September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Number of Wisconsin dairy herds trimmed again

Scenic Central Milk Producers decides to no longer take Grade B milk

By by Ron [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Wisconsin just lost a few more dairy herds. That's due to the decision by Scenic Central Milk Producers to no longer accept Grade B milk.
In May, the cooperative told 14 of its members they had until June 30 to update their farms to meet Grade A milk standards. Otherwise, they would need to find a new buyer for their milk.
Scenic Central has no processing plants of its own, but markets the milk from approximately 300 farms in southwest and south-central Wisconsin and Illinois, according to general manager Terry Hanson from Prairie du Sac, Wis.
Meister Cheese in Muscoda, Wis., told Scenic Central that as of July 1, it no longer wanted Grade B milk in its cheese vats, Hanson said. That spurred Scenic Central's decision to start accepting only Grade A milk.
As of June 29, Hanson said half of the 14 farms would be able to convert to Grade A by the June 30 deadline. Some of the rest decided to sell their cows and get out of dairying, Hanson said.
Other news reports pegged the number of affected farms at 16. But Hanson said a more accurate tally is 15. And one of those had its Grade A permit temporarily suspended, bringing the final number to 14.
One farmer has found a new buyer for his Grade B milk. Philip Schwabe from Muscoda, Wis., was to have the milk from his 20 cows picked up by K&K Cheese near Cashton, Wis., starting July 1. Kevin Everhart, who owns the cheesemaking equipment at K&K, confirmed that Schwabe's name is on its list of milk suppliers. The company buys much of its milk from 400 Amish farmers.
Schwabe turned 80 in May. He farms with his wife, Marilyn, and son, Jonathan, who does the actual milking.
The dairyman said his small herd is producing about 1,700 pounds of milk every other day. The 280-acre farm grows corn, oats and hay. He had been selling his milk to Scenic Central since August 2012.
A part-time employee of Schwabe obtained a list of cheese factories in southwest Wisconsin from the local library, Schwabe said. That employee telephoned some of the factories, inquiring about them accepting the farm's Grade B milk.
One plant was willing to take the milk. Trouble was, it didn't want to send a truck to his Grant County farm for less than a full load, Schwabe said.
Scenic Central gave the 14 farmers a list of things they would need to do to upgrade to Grade A. For Schwabe, the main item was changing the well, the dairyman said.
His well is on a hill above the barn. Gravity moves the water to the buildings.
To convert to Grade A, Schwabe said he would have to install a submersible pump at the well. Then the pump would move the water to a concrete reservoir and then to the buildings.
Schwabe said it would cost $6,000 to $8,000 to change the well.
"It was possible, but there just wasn't time in 30 days to do that," Schwabe said.
Asked what he thought about the proposed well conversion, Schwabe said, "It seems to me kind of dumb to put in a pressure tank when the water runs down by itself OK."
Schwabe said he will be paid less by his new milk buyer.
"It'll probably be $2 [per hundredweight] less, and maybe worse than that," he said.
Had he not been able to find a new milk buyer, he would have been forced to sell his cows, Schwabe said.
The Schwabe place is a century farm, meaning it has been in continuous ownership by the family for at least 100 years. Schwabe said he started milking at age 7, 73 years ago, when his father figured the lad could milk one cow by hand. Eventually, the boy was milking three, then four, cows.
He said he had hoped that Jonathan, who works on a nearby dairy farm, would take over the farm and the herd someday.
"That was the idea," Schwabe said. "But this has kind of thrown a wrench into it."
Schwabe said he is not angry about the Grade B situation. Instead he's frustrated.
"I think the buyer of Meister's cheese wants to be able to advertise - or brag - that the cheese they sell is all made from Grade A milk. I can't really blame Scenic Central, because they're as good a farm cooperative as I know of," he said.

Tough decision
Hanson said the decision to drop the 14 farms if they did not convert to Grade A was not an easy one to make.
"Some of them have been with us quite a long time," he said. "That's why we gave them every chance to - and gave it to them all along - get on Grade A."
He continued, "Almost all our plants are going to strictly Grade A milk. It got to the point where we had to do something."
Some milk processors do not want the extra bother, equipment and recordkeeping that buying two grades of milk requires, Hanson said. And finding a new market for Grade B milk isn't as easy as it once was, partly because many plants are operating at full capacity.
"We're still getting so much milk from Indiana and Michigan," Hanson said. "I'm sure that has something to do with it."
The markets have changed, too.
"Ten or 15 years ago, it wasn't as big a deal, because, if you were making cheese, it didn't matter if the milk was Grade A or Grade B," Hanson said. "But as technology moved on, and you could start separating the protein out, and that kind of thing, that's where it changed."
Hanson offered the example of a cookie maker. Its cookies might be sold nationwide, so the baker wants to use dairy ingredients derived from Grade A milk, to standardize things.
"They just want that stamp of 'Grade A,'" he said. "If you ask the public, I don't know if they even know there's Grade A and Grade B milk."
He added, "I feel bad for the family farms that are getting pushed this way. Some of those things are out of our control."
Hanson expressed frustration over the attention Scenic Central's Grade B decision is getting.
He said, "It's kind of funny, because DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) dropped the majority of their Grade B farmers in this state; Foremost (Farms) dropped all theirs; Rolling Hills doesn't take any Grade B milk, and yet we're catching the flak for changing some of these. We're one of the few cooperatives that has taken Grade B, and now it's becoming a big issue."
Hanson said he has heard a rumor that Scenic Central decided to no longer accept Grade B milk so it could make room for the milk from a 3,000-cow farm. That's not true, he said, noting that the milk from the 14 Grade B farms only amounted to roughly 10,000 pounds a day.
"Herd size, to us, isn't an issue," Hanson said. "Quality is an issue. And location is an issue."[[In-content Ad]]


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