Borden’s and Dean’s Famous-Name Dairy Bankruptcies Show Nasty Wall Street Side of U.S. Economic Destructuring, Farm Crisis
Jan. 9 —This week the famous name dairy company Borden’s declared Ch. 11 bankruptcy. Headquartered in Texas, the 160-year-old milk-processing firm is known the world over for its cute logo, Elsie the Cow. It ranks about 30th in U.S. dairy companies. In November, the largest fluid milk processer in the U.S., Dean Foods (and third largest dairy firm) also declared Ch. 11. Dean’s originated in the Midwest, then became based in Texas, through mergers and shifting dairy herd concentration.
There are several twists and turns in these big-deal dairy bankruptcies, which reflect the unhinged Wall Street factor causing destruction throughout the farm-food chain.
On the level of physical economy, the dairy processor bankruptcies go along with the fact that not only have family-scale dairy herd operations been squeezed to the point of extinction across the country, replaced by bigger and bigger operations and mega-herds. But also the dairy processors—for fluid milk, cheese, ice cream—have become huge, cutting out local and regional operations. Even then, the bigger firms can’t necessarily survive.
As of 2017, the rank order of the Big Four dairy companies in the U.S., except for Dean’s being third in size, were all foreign-owned, multinational conglomerates. First was Nestle (Swiss,) next Saputo Dairy Foods (Canada,) and fourth is Danone (France). The story doesn’t stop there.
In 2017 Walmart ceased obtaining any fluid milk from Dean’s, its chief supplier for years, which doomed the dairy firm. Walmart started up its own mega-processing facility in Indiana. Now it is one of the top U.S. processers. Hundreds of dairy farmers selling to Dean’s were left with no market. Walmart took over some of Dean’s former farmers and nixed others.
The point is that this kind of disruption and destruction of capacity and regional economies doesn’t have to be. Policies can be worked out to shift and protect farm-food productivity, as has been done in the past. Instead, family-scale dairy farms are being forced into ruin.
The Borden’s story is especially nasty, involving a feud this week between Wall Street big money outfits, pissing over how to protect their money. In the recent period, Borden’s got a loan in the range of $175 million from KKR & Co., and a loan from PNC Bank of some $94 million. At the same time, the private equity fund Acon Investments had bought into Borden’s heavily. After Borden’s filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 6, the next day, KKR filed a counter-action in the courts, arguing that Borden’s bankruptcy was unnecessary, and only prompted by Acon, trying to protect its holdings.
As for the consumer: good luck, pal. One blow against having regionally produced fresh milk, such as for fluid use and local cheeses, is the cynical line that there is a “milk glut,” and family farmers should not expect to get a decent price, but they should quit, or produce less. A contributing factor to this viewpoint is the 20-year campaign for “Beyond Milk” products, such as oat, nut, and other “milk.” Personal dietary preference is one thing, but the Wall Street interventions to induce preference is the norm.
The solution, as always, lies with the government’s sovereign responsibility for the food supply and economy, which involves production management, parity pricing, etc.