebrating with a post about two of my favorite things – cows and coffee!  (I just love bovine baristas, don’t you?)

How many of you have tried Caribou Coffee’s Premium Iced Coffee Beverage, a new and super-dairylicious, milk-based, caffeinated,  taste-bud sensation?  The first day I found it, May 15, at a Dollar General in East TN,  I was inspired to at least do a post for Facebook:

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And on that very same day, a dairy industry colleague, Sherry Bunting, picked me up for a short ride down to a farm on the NC-SC border. (Sherry was delivering a goat her daughter had sold to a SC #farmHer – perhaps another blog post in the making!)

Being the curious dairy industry communicators we are, and because Sherry needed caffeine for a long drive on down to Texas, we ended up at another Dollar General in Chesnee, SC.  We were SO GLAD (and kind of amazed at the karma involved at the timing of all this) when we found the same calcium-coffee concoction in that cooler.

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Dean Foods, one of America’s largest dairy processors, has developed and is distributing the beverage in a joint venture with Caribou Coffee.  Announced to be available by March, 2016,  this was the first day (May 15th) either of us had found it on a retail shelf.   Result: Two very excited Caribou Dairy beverage fans in one day!

Now – as to the #MILKSHED involved (all known from the information on a label):

These bottles were processed at a Dean Foods plant in Riverside, Ca, (Code #06-128), with the milk most likely originating from California herds. (Note:  educated guess based on milk transport and CA’s huge dairy cow presence and milk production, but not for sure known.)  It’s also a guess that this plant had the specialized equipment available needed to produce such a delightful product on a large basis. Dean Foods, because of its size and nationwide network, has the built-in distribution system required to bring the product to retail outlets across the country, in a cost-effective manner.

Even the labels are of a ‘new age.’

Many consumers, myself included, have been frustrated because ‘serving size’ didn’t necessarily match ‘container size.’  However, in this case, a shout-out to Dean Foods and Caribou for going a step further, and putting both ‘serving’ and ‘bottle’ size on the label!

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As for the nutrition, USDA is in the process of writing new label standards, and it appears that ‘added sugars’ will have to wait for a bit to be included.  If you are a diabetic or watching sugar intake, realize you must balance this aspect with other parts of your daily diet.

And lastly, the label engages one with a delightful message:  on this label of Sea Salt Caramel flavor, the message is “JUMP into life!  Just make sure the cap’s on tight first!’, then followed by some wordplay. Lessons in life, and lessons in marketing, too!  The messages differ for different flavors (Sea Salt Caramel, Chocolate Mocha, and Vanilla), so I’ll encourage you to go try some for yourself!

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Why is this Tennessee-southern gal OK with buying a drink made with milk from cows in California?  Several reasons apply:

  1. I have dairy friends in California, and they are experiencing an extremely challenging on-farm low price cycle as this is written. Anything that will help them move milk for new uses is very exciting.
  2. Dean Foods has several plants in the southeast, and if this beverage meets with widespread acceptance, then it means financial stability for Dean Foods in general, and that will benefit Dean plants across the country.  That’s good for both dairy farms and milk plants across the country.
  3. Any new product or beverage that helps sell milk in general is great!  Coffee drinks in the past few years have proven to be a big boost for dairy farms and milk consumption in general, and we cows and people in the dairy industry really appreciate that!  So many THANKS to all you lovers of Lattes, and Champions of Cappucino!
  4. I’ll keep buying regular milks produced by the cows in my neighborhood and processed at the local milk plants near me  – I’m a great believer in local food systems, and make a conscious effort to support that belief with my dollars.  However, a locally processed dairy beverage of this type is not conveniently  and readily available at the current time, in the paths where I most often travel.  There is a local processor who does make a similar product, and it is wonderful, but it’s often sold out on delivery!

For now, I think I’m going to heed that message of “JUMP,”  and go JUMP in the car, and find some of that Caribou Iced Coffee on this hot June afternoon!  I’ll be going to a Dollar General store, because I know that’s where I can get this in my small town.  Look for this at a retailer near you – you’ll be glad you did!

Have a dairylicious #NationalHugABaristaDay!  Party till those Cows Come Home!

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DFA Subclass Litigation – Trial now Nov.

ImageDairy Farmers and Class Members living in Federal Orders 5 & 7 have begun receiving Class Notices and Opt-Out Notices in regards to the DFA Recertification Subclass in the historic Class Action Southeast Milk Litigation.

In layman’s terms, DFA rank-and-file members in Federal Orders 5 & 7 are now eligible to receive damages – should any come via settlement, injunctive relief, or award by a jury – from their own co-op. These Class members will also have to meet certain standards specfied by the Court in a Class definition.

This is in accordance with the Court’s ruling on June 1st, 2012 following a series of motions and responses by attorneys for dairy farmer plaintiffs and defendant attorneys for DFA corporate businesses – Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.;  Mid-Am Capital, LLC;  Dairy Marketing Services, LLC;  National Dairy Holdings, LP; and an individual, Gary Hanman, former CEO of DFA.  This series of litigation activity was completed with a Hearing for Oral Arguments for Recertification on April 17th, followed by entry of the Judge’s ruling six weeks later.

Complete information, in a question and answer format, can be found by clicking this link: http://www.southeastdairyclass.com/PDFs/NotificationofCertificationofDFASubclass.pdf

The Court’s reason for the recertification can be summed up in one sentence found in the Order: “Plaintiffs have offered substantial proof that the alleged conspiracy has injured all members of the independent farmer subclass and the DFA farmer subclass.”

The Opt-Out option should be taken only if a Class Member/Claimant does not wish to receive any future settlement monies, or monies awarded at trial should a jury find actions of the DFA-related businesses did indeed harm the Southeast dairy community, and to what degree (signaled by the amount of dollar rewards).

Needless to say, DFA filed a petition to appeal that ruling with the Sixth Circuit.  Due to that action, the trial scheduled for July 10th has been continued to November 6th (Election Day).  Should the appeals court deny the petition, the Class stands and trial proceeds with the entire class intact.  Litigation  will proceed with Independent Farmers as plaintiffs irregardless of the decision of the Appeals court concerning DFA members.

More information about the entire Class Action is publicly available at the official Class Website, www.southeastdairyclass.com.

This DFA recertification segment of the litigation follows a previous $145 Million Settlement by defendants Dean Foods, Southern Marketing Agency, and James Baird.  The settlement also included some forms of injunctive relief. This Settlement received Final Approval from the Court on Friday, June 15th.

Audits of claims forms are being conducted now by Rust Consulting.  Those claims forms were submitted during March and April to Rust. It will likely be later this fall before payments to farmers begin.

Legal events, although generally considered unpleasant or controversial, are a part of the Worldwide Milkshed. Sometimes they are the only course of action left for a farmer to get answers about events and companies whose ultimate responsibility should be to ‘protect the farmer’s income.’  With the farmer’s income protected, a consumer will have more peace-of-mind about domestic food security, because farmland will have more certainty about financial sustainability.

Lawsuits or judgments can serve to change the course of the way milk is priced to the farmer, or hold accountable businesses and individuals in their practices that ultimately affect the sustainability of the farmer – the person where a Milkshed begins.