A group of dairy cooperatives have filed a lawsuit, objecting the proposed Dean Foods bankruptcy sale to Dairy Farmers of America. The dairy groups claim this merger would “effectively consolidate DFA’s grip on the national milk market.” The co-ops objecting to the Dean Foods/DFA deal include Lone Star Milk Producers, Agri-Mark, Cayuga Marketing, Cobblestone Milk Cooperative and Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

DFA postpones annual meeting
    Dairy Farmers of America has postponed its annual meeting, which was scheduled for March 16-18 in Kansas City. The decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” due to the coronavirus outbreak.

China takes action on dairy product exports
    Progress is being made in implementing phase one of the trade agreement between the U.S. and China. The most recent actions by China include lifting a ban on beef imports from animals over 30 months of age and updated facilities approved for exporting dairy products. In addition, a new tariff exclusion process is in place, allowing Chinese importers to apply for exclusion from retaliatory tariffs.

Dairy exports up in January
    U.S. dairy exports topped 428 million pounds in January, up nearly 70 million pounds from January of 2019. According to the USDA report, exports of nonfat dry milk and skim milk powder was up 41% from last year. Whey protein concentrate sales increased 60%. Cheese exports increased less than 1% and butter exports were down more than 18%.

Dairy farmer testifies in Congress
    Connecticut dairy farmer James Jacquier testified before a House Agriculture subcommittee, providing a dairy industry perspective on trade. “America’s dairy farmers applaud the certainty that lowered tariffs and fairly negotiated trade agreements bring our industry. However, if we cannot combat outrageous nontariff barriers, such as those the EU is manufacturing to block the export of American-made cheeses, these trade wins can ring hollow.” Jacquier chairs the Agri-Mark cooperative board.

NFU supports supply management
    During the National Farmers Union Convention, delegates passed six special orders including one dealing with dairy policy. This special order said the Dairy Margin Coverage program does not address the issue of oversupply and Congress should establish a mandatory supply management program. NFU said this program should allow for the entry of beginning farmers, reduce government expenditures, respond to global market conditions, allow for on-farm processing, value-added and direct-to-consumer sales and be designed in a way that any production base does not acquire value.

NFU elects new president
    The newly elected National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said he will focus on building off of the current strength of the organization. “Times are tough. There are lots of challenges, not the least of which is what the weather will be like this spring. When we work together, we’re going to be a lot stronger.” Larew said the farm economy continues to drive a lot of policy priorities for the organization. “The effects of trade policy, whether or not we get another Market Facilitation Program and whether or not we need to be looking at changes in the farm safety net. Then, there are challenges of concentration across the ag space and climate change.” NFU Policy Director Mike Stranz will be filling in for Larew’s former role. Wisconsin farmer Patty Edelburg was also re-elected NFU vice president during the convention.

NMPF lobbies for ag labor solution
    Dairy farmers from throughout the country spent two days on Capitol Hill earlier this month. The National Milk Producers Federation legislative fly-in called for an agricultural labor bill that would provide a stable, secure labor force for U.S. dairy farms. “The situation is dire,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, NMPF.

Peterson seeks another term
    House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson is seeking reelection in 2020. Peterson has served in Minnesota’s seventh district since 1991.

Budget surplus in Minnesota
    Minnesota has a projected $1.5 billion surplus. Bruce Kleven, who is a lobbyist for numerous agricultural groups, said the lawmakers have different ideas for that money. One option is Section 179 conformity.  According to Kleven, Section 179 conformity would cost about $240 million. “In theory, there’s money in the surplus to take care of this and with bipartisan support by the end of May that should be fixed, but it’s not in the bank yet.” A few other options being considered include grain bin safety, funding rural mental health advocates and animal health.

State considers help for farmers
    Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation to help farmers navigate tough times. One option is funding for farm crisis loans. Riverland Community College Farm Business Management instructor Dan Miller testified at a House committee hearing, saying farm income is at a disastrous level. “Net farm income in 2019 was about half of what it was in 2013. Equity or net worth as a percentage has diminished,” explained Miller. “Due to cash flow challenges, farmers are refinancing short term debt.” Miller also said the Market Facilitation Program payments helped farmers significantly in 2019, but they are not guaranteed for the future.

State responds to coronavirus outbreak
    Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has authorized funding to help the state respond to a potential coronavirus outbreak. This includes $21 million for the public health response contingency account. The funds will be added to the existing $4.6 million in the account to total approximately $25 million for disease investigation, public information laboratory analysis and more.

WASDE report revises 2020 milk output figure
    The March World Supply Demand Estimates from USDA forecast 2020 milk production at 222.3 billion pounds, up 300,000 pounds from last month. The USDA report revised downward the price projections for cheese, butter and NFDM. As a result, the all-milk price forecast declined 60 cents to $18.25 per hundredweight.

    The North Dakota Department of Agriculture is investigating the possible use of a sanitizing agent that was mistakenly introduced to a small portion of milk during production at the Cass-Clay plant in Fargo. The milk was distributed in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota. A recall was made for the Cass-Clay 1 percent milk with a ‘best by date of 3/19 and a time stamp between 16:30 and 17:30.’

Trivia challenge
    Elsie is the name of the cartoon cow mascot for Borden Dairy. That answers our last trivia question. For this week, who is the president and chief executive officer for the U.S. Dairy Export Council. We’ll have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.
    Don Wick is owner/broadcaster for the Red River Farm Network, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wick has been recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year and served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Don and his wife, Kolleen, have two adult sons, Tony and Sam, and five grandchildren, Aiden, Piper, Adrienne, Aurora and Sterling.