April 26, 2017

More Displaced Producers Finding Markets

 |  By: Mike Opperman

It looks like the long road toward finding a new milk market for the 70 or so producers affected by the recent supply issues in Wisconsin and Minnesota may finally be over. 

"I'm cautiously optimistic that by the end of the week a large percentage, if not all, of the farms affected by the situation will have new homes for milk," says Dan Smith, with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. "I don't want to overstate my optimism, but I'm hopeful we will get there."

That's encouraging news given where the situation sat a week ago, when only a few farms had been picked up. Smith says people and processors needed time to think through opportunities before making decisions. 

Mullins Cheese picked up eight producers last week. While no official results are available as of yet, it is understood that Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Foremost Farms, National Farmers Organization, and Grande Cheese are among the Wisconsin processors that have found room for the extra milk.

In addition to Wisconsin, three processors have stepped up to accept milk from Minnesota farms. Since the farms received notifications earlier this month, Minnesota Milk Producers Association has worked as a facilitator to raise awareness and connect resources to help resolve the issue. Late Monday, Minnesota Milk received word all 10 producers had found a home for their milk. Agropur picked up eight of the farms, with DFA and Wapsie Valley Creamery picking up the other two.

Dave Buck, a Goodhue dairy producer who serves as Minnesota Milk’s chairman, commends the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota’s federal legislators and especially the state’s processors, who were continuously monitoring milk levels to bring on any milk for which they could find room. 

Finding homes for the extra milk has been a collaborative effort in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. "It's been a group effort from farmers, processors, community organizations, industry groups, the government and everyone involved in the process to find a solution," Smith says. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin and other officials have lobbied for support of producers affected by the situation. 

Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of Minnesota Milk, says Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson’s office worked diligently behind the scenes in making calls and connecting producers. He also said a meeting convened by Senator Al Franken late last week helped push the issue forward. Above all, Sjostrom says he appreciates the state’s processors for doing what they always do -- look for a way to help add value to Minnesota farmers’ milk.

According to Sjostrom, the situation shows how Minnesota’s dairy cooperatives need better market signals to expand. Expensive regulations, unsteady trade practices worldwide and competing with other industries for labor prevents new investment in milk plants from keeping up to a frantic pace of growth in milk production.

The organization is asking state and federal legislators to do everything they can to help keep the incentives for dairy plant expansion heading in a positive direction.