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Stakeholders urge #USMCAnow nearly a year after deal signed

Nov. 15, 2019

WASHINGTON — Stakeholders are urging action on the stalled U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by taking to social media with the hashtag #USMCAnow nearly a year after the agreement was signed Nov. 30, 2018.

From lawmakers and administrative accounts like USDA to dairy organizations including the National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association, #USMCAnow was prevalent across social media platforms this week.

“Approving USMCA would be a win for Congress and, more importantly, a win for American agriculture,” says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The trade climate has been turbulent to say the least. Congress has an opportunity to calm the storm and bring some certainty to our trade outlook. Approving USMCA will show the world that the United States is back in business in the global marketplace.”

News reports say if approval is pushed to 2020, the agreement could become a lower priority with the looming 2020 election.

Congress also has to address a Nov. 21 deadline to extend federal funding.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., met last week with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa to discuss next steps to ratification. Mexico already has ratified the agreement.

News reports say Neal told Trudeau that a U.S. House working group was “very close” to a deal with the U.S. Trade Representative.

This week, President Trump briefly mentioned USMCA as he addressed the Economic Club of New York on the current state of U.S. trade.

“The USMCA will add 1.5 million U.S. jobs and add 1.2% to American GDP,” he says. He also called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to quickly clear the way for a vote on the agreement.

In his speech Tuesday, Trump also said a significant phase one trade deal with China could happen soon.

“But we will only accept a deal if it’s good for the United States and our workers and our great companies, because we’ve been hit very hard,” Trump says.

However, news reports on Thursday indicated talks had hit a snag over farm purchase as Chinese officials are leery of putting a commitment into the text of an agreement.


Dean Foods files for bankruptcy, in advanced talks for sale to DFA

Nov. 15, 2019

DALLAS — Dean Foods Co. has filed for bankruptcy and is in advanced discussions with Dairy Farmers of America Inc. (DFA) regarding a potential sale. If the two parties reach an agreement, the sale still would be subject to regulatory approval and other offers in the bankruptcy.

Dean Foods announced Tuesday that it and substantially all of its subsidiaries have initiated voluntary Chapter 11 reorganization proceedings in the Southern District of Texas. The company says it intends to use this process to protect and support its ongoing business operations and address debt and unfunded pension obligations.

Eric Beringause, who recently became president and CEO of Dean Foods, says the company will continue serving its customers and operating as normal as it works toward a sale.

“Since joining the company just over three months ago, I’ve taken a hard look at our challenges, as well as our opportunities, and truly believe we are taking the best path forward. In recent months, we have put in place a new senior management team that not only has considerable experience in the dairy and consumer product industries, but also in executing major turnarounds,” Beringause says.

“We have a strong operational footprint and distribution network, a robust portfolio of leading national brands and extensive private label capabilities, all supported by approximately 15,000 dedicated employees around the country,” he adds. “Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption.”

As DFA considers the purchase of Dean Foods’ assets, DFA notes that Dean Foods is its largest customer and says the cooperative’s focus is ensuring it has secure markets for its members’ milk.

“Thanks to the strategic planning and management by our farmer board of directors and management team, the cooperative is in a financial position to withstand a situation like this,” says Monica Massey, executive vice president and chief of staff, DFA.

Dean Foods is the largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fresh fluid milk and other dairy and dairy case products in the United States. Its portfolio includes the national DairyPure white milk brand and TruMoo flavored milk brand, along with regional dairy brands such as Alta Dena, Berkeley Farms, Country Fresh, Dean’s, Friendly’s, Garelick Farms, Land O’Lakes milk and cultured products, Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms, Mayfield, McArthur, Meadow Gold, Oak Farms, PET, T.G. Lee, Tuscan and others. Dean Foods also has a joint venture with Organic Valley, distributing fresh organic products to local retailers.

In a statement, Land O’Lakes Inc. notes that Dean Foods does not own Land O’Lakes Inc., though Land O’Lakes does have a milk supply and licensing relationship with Dean Foods and will monitor the restructuring process to determine any impact.

“As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes Inc.’s primary focus is on our members and dairy farmers across the country,” the statement says. “We are working with strategic industry partners to evaluate all milk supply and manufacturing options to optimize efficiencies, minimize impacts to our members and continue to support the dairy industry.”

