Midwest cheese processors tell Dairy Market News demand is steady to strong
The February Federal order class III benchmark milk price was announced by the USDA at $17.78 per hundredweight (cwt.), down $1.65 from January, $3.13 below February 2022 and the lowest it has been since September 2021.Late Friday morning class III futures had the March price at $17.79, April at $17.61, May at $17.88 and June at $18.37 with a peak of $19.80 in November.The February class IV price is $18.86, down $1.15 from January, $5.14 below a year ago and the lowest class IV since November 2021.As reported last week, U.S. fluid milk sales continue to flounder, down 3.7% in December and down 2.4% for all of 2022. Some of the blame is put on plant-based beverages and the dairy industry has been calling on the Food and Drug Administration to stop such products from using dairy terms like “milk” however the FDA’s recent draft guidance does not stop such usage.HighGround Dairy President Eric Meyer, speaking in the March 6 “Dairy Radio Now” broadcast, said the dairy industry seems to have lost the term “milk” and probably should have done more earlier to head that off. He said the FDA directive is a “double-edged sword” that forces plant-based manufacturers to publish data on nutrition, concluding it is confusing for consumers that nutrition differs under the term milk and “There’s no explanation about use of the term.”There are some dairy state legislators that are upset over this, according to Meyer, so previous legislation from 2017 that would address this may be re-introduced. “The fight remains,” he said, “But the government seems to have allowed for this use of the term milk and that’s almost not up for debate anymore and needs to go through the Congressional process to try and get that back.”Meyer does not believe the dairy industry should give up on trying to turn around fluid milk sales and says certain innovations have returned value to the farmer. “It may not be a volume play,” he concluded, “but more of a margin play for the consumer of fluid milk versus the others.” I’ll drink to that.Shelves are fattening up. The USDA’s January Cold Storage report puts January 31 butter stocks at 262.7 million pounds, up 46.4 million pounds or 21.4% from December and 43.3 million pounds or 19.7% more than January 2022.Butter stocks had trailed year ago levels for 16 consecutive months until December. January is the second month to reverse that.American cheese stocks fell to 818.8 million pounds, down 6.5 million pounds or 0.8% from December and 18.8 million or 2.2% below a year ago.The “other” cheese category crept up to 598.9 million pounds, up 3.3 million pounds or 0.5% from December and up 15.0 million or 2.6% above a year ago.The total cheese inventory slipped to 1.441 billion pounds, down 4.1 million pounds or 0.3% from December and 4.1 million or 0.3% above a year ago.Exports likely kept cheese inventories in check. It remains to be seen if that will be the case in 2023.The USDA’s 2022 Cold Storage summary shows that June had the biggest inventory of butter on hand at 330.8 million pounds. That compares to a peak of 414.7 million pounds in June 2021.The biggest month for total cheese storage was July, at 1.521 billion pounds, up from 1.469 billion in March 2021.Cash dairy prices saw little reaction to the January Cold Storage data, though the cheddar blocks jumped three cents the following Monday, hitting $1.91 per pound. They closed the first Friday of March at $1.95, up seven cents on the week, but 20 cents below a year ago when they jumped 20.50 cents.The cheddar barrels gained a nickel Monday, hitting $1.59, then headed lower, falling to $1.53 Thursday, lowest since November 24, 2021, but finished Friday at $1.5750, up 3.50 cents on the week, 39.50 cents below a year ago and 37.50 cents below the blocks.Sales totaled nine cars of block for the week and 26 for the month of February, down from 27 in January. There were 25 carloads of barrel sold on the week, 20 on Friday and 127 for the month, up from 89 in January.Midwest cheese processors tell Dairy Market News (DMN) demand is steady to strong. Cheddar and Italian cheesemakers say demand is being met and production is busy with ample milk. As has been the case since the early days of the COVID pandemic, plant managers are seeing extra downtime sporadically during the workweek, but production remains fairly busy. Barrel producers are finding some balance in inventories. Customer needs are being met and any buildups of cheese are usually alleviated within two weeks of production. Spot milk is widely available at similar prices to previous weeks. Market tones are “more neutral than bullish or bearish,” says DMN, due to the large block-barrel price gap.Looking west, domestic cheese demand is steady from retail and food service purchasers however some pizza producers report lightened demand and below forecast sales. Contract sales remain at a steady pace finishing second quarter bookings with some sold out inventories through May. Export demand is mixed. Asian market demand is strong according to some. Barrel inventories are staying ahead of blocks. Cheese output remains strong to steady with plentiful to ample milk available, according to DMN.Cash butter gained two cents Monday but suffered a seven-cent relapse Wednesday and headed lower from there to a Friday finish at $2.3450 per pound, down 8.50 cents on the week, lowest in five weeks, and 34 cents below a year ago. There were six cars sold on the week and 41 for February, up from 30 in January.Butter plants report that demand tones have yet to shift in either direction, but continue to edge on “the slower side,” says DMN. Buyers are approaching with caution as market prices have slipped. Butter availability has grown in the early months of 2023 and bulk butter interests have slowed. Cream is widely available, and some Midwestern producers are full. Contacts expect a seasonal demand push in the upcoming weeks however, as the spring holidays approach.Cream is plentiful in the West and demand for it remains steady to light. Churns are running steady to strong, working through cream volumes. Retail demand is light. Some stakeholders report heavy inventories due to below forecasted retail sales. Export demand has lessened, according to DMN.Grade A nonfat dry milk was not helped by Tuesday’s Pulse and closed Friday at $1.1775 per pound, down 3.75 cents on the week, lowest CME price since March 29, 2021 and 69.50 cents below a year ago. There were eight sales for the week and 42 for the month, down from 50 in January.Cash dry whey closed the week at 44.50 cents per pound, down two