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Dairy Strong Bloggers: Three critical steps to help secure a new milk market

Scott Munes for Progressive Dairy Published on 10 October 2019

When milk markets are short of milk, there never seems to be an issue with finding a home for milk. But when milk markets are long, it’s another story.

At Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, a verification cooperative, we represent farmers who sell milk to private processors. We are not a milk cooperative that processes or brokers milk, and as such, we never take ownership of the milk or have to payroll the milk. We exist purely because of the Federal Milk Marketing Orders that were established back in the late 1930s.

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Private cheese and milk plants that pool milk in the federal order must pay their patrons a minimum milk price set by the federal orders. Also, every farm has a different minimum milk price because payment is based on the pounds of fat, protein and other solids produced, as well as the quality of milk or somatic cell count (SCC).

During the past few years, farmers in certain parts of the country have experienced private processors contacting them about no longer being able to accept their milk. The federal order and having to pay a minimum milk price is the driver behind these decisions. And these decisions will generally only come from a private processor because milk cooperatives do not have the authority to terminate patrons in the same way. Milk cooperatives are also not held to a federal minimum milk price, and this is another reason why they don’t often drop patrons.

If you are unfortunate enough to receive a termination notice from your milk plant, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of attracting another milk buyer.

1. Start making calls

The more people who know your situation, the better your chance of finding a new home for your milk. We have had both members and non-members call us to ask for assistance in finding a new milk plant. We currently work with over 30 different plants and can often get the inside scoop on who’s looking for milk. Next, call several milk haulers. Independent milk haulers get paid by the pounds of milk they haul. They know which trucks need to be topped off in order to bring in a full load. Also, they maintain close relationships with dairy plant field representatives and often have a better chance of reaching them by phone, especially when they are being inundated with other calls.

2. Make quality milk and tidy up the farm

Milk quality is always a top priority, but when faced with a termination notice, you need to make the best quality milk you can during the next 30 days. Most milk plants will give at least a 30-day notice. This is the time for farmers and employees to step up sanitation efforts. Revisit standard operating procedures and communicate to everyone involved how critical it is to keep bacteria count and SCC as low as possible. Potential milk plants want quality milk, and you want to show them a good trend.

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Next, make a good first impression. Aesthetics and farm appearance can really help when looking for a new milk market. Some milk plants even pay their patrons a premium to keep their farms looking nice. The dairy community, in general, needs all farms to look tidy so that people driving by have a positive image of dairy in their minds. Looks matter, plain and simple.

3. Listen more, talk less

When looking for a new milk market, it’s very important to practice active listening. This can be a stressful time, and your instinct might be to talk to anyone who will listen about the experience of losing your milk contract. When talking to potential milk buyers, do your best to stick to their questions: How much milk do you produce? How much storage capacity do you have (every day or every-other-day pick up)? How well did you score on state inspections or federal surveys? After that, do more listening than talking, and make sure to take good notes.

Being overly opinionated about your termination experience is not helpful in this situation. Doing so could lead to a negative first impression and discourage a potential milk buyer from taking you on. Lastly, always ask for a follow-up phone call or meeting. This will show a potential buyer that you are serious about selling your milk to them.

Moving your milk on your own terms is always the preferred means to change milk buyers, but if you are ever faced with a termination, these three tips will certainly help ease the stress.  end mark

The Dairy Strong Bloggers series is brought to you on behalf of the Dairy Strong conference, Jan. 22-23, 2020, in Madison, Wisconsin. This event focuses on cutting-edge technology, cultural trends and the future of the dairy community. Learn more and register at the Dairy Strong website

"Scott
  • Scott Munes

  • Member Services Representative
  • Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative
  • Email Scott Munes

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