In these times of huge disruptions in the dairy marketplace, Dairy Management, Inc. the national dairy promotion checkoff, is needed more than ever, says CEO Tom Gallagher. He was one of three DMI executives speaking in a telephone press conference on Apr. 11.
As widely reported, issues caused by reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic range from supermarket shortages of fluid milk on the one hand to on-farm milk dumping on the other. The widespread closure of restaurants and the resulting almost immediate shutdown of dairy products going to the food service sector have created massive dislocations.
In the press conference, Gallagher and DMI president Barb O’Brien explained that the first priority for DMI is to make connections so dairy products get to those in need, including food banks. Secondly, DMI has also encouraged its partners in food service, McDonalds and pizza chains, to add additional cheese to their menu items.
“We’re working for the larger chains to add two additional ounces of cheese on as many pizzas as they are able to put it on,” he said, just as was done during the recession in 2008 and 2009.
He cautioned, “This isn’t the time to really push dairy products in a way that it looks like you’re trying to take advantage of the situation.” He expressed confidence that when the economy emerges from this crisis, there will be even more of a connection between farmers and consumers.
Gallagher said, the anti-dairy activists don’t rest and in fact use these times to continue their attacks on animal agriculture. DMI has an active publicity program to protect dairy in social media as well as the mainstream news outlets.
Barb O’Brien, DMI president, explained that the staff has been reorganized to focus key areas, working with schools, supporting fluid milk in lunch programs. She said the NFL Gen-Youth effort is raising money to supply dairy to those students in need. She said the food service chains are included in that effort. She confirmed that DMI is working with processors and grocers to be sure milk is flowing to stores and the signs limiting purchases are coming down.
Former USDA secretary Tom Vilsack who heads up the U.S. Dairy Export Council, explained that a priority for him and his team is to continue to tell the U.S. story, reassuring international customers that high-quality U.S. dairy products are readily available.
“If we were essentially to just sort of turn off that program for a couple of months, we would have a very significant decline in exports now and in the future because we would essentially cede the markets to New Zealand and the Europeans,” he said. He explained the big drop in oil prices has cut dairy purchases in the Middle East, forcing the competition to come after what have been U.S. customers in the Far East.
“There’s not once answer,” Gallagher said. “We’ve got to try to do a ton of different things.” He also acknowledged that the programs being advocated by the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association working with USDA are essential in the bigger picture.
Update on Paying Check-Off Assessment for Dumped Milk
Many farmers asked if they are required to pay the Check-Off assessment on dumped milk.
USDA sources have provided this statement regarding checkoff funds and assessments:
“When milk is dumped and not marketed commercially, there is no requirement to pay the assessment. If milk is dumped and a producer receives payment from their cooperative or handler, the assessment would not be collected because the milk has not been commercially marketed. However, in States that have mandatory assessment laws, a producer may only be exempt from the Federal portion of the assessment (5 cents) and may still be responsible for the payment of the 10 cents, or whatever amount is specified by the State law.
Listen to CEO Tom Gallagher: “National organizations are needed more than ever”
Listen to Tom Vilsack: “If we were to turn off the program for a couple of months, we would see a significant decline in exports”
“Producers should contact their State Department of Agriculture for information on state assessments. Fees associated with milk pooled on Federal Milk Marketing Orders, such as Market Service and Administrative Fees, will continue to be owed, as is required under the laws associated with those Orders.”