The bankruptcy comes as total U.S. fluid milk consumption continues to decline, and large private label retailers, such as Walmart, have opened their own processing facilities. However, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the dairy industry checkoff, notes that the U.S. dairy community remains a “strong and diverse sector,” with domestic dairy product sales up and cheese and butter at all-time consumption highs.

“Fluid milk remains a staple in 94% of U.S. households, and we’re seeing segments of strong growth in what is a $13.4 billion retail category,” DMI says, pointing to success in whole, lactose-free and flavored milk categories. “In a decade shaped by a constantly changing marketplace, U.S. dairy has and will continue to successfully navigate the current economic environment.”


CME Group to launch block cheese futures, options in 2020

Nov. 15, 2019

CHICAGO — The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group this week announced it will launch block cheese futures and options in January 2020, pending regulatory review. CME Group says more information on a specific launch date will follow.

“Our clients continue to look for tools to manage their price exposure in physical cheese markets, including food manufacturers and processors of cheese,” says Tim Andriesen, managing director of agricultural products, CME Group. “The addition of block cheese futures and options to our existing suite of cash-settled dairy products provides clients with another solution for managing and hedging their risk.”

While the existing cash-settled cheese futures and options settle to the monthly weighted average of both block and barrel cheese prices reported by USDA’s National Dairy Products Sales Report (NDPSR), the new futures and options contracts will be cash-settled to the monthly average price for 40-pound block Cheddar as reported by NDPSR, with each contract representing the equivalent of 20,000 pounds of block Cheddar and the tick size of $0.001 per pound.

“We anticipate most other specifications of the Block Cheese futures and options contracts to closely reflect those of cash-settled Cheese futures and options,” CME Group says. “The progressively volatile relationship between block and barrel cheese has led to an increase in basis risk for a large portion of the hedging community and as a result has called into question the hedge effectiveness of our current offering. We have received a great deal of customer feedback stating that they need a hedging instrument that more closely tracks their price exposure.”

HighGround Dairy, Chicago, says it applauds the announcement.

“After significant discussions within the industry, this step will allow for greater hedge effectiveness and allow all participants within the dairy supply chain to better manage cheese price risk,” HighGround Dairy says.

Dave Kurzawski, senior dairy broker with INTL FCStone, Chicago, notes much of the industry prices their cheese based on the CME spot block or barrel market but hedges the price risk using the cheese futures, which settle to the NDPSR cheese price.

“Since 2017 the correlations between the spot prices and the NDPSR price have been declining,” he says. “That has raised the costs of hedging by reducing hedge effectiveness for the industry. Introducing a new futures contract that settles to the NDPSR block price will improve the correlation and reduce basis risk for hedgers.

“We need all the details of course as there has been some concern about how the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will set maximum position limits for the new contract,” Kurzawski adds. “But if position limits aren’t tightened, then the new contract should be a positive for the industry. We applaud the CME’s responsiveness to industry needs.”

Block cheese futures and options will be listed with and subject to the rules and regulation of CME. For more information, visit


Yancey’s Fancy launches its new cheese spread line with flavorful trio
Exact weight packages, updated labels also are rolling out

MILWAUKEE — In a state where cheese reigns supreme, Black Creek, Saputo Cheese USA Inc.’s brand of cheddar and cheddar blends, continues to garner awards and investment for new marketing initiatives.

The Black Creek brand is positioned as a line of premium, classic Wisconsin-made cheddar cheese available in a variety of ages and blends at a competitive price. Black Creek cheese is perfect for everything from entertaining to day-to-day snacking, Saputo Cheese USA Inc.’s marketing executives say.

Key products include varieties of white and yellow aged cheddars, ranging in age from nine months to three years. The brand’s most recent award was a third-place finish in the competitive Aged Cheddar category at this year’s World Dairy Expo (one of six awards Saputo Cheese USA Inc. won at the competition).

The brand also carries specialty blends of cheddar cheese in its Artisan Series, which includes Cheddar Parmesan, Double Smoked Cheddar and Cheddar Gruyere.

The Black Creek brand dates back to 2005, when cheddar made by Alto Dairy Cooperative received the moniker (Saputo Cheese USA Inc. purchased Alto in 2008). However, the brand’s cheese has been made in the same facility in the heart of Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley since the early 1900s.

