Buckeye Dairy News: Volume 17, Issue 4

  1. Dairy Commodity and Milk Price Outlook

    Dr. Cameron S. Thraen, Associate Professor and OSUE State Dairy Markets and Policy Specialist, Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, The Ohio State University

    • What is ahead for the markets?
    • How much safety in the Margin Protection Program (MPP) safety net?
    • MPP margin forecast for 2015-2016

    As I write this, the market focus in squarely on the international markets.  Right at this moment, the turmoil in the U.S. equity market driven by concerns over the economic prospects for China is paramount.  Economic growth rate for China has slowed from double digits to around 7%.  While the rest of the developed countries would love a 7% growth rate, this is a much reduced level for China which needs a rate of economic growth in the range of 10 to 12% to manage its huge economy.  The equity market in China has declined by 35%.  Troubles with the China economy are certainly causing troubles for the rest of the world economies and only time will tell how this will all play out for the rest of us.

    To the U.S. dairy industry, China’s economic impact on world markets is well understood.  Just a year ago, we all were jubilant as aggressive commodity buying by China in world dairy markets, particularly for whole and skim milk powders, was driving milk prices to record levels.   In the U.S., dairy production was a bit slow to take off, but as usual, it did expand, reaching full potential just as the international market made a sudden shift.  First, Russia, as a retaliatory political move, imposed a near 100% ban on imports of key dairy products from the European Union countries, Oceana, and the U.S.   Unable to sell cheese and butter to Russia, the European Union and Oceana moved aggressively into the milk powder market.  This was the dropping of shoe number one.

    The other shoe dropped when China began to pull back dramatically on import purchases in the milk powder markets.  After importing a vast inventory of whole and skim milk powder in 2013 and 2014, China buying slowed considerably.  With a glut of milk on the market, dairy product prices had nowhere to go but down, and down, and down.  After peaking in the first quarter of 2014, nonfat and skim milk powders, whey, cheese, and butter prices on the international markets have fallen to levels not reached since 2009 to 2010.  So how have U.S. dairy product prices faired during this period?

    First off, nonfat and skim milk, and whey prices have followed international prices right on down.  After peaking near $2.10/lb in the first quarter of 2014, nonfat and skim prices have fallen to $0.80/lb.  Whey price hit its high at the end of the second quarter of 2014 near $0.70/lb and has declined to near $0.35/lb. 

    However, two key U.S. dairy commodity prices are showing signs of domestic strength driven by a strong U.S. retail economy and the assistance of the Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) export assistance program.  The CWT program has provided export assistance for an equivalent 1.294 billion pounds of milk in the form of cheese (45.3 million lb, butter 28 million lb, and whole milk powder 33.4 million lb).  As a result the U.S. cheese price, while trending down with world markets, appears to have found a floor near the $1.70/lb.  The U.S. butter price appears to be a market disconnected from the international scene.  While butter prices in Europe and Oceana have tumbled to the $1.10 to $1.30/lb range, the U.S. butter price has gone up from its recent 2015 low of $1.50/lb to the level of $1.90/lb now.

    So how does all of this translate into farm level prices in the U.S. versus the EU and Oceana?  In the August 2015 podcast  by dairy economists Mark Stephenson and Bob Cropp, they show a slide depicting equivalent farm level prices (go to this site to listen to the podcast: http://dairymarkets.org/PubPod/Podcast/Outlook/).  The current U.S. milk price, at $18.38/cwt compares to an EU price of $13.61/cwt and a Oceana (NZ) price of $10.61/cwt.  Clearly, the economic impact is being felt much more strongly by dairy farmers in the EU and Oceana.  How quickly the excess supply adjusts to the relative level of demand will depend for the most part on rapid the adjustment in milk production coming from the EU and Oceana rather than the U.S.  From my reading of the international news, their economic pain is significant and the draw back could be rather swift.  Some good news is that latest Global Dairy Trade Index, a composite price index of the eight traded dairy commodities, trading on September 1, is up 10.1% and this follows a 15% increase from the August 18th trading event.  Perhaps a bottom to the international market has arrived.

    The value of the U.S. dollar remains historically high.  This makes it much more difficult for export products from the U.S. to be price competitive in international markets.  The current turmoil across the international economic landscape will only serve to add strength to the U.S. dollar in coming months.  The strong U.S. dollar also has a positive side in that it limits international demand for U.S. grain exports and helps keep the prices of feed lower.  Prices in the key grain and feed commodity markets are at five year lows.  Cash corn remains below $4/bu, with the futures market forecasting this level well into 2016. Soybeans are under $10/bu and soybean meal, while strengthening a bit, remains under $375/ton.  Alfalfa hay is under $180/ton.

