CORONAVIRUS BRINGS OUT THE WORST IN CONCENTRATED AGRICULTURE
Over the past six weeks, we have all been overwhelmed with the daily news and updates on COVID-19. The impact on our economy, due to political actions, has also been staggering.
As usual, I will focus on food issues. Immediately after states began shutting down schools and businesses, farm commodity prices began to plummet across the board. The excuse: schools, restaurants, convention centers, and more are closed. I guess people do not eat when these close. Meanwhile, grocery store shelves were nearly empty, notably dairy, meat, bread, flour, and canned vegetables. This was first blamed on panic buying, resulting in limits being implemented, making it necessary for people, who were told to travel only for life-sustaining activity, to shop at multiple stores or many times a week just to buy necessities, especially those with large families, or those shopping for elderly family members or neighbors. After six weeks, some basic food items are still hard to find.
Immediately after the shutdown began, dairy economists Mark Stevenson and Bob Cropp offered a dire outlook for US dairy farmers, indicating the price could tank for a year or more. They urged dairy farmers to cut production. Other dairy “experts” claim at least 10% too much milk. This may be a self-fulfilling prophecy if dairy products that people want remain in short supply and rationed in the grocery store.
From March 29th through April 4th, an estimated 200-300 tanker loads of milk were dumped in the US. This created bad press since many dairy cases were still empty. Now dairy farmers are being told by their buyer when their milk will not be picked up and must be dumped down the drain. The dairy farmer cannot sell or donate the milk unless he or she has a raw milk permit or means to process it. The farm milk price will soon drop to below the 1980 price level, which translates to less than 1/3 the buying power per unit of milk compared to 1980. In reality, after a mountain of deductions, the milk price will be even less. This follows five years of already low prices. Traditional dairy farms will disappear as dairy processors will almost certainly reap record profits. Only Progressive Agriculture Organization (PRO-AG) has offered a real plan to stabilize farm milk prices. Apart from that, USDA is expected to make up about 30% of the COVID-19-related losses, up to a certain dollar limit per farm.
In the beef market, beef packer profits per animal have tripled in the past six weeks, while live beef prices at the farm level have dropped.
We have verified reports that millions of chickens will be destroyed because of severe staffing shortages at processing facilities. (RFD-tv April 24, 2020) I have also heard reports of fertilized eggs being destroyed prior to hatching as well as young chicks being destroyed. These reports are widely collaborated. Remember, the farmer does not own these chickens; the poultry integrator does. The farmer cannot give away or sell these birds.
Chinese-owned Smithfield reported closing its hog processing plant in South Dakota. Many other huge meatpacking plants in the US have either closed or cut back. I have heard reports that pregnant sows are being butchered to reduce pig population. Other means are also being used to “depopulate.” Most hogs are owned by hog integrators, not the farmers raising them. These farmers cannot donate or sell them.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), announced on April 25th, the establishment of a National Incident Coordination Center to provide direct support to producers whose animals cannot move to market as a result of processing plant closures. The “support” will include killing and disposal of animals that would otherwise be used for food.
On April 8th, the Associated Press (AP) reported thousands of acres of unharvested vegetables being plowed under and countless tons of produce rotting after harvest. Many of the farms affected sell solely to the foodservice market. The AP article further reported, “Farmers are scrambling to sell to grocery stores, but it’s not easy. Large chains already have contracts with farmers who grow for retail-many from outside the US.”
Many fear food shortages for which there are sure to be scapegoats. All this and more is a serious indictment of the global, concentrated food system that is either unwilling or unable to properly serve our people in a time of upheaval. Everyone who eats needs to take this seriously. Most farmers do not have real freedom of speech because they fear losing their market. Many times only one market is available in this age of market concentration. Please be a voice for them. Get involved and support local farms. Demand that your “public servants” take immediate action to save what is left of the family farm community. Demand that they encourage local food production and processing. Urge them to support PRO-AG’s "Dairy Farmers’ Survival and Hope Act." Most of all, continue to pray for Farmers, Ranchers, and Fishermen.
Gerald Carlin, Meshoppen, PA
Published in several newspapers
December 3, 2019
As it has been well-reported, Dean Foods (Deans) filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on November 12, 2019. Should we be surprised? No. The writing on the wall has been there for a while. Should we be worried? Yes. The most worrying part is who the biggest player is looking to buy them out (or partially buy them out) --Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).
DFA is a member-owned cooperative that buys and processes their own milk. This means that DFA should be representing the best interests of their members. However, being a processor also means that they need to make sure they show profits in that division of DFA. DFA has long been accused of keeping prices low to the producer and maximizing profits in processing. Recent reports have said DFA controls somewhere around 30% of the milk in the United States. DFA and Deans are in advanced talks about Deans being sold to DFA. This is an absolute worst-case scenario for milk producers all over the country.
