Jeff and all at New Farm,
I have been farming the farm I am on for 30 years as a tenant—14
years on a 50-50 basis, the past 16 years cash rent. This
past year my landlady died and the farm was put up for sale.
My parents purchased it and took possession on March 1 this
year. I have watched the farming business change dramatically
in this 30 years and don't feel I can farm in the future the
way I have in the past.
I have been watching the organic dairying industry boom in
the last three to four years, and am trying to make the transition
to it. I want to start slowly by small acres at a time. At
this point I have 24 acres that are two years into transition,
with the rest of the 160 acres rotating in as I try to get
the ground into balance and transition the dairy herd in some
time in the future.
My problem is that my dad has old-fashioned ideas of what
organic farming was 20 years ago compared to what it has evolved
into today. I get told to "cool my jets" when making
choices on the fields that I am working toward organic. In
some ways he sees what I'm doing and goes along with the idea,
but doesn't want to see weeds of any kind. The conventional
farming has been good to him so why not me? But the margins
in conventional farming are getting so tight that with a small
farm income it's getting harder to make a decent living for
the family. I can't say the margins would be any better with
organic at this point, but looking at current milk prices
it sure can't be any worse.
Any thoughts on your part would sure be appreciated.
The situation you discuss in your e-mail is not unusual, and
you are certainly not alone. The idea of transitioning is
often misconstrued by others as you saying that what was done
in the past wasn't right or isn't good enough for you. Of
course that's not always the case. The world is changing,
and what worked before may not be feasible today. I think
as you look at the dairy industry as a whole, you will see
overall stagnant production. The organic side is completely
different. Here you can see tremendous growth potential.
I think you are approaching things in a very prudent manner
by phasing the farm in over time. As you begin to feel more
comfortable with the process and the practices, you can expand
your acreage. This will also give you time to select a hauler
and begin to get ready to transition the herd. I suggest to
also begin forming relationships with existing organic dairies.
They will be able to help in the areas of knowledge transfer
and even inspiration during this part of the transition process.
Once you choose your certifier and your buyer, like Organic
they can help put you in touch with others that have already
successfully transitioned their herd. This will help short
cycle the process and aid you in avoiding many problems. If
you need help finding someone in your area to help let me
know and I help you dig up some help.
I'm sure as you continue down this road your father will
begin to see the wisdom of this decision. There’s nothing
like a little success to smooth out the road. As far as weeds
go, this is a difficult subject to address because some folks
just expect to see totally weed-free fields and in most organic
situations this isn't always possible. I don't like weeds
any more than the next farmer, and organic isn't an excuse
to let things fall apart. But the premium prices the marketplace
puts on organic products can justify the hard work you'll
be putting into managing the weeds on your farm.
Good luck, and I hope you don't get discouraged and stop
the process. The alternative of going out of farming won't