Saturday, June 29, 2013

June is Dairy Month -- Organic Dairies on the Rise

One of the fastest growing segments of dairy in New York state is organic, according to state figures.

A. Fay Benson, of Cornell University and Project Manager for the NY Organic Dairy Initiative, said there are more than 400 certified organic dairies in the state -- about 10 percent of all dairy farms. 

"The dairies are mostly smaller dairies with the average being about 40 cows -- the largest dairy would be around 400 cows," she said. "From 1996 up until this year the organic dairy market has been increasing at a double digit rate. This year it appears to be slowing but still increasing."

It isn't easy to become a certified organic dairy -- it takes a lot of time, energy and paperwork to follow through. Paul and Maureen Knapp, in Preble, Cortland County, shipped their first organic milk in 2001 fromn their Cobblestone Valley Farm to Organic Valley, a cooperative of about 1,650 organic farms.

 They had to switch to organic feed for the cows and getting their pasture land certified as organic (no fertilizers or chemicals used) so the cows can eat in the pasture when the weather is good.
To have their land certified, farmers must prove they've added no fertilizers or chemicals to it for three years. They also have to be sure there is a buffer between the organic land and neighbors farmland, so chemicals used there don't end up on the organic land. And then every year, there is more paperwork to recertify the farm.

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists called "Cream of the Crop: The Economic Benefits of Organic Dairy Farms," shows the organic dairy sector creates more jobs in rural community and provides more economic opportunity.
“Over the past 30 years, dairy farmers have had a choice: either get big or get out. Dairy farmers either had to expand dramatically and become large industrial operations or they went out of business,” Jeffrey O’Hara, agricultural economist for the Food and Environment Program at UCS and author of the report stated about the study. “However, organic dairy production offers farmers another option – one that is better for the environment, produces a healthier product, and leads to greater levels of economic activity.”

In the study of financial data from 2008 to 2011 in Minnesota and Vermont, the Union of Concerned Scientists study showed organic dairy farms "would be expected to contribute 33 percent more to the state’s economy than conventional farms, and employ 83 percent more workers" in Vermont. "Similarly, in Minnesota, organic dairies would increase the state’s economy by 11 percent more and employment by 14 percent more than conventional dairy farms."

A certified organic farm is one that goes through the certification process with an organization such as NOFA-NY. An exempt organic farm is one that follows National Organic Standards, but is too small to go through the certification process. A certified farm can use the USDA Organic seal on its products. An exempt farm can use the term organic, but cannot use the USDA Organic seal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture study of organics, that covered the year 2008, shows total organic product sales in the United States of nearly $3.2 billion (that includes all organics, from dairy to produce). New York state registered about $105 million in sales.
Go to to check out the USDA report for the organic dairy market. 

Go to to read the Union of Concerned Scientists study on organic dairy farms.

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