Aurora Dairy's entry into the organic milk
market last month has set off another round
in the ongoing debate over the mainstreaming
of organics. In this issue we bring you
two excerpts from that discussion: a reprint
from the current issue of The Stockman Grass
Farmer, sounding the concerns of at least
one smaller organic dairy farmer; and our
own overview of the current situation,
including assurances from Aurora senior
vice president Clark Driftmier that all
Aurora Organic cows will have access to
pasture and that the dairy will raise all
its own replacement heifers.
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? Let us know your views. Click
here to send a note to the editor.–NF.org
WINDSOR, Colorado, posted August 17, 2004:
The decision of the USDA to not enforce the "access
to pasture" rules of the National Organic Program
has encouraged at least one industrial dairy in Colorado
to start converting to Certified Organic.
The USDA has said they cannot enforce the "access
to pasture" rule because the word pasture was not
defined in the enabling legislation.
Due to such lack of specificity, the current NOP is
riddled with loopholes and unenforceable rules and guidelines.
The access to pasture rule was originally included
to provide a fire wall against industrial dairies and
feedlots and appeared to do this at first.
For example, Horizon Organic Dairy had a confinement
organic dairy in Colorado but sold it when the new pasture
rules were put into the National Organic Standards.
The former Horizon 3200-cow confinement dairy is now
owned by Aurora Dairy Corporation and is in the process
of being re-certified as organic despite its lack of
Meg Cattell, who grazes 400 organic dairy cows near
the Aurora dairy, said because of these large corporate
expansions the future outlook for small organic dairies
such as hers was uncertain.
"I figure we are about two years from a complete
melt-down of organic dairy prices. That's about how
long it will take for the current corporate conversions
to come online."
Prior to the Aurora conversion, Cattell's Windsor Dairy
was the only Certified Organic Dairy in Colorado.
According to Cattell, Organic Valley Co-op in Wisconsin
is the only national buyer of organic milk still enforcing
the "access to pasture" rules.
"The lack of enforcement of the pasture rule hurts
everyone who is trying to do it for real. We are getting
farther and farther from the vision of organic being
the ultimate refuge for small farms and are becoming
more corporate by the day."
She expects more large confinement dairies to convert
to Certified Organic to take advantage of the steady,
high milk prices currently being paid for organic milk.
For example, Aurora also owns a 3000-cow confinement
dairy in Texas that she has heard will also be converted
The two Aurora conversions alone will add 10% to the
nation's supply of Certified Organic milk.
She said Aurora plans an on-farm bottling plant which
will private-label organic milk for supermarket chains.
Cattell said she is currently guaranteed $20 to $21
cwt for her milk by Horizon Organic until her contract
ends in late summer. This compares to $18 cwt for conventional
milk in her area (in late June).
Horizon Organic is now owned by the dairy conglomerate
However, she said her premium milk price is being offset
by skyrocketing organic grain, hay and replacement heifer
prices as Aurora buys its way into the market.
She said Certified Organic corn is now $440 a ton.
Certified Organic soybean meal is $700 a ton and Certified
Organic replacements are $2700 a head.
"[The high grain costs] are telling me it pays
to not feed grain," she said.
As a former dairy researcher, she said she had run
various ration formulations and found that the only
two that worked financially were 100% grass or a 100%
total mixed ration.
She also believes many of the dairy cow health problems
are created by the huge omega 6/omega 3 imbalance due
to feeding grain and hay rather than pasture. She said
feeding dairy replacements large amounts of grain after
weaning predisposed them to leg and foot problems as
||"I figure we are about
two years from a complete melt-down of organic dairy
prices. That's about how long it will take for the
current corporate conversions to come online."
— Meg Cattell, organic farmer
However despite her personal convictions, she is trapped
into grain feeding because of her high-production dairy
genetics. As a result, she must continue to feed 35%
of her cows' diet as grain even though this is not economic.
With 1000 acres of irrigated pasture available, she
said she had originally planned to significantly increase
her herd numbers but the high cost of replacements had
now stymied that plan.
"My alternate plan is to go exactly the opposite
way. I could get very small and seasonal, graze the
mountain meadows and make and sell Certified Organic,
non-pasteurized aged cheese.
I have put a pencil to it and I can actually make more
money with 40 cows that way than with 400 cows doing
it the way I am doing it today."
While she hasn't made a final decision of which way
to go, she hedged her bet this summer by buying a large
supply of French Alpine dairy breed semen.