    A natural question to ask is: “How long will the down turn in market prices last and when will prices reach bottom and turn upward? “ I do not know.  A couple of dairy economists who have put their collective efforts to understanding the milk price cycle have an informative paper on the topic available on the Dairy Markets and Policy website.  To read the information paper, go to Stephenson and Nicholson at: http://dairy.wisc.edu/PubPod/Pubs/IL15-03.pdf. As their conclusion, these two dairy economists state “Forecasts for the margins during the current cycle through 2017 vary  from  quite  optimistic--‐--‐a  short  cycle  with  a  limited  number  of  months  with  an  MPP  margin  below  $8.00/cwt  (the  statistical  forecast) — to  a  cycle  close  to  the  average  length  of  40  months,  with  a  prolonged  period  of  where  the  MPP  margin  is  below  $8.00/cwt  (the  simulation  model).  Futures  market  forecasts  are  similar  to  the  statistical  forecasts  through  early  next  year,  then  shows  more  moderated  increases.”  This puts the bottom of the price cycle sometime between January 2016 (statistical and futures market models) and January 2017 (dynamic simulation model).

    Using the current (6/02/2015) futures market price data on milk and feed input prices, the USDA Farm Services Agency (FSA) Decision tool for MPP (http://dairymarkets.org/MPP/Tool/)  shows an anticipated July-August margin of $7.71/cwt.  Anticipated margins for the remaining two calculation periods are: September - October ($8.67/cwt) and November – December ($8.88/cwt).  Looking out into 2016, the USDA/FSA tool shows anticipated margins staying above $8/cwt for the first half of 2016 and then increasing to the upper $9.00/cwt level in the last quarter of 2016.  With the 2016 sign up period for MPP ending on September 30, 2015, now is the time to pay close attention to the market forecasts.  Use the Decision Tool to work out your best option if you intend to purchase up from the $4/cwt level.  Remember, the MPP is not a price or margin risk management program, rather it is a catastrophic loss safety-net program, operating much like a way out-of-the-money PUT option with premiums that do not adjust to market conditions.  As a national program, there is neither consideration for management style, scale of dairy, nor geographic location.  While the national average price for milk has fallen from the peak, so have feed prices, and by the logic of MPP, this does not qualify as a ‘catastrophic loss event’.  If you are looking to manage price risk volatility, you should look to the Livestock Gross Margin-(LGM) Dairy program and the futures and options markets.  If you have already signed-on to the MPP, then LGM-Dairy is off the table and then the futures and options markets remain as a viable price risk management tool that can be used along with MPP.

    So what is the ‘glass half full’ take on all of this?  If the U.S. economy can shake off the China troubles, gasoline prices fall as forecasted to the $2/gal mark, and U.S. retail demand remains strong for cheese and butter, then the U.S. milk price will remain substantially above that of our competitors out in the international markets.  Significant production pull back will come not from the U.S. but from the EU and Oceana.  And the ‘glass is half empty’ view?  We become infected by the China contagion, the U.S. equity market turns to a bearish market, and retail demand weakens as U.S. consumers pull back.  Cheese and butter prices move down by $0.50/lb or more, and with these, the farm price for milk declines by another $2/cwt.

    For up-to-date market and policy information on the Ohio dairy industry, as well as informative charts, research papers on many industry issues, and for useful links to other sites, please visit and bookmark the Dairy Markets and Policy website: http://dairymarkets.org/ to which I contribute.

  2. 2016 Dairy Margin Protection Program Decision Time-Clock Winding Down

    Ms. Dianne Shoemaker, Dairy Farm Management Specialist, The Ohio State University Extension

    We are nearly to the final quarter of the first year of the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP).   Instituted as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the MPP replaced the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and the $9.90/cwt minimum Class III support price programs for US dairy farmers.

    The sign-up period for 2016 participation opened July 1 and is scheduled to run through September 30, 2015.  With this “regularly scheduled” sign-up period, farmers now have to make their decisions a full quarter before the coverage period of January 1 through December 31, 2016.  The 2014/2015 sign-up was uniquely late (September 2nd through December 19th) due to the time needed to establish rules for the program following the 2014 Farm Bill’s passage and deadline extensions.   

    The advantage of that later sign-up was that we had a better feel for what 2015 might look like than we will have for 2016 when the coverage decisions have to be locked in by September 30th.  The bottom line is that none of us can predict what milk prices will be 3 to 15 months away.  The futures and options markets predict what milk prices might be based on today’s known facts and somebody’s guesses about the future.

