SPECIAL REPORT: African swine fever virus

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In this special episode, Ted and T3 enlist the help of Richard Bradfield, General Manager of St. Louis-based International Ingredients Corporation, to discuss the impacts of the African swine fever virus on dairy ingredient export sales to China. Jeff Johnson, T.C. Jacoby & Co.’s Vice President of Dairy Ingredients, also sits in.

Nearly half of the hogs in the world are raised in China, but the combination of fatalities from the virus and preventative culling has sent herd numbers plunging down as much as 35%. It’s drastically reduced demand for whey permeate, a crucial part of hogs’ diets.

Anna: Welcome to The Milk Check, a podcast from T.C. Jacoby & Co., where we share market insights and analysis with dairy farmers in mind.

T3: Welcome to “The Milk Check.” Today we have a special guest in Richard Bradfield. Richard runs International Ingredient Corp?

Richard: Am part of the team.

T3: And part of the team for International Ingredient Corp. International Ingredient Corp is the second largest whey permeate manufacturer in the United States, and with everything that we’re hearing about with African Swine Flu and what is going on in Asia, we thought it would be a great topic to talk about. And so, we wanted to find somebody who is an expert who can tell us a little bit about what is going on in Asia, what is African swine flu, and how it’s affecting our dairy markets and our whey markets. And so, Richard, thank you for joining us today.

Richard: Thank you.

T3: Why don’t we start, why don’t you tell us a little bit about International Ingredient Corporation and what you do, and why you got…why we would think of you as an expert in whey permeates?

Richard: I have no idea, but… So, thank you very much. So, again, Richard Bradfield with International Ingredient Corporation based here in St. Louis. We are an animal feed ingredient company, so we have 10 facilities throughout the U.S. About half of our business is in the dairy side of things, so it’s an important part of our business. We also export—about half of our production is exported, so the export markets and what’s going on in China is obviously very important to us. I’ve been with the company for about 25 years, and I am currently the General Manager of the group there.

T3: About half of your production is exported?

Richard: Yes.

T3: For the whey permeates that you produce, is that about a 50/50 split as well?

Richard: I would say, overall under whey it’s about 50% is exported, for the permeates it would be a larger percentage of the production is exported. I would say probably more like two-thirds exported.

T3: And of that two-thirds that’s exported, what percentage would you say goes to China or Southeast Asia? Or, just…let’s just talk about in terms of the general permeate market in terms of your best guess.

Richard: Of our business?

T3: Mm-hmm.

Richard: Our business, basically, we’ve always felt strongly that you needed to have…you know, be in certain regions, so we’re obviously here domestically. We’ve focused on, you know, Mexico, Latin America, and also then China, Southeast Asia. Of the three components, I would say Southeast Asia is the largest part of our business, followed by domestically, then followed by the Latin American region.

T3: When did you guys first start hearing about the African swine flu, and I guess, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what is going on right now in China, and what is going on in Southeast Asia, and what is this virus we’re hearing about?

Richard: So, it’s the African swine fever, because there’s also the avian flu to something totally different, and we just recently heard of some cases popping up there as well. So, African swine fever, it’s been around for a number of years, predominantly, a lot of problems have been in Russia, Eastern Europe, and we’re hearing about cases in the wild boar herd in Europe as well. So, the first we heard of it showing up in Asia or in China was probably last August. It kind of popped up from nowhere, I think there was maybe three cases initially reported, then it just seemed to balloon from there.

How it got into the country, there’s different theories. One of the theories is it came in some of the meat because it is quite hardy, can survive, and in some of the practices in China where you’ve got the backyard production system. So, that’s where someone’s eating their…the family are eating their meals and then the food scraps may get fed back to the pigs. That’s how the fever kind of got into the country, it’s come maybe through some of the meat coming in from other regions, maybe Eastern Europe. You know, if you think about it with the tariff situation, China did certainly start looking around the world for alternative sources of raw materials and meats, etc.

There were procedures put in place to try and control that by putting, you know, cleaning in the…clean out the herds that did pop up in a three-mile radius, liquidating the pigs in that region. As happens, it was not well controlled, and from late August, really it hit the northern part of China the hardest. That’s the most densely populated region. From that, then we started seeing cases where pork prices in some of those states were really, really low, because there was restricted movement. Other regions prices were very, very high, so we saw in the China market some extreme prices, based on region, based on cases of the fever.