cents on the week and 31.25 cents below a year ago. Sales totaled nine for the week and 9 for the month, down from 66 in January.Dairy producers know first-hand that profitability is taking a dive. One more confirmation of that is in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) latest Ag Prices report. The January milk feed price ratio fell to 1.73, down from 1.84 in December, lowest since August 2022 and compares to 2.16 in January 2022.The index is based on the current milk price in relationship to feed prices for a ration consisting of 51% corn, 8% soybeans and 41% alfalfa hay. In other words, one pound of milk would only purchase 1.73 pounds of dairy feed of that blend.The all milk price average fell for the third month in a row, hitting $23.10 per hundredweight, down $1.60 from December, after losing 90 cents the month before and is $1.10 below January 2021.California’s price averaged $23.90 per cwt., down $1.60 from December and 50 cents below a year ago. Wisconsin’s, at $22.00, was down $1.30 from December and $1.40 below a year ago.The national corn price averaged $6.64 per bushel, up six cents from December after jumping nine cents the month before and is $1.06 above January 2022.Soybeans climbed to $14.50 per bushel, up a dime, after jumping 40 cents the previous month and are $1.60 per bushel above January 2022.Alfalfa hay averaged $263.00 per ton, down $6 from December, but is $48 per ton above a year ago.Looking at the cow side of the ledger, the January cull price for beef and dairy combined averaged $81.70 per cwt., up $4.80 from December, $10.10 above January 2022 and $10.10 above the 2011 base average.As for the income over feed calculation, dairy economist Bill Brooks of Stoneheart Consulting in Dearborn, Missouri says “The drop in feed costs offset the third highest January all milk price and dropped the income over feed from the previous month and to the lowest level since October 2021.”“Income over feed costs in January were above the $8 per cwt. level needed for steady to increasing milk production for the sixteenth month running,” he said. “Soybeans and alfalfa hay set new all-time record high prices in January and all three commodities were in the top two for January all time. Feed costs were the highest ever for the month of January and the ninth highest all time. The all milk price dropped out of the top twenty at the twenty third highest recorded.” The ratio was below the five-year average for the eighth month running, says Brooks as the average ratio for January is 2.17.”For 2022, milk income over feed costs were $12.21 per cwt., according to Brooks and 2022 income over feed was above the level needed to maintain or grow milk production and $4.42 per cwt. above the 2021 level and $2.80 higher than the 2017 to 2021 average.Looking at 2023, milk income over feed costs (using February 28 CME futures prices for class III milk, corn and soybeans plus the Stoneheart forecast for alfalfa hay) are expected to be $8.27 per cwt., a gain of 64 cents per cwt. versus last month’s estimate. 2023 income over feed would be close to the level needed to maintain or grow milk production, but down $3.94 per cwt. from 2022’s level,” says Brooks.Meanwhile the latest Margin Watch (MW) from Chicago-based Commodity and Ingredient Hedging LLC, says “Dairy margins increased modestly over the second half of February as declining milk prices and projected feed costs were mostly offsetting. An increase in monthly Milk Production weighed on class III futures in the past week,” the MW stated.The MW detailed the January Milk Production and Cold Storage reports, which I previously reported, and looked at the USDA’s annual Outlook Forum.The MW says, “The forum projects a return to trendline yields in the upcoming season for both corn and soybeans which is expected to increase production and ending stocks for the 2023-24 marketing year. The 620-million-bushel projected increase for corn ending stocks likely pressured the corn market relative to soybean meal,” the MW concluded.The February 28 Global Dairy Trade Pulse saw 2.2 million pounds of Fonterra whole milk powder sold, unchanged from the February 14 Pulse, at $3,285 per metric ton.HighGround Dairy stated, “Despite indication from SGX traders that March WMP settlements should tick higher, last settling at $3,350 per metric ton overnight, the GDT Pulse reflected a $30 drop from the prior February auction and was a $58 per MT drop or down 1.8%, from the SGX February '23 futures settlement of $3,268 per MT.”In politics, the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and Agri-Pulse joined congressional leaders on Capitol Hill this week to discuss efforts by certain trading partners to “monopolize common food and beverage names under the guise of deeming them geographical indications.”“The event highlighted the need for more focused and assertive U.S. government actions to counter these growing trade barriers and protect the rights of American producers,” says the CCFN.The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) says it is working to “prevent the USDA from making drastic cuts in benefits to the six million mothers and children participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or WIC.”An IDFA press release stated “As part of ongoing efforts to preserve WIC dairy benefits, IDFA spoke with Brittany Oxley, a WIC participant from Charleston, West Viriginia who also works as a medical assistant helping mothers and children in the WIC program. A mother of two, Brittany said, “Most mothers I work with are just in the program for the milk. They rely on this every month. That would be hard to explain to a mother why they cut the milk. I work with WIC moms and children every single day and to do something like this makes no sense.”Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) member cooperatives accepted five offers of export assistance this week that helped capture sales of 456,000 pounds of American type cheese and 84,000 pounds of cream cheese.The product is going to customers in Asia and Middle East-North Africa through July and raise CWT’s 2023 exports to 10.7 million pounds of American type cheeses, 50,000 pounds of butter, 17.8 million pounds of whole milk powder and 1.3 million pounds of cream cheese. The products are going to 15 countries and are the equivalent of 239.7 million pounds of milk on a milkfat basis.Lee Mielke is a graduate of Brown Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s formerly the voice of the radio show “DairyLine,” and his column appears in agricultural papers across the U.S. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.