Just when dairy farmers might have had visions of a three- or four-month run of record high milk prices to start 2014, those dreams could have been doused in the spot market trading for dairy commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange since the latter half of last week.
Starting from the record high per pound prices of $2.36 for Cheddar blocks and $2.32 for Cheddar barrels in early February, the prices had plunged to $2.1050 for blocks and $2.0625 for barrels by the close of the trading session on Wednesday of this week.
Both the Cheddar cheese block and barrel prices took hits of more than 9 cents per pound as the result of offers to sell on Friday, Feb. 7. The price drop in the spot market took place as a result of offers to sell after the earlier sale of six carloads of blocks at higher prices.
On Monday of this week, Cheddar block prices fell by 10.25 cents per pound and barrels lost 5.5 cents. AA butter joined the crowd with a 3-cent per pound setback.
Amid heavy volume including the sale of 14 carloads of blocks and 12 of barrels on Wednesday of this week, the block price held steady while the barrel price shed another 11.75 cents. The day's volume brought the total sales for the first three days of this week to 24 carloads for blocks and 16 for barrels. On Wednesday, the market also had unfilled bids of one carload each for both blocks and barrels.
The AA butter spot market continued its steady price descent with another 1.5-cent per pound loss on Wednesday to put the closing price at $1.75. The sale of one carload brought the week's total to nine. A bid for two carloads was not filled.
In the Grade A non-fat dry milk spot market, an offer to sell one carload that was not covered and a bid to buy one carload that was not filled served to raise the price .75-cent to $2.0550 per pound.
Despite the major fall in the spot market prices, the Class III milk futures prices on the trading board for nearby months on Wednesday afternoon of this week were virtually a mirror of the numbers a week earlier. Those included $23.10 per hundred for February in both weeks, a decline of only 2 cents to $20.83 for March, and a gain of 2 cents to $19.67 for April.
If those prices have staying power, they would convert into record high monthly Class III milk cash prices for February, March, and April. The official national Class III base cash price of $21.15 per hundred for January was also a record high for the month, easily surpassing the previous high of $19.32 for January of 2008.
For later months in 2014, the Class III futures were trading in the $18s per hundred for June through November before sliding to the $17s for December 2014 through June of 2015. They then drop to the low $16s per hundred for the later half of 2015.
The steady and strong futures prices for dry whey through the remainder of 2014 promise a monthly contribution of between $3.35-$3.75 per hundred to the Class III milk price. Dry whey futures prices on Wednesday of this week were holding in a slight downward price range of 62.95 cents per pound for February to 55.75 cents for December of 2014.
With the support of record high monthly volumes in both October and December, cheese production set another record in 2013. The year's unofficial total is 11.143 billion pounds — an increase of 2.3 percent or 253 million pounds from the previous record in 2012. This suggests that a bit over 50 percent of the nation's milk production was used to make cheese in 2013.
Exports of dairy products, including cheese, smashed all existing records in 2013. The exports accounted for 15.5 percent of the year's milk production — up from the average of 10.1 percent over the past three years. The exported products included 3.91 billion pounds of milk solids — 19 percent more than in 2012.
The value of the exported dairy products reached $6.719 billion. This was an increase of 31 percent or $1.6 billion from 2012. The value of the 2013 exports was worth more than triple of the total as recently as 2009.
Leading recipient countries and the value of the dairy products they imported from the United States were Mexico at $1.43 billion, China at $706.2 million, Canada at $568.9 million, the Philippines at $364 million, Indonesia at $316 million, Japan at $304 million, South Korea at $301 million, and Vietnam at $240 million. Russia is continuing to refuse to import dairy products from the United States.
While the dairy exports were setting records, there were still $2.644 billion worth of dairy product imports to the United States in 2013. About 40 percent of the value of those imports consisted of cheese with Italy accounting for 20 percent of the total and France for a portion of nearly 16 percent.
For imports overall, New Zealand accounted for nearly 23 percent of the total. Countries with single digit percentage shares of the dairy imports by the United States included many of the European Union members, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and India.
A portion of the nation's dairy exports are handled through the financially-supported export program operated by Cooperatives Working Together (CWT), which is an operating arm of the National Milk Producers Federation. The dairy farmer members of about two-thirds of the cooperatives who are members of the federation support this venture with a monthly voluntary checkoff of 2 cents per hundred on their milk shipments.
On Tuesday of this week, CWT disclosed the details of the latest batch of bids for that program. The 26 bids were submitted by Bongard's Creamery of Minnesota, Land O'Lakes, Dairy Farmers of America, the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers, the Michigan Milk Producers, the Northwest Dairy Association (Darigold), and Tillamook Creamery of Oregon.
Those bids cover a total of 4.006 million pounds of Cheddar, Gouda, and Monterey Jack cheese, 1.645 million pounds of butter, and 180,779 pounds of whole milk powder being purchased by customers in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa for delivery from February to June.