Benchmark milk price falls $4.77

Lee Mielke
Mielke Productions

U.S. milk prices are heading back down. The Agriculture Department announced the August Federal order Class III benchmark price at $19.77 per hundredweight (cwt.), down $4.77 from July but still $2.17 above August 2019 and the highest August Class III since 2014. The 2020 Class III average sits at $17.61, up from $15.83 a year ago and $14.44 in 2018.

The Sept. 4 Class III futures settlements showed September at $17.06; October, $18.89; November, $17.55; and December at $16.65.

The August Class IV price is $12.53 per cwt., down $1.23 from July, $4.21 below a year ago, and the lowest August Class IV since 2009. Its 2020 average is at $13.62, down from $16.19 a year ago and $13.85 in 2018.

As reported last month many, if not most, U.S. dairy farmers saw limited returns from the soaring milk prices of the past couple months but they did receive some welcome gains.

A higher All Milk price more than offset some higher feed prices and shot the July milk feed price ratio higher for the second month in a row, reaching the highest level so far this year. The USDA’s latest Ag Prices report put the ratio at 2.69, up from 2.36 in May, and compares to 2.16 in July 2019.

The index is based on the current milk price in relationship to feed prices for a dairy ration consisting of 51% corn, 8% soybeans and 41% alfalfa hay. One pound of milk could purchase 2.69 pounds of dairy feed of that blend in July.

The U.S. All-Milk price averaged $20.50 per cwt., up $2.40 from June and $1.80 above July 2019.

California’s All Milk price jumped to $20.90, up $2.20 from June and $2.30 above a year ago. Wisconsin’s, at $22.30, was up $2.80 from June and $3.50 above a year ago.

Feed prices crept higher. The national average corn price averaged $3.21 per bushel, up 5 cents per bushel from June but 95 cents per bushel below July 2019. Soybeans averaged $8.51 per bushel, up 17 cents from June and 13 cents per bushel above a year ago. Alfalfa hay averaged $174 per ton, down $5 from June and $9 per ton below a year ago.

Looking at the cow side of the ledger; the July cull price for beef and dairy combined averaged $70.50 per cwt., down 50 cents from June, $3.50 above July 2019, but was $1.10 below the 2011 base average of $71.60 per cwt.

Checking on Chicago Mercantile Exchange dairy product prices, cash block Cheddar cheese dipped to $1.58 per pound on Aug. 11 but strengthened and even topped $2 per pound again ahead of the Labor Day weekend. It closed that Friday at $2.1250, up 29.75 cents on the week, highest since July 31, and 12.75 cents above a year ago.

The barrels had sunk to $1.3175 per pound in mid-August but closed the Friday before Labor Day at $1.70, 27 cents higher on the week, 4.25 cents below a year ago, and 42.50 cents below the blocks.

Uncle Sam chipped in another $1 billion in food aid due to the COVID pandemic. StoneX Group said “Round 2 of the food box program has been very positive but the total program is expected to conclude soon as the bid deadline for Round 3 is Sept. 30 and deliveries must be completed within 30 days after that. If this program is to continue, Congress will have to allocate funding for the next fiscal year.”

“The main point,” said StoneX, “is that the U.S. government will be buying cheese in September and that, along with what we expect will be some additional ‘value’ buying from commercial interests.”

Dairy broker Dave Kurzawski stated in the Sept. 7 ‘Dairy Radio Now’ broadcast that there’s plenty of uncertainty in the markets and when asked about the significance of many schools not returning to the classroom, said he believes it will be significant. We also have to consider the impact of holiday parties and gatherings not occurring because of COVID. Plus, the weather right now is great and people are eating outside at restaurants, but what is that going to look like in Boston, Chicago, New York and others Nov. 1?

Midwest cheese output remains busy, according to Dairy Market News, and orders have been robust on the retail side. Continued governmental assistance has spurred customers to get ahead of potential price increases but the wide spread between blocks and barrels is viewed as a sign of uncertainty, DMN said. Anything less than 10 cents is indicative of “healthier market tones.”

The western market is volatile and impacted by the effects of COVID. USDA’s additional Food Box purchases has some contacts believing this will continue to help clear cheese while others fear it might bring more volatility to the market. Retail cheese sales are strong but orders from the food service are still down. International sales are active with the lower prices. Some manufacturers are preparing for the expected growth in year-end holiday demand but difficulties finding qualified staff at a few plants has disrupted output, DMN said.

Cash butter dropped down to $1.4250 per pound on Aug. 4 but closed the first Friday of September at $1.4925, up 4.50 cents on that week but 68 cents below a year ago.

Bulk butter is reportedly available in and outside the Midwest though, for most of the summer, cream has been up and down. Unsurprisingly, as the holiday weekend approached, cream was more available though some suggest it may lighten near term because less cream will be spun off from bottlers due to lighter school demand. DMN said “Butter market tones are trying, but struggling, to find any bullish notes.”

Western butter makers were preparing for a surge of cream over the weekend. Ice cream production is slowing. Some schools have reopened or are planning to soon, engaging school milk bottling so that is adding more cream. Butter stocks are heavy. Retail orders have cooled but manufacturers expect more demand closer to the holiday baking season. DMN says it’s difficult to assess what impacts the mix of virtual, hybrid and in-person classrooms will have on near-term butter needs for food service, baking and at-home family meal preparations. Regional dining out is improving but food service demand is still languishing.”