We’ve seen a huge reduction in hog numbers, and if you think about, why was that caused? It was caused for a number of reasons. The disease obviously caused a huge reduction just from mortality, and also the trying to control it by eliminating pigs within regions. But also, we had the problem of farmers being concerned when they had healthy pigs. They were concerned that they were next to get the disease, so they also rushed hogs to market. So, that was also took other pigs out. And then, you had a situation where you’ve got different types of production systems where you might have farrow to finish, kind of, fully integrated, or you’ve got groups that maybe raise pigs and then sell those weanling pigs on to grower-finisher. Well, for those baby pig guys, there was no market for those pigs for a period of time because people were not restocking, because the prices were horrible. You might not have a home for your pig at the end of the day. So, we saw a number of factors all caused by the disease or the panic that disease caused to the marketplace. But, as a result of that, we’ve seen huge liquidation in hog numbers in China.

T3: When you say huge, what is your best guess as to, in terms of a number?

Richard: Well, first of all, China has got about 48% of the world’s hog population, so when we start talking about numbers in China, the numbers are really…on a global scale, they are certainly multiplied. Again, the numbers coming out from different sources, official sources, I take with a grain of salt. What we’re hearing is anywhere from 30% as much as 50% reduction since last August.

T3: So, on a worldwide level of that 48%, you’re talking about somewhere between 20% and 25% of the world population of hogs?

Richard: Easy math, we just round it off. Say they’re 50% of the world’s pigs, and if they’re down by 30% to 50%, that’s anywhere from 15% to 25% of the worlds pigs gone in less than a year. So, that gap cannot be filled elsewhere. First of all, we won’t make up these numbers short term.

Ted: How does the disease manifest itself? What are the symptoms and how long does it take to progress and to be fatal to the pig?

Richard: From my understanding, it’s a virus. It gets into the herd. It is quite rapid from getting to the herd and then from mortalities. Also, my understanding is, mortality rates can be close to 100%, and I was asking our guy, does it affect the baby pig more so than the adult pig, etc.? And, the comment was that they typically see the first pigs getting sick maybe in the grower-finisher, and that’s maybe because of exposure, but the mortality rates are high with all ages of a pig, or from the young to the more mature pig.

Ted: What does it look like? Is it a case of the sniffles or… What is it exactly, how does the pig…how is it affected?

Richard: I’m not sure the exact details, but I think from first symptoms they get is, I think the first thing you see is they start going off their feed, they start getting temperatures, lethargic, and very quickly from there on you get mortalities within 10 days. So, it is…it’s a potent…and I mean, it can survive in meat as well. So, that’s one of the concerns is that, you know, not all pigs that have been affected are being removed from the food chain, so the feeling that it could be in the meat as well. So, as that gets eaten, consumed, it’s out there. A few very important things to remember, this is highly deadly to pigs; there is no symptoms or it has no impact on humans, so it is safe for us to eat. That’s important for us to remember, it is safe to eat.

Jeff: So really, it’s just controlling the spread, really?

Richard: It’s controlling the spread. Also, you do not eliminate African swine fever from a region once it’s engraved, they’re not going to eliminate this disease from the region, they’re going to have to manage it. And by managing, we’re talking about biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity.

T3: It sounds to me though, if they’re going to be going towards biosecurity, then the small family that’s raising a few pigs in their backyard, that’s going to be gone, and it’s mostly going to be much bigger hog farms?

Richard: That was kind of our initial feeling, that basically for this kind of security we’re talking about here where it’s going to be, you know, all in all out, like the biosecurity, it would be the larger, more sophisticated producers would be the ones to grow here. I remember, that’s been, kind of, a trend we’ve seen for a number of years from the last 10 or 15 years is… So, I would think that would be the long-term trend, and that should benefit us as an industry because that way, when you feed lactose or permeate or whey, you can see the benefits, you can see the performance, and at the sites, make the decisions as you gather the feeding practices. What we’ve heard here, short-term is that the profitability of pork in China is going to just to gangbusters here. So, you will see some of the—

T3: It’s so long as you have healthy…

Richard: If you have a healthy pig. And, it’s all risk-reward. Up until recently, there was a whole bunch of risk and there was no reward because prices were poor, now the first steps of recovery would be that economic incentive. Because guys, we might be talking about pork here today, but when you take out 15% or 20% or whatever that number is that we want to talk about, and it’s not known, out of global pork production that has ramifications for every other kind of meat protein source out there. I believe pork is the number one meat in the world, so there’s not enough additional pork capacity in the world to fill this gap, and I don’t think there’s enough beef or even poultry here short term to fill that meat void. So, we’re talking here today about pork etc., and dairy, but you can see beef prices, you can see cull cow prices here in the next 12 months benefiting from this because there’s going to be a void of protein.

