The Other Solids
As the chart shows, these two plants always earn less for their wet, unprocessed whey than they have to pay out to their farms in the other solids price.
Among those 45 plants, most skim off the whey cream, and a few minimally process the whey: concentrating the whey in a reverse osmosis or
In other words, one third of Wisconsin’s cheese plants are swimming in red ink on the other solids price.
California, with its own milk pricing system, acknowledges that smaller cheese companies can’t afford to pay the full value of dry whey to dairy farms. At a hearing last summer, California changed the value of whey in milk prices paid to dairy farms. The state changed its $0.25 whey payment to a sliding scale of $0.25 to $0.65/cwt.
The California hearing panel wrote: “Testimony showed that producers desire higher whey values when the whey market rises, but cheese processors, especially those that do not process whey in any form and those that only process animal grade whey products, are financially burdened when the whey market price increases dramatically or reaches certain thresholds.”
Just weeks ago, California’s Department of Food & Agriculture denied a fresh hearing from producer groups seeking higher values for the sliding scale that is capped at $0.65/cwt.
There is no cap on the value of whey (other solids) in the federal Class III price. Cheese manufacturers must pay farms each month for a product — dry whey — that requires millions of dollars in capital investment. It’s a dairy product that small and medium-sized cheese plants simply cannot afford to make.
It is not only unfair to add dry whey values to the Class III milk price, it is logically flawed. Milk prices in the federal order are intended to be base prices — a bottom-line price to which processors may add bonuses for quality milk, or milk with added fat or protein, etc.
The baseline product to establish a value for “other solids” in fresh milk should be skimmed wet whey, not whey that has been skimmed, cooled, transported and run through a million-dollar dryer. Dry whey is a value-added product hiding in a basic milk price formula.
Changing this injustice through a federal order hearing is akin to seeking to rewrite a chapter in the Bible. The only realistic hope for changing this nine-year-old mistake is recognition of this problem in the 2012 US farm bill.
It’s time for the value of other solids in fresh farm milk to be based on the value of its most common, base-line commodity — skimmed wet whey.
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org
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