COMMENTARY

Thoughtful reflections on the significance of Aurora's mega organic dairy in Colorado
We got a couple of dozen reactions to Aurora's 4,000-cow organic dairy, including comments from several farmers ... and an organic dairy inspector in the Midwest.

Posted August 31, 2004

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In mid-August, we invited folks to comment on the recent organic certification of a large 4,000-cow dairy operation in Colorado. We asked:

“What do you think? Does the certification of Aurora Organic's dairy and bottling facilities represent a bright new dawn for the U.S. organic dairy sector, bringing organic milk to millions of regular American consumers nationwide and prompting the conversion of thousands of acres of farmland to organic production? Or does it herald a tough new era for small, family-owned organic dairies, in which the premium for organic milk will erode and the difference between organic and conventional foods will become less meaningful?”

We got dozens of thoughtful responses. Here are a few of them. (By the way, columnist Mary-Howell Martens asked us who certified Aurora in Colorado—we neglected to mention it in our piece. The answer? The Colorado Department of Agriculture.)

P.S. Have an issue you’d like to comment on? Send your thoughts to info@newfarm.org.


Dear New Farm,
I am an organic inspector who inspects certified organic dairy farms in the Midwest. I would have to reserve judgment on this until more detail is provided, as "access to pasture" is a very slippery phrase. It could mean having the cows out on ground with poor forage and only for a couple of hours daily; that, in my estimation, is not acceptable. Ideally, and this ideal is achieved on many small organic dairies in the Midwest (despite a short growing season), the pasture is intensively managed, with fertility and forage quality monitored, and with the herd out all day and night (except during severe weather or muddy conditions). Pasture should make up a significant percentage of the ration. I notice that these articles contain no details of the Aurora dairy pasture plan, like the number of acres per animal, the forage types, and the pasture-ration percentage.

Mary Wilson

Ed. Note: Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mary. We’ll try to get answers to your questions about the Aurora pasture plan.

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Dear New Farm,
It seems clear to me that if we are going to offer a more healthful product than the conventional dairies, we need to focus on quality. Almost any situation in which we are selling milk by the hundred weight to a large conglomerate by its very nature demeans the product we have worked so hard to produce. Economics, quality of life and the product are all improved by focusing on pasture and local marketing. This system also provides benefits to the community, because the farm becomes a pleasant place to be and the money stays in the community longer. Here in Connecticut, a number of 30-cow dairies are getting $6 to $7 a gallon for raw milk, and not one of them needs to be certified because the customers come to the farm to buy the milk. It will be a fantastic day when each community can have a farm like this and everyone can have access to delicious, high-quality milk.

Daniel Duesing
Sol-e-Terre Farm, Llc.
Suffield, Connecticut

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Dear New Farm,
I have been an organic farmer for 20 years, with a small family farm, and when the USDA got involved with organic farming I pretty well quit using the "O" word to describe my products. I would just about bet that Aurora dairy uses migrant labor (legalized slavery, in my opinion), no pasture, and probably has enough money to buy any legislation they need to capitalize on the hard work that many of us have done for many years to create a more just and sustainable food system here in the U.S. I really think the best thing small family farms can do to change the industrial model is to push for local food and relationship marketing, as this is the one thing that industrial agriculture, including industrial organic, can't take from us. I would like to see more information about Aurora Dairy’s environmental plans put in a public forum (do they compost? how much land base do they have for manure? are they pulling huge amounts of ground water out of the Ogallala aquifer like all the other huge dairy and beef operations in Colorado?). Many complex issues here, but I am afraid that without a huge protest, ‘certified organic’ will soon become completely meaningless.

Sincerely and sadly,
Cindy Dutcher

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Dear New Farm,
I am writing in response to the New Farm article, “Organic dairy sector takes another big step toward big business.” I think a large-scale dairy operation, as long as it continues to meet organic standards, is a good addition to the organic industry. Price premiums remain a barrier for many consumers to make the transition to organic. If prices can be lowered (via private-label products such as Aurora), this will help increase consumer demand and market growth, thus benefiting not only large corporations but the industry as a whole. Larger operations usually mean better safety, efficiency and quality. They can help put organics ‘on consumer radar screens,’ helping the entire industry to grow. Thanks so much for your time.

Jenny Dean, MS, RD

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Dear New Farm,
Hi. My opinion is that if Aurora wants to be organic, they had better have a couple of thousand acres for those cows to be chewing on. Trust me. I don't have anything against being big. Money is money, and we are all trying to make it, Lord knows. I would like to be a big time farmer! But I'm just a little guy trying to start a full-time farm. It makes me a little mad to hear that the USDA is giving away one of few ways ( i.e., organic) that a small farm has to make a living. I think if Aurora wants the organic label, the cows should get pasture. It would also be really bad for the organic industry to start finding out about loopholes.

Sincerely,
Brian Farber
western Pennsylvania