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Dairy group leaders highlight dairy’s resilience, stress unity

Nov. 8, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — Dairy industry leaders from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF)and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) highlighted dairy’s resilience and stressed the importance of unity during the joint annual meeting of the United Dairy Industry Association, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and NMPF held here this week.

NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern highlighted the resilience of U.S. dairy farmers in a challenging economic and policy environment, pledging that dairy would speak with one voice on crucial issues.

“Resilience against hardship has always been a fact of life in dairy,” Mulhern says. “We know that if we embrace change while holding true to our values, we will win.”

NMPF’s portion of the conference was highlighted by bylaws changes that bolster its position representing U.S. dairy farmers.

During the meeting, NMPF added the chairman of its Small Cooperative Caucus, Jimmy Kerr of Cooperative Milk Producers Association based in Blackstone, Virginia, to its now 15-member executive committee, ensuring that cooperatives of all sizes have a voice in the organization’s thought-leadership body.

“NMPF represents a broader range of dairy farmers and interests than any other industry organization,” Mulhern says. “Committing to diverse leadership makes our united voice the strongest it can be. Brighter times lie ahead for dairy, and we are ready to advance in a wide range of areas that serve all of our members.”

The meeting also featured discussions of the state of the dairy industry and economy, with remarks from the organization’s chairman, Missouri dairy farmer Randy Mooney, and presentations from NMPF staff on issues ranging from immigration to the fight against inappropriate labeling of plant-based products.

During his remarks at the meeting, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher told more than 800 dairy farmers and industry representatives that to thrive in the future, industrywide unity and leadership will become more important than ever.

This is crucial as anti-animal-agriculture groups pose a growing threat to the dairy industry by working to eliminate the checkoff, Gallagher says. DMI manages the national dairy checkoff.

Gallagher provided a foundation for why he believes the checkoff has become a target of these groups, explaining how USDA data show annual per-person dairy consumption has grown by 73 pounds since the dairy checkoff began in 1983. He adds DMI’s mission is to not only grow sales but to build consumer trust by sharing how farmers care for their animals, land and employees.

However, groups that oppose animal-based food production, he says, are looking to erode and eventually eliminate the checkoff.

“Make no mistake, they only have one goal: to eliminate all animal agriculture in this country,” Gallagher says. He adds these groups seek to create a division among U.S. dairy farmers based on factors such as their size or production style and that they are “infiltrating consumer trust.”

DMI President Barb O’Brien followed Gallagher with an overview of the unified marketing plan’s seven strategic areas to drive sales and trust. She notes that the collective efforts prove dairy remains a powerful category with more than $100 billion in annual retail sales and that household penetration of dairy is strong. She cited consumer research showing cheese is in 98% of U.S. homes and milk is in 94%.

“This puts to rest the naysayers’ claim that dairy is dead,” O’Brien says. “Dairy is alive and well and in households across the country.”

O’Brien also provided an overview on the checkoff-led fluid milk revitalization work designed to address foundational elements of infrastructure, innovation and branded marketing.

“The issues facing milk are not about consumer awareness,” she says. “You can’t look at those household penetration numbers and say consumers aren’t aware of the category. The issues were more fundamental and required working with the middle of the chain, with co-ops, processors and retailers, who controlled the product and how it went into market.”

As a result of this work, O’Brien says there has been cumulative new product sales of 1.3 billion pounds of milk resulting from checkoff partnerships with companies such as Darigold, Shamrock, Fairlife, Kroger and others. O’Brien emphasized the fluid milk work continues and said DMI is teaming with MilkPEP on an effort that is targeting the country’s top 10 retailers.

Among its goals is to assure dairy’s rightful place in retail coolers across the country, she says.

Checkoff partnerships such as McDonald’s also have been pivotal in moving more dairy. Divya Reddy, a DMI food scientist who works on site at McDonald’s headquarters, notes the chain’s commitment to revitalize its McCafé line of specialty drinks has benefited dairy farmers. She says 90% of McCafé beverages contain dairy, and products such as lattes have more than 70% milk.

O’Brien notes this work has created a catalytic effect that has led to a 7% growth in milk-based coffee beverages across all of foodservice.

Meanwhile, Beth Engelmann, chief marketing officer for DMI, highlighted that after two years of engaging consumers with the Undeniably Dairy campaign, results are being achieved in long-term trust measures.

