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Weekly Digest: COVID-19 continues to impact dairy

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 21 April 2020

Digest Highlights

COVID-19 affects management of University of Florida dairy herd

Like dairy herds throughout the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has affected operations at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Dairy Unit (UF/IFAS), Gainesville, Florida. Albert De Vries, professor of dairy management systems, described the changes in the latest issue of the UF/IFAS Dairy Update.

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In recognition that a large number of employee absentees would severely compromise the ability to get basic animal care and milking accomplished, two employee teams were created, with each team member working 10 hours per day for alternatively four days or three days. The teams do not overlap in work days. Within each team, no more than two people are working constantly together unless the job requires it. Everybody else maintains a 6-foot distance from other team members.

The University of Florida moved all classes to online teaching, postponed extension events and limited nonessential research at UF facilities.

As a member of Southeast Milk Inc. (SMI), the UF/IFAS was asked to dump a load of milk, and April milk marketings will be limited to 90% of March levels for the 400-cow herd. In the case of UF/IFAS, the March base of 904,000 pounds of milk means April marketings will be capped at about 788,000 pounds, and the April price is expected to be quite a bit lower.

The approach to cut milk volume by 10% includes drying off cows earlier and adjusting rations, with each step expected to reduce milk production by half of the necessary amount.

The number of cows dried off was about double the normal rate; the earliest dry off was a cow that was 184 days pregnant.

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The major goals of ration changes are to reduce purchased feed cost per hundredweight (cwt) of milk and maintain peak milk and feed efficiency. Additionally, management goals include maintaining body condition score and herd health, while leaving open the opportunity for a quick production rebound should the market warrant it.

For fresh and high-cow rations, purchased feed cost were reduced by $1.10 per cow per day by increasing levels of forages in the diet; UF/IFAS has a large pile of corn silage that normally would last another one-and-a-half years.

In the pregnant cow ration, more corn silage and weighback from the fresh and high-cow rations were added, cutting the cost by $1.93 per cow per day.

Culling rate was not increased, in part because the herd is understocked and cull cow prices are low or there is no market. Milking frequency (2X) did not change.

Long term, the herd faces a continued threat from persistent low revenues, De Vries warned. In the past, the dairy unit could sometimes call on IFAS for financial support, but those days seem over, especially with the anticipated decrease in the IFAS budget as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 on the Florida economy.

Western United Dairies introduces podcast, PR campaign

Western United Dairies (WUD) has launched two efforts to boost member and outreach communications.

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  • A weekly podcast, Seen & herd, industry updates for the modern dairy family, will provide new and noteworthy information and breaking dairy industry news.

  • A two-month public relations campaign to build awareness of the challenges facing the industry and encourage demand for dairy products: The multimedia campaign highlights the impact of COVID-19 on WUD-member farms, workers and families. Upcoming themes include highlighting the critical dairy products farmers are bringing to the farm-to-fork restaurant scene.

Wisconsin dairy recovery partnership announced

The checkoff-funded Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW) and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) have joined forces with the state's leading anti-hunger organization, Hunger Task Force, to help connect milk to emergency food organizations throughout the state.

With the support of local individual donors, Hunger Task Force will commit up to $1 million to the newly created Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program. Funds will be used to purchase, process and distribute milk and dairy products. Wisconsin dairy farmers will be paid to supply milk to farmer-owned dairy cooperative Kemps, which kicked off the beginning phase by processing thousands of gallons of milk at its Cedarburg, Wisconsin, facility.

The $45.6 billion dairy industry in Wisconsin is heavily dependent on food service businesses, including schools and restaurants, that account for nearly half the milk market.

Hunger Task Force is Wisconsin’s leading anti-hunger organization, serving 50,000 people each month, nearly 40% of whom are children. It will distribute milk to free and local partner food banks and food pantries through the Hunger Relief Federation of Wisconsin, a statewide association that supports food distribution in local communities.

In a two-week period during the COVID-19 outbreak, Wisconsin unemployment grew by more than more than 725,000, raising the state’s unemployment rate from 3% in January to 27% in early April.

Midwest Dairy refines plan amidst COVID-19

Like Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), a regional dairy checkoff-funded organization is changing its business plan to adjust to the COVID-19 crisis. (Read: DMI shifting business plan to address COVID-19 crisis.)

Officials with Midwest Dairy, representing dairy producers in 10 states (Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska), said one of the first efforts was to provide schools with 1,500 soft-sided coolers and 100 barrel coolers to help keep milk supplies cold and safe during bus and curbside distribution.

