Lots of questions, still no answers

John Oncken
Eating ice cream at a dairy breakfast is one of life's pleasures, but this year, probably not.

I’m not a big-time TV watcher — my several years as a TV farm broadcaster cured me of that — and playing with a computer has never been one of my favorite passions although I’ve owned one since 1984. That leaves reading and radio as my best connections to the outside world during these days of “stay home". And that outside world has problems galore.

Too much food?

Agriculture is faced with too much milk, too many pigs, feedlots over full of cattle and low producer prices. Meanwhile, some supermarket prices have risen and some shortages (mostly installed to prevent hoarding) along with a breakdown in delivery logistics, apparently have appeared.

Who is going to process all the pigs ready for market?

As for me, I have a great neighbor who plows snow from my driveway all winter and nowadays calls me weekly for my food list that he will deliver to my house the next morning.

A surprise

Recently I read a story that surprised me a bit. It referred to needed research aimed at the development of a longer lasting milk as a goal for the dairy industry (to allow longer storage, I’d guess).

I was surprised because it’s not a secret that we’ve had such a milk that doesn’t require refrigeration and can be stored for many months. It’s called “shelf stable” or more commonly Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk and originally hit the market in the 1980’s or earlier. 

Years ago

I know about the product because of some research I did in about 1980 when I was manager of the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin (ADA of Wisconsin). I had heard about the product that was being promoted and marketed by Dairymen Inc., a Louisville dairy cooperative. It was milk processed at a higher temperature than normal, thus called Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk with the feature of remaining viable and drinkable for months without refrigeration for a much longer period. This would be a big advantage to campers and travelers who did not have access to refrigeration. 

That seemed like a good product that could sell more milk because then as now we had a surplus of milk and were seeking new markets.

.Kroger brand Simple Truth has a long shelf life milk.

Won’t sell

I discussed the new product with Greg Blaska, Sun Prairie farmer and president of the Midwest region of AMPI (then the biggest region of the nation’s biggest dairy cooperative). 

“It will never sell," Blaska said, "it has a burnt taste and people will never drink it."

With the future of the new milk still in mind, I made a trip to Atlanta where the shelf stable milk was being processed and learned more about it and was convinced that it was a viable product. 

Taste test

As I remember, we had Dairyman’s Inc. ship a case of the new UHT milk to our Madison office and soon thereafter conducted a taste test (regular milk versus the UHT milk) among ADA employees. The result was a tossup with both milks tasting about the same according to the tasters.  

12 years later

I guess I sort of gave up thinking about the UHT milk until 1992 when I spent a couple of weeks in Germany and France on a speaking and consulting tour. I remember having breakfast in a hotel in Paris and noted that the milk had a UHT label on the carton. 

That’s all we drink in France the waiter said. In Germany, two out of every three liters of milk sold is long-life, according to a recent Arla Foods survey. 

The Ultra pasteurized notation on the Simple Truth milk carton sold at Pick & Save.

Note: UHT milk is fresh milk that has been heat-treated to ensure microbiol inactivation and preserve nutritional value. It is placed in aseptic packaging which protects the product from air or light, and enables the milk to have a long shelf life without the need for refrigeration.

As you may know, pasteurization, named after Louis Pasteur, who pioneered the idea, is aimed at killing tuberculosis bacteria and a few others that cause disease. 

Until now

Again, I didn’t think about UHT milk for many years until recently when neighbor Mike brought me a half gallon of Simple Truth (the store brand milk of Kroger who owns Pick 'n Save) organic milk that I noted was Ultra pasteurized. I didn’t think much of it until I noted my half gallon of regular milk was still near full and the Simple Truth (UHT) milk would come in handy with its long shelf life. 

The notation on the Organic Valley milk carton.

I’ve certainly been well aware that Wisconsin-based Organic Valley Cooperative sells a lot of UHT milk — in fact, I think most all their organic milk sold in paper cartons is such.

I still prefer the regular milk but am on my third carton of organic, UHT, Kroger milk because that’s what my neighbor brings me and as my mother always said: “beggars can’t always be choosers.”

And, I don’t think I can tell the difference anyway.

No need

Going back to the original question: I’d guess we don’t need more research on new long lasting milk, we’ve had one for over 50 years. 

And, my friend Lois who fed her five children lots and lots of milk while growing up and never heard of shelf stable milk will now know — if she reads this. I’m sure she was not the only one.


Should Major League baseball, hockey, and the NFL start their seasons? Good question, no good answers. 

Farmers wonder about the price of corn short term and after this year's harvest.

What about milk, meat and grain prices? Better questions but also no good answers.  But worse yet, no one has a clue!

Stay safe - stay well.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications,  He can be reached at 608-572-0747 or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail,com