“With 350 dairy companies and organizations participating in Undeniably Dairy, we have been able to generate over 5 billion media impressions for content that is sharing dairy farmers’ stories,” she says. “That reach has translated into positive movement — a 6- to 8-point increase in consumer trust in dairy farmers and in their commitment to taking care of the land and their animals. And, we are also seeing an increase in their belief that dairy is superior to plant-based protein.”

On the meeting’s final day, Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the checkoff-founded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), moderated a panel discussion on global opportunities for exports. Vilsack shared that at the end of September, the U.S. was about $970 million ahead in sales as compared to the same point in 2016.

Marilyn Hershey, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer and chair of DMI, says the work of USDEC is critical to dairy farmers.

“We’re in a global market, and if we don’t compete globally, we’re going to hurt ourselves in the long run,” she says. “As a dairy farmer, we know there is tremendous value in helping to get our products into other countries. You look at exports and the percentage moved and that would have been extra milk in our market.”

Gallagher highlighted the need for all farmers, regardless of their size or farming style, to remain united.

“Unity doesn’t mean don’t question, don’t challenge, don’t ask the hard things,” he says. “This room represents thousands of farmers who have elected you to co-op boards, national milk boards, promotion boards. Yeah, let’s argue, let’s disagree, but let’s do it together and when we make a decision, let’s go and let’s not let the activists divide us. Through unity and leadership, we will secure a strong future for dairy.”


U.S. cheese production rises 2.1% over one year earlier

Nov. 8, 2019

WASHINGTON — Total U.S. cheese production, excluding cottage cheese, was 1.08 billion pounds in September, 2.1% above September 2018’s 1.06 billion pounds, according to data released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (All figures are rounded. Please see CMN’s Dairy Production chart on page 15.) September cheese production was 3.7% below August 2019’s 1.12 billion pounds; when adjusted for the length of the months, September cheese production was down 0.5% on an average daily basis.

Total Italian-type cheese production totaled 469.0 million pounds, 4.0% above September 2018. Production of Mozzarella, the largest component of Italian-type cheese production, was up 4.5% from the previous year to 374.7 million pounds.

Total American-type cheese production totaled 418.1 million pounds, 1.4% below September 2018. Production of Cheddar, the largest component of American-type production, was down 3.1% from September 2018 to 288.4 million pounds.

Wisconsin led the nation’s cheese production with 281.3 million pounds produced in September, an increase of 0.7% from the state’s production a year earlier. California followed with 203.5 million pounds, down 0.9% from its production a year earlier.

Total U.S. butter production was 136.6 million pounds, according to NASS, 1.2% above September 2018’s 135.0 million pounds. NASS reports September butter production was 0.5% below August 2019’s 137.3 million pounds; when adjusted for the length of the months, September butter production was up 2.8% on an average daily basis.

California led the nation’s butter production with 44.1 million pounds in September, a decline of 0.1% from its production a year earlier.


U.S. dairy exports increase in September over previous year

Nov. 8, 2019

WASHINGTON — The United States exported 170,731 metric tons of milk powders, cheese, whey products, lactose and butterfat in September, up 2% from a year earlier. Dairy exports were valued at $508.8 million, up 17 percent from last September and the most since May, reports the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

USDEC also notes that aggregate export volume rose above year-ago levels for the first time since October 2018, driven by increased cheese shipments to Mexico and United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as a surge in nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) exports to Mexico and Southeast Asia.

Cheese export volume in September totaled 27,433 metric tons, 12% higher than the prior year, USDEC says. Shipments to Mexico increased 31%, volume to UAE nearly tripled, and sales to Korea were up 9%.

U.S. exports of NDM/SMP reached 65,328 metric tons in September, a 16-month high and up 25% from a year ago.

USDEC explains with EU intervention stocks mostly moved through the supply chain, buyers increasingly turned to the United States for powder. Exports to Southeast Asia (primarily Indonesia and Vietnam) were up 36%, sales to Mexico were up 14%, and shipments to Peru and Pakistan also were higher.