Midwest Dairy partnered with NutriStudents K-12, an organization that creates online menu management tools for school food service directors, to develop a four-week cycle menu during this time of emergency. This resource provides hot and cold menu options, including dairy products, that comply with all USDA guidelines to ensure schools that use it will be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Working in partnership with Feeding America, Midwest Dairy provided 20 commercial refrigerators to food pantries in rural communities across the 10-state region. As a second phase of the food pantry outreach, the Undeniably Dairy grant program is being modified to meet additional refrigeration needs. The grants originally awarded for this program were scheduled to be used at community gatherings and on-farm events, which will no longer take place due to social distancing recommendations. Funding has been shifted to focus on meeting the demand for dairy at food pantries through community relief grants.

Midwest Dairy has committed some previously approved youth wellness funds to offer GENYOUth Foundation emergency grants to help deliver meals to students. Schools are eligible for up to $3,000 to purchase a variety of resources needed for meal distribution and delivery.

For more information, visit the Midwest Dairy Resources homepage.

Brown Swiss Association cancels 2020 convention, virtual meeting planned

The Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders’ Association (BSCBA) board of directors voted to cancel the 2020 BSCBA National Convention meetings originally scheduled for June 30-July 1 in Hadley, Massachusetts.

The board and BSCBA staff have begun planning virtual business meetings to be held July 2, according to Norman Magnussen, executive secretary. Elections of directors and officers of the BSCBA will still be conducted as planned.

Sargento Foods makes $2 million cheese donation

Sargento Foods Inc. is donating $2 million in cheese to Wisconsin’s Hunger Task Force and its membership organization the Hunger Relief Federation of Wisconsin. To assist families outside Wisconsin, Sargento will provide donated cheese to Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the U.S.

The family-owned cheese company is providing relief by donating a total of 15.8 million cheese sticks which can feed more than 1.3 million households across the U.S.

Sargento has also launched a new section on its website that addresses employee safety, business continuity and charitable initiatives. Those visiting the website will also find additional resources such as recipes to offer inspiration for those staying safe and cooking with loved ones at home.

DFA funding food banks, donating dairy products

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) launched its Farmers Feeding Families Fund, which hopes to raise $500,000 for community food banks across the country. Initial seed money of $200,000 has already been raised through the cooperative’s DFA Cares Foundation.

As demand for food assistance rises with the COVID-19 outbreak, Feeding America, with its more than 200 affiliates across the country, has projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months alone.

DFA has identified 30 communities across the country whose local food banks will receive funds to purchase much-needed dairy products. In addition, DFA farmer-owners are being asked to help identify additional rural communities in need of dairy products for distribution.

Beyond the monetary donation to food banks, DFA is also working with industry leaders and milk processors across the country to come up with solutions and uses for surplus milk due to declines in food service demand as a result of COVID-19. A few examples include:

  • Donating more than 9,500 half gallons of milk to Connecticut Food Bank in conjunction with DFA-owned Guida’s Dairy

  • Partnering with Daisy Brand to donate 120,000 pounds of cottage cheese over a six-week period to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and other local food banks throughout Ohio, working with the American Dairy Association North East and local Dean Foods plants in New York and Pennsylvania to provide more than 36,000 half gallon jugs of milk to City Harvest in Brooklyn, New York, Share Food Program in Philadelphia, Pensylvania, and Rolling Harvest in Highstown, New Jersey, and more than 4,000 gallon jugs to Corinth Central School District in Corinth, New York

  • Coordinating with Dean Foods plants in Texas to donate milk to local food banks in the area

More information and ways to contribute can be found here.

Global Dairy Trade index lower

The index of Global Dairy Trade (GDT) dairy product prices fell 4.2% in the latest auction, held April 21, although the price for cheese moved higher. A price summary follows:

  • Skim milk powder was down 4.9% to $2,380 per metric ton (MT).
  • Butter was down 3.6% to $4,117 per MT.
  • Whole milk powder was down 3.9% to $2,707 per MT.
  • Cheddar cheese was up 1.9% to $4,480 per MT.

The next GDT auction is May 5.

Dean Foods’ Hawaii purchase agreement terminated

One of the bankruptcy sales agreements involving a Dean Foods’ facility has been terminated.

The initial agreement, approved on April 4, called for the sale of Dean’s Meadow Gold Hawaii business, including facilities at Hilo and Honolulu, Hawaii, to Industrial Realty Group LLC for $25.5 million. However, Industrial Realty Group terminated the agreement in mid-April.

Following the termination of that agreement, Dean officials announced they had reached an agreement for the sale of the Hilo facility and related distribution branches on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui, as well as the Meadow Gold Hawaii brand name and related intellectual property. Terms of the deal and the name of the purchaser were not initially made available.

Dean said it would close operations at its Honolulu facility by April 30.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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