Organic dairy shortage

This article was originally published in December 2014

Shoppers for organic butter, cream and yogurt are facing higher prices or, worse, empty shelves as we head into the holidays. There’s a widespread shortage of organic dairy and if we want organic dairy in the future, we’re going to have to put our money where our values are and pay farmers enough to stay in business.
Organic dairy farmers are in such a squeeze, some are nearly bankrupt. Others have quit.

A year ago, there were 39 organic dairy farms in Washington state. Now, there are 36. A year ago, there were 12 Organic Valley dairy farmers in the Central Valley of California. Today, there are two.

“Retail prices for organic milk need to be higher for organic dairy farmers to make it,” says Andrew Dykstra, an Organic Valley dairy farmer and President of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. “Organic farmers need to get 30 to 40 cents more per half-gallon, after the middlemen take their cut.”

Farmers have culled herds, cut labor, changed feeding strategies, and forward-contracted purchased feeds, yet still can’t cover their costs. The soaring cost of purchased feed —whether organic hay or corn — is the biggest reason. The price for organic corn is more than the price paid for milk.

Pure Éire organic grass-fed organic dairy farmers, Richard and Jill Smith say, “We grow our own feed, yes, but we’re dealing with marginal numbers, too, and hope people will keep putting value in the things that make our milk special. The way it is, organic dairy is not sustainable. We could grow crops that pay three times as much. But we made a commitment to our cows, to care for them.”

So when looking for organic butter or cream for your holiday recipes, consider your purchase an investment in the family farmers who are facing significant challenges in bringing high-quality dairy to market.

Also in this issue

News bites, December 2014

Chocolate improves memory?, PCC supports climate action, Pollinators alleviate malnutrition?, and more

Robots in the milking parlor

Washington dairies are leading the way toward new technology. As sustainable dairies turn to robotic systems, the robots are helping them to become more sustainable businesses.