Ted: I’ve read somewhere that we’re already starting to ship pork to China?

Richard: Yes, indeed.

Ted: Is there a difference in the method of feeding pork…feeding swine in the U.S. as opposed to China? Wouldn’t the increased exports in the United States at least partially make up some of the deficits to China?

Richard: Yeah, so, you know, whereas this deficit gets filled, and good point, Ted. U.S. pork was—first of all, a little background here. U.S. pork production also got hit with tariffs to China. So, it was something like 70%, that’s seven-zero percent tariffs on U.S. pork. So, we saw tariffs drop off dramatically in the second-half of last year, our exports to China. Just last week we saw a record export of U.S. pork to China. I think we exported 171 million pounds in one week. That was the biggest week we’ve ever had, even with tariffs. So, China is going to be shopping around the world for pork, and if you’re a pork producer, let’s face it, corn and bean prices are cheap right now, and they’re going to get a big boost in pork prices.

I would say a month ago, guys, the average U.S. pork producer was losing about $20 per pig, today they’re making about $20 per pig. And, that’s just the beginning of it, it’s going to go higher. Supply and demand, you take that much out of the supply side of things, pork prices are going to ramp up, there’s no doubt about that.

T3: When the U.S. exports pork to China, are we exporting live pigs, are we exporting…or do we slaughter the pigs here in the U.S. and then just export the meat?

Richard: It would be exporting meat…

T3: Okay.

Richard: …certainly there is, you know, they can export frozen meat, but I think the China market prefers fresh meat if possible. There’s obviously different parts involved as well as, so you look at the U.S. pork industry exports today, about 25% of production is exported. You can think about dairy, it’s about 15%, so exports even more important for the U.S. pork industry. The largest markets today would be Mexico, they like the ham, and then also a big market would be Japan, where they like the loins, etc.

Now remember, the largest pork producer in the U.S. the Smithfield Group, there’s about 6.2 million sows in the U.S., the Smithfield Group would manage north of 900,000 sows, so they’re the dominant group. And, the Smithfield Group are owned by…they’re owned by a Chinese group.

T3: And they’re—so, the expectation is Smithfield is probably going to be exporting a lot of pigs to China or pork…

Richard: I can’t say Smithfield but overall, U.S. exports even with the tariffs today and if they come down, the China market is going to have to export from everyone that has something to export. That’s going to benefit pork prices around the world, and also other meats.

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T3: So, how is this disease affecting permeate sales? What percentage of whey permeate do you think is used in feed?

Richard: Oh, I’d say about 80%.

T3: Okay, and almost all of it that’s used in feed probably goes into pork production?

Richard: That would be the main application. Yes, you feel like lactose, so pretty much feed, we’re talking pigs, yes.

T3: And so, if you’ve lost 35% of the Chinese market, you’re looking at demand for whey permeate down as much as what, 10%, 20% worldwide?

Richard: Well, you’re looking at…and remember what a U.S. pig is fed, as Ted said, is a little different to what a Chinese pig would get fed, so, in U.S., Europe, even Latin America, the producer tends to feed higher levels of lactose in that baby pig’s diet, so it’s all different. But, some numbers I had, I believe China imported about 230,000 metric tons of permeate from the U.S. last year. That’s about 500 million pounds, so that’s not far off half of U.S. permeate went to China. We’re expecting—and then also, from a timing point of view, because they were still buying Q4 to Q1, maybe when the demand wasn’t there, so we are seeing inventories building up in China. Right now in Q2, China is really not buying a whole bunch of permeate right now, it’s a trickle. You’re looking at China demand in 2019 could be off anywhere from 150,000, closer to 100,000 metric tons before it’s all said and done.

