|August 30, 2004:
The fastest-growing segment of the natural food market,
organic dairy products, is getting a boost from a Cornell
University-U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program
that studies experiences of upstate New York milk producers
as they make the transition from conventional to organic
"The Transitioning Dairy: Identifying and Addressing
Challenges and Opportunities in Milk Quality and Safety"
is a new, three-year study conducted by the Quality
Milk Production Services program in Cornell University's
College of Veterinary Medicine, in cooperation with
Ruth Zadoks in the Department of Food Science in the
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Northeast
Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and upstate farms,
such as Twin Oaks Dairy in Truxton, N.Y. Some $518,306
of the study's funding comes from the USDA Integrated
Organic Program, while Cornell provides matching funds
of $580,668, and the biosciences firm Alltech Inc. provides
Says Linda L. Garrison-Tikofsky, the Cornell extension
veterinarian who is leading the program at Quality Milk
Production Services: "We will follow five herds
during the transition from conventional farming methods
to organic dairying in order to monitor and try to understand
the changes in animal health, milk quality and milk
safety. For dairy products to be certified as organic,
the milk must come from ruminants that are managed organically.
The animals must be fed organic feeds, have access to
pasture and not be treated with antibiotics, hormones
or certain other conventional therapies.
"This represents a paradigm shift for previously
conventional farmers and for their herds," Garrison-Tikofsky
adds. "We want to make sure, at the end of this
challenging transition, that the milk is still healthful,
the animals are healthy and the dairy farm is still
in good fiscal health, too."
The Cornell veterinarians and food scientists will
analyze milk samples from herds undergoing the transition
from conventional to organic methods and consult with
participating dairies on farm practices, before developing
intervention strategies for producers who will make
the transition in the future. Findings from the study
will be disseminated to the organic agriculture community
through discussion groups, Cornell Cooperative Extension,
newsletters, the Internet and with "pasture walks"
on certified and transitioning dairy farms.
Although organic milk still accounts for less than
1 percent of the U.S. milk market, that segment is growing
at an exponential rate, according to Garrison-Tikofsky,
who notes that making the conventional-organic transition
takes about three years for the typical dairy farm.
The number of certified organic cows in the United States
increased by 277 percent between 1997 and 2004. Of the
top five states in organic cow numbers, New York ranks