Whey exports in September totaled 36,468 metric tons, down 11% from a year earlier, as whey sales to China remain depressed due to retaliatory tariffs and African swine fever, USDEC says. Suppliers sold 8,438 metric tons of whey products to China, down 23% from last year. September whey sales to Canada were down 37% and to Mexico were down 18%, while shipments to Southeast Asia were 2% higher than September 2018.

Lactose exports totaled 28,989 metric tons, down 7% and the lowest in seven months, USDEC reports. Volume to Southeast Asia was down 39% and exports to China down 41%, partially offset by a 74% rise in shipments to Mexico.

In the first three quarters of 2019, cumulative U.S. dairy exports are 1.5 million metric tons, down 12 percent compared to the same period last year. Dairy exports for the first nine months of this year are valued at $4.4 billion, up 4 percent from the same 2018 period.

On a total milk solids basis, U.S. dairy exports were equivalent to 15.3% of U.S. milk solids production in September. In the first nine months of the year, exports accounted for 14.2% of production.


Foreign Type Cheesemaker’s lab expands, has new name

Nov. 1, 2019

By Rena Archwamety

MONROE, Wis. — Green County has long been known for cheese. The southwest Wisconsin region established itself as the epicenter of Swiss, Brick and Limburger — or “foreign type” cheese production — by the early 1900s, with more than 300 cheese factories at the time, according to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center in county seat Monroe, Wisconsin.

In 1935, to help improve consistency of their cheeses, Green County cheesemakers established the Foreign Type Cheesemakers Association cooperative laboratory to perform quality control testing on the cheese they produced. The names of 26 founding members who contributed $100 each toward the original lab still appear on a framed poster on the wall of the current facility.

In April 2019, the Foreign Type Cheesemaker’s Association laboratory debuted a new name, “Precision Biolabs.”
“It’s still the Foreign Type Cheesemaker’s Association, doing business as Precision Biolabs,” says Executive Director Gail Zeitler. “We were spending all our time explaining our name rather than talking about the services. About two years ago we brought it up to the board ... once the board decided we needed a name change, we got together and went to a marketing firm and got unanimous approval for the name. It’s nice to say, ‘Precision Biolabs — we are a customer driven food safety lab.’”

Taking on a new name was not an easy decision for the board members, many of whose families have been part of the Foreign Type Cheesemaker’s Association since its founding.

“A lot of our board currently, that’s their family,” says Zachari Tollakson, director of laboratory operations. “It was emotional for them, and that was warranted, but they saw (the new name was) far more representative of what we do, rather than sounding like we made cheese or sold cheese. It was almost a rarity that someone outside of Green County actually knew what we did.”

While the laboratory operates as Precision Biolabs, the Foreign Type Cheesemaker’s Association still uses its original name for charitable activities, such as its sponsorship of the Green County Fair cheese contest and auction, as well as its part in sponsoring the biannual Green County Cheese Days celebration, cheese tent and cheesemaking demonstrations.

The lab itself has grown considerably in recent years. It still is a not-for-profit cooperative with approximately 70 current members from Wisconsin and other states, mostly around the Great Lakes area. Rates are substantially reduced for members, though non-members also will send product to be tested at Precision Biolabs, which caters largely to small- and medium-sized dairy businesses.

“We don’t have minimum-order requirements because we’re catering to the dairy customer, and we’re small enough so we can do that,” Zeitler says, adding that most new customers have been recommended by existing members. “A lot of the smaller plants rely on us to help advise when things aren’t right. They know what’s wrong from the lab reports, but not always how to address the situation to fix it.”

In its early days, the lab would take a centrifuge machine around to perform the Babcock test on-site for milk at members’ cheese factories. The Babcock test still is used to test fat content, but a vast menu of other methods also are employed for milk testing, proximate analysis and microbiological testing. The lab became ISO 17025 certified in 2015, providing the accreditation that many of its members’ customers required.

The federal Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed in 2011 and was fully implemented in 2016 for large processors and 2018 for small processors, vastly changed business at the lab and for its members.

“It became mandatory to prove or validate their processes would mitigate any potential risk to consumers,” Tollakson says, noting that previously the main focus was response to a problem rather than prevention. “Plants would have their own food safety plans, such as HAACP and SQF, but now additional documentation is needed showing how they do that.”

In the last six years, 15-20 new members have joined and sales have doubled. In 2017, a 5,000-square-foot addition was built, doubling the lab’s previous space and adding a much larger, more efficient microbiology lab. The extra space also allowed staff to increase. The addition includes space to accommodate future expansion as well.