If DFA is allowed to acquire Dean Foods, they will be securing the largest processor of dairy products in the United States. What percent of the milk will they control then? Over the years, DFA has slowly been building their control of producers and processing plants by nothing less than “hostile takeovers." They started with small cooperatives that were in financial trouble, then moved on to larger cooperatives that marketed their milk through Dairy Marketing Services (a subsidiary of DFA), and now have moved onto larger processors. DFA gets their “foot” in the door by giving these larger processors loans to keep running their day-to-day operations. Then, when they develop any issues, including bankruptcy, DFA moves in for the kill. This is exactly what happened with Dean Foods. It is reported that Dean’s owes DFA close to $173 Million.
So, what does this mean for the dairy farmer? That question is still up in the air. The bankruptcy court has approved that Deans can pay essential customers (dairy farmers). Dairy farmers are getting paid, but their payments were about 4 days late. If DFA were to survive all the inquiries and lawsuits to buy Deans, those farmers would now be forced to sell their milk to DFA, or look for another means of selling their milk, if any other marketing option would even be available, or leave the industry.
It will be an interesting few months while this plays out. However, please continue to support your local farmer. These men and women are the backbone of America and deserve your respect and appreciation, especially in this time of uncertainty.
Abbey Campbell, (570) 744-1057,
Former Cooperative President/General Manager and Member Farm Women United
Help for dairy farmers
The Daily Item Sep 5, 2019
Farmers of America (DFA) is one of the biggest dairy co-ops in the United
is now promoting a product that is a blend of almond milk (juice) and dairy
milk. Dairy co-ops today are one of the many examples of criminal activity.
They are supposed to be owned and controlled by the dairy farmer. I think it is
time (past time) to stand together and let our co-ops and government know we
are done being controlled. The co-ops are stealing our wholesome product and
using it to make inferior products, so they can fill their pockets. Co-ops are
not doing what they were originally designated to do.
all these insurance programs established to help the dairy farmer are only
Band-Aids. The politicians are blind to the real problem: Corruption in the
market place. The dairy farmer needs a fair price at the farm. They pay the
hauling, advertising, quality control costs, and any other costs the co-op
wants to deduct from their check.
hope the consumer realizes how the dairy farmer is being misrepresented.
Grocery stores should not have nut juice in the dairy case. Now, fake milk and
fake meat are coming into the picture. How disgusting.
have been reading that people are liking this junk. All I can say is they have
not drank good whole fat milk (97 percent fat free) or ate a good hamburger.
problem is getting whole fat milk back into our schools. There is so much red
tape and steps that have to be taken to get this done.
did our creator give us this Earth and the resources to provide good wholesome
Women United, board member
Help for dairy farmers
The Daily Item Sep 5, 2019
Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is one of the biggest dairy co-ops in the United States.
DFA is now promoting a product that is a blend of almond milk (juice) and dairy milk. Dairy co-ops today are one of the many examples of criminal activity. They are supposed to be owned and controlled by the dairy farmer. I think it is time (past time) to stand together and let our co-ops and government know we are done being controlled. The co-ops are stealing our wholesome product and using it to make inferior products, so they can fill their pockets. Co-ops are not doing what they were originally designated to do.
Also, all these insurance programs established to help the dairy farmer are only Band-Aids. The politicians are blind to the real problem: Corruption in the market place. The dairy farmer needs a fair price at the farm. They pay the hauling, advertising, quality control costs, and any other costs the co-op wants to deduct from their check.
I hope the consumer realizes how the dairy farmer is being misrepresented. Grocery stores should not have nut juice in the dairy case. Now, fake milk and fake meat are coming into the picture. How disgusting.
I have been reading that people are liking this junk. All I can say is they have not drank good whole fat milk (97 percent fat free) or ate a good hamburger.
Another problem is getting whole fat milk back into our schools. There is so much red tape and steps that have to be taken to get this done.
Why did our creator give us this Earth and the resources to provide good wholesome food?
Farm Women United, board member
May 6, 2019
The 2018 “US milk production costs and returns per hundredweight sold” published by USDA ERS is now out. The 2018 US average “total cost listed” (also referred to as “total economic cost of production”) for milk was reported at $21.66 per hundredweight (cwt.). “Total operating costs” were listed at $13.11 per cwt. New York “total cost listed” for 2018 was $27.58 per cwt. and “total operating costs” was $15.12 per cwt. Pennsylvania “total cost listed” for 2018 was $26.43 per cwt. with “total operating costs” $14.75 per cwt.