T3: So, half?

Richard: It’s a big number guys, it’s a big number. Because they overbought in ’18; their consumption would be better than that, but I mean, they’re working through their inventories right now, so there’s nowhere this product can go right now. So, if you’re talking about 150,000 metric ton and that’s a realistic number that will not be bought from China in 2019, there’s nowhere in the world to go with that. That means…and I think we saw just from Q1 to Q2 permeate prices have come down dramatically. That has a knock-on effect for things like whey, because whey is also fed and lactose.

So, if you look at the dairy market news, you see some of those ranges and some of these product categories, look at the low end of the range, they’re going for a pig feed somewhere, and that’s a tough market to be, so that’s…that pulls it back because in Q1 of ’18, China used a lot of food grade lactose, a lot of food grade whey, kind of cleared us off the market, etc. But, you know, with tariffs last year coming in July, China was buying elsewhere, and which was bad, but not as bad as African swine fever. You just don’t have the mouths to consume it.

You know, from a producer point of view, a dairy producer, decisions will have to be made as regards, do you dry whey or do you fractionate it. The protein markets are strong, maybe you have a good market there. But, if you’re fractionating protein and you have to dry permeates, you’re going to be in the warehouse business. So then, do you dry more whey? And if you dry more whey, that’s going to affect the Class III prices, etc. But overall, there’s downward pressure in that area as regards your part of the mix. If people have a choice to not dry all of their permeate…I mean, you can feed a lot of permeate for dairy cattle, or beef feedlots, liquid form, and that molasses type market, but otherwise inventory is going to be building up, short term.

I would think there’s also opportunities with this, though, guys. Because if you’re looking at how a U.S. pig is fed and a Chinese pig is fed, a China pig, and a lot of countries in Asia, maybe except Korea but in Vietnam, some of these other regions, they consume about half the amount of lactose that a U.S. pig will consume. So, as an industry working together, how are we going to make these markets recover? It takes time to rebuild a herd, because you have to get the baby, you have to breed them, etc, etc. The fastest way for recovery here, if you look at…if we’ve lost half our business in China, but if a Chinese pig is consuming half the amount of lactose, what’s the fastest way to get it back up to demand we saw in the past? Get those baby pigs eating like a U.S. pig, and the good thing about that is we have the science to prove it. So, we’ve done a lot of…there’s a… Our company personally and also we worked with ADPI, some industry funded research which was just published in March. So our goal is to get that message out, because a live pig in China or any in the world right now is going to be a profitable pig. What you want to do with that pig, you want to feed that baby pig as well as possible, get them off to a good start. Remember you’re only feeding this lactose or the permeates to a baby pig for about three weeks of his life, that’s it.

T3: Is it like the first three weeks of its life?

Richard: Yes. When you remove it from its mother or while it’s still with the mother, but just from that post-weaning about three weeks of its life, and we’re talking about a pig consuming about two pounds of lactose, you know, or about a kg of permeate.

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Ted: Let’s try to quantify it a little bit, because the people who listen to us basically are dairy farmers, and the impact of this on the milk price is what they’re going to want to try to get their head around. And Jeff, you can chime in any way that you would like, but the way I’m seeing is that, we’re probably looking at about a 20 cent per pound reduction in the whey price. Is that about as good of a ballpark number as…

Jeff: I would say, the highs for whey permeate were between…depending on the manufacturer, between 24 and probably 28 or 29 cents per pound.

T3: For permeate?

Jeff: For permeate.

Ted: Okay, remember that the whey price is in the Class III formula not the permeate price.

Jeff: Mm-hmm, that’d be the solids.

Ted: So we need to translate it into the whey price.

T3: Well, I would…but I’m looking at this way, at the end of the day, the way it’s going to affect the Class III price is by pressure…by increased production of whey powder, sweet whey powder, because if you’re going to fractionate and produce whey protein and lactose or whey permeate, it’s the blend of those two prices has to be a better return to the manufacturer than just producing sweet whey powder. And, one of the things that’s going on right now that’s kind of interesting is, even though the whey permeate market has… You know, you’ve dropped from about 29 cents to about 12 right now…

Richard: Teens, yeah, teens.

