Wells Negotiating New Labor Contract

LE MARS, Iowa-Wells’ Dairy has opened new contract talks with an employee committee that represents about 1,400 hourly workers in the Le Mars area. Representatives of Wells’ Dairy, maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, say the company is committed to negotiating a new contract in good faith.  The current three-year contract is set to expire on Dec. 31.

In March, 56% of hourly workers who voted rejected a deal, negotiated by the employee committee and company management, that would have trimmed about $5 million in pay and benefits out of the final year of the current labor pact.

Meanwhile, Wells’ says former Sioux City mayor Craig Berenstein has joined the company as in-house counsel. Wells’ spokesman Dave Smetter says Berenstein has had an office in Le Mars for three years, and that his former law firm has represented Wells’ since 1927.

LOL, Dean Win Big at WDE Product Contest

Land O’ Lakes, Kiel, Wis., was selected as the Cheese and Butter Grand Champion and Dean Foods of Indiana, Rochester, Ind., was selected as the Grade A & Ice Cream Grand Champion of the World Dairy Expo (WDE) Championship Dairy Product Contest.

 This year’s contest, sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Products Assn (WDPA), received a record number of 405 entries for cheese, butter, fluid milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, sour cream, sherbet, buttermilk, sour cream dips, whipping cream, dried whey and creative/innovative products from throughout the United States.

“It is extremely gratifying to see how dairy manufacturers have embraced this contest,” says Brad Legreid, ex. dir. of WDPA.  “Due to the tremendous support from dairy companies throughout North America, the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest has averaged an amazing 30% annual rate of growth over its first six years.”

Judging was held on Aug. 26-28 in Madison.  On September 30, the top products were scheduled to be auctioned at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, with a portion of the proceeds used to fund the Dr. Robert Bradley Scholarship Fund.  

New Make Allowances Implemented

A federal appeals court late last month denied a request by a group of dairy producers to block implementation of new make allowances put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a result, USDA used the new allowances in its price announcement for October Class I and Class II skim milk and Class I butterfat.

A U.S. district court judge denied a similar petition from the producer groups, but they requested a stay pending an appeal filed with the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. IDFA, USDA and several dairy cooperatives opposed the appeal, and a three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed.

“The judges’ decisions to deny the stay will benefit the entire dairy industry,” said Bob Yonkers, IDFA vice president and chief economist. “The new make allowances will keep all segments of the industry healthy by maintaining a market for farm milk and ensuring the longer term viability of dairy product manufacturers.”

According to Yonkers, the producer groups still have the option of continuing the lawsuit either by appealing the denial of the request for a stay to the full Circuit Court of Appeals or by pursuing the original lawsuit in federal district court IDFA will continue to monitor the case and will participate again, if necessary.

The lawsuit, filed by the producer groups in August, challenged USDA’s tentative partial final decision to amend the Class III and Class IV product price formulas in all federal milk marketing orders. The producer groups then filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking a preliminary injunction that would delay the new make allowances until a full trial before the judge could be scheduled.

The plaintiffs said the decision was illegal and claimed it did not consider requirements set forth by the new farm bill or information gathered during department hearings. IDFA disagreed and was granted the right to intervene in the lawsuit, participating on the side of USDA.

The dairy producers who brought suit are the Arkansas Dairy Cooperative Association Inc.; Central Sands Dairy LLC; Columbia River Dairy LLC; Continental Dairy Products Inc.; Dairy Producers of New Mexico; Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association; Select Milk Producers Inc.; United Dairymen of Arizona; and Zia Milk Producers Inc.

Several other dairy producer cooperatives joined USDA and IDFA as interveners in the case. They are Agri-Mark Inc., Associated Milk Producers Inc., Foremost Farms USA Cooperative, Land O’ Lakes Inc., Michigan Milk Producers Association, and Northwest Dairy Association. According to their court filing, these dairy cooperatives represent more than 14,000 dairy farmer members.

Campus Creamery Keeps Churning

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-Students only recently settled into their semester at University of Maryland, but come December they may need a scoop of Final Exam Cram.

The ice cream flavor, which mixes cappuccino ice cream with crushed chocolate cookies, is among dozens the school’s dairy has been making for more than 80 years.

Each year, the university makes about 10,000 gallons of ice cream at its south campus, said Jeff Russo, administrative chef for the university.

“Ice cream is a big deal on campus,” Russo said. “It is sort of an honor to have had it here for nearly 100 years.”

The ice-cream tradition started out as part of the university’s dairy sciences curriculum in the mid-1920s.

The program flourished from 1949 to 1972 under dairy sciences professor Wendell Arbuckle, who earned the nickname Mr. Ice Cream. Arbuckle studied the effects of the crystalline structure of ice cream and experimented with flavors. He came up with grapefruit, carrot, sweet potato and even grass-flavored ice cream, which was not a hit.

Since then, some things have changed.

The cream for the dairy’s dessert comes from cows on a nearby farm. In the old days, the cows lived on campus.

About 30 flavors go in and out of rotation at the dairy. Fear the Turtle, white chocolate swirled with caramel and pecans, is a nod to the school’s mascot. Fridge Fever packs vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge, brownie bits, chocolate-covered cashews and Myer’s rum.

New Economic Analyst at IDFA

IDFA has named Robert Blaufuss to the position of economic analyst. In this role, Blaufuss will support IDFA Chief Economist Bob Yonkers and help to analyze domestic and international market trends as well as economic and trade policies for the dairy industry. Blaufuss replaces John Rutherford, who left IDFA earlier this year to join Sorrento Lactalis, Inc.

Blaufuss recently received a master of science degree in agriculture and consumer economics at the University of Illinois. His master’s thesis focused on risk management, a topic playing an increasingly important role in the dairy industry as it seeks to temper the volatility in pricing for milk, fuel and other commodities.

While attending the University of Illinois, Blaufuss worked as a graduate teaching assistant and led discussions in an undergraduate course, “The World Food Economy,” under the direction of Dr. Robert Thompson, a renowned agriculture policy economist.

USDA Rules on Milk Subs in Schools

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month released its final rule on guidelines for which beverages that can be considered a substitute for milk in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

In its standards on milk substitutes in school meals, USDA said other beverages must meet the nutritional value of milk. “This is an important win for the milk industry because it recognizes the important nutritional contributions of milk beyond calcium,” said Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling. “IDFA strongly advocated for this requirement of nutritional equivalence.”

Beverages that could substitute for fluid milk, such as soy beverage or fruit juice, will be required to be nutritionally equivalent to whole milk with regard to calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B-12 content. Currently there are no soy beverages that provide all of these nutrients at the same level as milk.

In addition to setting nutritional standards for the substitutes, the final rule also defined the process for requesting a substitute for fluid milk.

The rule goes into effect Oct. 14.

Vermont Considers Minimum Gate Price

The Vermont Milk Commission is consider a new regulation that would require milk processors to pay a minimum price of $27 per hundredweight for all milk sold at retail in the state. If adopted, the regulation would allow the commission to collect from processors the difference between the minimum price and the federal government’s Class I price for the Northeast milk marketing region. This revenue would go directly to producers in the region.

Under the new regulation, processors also would be required to pay an assessment to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to offset any administrative costs associated with implementation. IDFA said it opposes the regulation and has engaged Carl Herbein, a dairy cost accounting expert with 25 years of industry experience, to testify at a hearing last month on behalf of IDFA.

According to Herbein, dairy processors cannot absorb the price increase, which represents about 10% of the cost of raw materials, and remain in business.