Grade A nonfat dry milk saw a low of 94 cents a pound on Aug. 11 but finished Friday, Sept. 4 at $1.03, a penny higher on the week, but 1.75 cents below a year ago.

StoneX said U.S. powder holds a steep discount to world prices and with EU prices generally higher demand for U.S. product should be keen.

CME dry whey got down to 31 cents per pound in mid-August and closed Sept. 4 at 33.25 cents per pound, down 0.75 cents on the week and 6.25 cents below a year ago.

You’ll recall that July milk production hit 18.6 billion pounds, up 1.5% from July 2019. The July Dairy Products report shows where that milk went.

Total cheese output slipped to 1.106 billion pounds, down 0.4% from a revised June total of 1.111 billion, but was 1.8% above July 2019. Year to date production stood at 7.65 billion pounds, up 0.8% from a year ago.

Wisconsin produced 288.6 million pounds of the total, down 0.6% from June but 1.2% above a year ago. California output, at 202.5 million pounds, was down 0.6% from June and 3.8% below a year ago. Idaho vats contributed 89.2 million pounds, up 2.2% from June and 2.4% above a year ago.

Italian type cheese totaled 457.1 million pounds, down 4.2% from June and 1.5% below a year ago. YTD Italian output was at 3.3 billion pounds, down 0.2%.

American type cheese jumped to 451.7 million pounds, up 3.5% from June and 4.0% above a year ago. YTD American was at 3.1 billion pounds, up 1.8%.

Mozzarella output slipped to 368.8 million pounds, down 3.5% from June but 0.2% above a year ago, with YTD at 2.6 billion pounds, unchanged from 2019.

Cheddar, the cheese traded at the CME, climbed to 321.2 million pounds, up 12.2 million pounds or 3.9% from June and 15.3 million or 5.0% above July 2019. Year to date Cheddar stood at 2.2 billion pounds, up 1.7% from a year ago.

Butter production hit 151.8 million pounds, up 1.6 million pounds or 1.1% from June and 1.1 million pounds or 0.7% above a year ago. YTD butter output was at 1.27 billion pounds, up 6.2% from 2019.

Dry whey totaled 84.5 million pounds, down 0.3% from June but 1.9% above a year ago, with YTD whey at 576.6 million pounds, up 3.7%. Dry whey stocks totaled 84.5 million pounds, down 0.1% from June but 24.9% above a year ago.

Nonfat dry milk totaled 163.4 million pounds, up 16.3 million pounds or 11.1% from June but 8.9 million or 5.2% below a year ago. YTD powder sits at 1.17 billion pounds, up 0.7% from 2019. Stocks climbed to 309.6 million pounds, up a bearish 20.6 million or 7.1% from June and 17.5 million or 6.0% above 2019.

Skim milk powder output fell to 51.2 million pounds, down 10.1 million pounds or 16.4% from June but 4.5 million pounds or 9.7% above a year ago. YTD skim milk powder hit 319.3 million pounds, up 10.1% from a year ago.

The Agriculture Department finalized 2019 fluid milk data, reporting that sales for the year totaled 46.4 billion pounds, down 828 million pounds or 1.8% from 2018. Whole milk sales totaled 16.1 billion pounds, up 218 million pounds or 1.4% from 2019 and made up 34.7% of the year’s total beverage milk sales, up from 33.7% in 2019. Skim sales totaled 3.5 billion pounds, down 424 million pounds or 10.7% from 2019 and made up 7.6% of total milk sales, down from 8.4% in 2019.

Dairy and Food Market Analyst editor Matt Gould informs us that 2019 was the sixth consecutive year that whole milk sales topped the previous year and the sixth consecutive year that skim sales dropped by double digits.

The Sept. 1 Global Dairy Trade auction (GDT) saw a 1.0% decline in its weighted average, which followed the 1.7% decline on Aug. 18. Sellers brought 78.6 million pounds of product to market, up from 69.1 million on Aug. 18, and the highest total since Dec. 17, 2019.

The declines were led by whole milk powder, down 2.0%, after dipping 2.2% on Aug. 18. Butter was down 1.2%, following a 2.0% slip, and anhydrous milkfat was off 0.5%, following a 2.9% drop. GDT Cheddar was down 0.4% after dropping 3.6% in the last event.

Buttermilk powder was up 3.9%. It did not trade last time. Skim milk powder was up 1.8%, after a 1.1% rise, and lactose was up 0.8%, after falling 3.3% last time.

StoneX equated the GDT 80% butterfat butter price to $1.4753 per pound U.S., down 1.6 cents from the last event. CME butter closed Sept. 4 at $1.4925. GDT Cheddar cheese equated to $1.5551 per pound, down 6.3 cents after losing 5.7 cents in the last event, and compares to the Sept. 4 CME block Cheddar at $2.1250. GDT skim milk powder averaged $1.2080 per pound, up from $1.1831, and whole milk powder averaged $1.3080, down from $1.3317. CME Grade A nonfat dry milk closed on Sept. 4 at $1.03 per pound. ❖