At some point in late 2018, or early 2019, these cost figures changed very dramatically downward, with 2016 “total costs listed” figures being lowered by $5.73, 2015: -$3.59, 2014: -$3.63, 2013: -$0.42, 2012: +$2.76, and 2011: +$2.18.
There seems to be a whitewashing agenda going on at USDA ERS as the “value of production less operating costs” averaged $6.61 from 2016 to 2018. Since 2004, only three other years (2004, 2007, 2014) saw this figure above $6.00, with 2009 listed at $0.64 and 2012 at $0.85.
What is going on? Some light can be shed on this by the notes at the bottom of these documents. One note states, “Survey base years are those in which a survey of producers was conducted. These years provide a base line from which estimates in subsequent years are set.” In this case, the base survey year was 2016, but how can they go back and change previous years’ figures? Another note says, “Starting in 2013, annual data about the number of dairy farms by herd size are no longer being published. Therefore, adjustments in the costs and returns, and the supporting information no longer reflect the change in the distribution of dairy farms by herd size.” It appears that there is no longer a weighted average since feed costs and “opportunity cost of unpaid labor” account for the biggest reductions in cost of production, indicating that the data are more heavily weighted toward large dairies, but shows that even they are losing money.
Following are 2018 figures. “Marketing” costs of $0.18 per cwt. is a mystery since I am hearing $2.00-$3.00 per hundredweight milk check deductions for most dairy co-op members. In addition, “taxes and insurance” costs of $0.18 per cwt. seem very low.
I found the cost of production by herd size group interesting. Herds with fewer than 50 cows had a total cost listed at $39.30 per cwt. However, “value of production less operating costs” was at $4.59 per cwt. compared with $5.51 per cwt. for herds of 2,000 cows or more. The huge difference between under 50 and over 2,000 cows was in “allocated overhead” listed as $21.89 per cwt. for herds under 50 cows, and $6.10 per cwt. for herds over 2,000 cows. The primary difference was in “opportunity cost of unpaid labor,” which came in at $14.73 per cwt. for herds under 50 cows, compared with $0.11 per cwt. for herds of 2,000 cows or more.
My basic conclusion is that the USDA ERS has a new agenda reflected in the cost of production figures, to basically neuter cost of production efforts by dairy farmers and enable public policy dialogue indicating that “all is well” on dairy farms and, of course, “bigger is better.”
Gerald Carlin, Meshoppen, PA
January 29, 2018
A travesty is happening in this country to the Family Farmer. Family Farmers are being paid prices for the food they produce that are the same as thirty to forty years ago, with cost of inputs increasing weekly, and all of this without a cost of living raise.
If you like getting food from other countries, where their inspection standards are subpar, then stop reading this letter right now. There is so much being imported that we could produce here, if it wasn't for the multinational corporations that want to get rid of the family farm.
We are tired of some of those in "officialdom" telling us to get “more efficient.” Farm Women United (FWU) was formed to fight for the family farms that normally do not have a voice at the table. You may say that there are other organizations out there that are fighting, and you are right, there are a few, but there are more that want to get rid of the small to mid-size family farms than keep them.
FWU is unique because it is made up of women who present the farm woman’s point of view about the farm and food crisis that threatens our nation’s rural communities and, therefore, our food supply. We stand beside our family, our spouse, or significant other, doing the farm work, only to see how the low prices are making them depressed, some to the point that they take their own lives. This needs to stop! Spread the word about Farm Women United. We can use all the members that we can get to help us fight this fight. It is not going to be easy. The more voices we have making the chatter, the more seriously they will take us.
If you would like to help, check out our website, www.farmwomenunited.org. We are currently running a “Green Ribbon Campaign” to support the family farms. If you would like a ribbon, let us know and we will send you one. Stand with us in getting fairer prices for our family farms. Our co-ops aren't doing it. Our milk processors aren't doing it. Our food handlers aren't doing it. We are no longer going to stand by waiting for something to be done or for a federal Farm Bill to be drafted without any input from us. Most Americans do not realize how much food we import or from what countries we are importing. Support your local farmers by visiting and buying from local farms or farm markets. They are in most of the larger cities around the country and in smaller towns, too.
The time is now for us to take control of our food again. Visit our website and check it out. Feel free to contact FWU through our website under Contact Us. If you are not a farm woman but would like to support FWU, you can wear a green ribbon to support family farms. We lose our family farms, we lose our nation's domestic food supply.
Tina Carlin, Meshoppen, PA
Communications Director FWU
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February 12, 2018
How ironic! February 9, 2018, is “National Pizza Day.” Consumers are being given discounts, coupons, specials, etc., for buying pizzas, while Agri-Mark dairy farmers recently received letters concerning suicide prevention, from their own co-op!