“Being in an appropriate space, with an appropriate footprint, has allowed us to hone in and sharpen the services we offer. With this space, we are able to have more efficient processes and streamline operations well,” Tollakson says.

In addition to space improvements, Precision Biolabs continually works to add automation and the latest technology to provide consistent and accurate results for its clients. Zeitler and Tollakson note that the board has been very supportive of investing in the best technology available.

“It’s very important because at the end of the day, this is their lab. It’s good to see they want to invest because they want to improve,” Tollakson says.


Deep South seeing less dairy farms, more interest in ‘local’

Nov. 1, 2019

Editor’s note: In our series, “From Cow to Curd: A Look Across the Nation,” Cheese Market News takes a look at the cheese and dairy industry across the United States. Each month we examine a different state or region, looking at key facts and evaluating areas of growth, challenges and recent innovations. This month we are pleased to introduce our latest states— Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Dairy farm numbers have declined in areas across the nation, but in the milk deficit Deep South, they have become even fewer and farther between as dairy farmers face challenges in weather, infrastructure and pricing.

Louisiana has 79 dairy farms, Mississippi has 65 and Alabama has 30, according to estimates provided by state agriculture and extension officials, who add they expect these numbers will continue to decrease.

Amanda Stone, assistant professor and extension dairy specialist, Mississippi State University, says dairy herds in Mississippi have drastically decreased since the pre-Katrina era. The 2005 hurricane destroyed a lot of dairies, and many decided not to rebuild or went into other types of agriculture.

“The Southeast has lost over 80% of their dairy herds and about 60% of dairy cows since 1992, more than any other region in the U.S.,” Stone says. “Several are in the process of planning for a sell out in coming months, so we will soon be at or below 60 herds in the state.”

Travis Senn, market analyst for Southeast Milk Inc. which represents about 20% of annual milk production in these three states, notes that heat and humidity in these areas continue to challenge producers, as well as the cost of corn and proteins. A lack of dairy infrastructure also has played a significant role, he says.

“One area not often discussed is the sparsity of producers. There are so few producers left in these states, simply assembling full loads of milk can become difficult, causing an increase in transportation costs,” Senn says. “Seasonal production curves also burden producers with many in the neighborhood of 40% production volatility.”

• Dairy support

Louisiana has had a dairy tax credit program in place for more than 10 years that credits farmers during any quarter when the price of production is determined to be greater than the amount received for their milk. Louisiana Department of Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain says this program had been somewhat successful in stabilizing the dairy farms in the state since it was implemented. However, even with this program in place, he notes the state’s dairy farmers have struggled the last two years and the state has lost 1,000 head of dairy cows in the last 12 months.

Strain attributes this loss to dairy farmers in the state aging and retiring and continuing challenges for the state’s small farms to profit under the current federal milk marketing order.

“I think there has to be some fundamental changes to the federal milk marking system and factors to better look at the cost of production,” Strain says. “In the long term, unless the mandatory minimum price of milk improves, there will be a decline in the dairy industry.”

Despite challenges with heat and humidity, Stone notes that Mississippi dairy farms have access to fertile land with a long growing season and easy access to water. Strain says many Louisiana dairies are concentrated in the upper part of Louisiana’s “toe” east of the Mississippi river.

“It’s always been a very unique place for dairy farms,” he says. “There are rolling hills and a lot of water — a really nice area for dairy cattle.”

Stone adds that Mississippi is an agricultural state, with legislators and other government officials who support farmers.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of support for agriculture in Mississippi, including great resources and people working for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Mississippi Farm Bureau and other organizations that support agriculture in general,” she says.

• Local products

Louisiana State University runs a food incubator through its ag center for those starting up ice cream, cheese or other food or farmstead businesses, Strain notes.

“At that facility, they help with development, selling, providing a commercial business plan and everything,” he says. “Farmstead is becoming more popular, and people are beginning to process and sell their own products. It’s a way to have value-added income and more net profitability. There is a large demand for locally-produced product.”

The Deep South is almost completely a fluid market, with Borden Dairy facilities in all three states as well as a handful of other processors and smaller farmstead operations. Wisconsin-based Marathon Cheese has a plant in Boonville, Mississippi, and Southeastern Cheese is in Uniontown, Alabama.

