When the directors of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) met in Madison last week for the mid-year review of fiscal year 2013 efforts, they learned the board had more money than anticipated when they initially approved the budget eight months ago.
The additional income was the result of increased milk production in the state during the last year.
The change in projected revenue resulted in the board making adjustments to the budget to reflect the additional $300,000 from the dairy check-off funds.
Jessica Rogers-Heintz told the board, "We budgeted conservatively, estimating that check-off revenue would be $26.2 million, but have been seeing a 4-5 percent increase every month in check-off revenue from producers. The addition of the $300,000 to the budget is still conservative."
The additional funds, together with $24,000 in unallocated reserves, were distributed to fund several areas of the budget.
The board directed $180,000 to food service national promotions.
CEO James Robson said, "We want to move the money into an area where we can work with companies we have not worked with before. We're doing some promotional events with them."
He said when WMMB works with national food service chains they help develop new programs and dairy farmers spend about a dollar for every five dollars spent on the promotions by the food chain.
The board also approved transferring $120,000 to cheese company communications portion of the budget. That money will be used to increase the number of in-store demos that encourage consumers to try new varieties of cheese.
"When someone buys a new car they drive it around the block and know whether they want it. We know, however, consumers won't buy a piece of cheese until they taste it. We've already done 14,800 demos this year and this will allow us to do another 300," Robson said.
He said the demo program is one of the most successful consumer promotion programs done in partnership with cheese manufacturers.
"We pay $60 of the labor costs for the demos," he notes. "The cheese companies spend three or four dollars for every dollar we spend. Payment to the companies (from WMMB) is not made until the demos have been completed."
NEW PRODUCT ON MARKET
In his report to the board, Robson said he attended the grand opening of a new cooperative that is marketing a special Omega 3 cheese, produced on contract at Nasonville Dairy of Marshfield.
One of the speakers at this event was WMMB Director Ken Heiman, whose family operates Nasonville Dairy.
Heiman told the board about his cheese company's work with the new cooperative, noting that the cheese is the result of an innovative approach to dairy feed that results in the conversion of fat from Omega-6 (the bad fats) to a ratio of Omega-3, (the good fat) without affecting the flavor of the milk.
Omega-3 fatty acids, said to benefit heart health, are primarily found in fish and plant products, not in meat and dairy. However, this new line of cheeses developed in Clark County is proof of advancing, farm-based technology, he told the board.
The grand opening was the result of two years of work to develop a feed that would accomplish the goals without altering the flavor of the cheese.
Heiman said the new formula has been patented and at this time the product is sold exclusively in Wisconsin by Heartland Cooperative.
The more expensive feed program not only improves the health benefits of the milk but it also improves the health of the cows. It does, however, translate into a higher price in the marketplace. Heiman says it will cost less than organic products but more than the standard block of cheese.
While they plan to move cautiously the cooperative is looking at expanding the dairy product line and maybe moving into meats as well.
Currently, the handful of local Omega Valley Farmers with 50-100 cows provides the milk for the product. They don't have any larger-scale dairies because they first need to establish the product on the market, an estimated two-year process.
The farmers do not use growth hormones, and there are other feed protocols as well. He thinks they may need the bigger dairies in the future.
WMMB Board Chair Connie Seefeldt, Coleman, asked the directors to start thinking about the upcoming contract renewal with United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA).
She also mentioned that work has begun on developing the 2014 fiscal budget. She said, "We're gathering information for the revenue side of the budget and then everything stems from that."
The March meeting will be a discussion of preliminary ideas for the budget.