T3: In the teens somewhere. So, you’ve lost at least 50% of the price, if not 70% of the permeate price. But the protein price has continued to be strong, and so there’s not necessarily a huge move, and because the protein price tends to capture a greater percentage of the overall whey price, and you guys know the powder market better than me, but I haven’t necessarily started seeing people shut off their protein dryers in order to make sweet whey powder because of the permeate price.

Jeff: Not yet.

T3: So…

Ted: But, the way the futures market has gone from what, 50 cents down to 30?

T3: About 48 down to about 38. So, we did lose about ten cents off the whey price. And, I think some of the reason was because of the…what’s going on in the whey permeate market, but I don’t think that’s 100% of the reason. And I think more importantly, Jeff, do you think the whey market is going to fall much lower than 38 cents?

Jeff: Hard to tell at this point, the prognostication I’ve kind of given is between 33 and 36.

T3: So, maybe we’ve got another 5 cents?

Jeff: Maybe not at all. Maybe we’ve kind of held steady at 37 to 38 cents on the board, and now it seems to be in a slight recovery mode.

Ted: Okay, so you’re settling in more at 15 cents rather than 20? Okay, 15 cents is 75, 90 cents a hundredweight of milk?

T3: Yes.

Ted: Six percent of the…6 pounds of whey in 100 pounds of milk.

T3: I always look at it this way…

Ted: So, in the formula rough numbers, we’re looking at 15 cents per 100 whey, 15 cents per pound whey, which translates into 90 cents a hundredweight in the milk price.

T3: That’s correct. I will say this though, I do believe that one of the side effects is you’ve killed the upward momentum. If African swine fever wasn’t happening, you probably could have continued to have a strong whey permeate price. A continued strong whey protein market would have probably started pulling whey streams away from sweet whey powder, and instead of seeing a whey price drop from about 48 cents to, let’s call it 35, I think we probably would be talking about whey markets in the 50s, at this point.

Jeff: Yeah, I’d agree. I’d agree…

T3: And so, even though we can say maybe it was 15 cents a negative effect on the whey price, I think the real effect was probably in the 20 plus. And so, you’re at least a dollar a hundredweight, if not a $1.50 a hundredweight is how much this is affecting the dairy farmers milk check.

Ted: I agree with that. You know, it’s got to put a little bit of a damper on the upward swing. I still think that there’s going to be a significant upward swing in milk prices this fall, but this will put a little bit of a damper on it. I think we’ll probably see a little bit more milk migrate towards powder, which also is a damper on the powder price.

Jeff: Yeah, I think it all depends on pricing for sure.

Ted: Yeah.

Jeff: But, one question I have for Richard though is, is this done? Is it…have they contained it, because we’re hearing reports that it’s moving to other Southeast Asian countries?

Richard: Yup, very good point, Jeff. No, it’s not done. There’s no vaccine for this, they’re still working on methods to try and control it by high temperature pelleting, etc. But, no one’s saying that they have this under control. It is in Vietnam, which is the second largest pork producer in Asia. It’s in Cambodia, I mean, with the human movement, etc. We’re not done, no.

Jeff: So, how long does it take…if it stopped today, how long would it take to repopulate?

Richard: Okay. A pig is born today, that pig will be bred around 10 months of age. So you have to wait that length of time…

Jeff: Okay.

Richard: And then, the pregnancy is for three months, three weeks, and three days, so you have another 112, 114 days on top of that before she’s got her first litter. So there’s an in built…

Jeff: At least over a year?

Richard: It takes time. Now, what you will see happening is that, for example, in the U.S. sows, you’re constantly culling to try and keep your productivity as high as possible. So, what you’ll do in China is, you’re not going to be culling sows right now, if a pig is walking around, she’s going to be…you want to have her producing as soon as possible. And, you know, heard all things, you know, could recover the second half this year, that’s too optimistic. I’ve heard the second half of next year. It’ll take many steps, you know, for feeding more lactose to keeping sows around longer so you can breed them back. They’re even pulling gilts that should be going to slaughter. They’re going to be breeding those gilts as well.

Ted: So, we’re talking two or three years?

Richard: Hopefully, not that long, but I mean, it’s well into 2020.