Well-known in the artisan cheese world is Belle Chevre, Elkmont, Alabama, which makes goat milk cheeses, cheesecakes and recently-introduced cream cheeses.

“Belle Chevre was founded 30 years ago by Liz Parnell, one of the grandmothers of the American artisan cheese movement,” says Tasia Malakasis, Belle Chevre’s president, who acquired the company in 2007. “She started the business in partnership with a woman who had a goat dairy in Alabama.”

Neither artisan goat milk cheeses nor goat dairies were a big thing in Alabama in the late 1980s, so Parnell sold her cheeses in specialty stores in larger markets like New York City.

“Liz told me at the time, she couldn’t give goat cheese away in Alabama,” Malakasis says. “I found (Belle Chevre) cheese in Dean & DeLuca in New York City. It was from my home state, Alabama, which surprised me — we’re known for barbecue and peanuts, not French-style gourmet cheese.”

Since acquiring the company, Malakasis says she has worked to make Belle Chevre cheeses more approachable and accessible to a wider audience. About five years ago, the company introduced a goat milk cheesecake, which has won international awards. A year ago, the company launched a line of cream cheeses based on Belle Chevre’s original Fromage Blanc recipe, which now is distributed nationally and growing in both specialty and mainstream markets.

Malakasis notes that with Belle Chevre’s growth, she had to work to help grow Alabama’s goat dairies to secure the necessary milk supply.

“Alabama didn’t have a lot of cheesemakers, so there were not a lot of dairies,” Malakasis says. “I spent a lot of time in the beginning with the Department of Agriculture, looking at what Wisconsin did to support its cheesemakers. I would try to get cow’s milk dairies to transition to goat milk. For a long time, I would distribute the goat dairy handbook to people who would show up at the creamery.”

Belle Chevre now sources its milk from a cooperative of goat dairies in the region and works closely with them as its cheese sales and production grow.

Meanwhile, demand for artisan cheese and goat milk cheese also has grown in Alabama, and Belle Chevre no longer has to focus only on selling to big-city markets.

“People here want to participate and have interest in the artisan and specialty cheese movement. Certainly there is interest in specialty cheeses in the state,” Malakasis says. “If you just look at the stores, even the mainstream ones, in the deli and specialty cheese area, there are so many more choices now.”


House members introduce Farm Workforce Modernization Act

Nov. 1, 2019

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of House members this week introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to provide a compromise solution for U.S. agriculture.

The bill was introduced with the bipartisan support of 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans and sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was negotiated over several months with input from agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations, makes reforms to the H2A agricultural guestworker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) announced its support for the bill, saying it would provide legal status to current agricultural workers and their families and reform the H2A guest worker visa program to permit year-round agriculture to participate, a crucial need for dairy.

“America’s dairy farmers are eager to advance and improve this legislation as it moves through the Congress,” says Mike McCloskey, a dairy farmer and chairman of NMPF’s Immigration Taskforce. “As producers of a year-round product, dairy farmers face a unique labor crisis because our jobs are not seasonal or temporary. From our years of work on these issues, we know first-hand just how hard immigration reform is. But we simply cannot and will not stop working to find a solution. Dairy needs workers for our industry to sustain itself. It’s that simple, and it’s that dire.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, NMPF, thanked lawmakers for putting forward this step for agriculture labor reform, saying the bill is a critical first step in the legislative process.

“We have supported numerous efforts to address dairy’s acute labor needs. Passing legislation in the House is a critical step in the process. We urge the Senate to work with us on this important issue so we can get an ag worker bill across the finish line in this Congress,” Mulhern says. “The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides an important starting point for badly needed improvements to agriculture immigration policy. NMPF would like to thank Chairwoman Lofgren and Congressman Newhouse for their bipartisan leadership, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as this important legislation moves forward.”


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Today's Cheese Spot Trading
November 20, 2019

Barrels: $2.1500 (NC)
Blocks: $1.8375 (NC)

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Cheese Production
U.S. Total Sept.
1.081 bil. lbs.

Milk Production
U.S. Total Sept.
17.616 bil. lbs.

Guest Columnist

Growing herd size in top states to push U.S. milk production higher

Lucas Fuess, HighGround Dairy

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