    During the 2016 sign-up period, farms that enrolled in the program for 2015 have the opportunity to change their coverage level and how much of their production history they want to cover.   Participating farms that do not go to their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and select a coverage level for 2016 will default to the “catastrophic” coverage level of $4/cwt  on 90% of their production history (no matter what they selected for 2015).  They will be charged the $100 per farm administrative fee.  If you want to buy-up coverage for 2016 to a margin between $4.50 and $8.00/cwt (in 50-cent increments), on a specified percentage of your base production between 25 and 90% (in 5% increments), you need to set up an appointment with your county FSA office before September 30, 2015.

    An important change from the 2014/2015 sign up is that premiums for the first 4 million pounds of covered milk will be charged at the full rate.  There was a 25% reduction in these premiums for $4.50 through $7.50/cwt coverage levels in place for the first sign-up period.

    If you enrolled in the program in 2015, your 2015 production history (PH) was calculated using your farm’s highest annual production from 2011, 2012, or 2013.  The highest year’s production was then increased by 0.87% to establish the 2015 PH.  Your 2015 production history will automatically be increased this year by a recently-announced 2.61% to calculate your 2016 PH. 

    Farmers that chose not to participate in 2015, but would like to participate in 2016, should work with their FSA office to establish their PH and make their coverage selections.  Their PH also will still start with the highest annual production for 2011, 2012, or 2013 but will not include the 0.87% increase received by farms that enrolled in 2015.

    Want to brush up on the MPP before you make these decisions?  A couple options:

    1. Contact your Extension and FSA office for resources or to talk through the program.
    2. Basic and advanced MPP decision tools are available at http://dairymarkets.org.  Use these to plug in your farm’s production history to look at projected premium costs and possible coverage if the markets for feed and milk perform as projected.  (They won’t, as they are impacted by national and international factors that will change constantly over the coverage period.  Use the historic options to see how the MPP would have performed if in place and compare that to your farm’s ability to handle catastrophic price issues.)
    3. Also visit http://dairymarkets.org  for an extensive library of fact sheets and videos covering participation in MPP.
  3. New Master in Animal Sciences Graduate Degree

    Dr. Maurice L. Eastridge, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    The Department of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University is offering a new Master in Animal Sciences graduate degree. This program is different from a typical Master of Sciences (MS) in that research is not required and it is a non-thesis program. Acceptance into the program is similar to the other graduate programs in that an application must be submitted to the OSU Graduate School (http://gradsch.osu.edu/), and after its review, the application is forwarded to the Graduate Studies Committee in the Department of Animal Sciences for review. Requirements include a minimum of 3.0 GPA and a Graduate Records Examination score of at least 300. Admission decisions also are determined by availability of space in the program, availability of an advisor, and their area of interest.

    Students accepted into the program must complete a minimum of 35 credit hours, complete a final exam in the form of either a comprehensive written exam, professional project, research proposal, or a culminating paper, and present an exit seminar. The credit hours for the program must include the following:

            Core Courses  (9 cr hr)
            Specialization (choose one area; 11-12 cr hr)

    Electives (13-14 cr hr)

      • Animal Sciences
      • Nutrition
      • Meat Science

    This graduate program is aimed at individuals who wish to increase their knowledge and competence at the graduate level in preparation for entering the industry, attending professional school, or becoming an academic or outreach educator. The courses are not offered online, thus students need to travel to campus for the instruction, and standard tuition fees for graduate school apply. With research not being required, the program is more flexible than the traditional MS program. For additional information, contact Ms. Sarah Hancock, Graduate Program Coordinator, Department of Animal Sciences, 110J Animal Science, 2029 Fyffe Road, Columbus, OH 43210, 614-688-1087, hancock.124@osu.edu

  4. You Input Is Vital: Dairy Farmers Needs Survey

    Mr. Jason Hartschuh, Crawford County Extension Educator, The Ohio State University Extension

    The OSU Extension Dairy Working Group is comprised of County Extension Educators, University Professors, and OARDC Research Scientists working together to bring the latest information to Ohio’s dairy producers to help them be more successful. In order to do this, we need your help in determining what you would like more information about and the best way to get that information to you. We ask that you follow this link http://go.osu.edu/osudairy to a short survey about meeting times and the areas of information for which you are most interested. This survey will only take about 10 minutes, and it will be anonymous to the users of the information. We will do our best to provide programming over the next year on the most preferred topics. Thanks in advance for your taking time to complete the short survey.