Ted: Okay, another impact on the dairy industry and particularly at the farm level will be the inclination to sell…to cull. The slaughter rates have been up in the record numbers here for the last several weeks, a month or six weeks. If the beef prices move up, and this is probably going to cause beef prices to move up, whether it’s pork or whether it’s beef, it sounds like beef is going to move up also, which is going to increase the slaughter rates, which…

T3: Up to a point.

Ted: Sure, up to a point. But it will increase it nonetheless, which will mean, higher milk prices offsetting the damper put on by the lower whey return in the Class III.

T3: Theoretically I would agree with you, but the one reason I hesitate to agree with you is because I’m personally operating on the assumption that slaughterhouses for beef right now are already at max capacity. And so, I’m not sure you can increase the slaughter rates much more than you already have.

Ted: You’re probably right, but that won’t make any difference if they continue at this level.

T3: True. I mean…

Ted: Yeah. They’re at a record level now, and they’ve been at a record level now for, what, two or three months, several months?

T3: Probably a little bit longer than that, but yeah.

Ted: So, if they continue. If the beef prices continue up high through August, say, of this year, then there is going to be a lot of slaughter, there’s going to be a major reduction in the milk herd going into the last part of this year. So, it probably, perversely, it could wind up being quite bullish for milk prices rather than the opposite…

T3: Longer term.

Ted: …depending on how you want to bet. It’s a bit of a coin toss, isn’t it?

T3: Well, let’s dive into it this way, pork is one of the cheaper meats, so obviously, when you’re talking about beef, you’ve got various grades of meat and dairy cows are at the lower end of that…

Ted: The hamburger market.

T3: Right. So, the result is there’ll be a greater… If I’m reading this market properly, there’s going to be a greater demand for lower-grade meat. Is probably the way it’ll play out, is that…would you say that’s fair, Richard?

Richard: Well, there’s going to be a greater demand for meat, and then, you know, who will benefit? You know, poultry, for example, will benefit, because that is… Well, even in China, it’s part of the diet already, so it’s accepted. But, I would agree, I think, you know, burgers, etc. ground beef, it’ll do well here. There’ll be less sales in pork in the store and it’s going to rise all ships in the harbor.

Ted: And this is at the same time that people are ramping up with veggie burgers and so on, which is another contrary effect on this situation. However, my inclination is to feel that a high beef price will cause the slaughter to continue at record levels for a protracted period of time.

T3: I think it depends on how long that those pork prices stay up as high as they are.

Ted: Well, if the recovery is, let’s just say, a year, two years.

T3: Then that’s about… Yeah.

Richard: Yup.

Ted: It’d be through the end of next year at the minimum.

T3: And if it continues to be a problem and they can’t get it under control that would be longer.

Ted: Yeah. You sort of have to worry or wonder where this digresses a little bit, but you wonder where in the hell this came from, strictly out of the blue.

Richard: Well, I mean, there have been cases around for a number of years, and like I said, it has been in Eastern Europe, Russia. I mean, let’s face it, there’s been a lot of importing of grains, etc. from that region of the world since July of 2018.

T3: Oh, it came with the grains, almost?

Richard: I don’t know, but ingredients have been tested positive for African swine fever. How it popped up in different regions, they were quite far apart, so you… I mean, there’s different reasons given for it.

T3: So, import…but imported feed would make a lot of sense.

Richard: That’s a possibility.

T3: And, I did hear about, that this virus lasts for a very long time outside the host. It’s a very…it’s not like most of the viruses we know, where once the host dies, the virus dies quickly, this one has a tendency to last, which is why it tends…one of the reasons it tends to be so…

Jeff: It could be in the slaughtered meat for sure, yeah.

Richard: It can be in slaughtered meat, for sure or something. That’s another vector for spreading it. It can survive in some of the ingredients as well, for example, protein plasma, the ingredient for baby pigs. That was—fingers were pointed at that as well, so they stopped feeding that to them. That goes for agriculture anymore. Whereas, you know, if there’s more ground beef being sold, that’s more, you know, cheese singles for the cheese burger, you know? You might not order a bacon cheese burger, but you can certainly order a cheese burger.

Ted: Okay.

T3:Okay.

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Dairy cooperative support

We can put our insights to work for your operation. Learn more about dairy cooperative support services from T.C. Jacoby & Co.

Listen to The Milk Check—the most compreshensive podcast in the dairy industry.

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Read our weekly market reports for the sharpest analysis on industry topics and trends.

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