Most “pizza cheese” is manufactured using “Milk Protein Concentrate” (MPC), plus additives such as sodium gluconate, pea starch, cellulose, etc. Altering the process retains more moisture, resulting in a huge yield increase. About 18 pounds of so-called “cheese” is obtained instead of about 10 pounds of real cheese made from 100 pounds of real, natural farm milk!
The greedy quest for higher “cheese” yields with MPC use has made the US the biggest cheese producer in the world. But, at what cost?
Because of MPC use, the extra 8 pounds of “Moo Glue” cheese is creating a "mountain of surplus cheese" plus a huge displacement of real fluid milk at the farm that is causing such a devastating drop in dairy farmers' milk prices that many dairy farmers are losing their farms, homes, way of life, and tragically, some have taken their own lives.
Losing thousands of family dairy farms is a devastating socio-economic blow to local rural communities, threatening a safe, secure, and available national food supply.
As a dairy farmer (and a consumer also), I know how important it is for a cow to have a balanced diet! If our cows did not have the right balance of proteins, energy, fiber, minerals, vitamins, etc., we would have a low-producing cow, a sick cow, or a dead cow!
What effect is the relentless push for industrialized milk-derivative “dairy proteins,” in place of REAL milk, having on consumers' health?
With fewer than 38,000, licensed dairy farms left in the US, and thousands more disappearing, I will not celebrate any National Pizza Days! Hope you won't either!
Donna Hall, Muncy, PA
Farm Women United
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February 25, 2018
Do you know how your food is produced or how far your food travels to make it to your dinner plate? It is shocking to know that, on average, your food travels more than 1500 miles. So you may ask, “What is the problem with food that has traveled across the country?” Here are a few reasons why you should visit your local Farmers Market and buy local.
· Food, such as salad greens and more, are produced in California, so they travel over 3,000 miles to make it to the East Coast.
· Produce, such as tomatoes, are picked when they are unripe and gassed to ripen while they are being transported.
· Locally grown food actually tastes much better because it is fresher. Food that is grown locally does not have preservatives sprayed on it to ripen or to try to keep it fresh while in transport.
· Beef is gassed to keep it looking red and appearing fresh. Irradiation is used to preserve the meat, so that it will not spoil as fast.
· Get to know your farmer at the Farmers Market. Ask questions about the growing habits on their farm. Do they raise “conventional,” or are they organic? Do they use heirloom, hybrid, or genetically modified seeds? Do they use conventional or organic sprays?
There are great Farmers Markets springing up all over. Stop by and check them out. Try their products and see if you can tell the difference in the way they taste. Every dollar you spend at a Farmers Market helps that farmer to stay in business. By supporting the local farmers, you are supporting the local communities, because, in the long run, the farmers are consumers also and will put the money that they have earned back into the local economy. Help Farm Women United Fight the Food Fight! www.farmwomenunited.org
Remember to buy local, because “No Farmers, No Food!”
Farm Women United
Dear Editor, May 1, 2018
Farm Women United (FWU), an advocacy group for family farmers, has been fielding emails and telephone calls from farmers who are struggling to make ends meet and feel like they cannot go on. Finding resources to help these farmers has been a challenge. In New York, Farm Net can help farmers seek refinancing options and get extensions from creditors. Their contact information is easily found on their website.
That is not necessarily so with Pennsylvania. In a conversation about dairy farmers' current mental health crisis from the long-term low milk prices, Jayne Sebright, Executive Director of the Center for Dairy Excellence, told FWU’s board of directors that the Center has information on their website for Crisis Intervention. A recent search on their website indicated that the information was not easily found. After entering “crisis intervention” in the search box, a county by county list appeared in Adobe format with websites that you can click on to pull up information. After clicking on some of the links, FWU found that some of them were not working. How can farmers get help at a time of extreme crisis when they need it and cannot get it?
FWU has made an extensive list of Crisis Intervention Hotlines on the Farm Women United website www.farmwomenunited.org under the heading “Crisis Intervention Hotlines.” There you will find several states listed along with the National Suicide Hotline.
The help that farmers really need is to get an Emergency $20/ cwt. FLOOR PRICE for milk used for manufacturing. That would help to ease the minds of many hardworking men and women across our country who are at heightened risk of suicide because of these criminal, man-made low milk prices that need to be corrected by the federal government IMMEDIATELY.
Call your Senators and Representative and demand that they immediately support legislation that would give family farms a chance to survive with a fair milk price that allows farmers to cover what it costs to produce the milk on the farm before one more farmer commits suicide over these low milk prices. That contact information can be found on our website also.
Tina Carlin, Laceyville, PA
Executive Director, Farm Women United