Published in Farmshine (December 21, 2007 issue)
The purpose of this column is to discuss news affecting dairy marketing and prices. Before digging in, let’s reflect on the season and the yearend state of the dairy business…
New and value-added products in the dairy case are receiving good demand from consumers. Record exports brought record prices to overseas markets. And dairy farmers received record prices for their milk. 2007 has been a good year: particularly welcome after the abysmal losses of 2006.
But there’s something else 2007 will be known for: unease and potential division based on differences in production practices.
The milk labeling issue – and the uncertainty and controversy it brings to technologies like rbST – are overshadowing what would otherwise be a banner year.
The holiday season is a time of sharing, caring and reconciliation. With that in mind, a possible New Year’s resolution for the dairy industry is to focus on the core principles all dairy farmers can agree on.
Everyone – no matter how modern or old-fashioned their production practices – can strive to put the focus back on quality products and the promotion of the wholesomeness of all milk. This industry is too vital to let a few words on a label distract us from what is really important: providing an affordable, quality supply of nutritious, delicious milk for America’s families… and the world, for that matter.
Milk is one food item mothers should not have to think twice about purchasing for their families – whether because of fear or because of cost.
Here’s a label idea: “no artificial costs added” or better yet “fear-free” milk.
Producers who are concerned or have any questions about the legal risks and fairness of the “rbST-free” affidavits – whether signed or unsigned – are encouraged to send them to Washington, D.C. for possible evaluation. This, according to Lebanon, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Tom Krall. Krall is on the executive committee of the new nationwide grassroots dairy farmer organization: AFACT.
AFACT stands for “American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology.” The core leadership is currently involved in strategic planning.
Dairy farmers who do not still have a copy of their affidavit, can request a blank copy from their cooperative or marketing service field representative. The affidavits, along with the producer’s written concern or question, should be mailed as soon as possible to:
Citizen Complaint Center
950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20530.
“More and more dairy farmers are becoming concerned about possible legal risks associated with the affidavits they have been asked to sign,” said Krall. “AFACT is urging producers to act quickly in sending them to Washington. If many affidavits are received all at once, the Citizen Complaint Division will be more likely to look at them.”
AFACT co-chairs Carrol Campbell of Kansas and Liz Doornink of Wisconsin also are meeting with members of Congress.
AFACT membership includes individual dairymen, allied industry representatives, and regional associations of dairy farmers from the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast.
For example, Pennsylvania Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) is a member, openly supporting the efforts of AFACT, and the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association recently indicated its plan to get involved in AFACT’s effort to keep technological advances available to dairy producers.
The core leadership of AFACT communicates weekly by nationwide teleconference – open to all members – and via email. For information about AFACT, contact PDMP at 877-362-5773, or email Tom Krall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past four weeks, consumer focus groups have examined dairy labels in four metropolitan areas (Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, and Philadelphia), and more are planned for early 2008. Observers, describe the process as a roller coaster of opinions being formed.
The “up” side of the opinion roller coaster during the focus group in Philadelphia last Thursday evening (Dec. 13), occurred when the moderator brought dairy producer Liz Doornink into the room at the end of the session. She made an immediate connection with the eight consumers, mostly mothers ranging in age from 25 to 40, with two of the eight indicating a prior preference for organic milk.
Liz and her husband Todd Doornink have three daughters, and they are part owners of Jon-De Farm, Inc., a 1,700-cow dairy operation in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Liz is also a co-chair of AFACT.
She fell right into that group (of consumers). It was neat to see their faces when the moderator told them a dairy farmer would come in and join them. There was a collective sigh in the room because Liz was not at all who they had anticipated,” observed Lori Connelly, director of communications for PennAg Industries. Connelly was one of about 25 dairy industry representatives and farmers viewing the activity.
“It was amazing to see how they immediately connected with Liz as they shared stories about their families and she talked about their farm operation at home,” Connelly added during a phone interview after the event. “That was one of several ‘light bulb’ moments throughout the evening and something to keep in mind in promoting our products.”
Connelly also noted that in the beginning, the process was a “free-for-all. It was really striking how much influence one consumer peer can have over others in the group,” she said, noting one leader emerged – a consumer who did a lot of research online and assumed the role of educating the other seven consumers. “Once Liz came in and talked about the facts, the group turned quickly back to feeling okay about buying conventionally produced milk.”
A description of Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff’s recent action on milk labeling guidelines, was also shown to the Philadelphia focus group. They were asked: reading this now and knowing what you know now, what do you think of this? Seven out of the eight consumers said they support what Secretary Wolff has done.
Dairyman Tom Krall described the Philadelphia group as a discovery of consumers’ preconceived ideas: their feelings about what they have been reading and hearing in the media, their milk purchasing decisions, and their reactions to the factual information provided to them.
“It was a very good session, very revealing,” said Krall. He also noted the important role of Liz Doornink as the “face” of dairy farmers to those eight consumers. “The most important thing is, we are keeping this positive, not being negative. What is being conveyed is that there are a lot of choices in the marketplace, and that all of these choices are healthy, good choices.”
The Philadelphia exercise began with milk purchased from a nearby supermarket. Consumers were allowed time to fully express their impressions about price and labeling before follow-up discussion with the moderator.
The four half-gallon price breaks were: conventional milk $1.99 per half-gallon; “rbST-free” $2.19; Farmland milk carrying a “hormone-free and antibiotic free” label as well as extra dry milk solids added sold for $3.99; and organic at $4.19 per half-gallon.
Krall said there was a ‘fear factor’ voiced in both focus groups he has observed, coupled with concerns from some of the consumers, indicating they can’t afford the higher prices.
Will Ohio Join PA?
Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs is expected to announce a decision on the state’s milk labeling guidelines after Jan. 1, 2008, according to reports from the second of two meetings this week. The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) Dairy Labeling Advisory Committee had their final meeting Wednesday (Dec. 19).
“Some of us on the committee were hoping a decision would be made before 2008 since all DFA and DMS producers in our state are being asked to sign affidavits pledging non-rbST use by December 31. A decision by ODA would impact whether some of them sign or not,” said Lyle Ruprecht during a phone interview after Wednesday’s meeting.
Ruprecht is a member of the ODA Dairy Labeling Advisory Committee. He is a nutrition consultant with Gerber Feeds and is also involved in his parent’s 100-cow dairy farm in Butler, Ohio.
“During the first hearing in November, we saw a lot of people come out who were opposed to putting any restrictions on labeling,” Ruprecht reported. “Then at our first advisory committee meeting on December 6, we had 80% of the crowd as dairy farmers and others speaking about the issue from the side of producers. During our final meeting this week, we had a lot of activist-type groups represented.”
Ruprecht noted the advisory committee is made up of 20 people, representing a mix of opinions. The meetings included 30 to 45 minutes of public comment and then discussion among the committee members. This week, the committee and the audience broke into three groups and rotated through stations to examine three different label styles.
“Our group did a lot of debating at each of the three stations, and I’m not sure how much we accomplished,” Ruprecht concluded.
Enough is Enough
Attorneys for the California Milk Processor Board have sent a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) demanding they end the “Got Pus? Milk does” Publicity campaign, according to reports from Western United Dairymen. The milk board indicates it will sue the animal-rights group for trademark violation, among other things, if the campaign continues.