NY Organic Dairy Initiative Completes 5-Year Project, Will Continue

Cortland, NY – The 5-year-old NY Organic Dairy Initiative (NYODI) has helped the state’s 370 organic milk producers (NY is the 2nd largest organic milk producer in the East) learn how to lower costs, enhance production and income, and expand market opportunities. The NYODI project that has had funding support from the NY Farm Viability Institute and the Cornell Small Farms Program will continue its Task Force and educational events with Cornell University Regional Agriculture Teams funding.

“This project unites an industry-wide group of participants looking at issues from the perspective of how all could benefit. Organic dairy is now recognized as an established mainstream enterprise in New York State and the conventional dairy industry is inviting the NY Organic Dairy Initiative to participate with such efforts as the Northeast Dairy Leadership Team (NDLT),” says NY Organic Dairy Initiative Project Manager A. Fay Benson, Small Dairy Support Specialist with the Cornell University South-Central NY Regional Team.

NYODI Task Force member and Lakeview Organic Grain co-owner Mary-Howell Martens of Penn Yan, NY, says, “This Task Force provided representatives from various sectors of the organic dairy industry the valuable opportunity to meet as friends and equals, sharing important information and concerns. We were able to address many issues early, such as spiking organic grain prices and fluctuating milk demand, with a coordinated response that helped everyone.”

NYODI Task Force member and CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley Northeast Pools Manager Peter Miller represents the 126 New York organic dairy farms among the CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley’s 1330 organic dairies in the U.S. The co-op operates one processing plant in Wisconsin and uses 100 food processing co-packers nationally, including two in NY (the Byrne Dairy ultra plant, Syracuse and HP Hood, Oneida). CROPP Cooperative is presently working with 15 farms to transition to certified organic during 2011.

Miller says, “The New York Organic Dairy Initiative created a forum for open discussion and networking by a varied group of representatives who interact with the organic dairy industry. We addressed the common issues of supply management and pricing with farmers, growers, handlers and marketers.”

NYODI Task Force member and Horizon Organic Dairy Producer Relations Manager Peter Slaunwhite says represents 240 New York organic dairies and another 50 transitioning to organic production. He expects Horizon to be buying milk from more than 290 producers by Fall 2011 for processing at co-packing plants in Elba, Roxbury and Delhi, NY.

Slaunwhite says, “Horizon bottles a 24 million lbs. of organic milk each month in New York State and the NY Organic Dairy Initiative helped increase public awareness on how to identify locally produced milk.”

Improving the Bottom Line — The NYODI trained Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CCE) personnel to establish Organic Dairy and Field Crop Discussions Group in Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Franklin, Chautauqua, Allegany, Tompkins/Cortland, and Central New York. CCE Jefferson County Dairy and Livestock Educator Ron Kuck says, “Outreach to New York’s organic dairy businesses with attention to everything from nutrition and pasture management to barn design had an eye toward more opportunity to maximize milk production and profit.”

NYODI’s “Organic Field Crops for Organic Dairies” CD helps farmers evaluate buying approximately $600/ton organic grain vs. producing on-farm forages and provides strategies for using forages to lower feed costs.

Benson says, “Feeding organic grains is expensive for dairy farmers, so making better use of on-farm forages for feed helps relieve pressure on organic grain supplies as well as improves the health of the certified cow.”

NYODI field days, workshops and publications help NY’s farmers organically grow crops. Organic grower Bob Munson of Groton, NY, sells straw, rye, triticale and corn. He says, “This project put organic dairy products in the public eye to build interest and demand for those products. That, in turn, creates demand for my crops to feed the organic dairy cows.”

One research project completed by the NYODI improved the use of brassicas (plants in the mustard family) in pastures. After planting 18 acres of organically-grown turnips and oats, Rob and Pam Moore of Nichols, NY, reported a milk output increase to 4 lbs of milk per cow per day spent in that field. In a project survey, they wrote: “If you figure 50 cows spending 12 days out of every 20 on that turnip-oat pasture the increase in monthly production adds more than $1,000 a month to the farm income.”

USDA Grazing Dairy Nutritionist Karen Hoffman says, “A number of pasture walks, workshops, and conference presentations have been organized in cooperation with the NY Organic Dairy Initiative, USDA-NRCS, NOFA-NY and NYS Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative to highlight how managed grazing on high protein pasture can reduce or eliminate the need for purchased protein in the form of grain, which is typically quite expensive for organic dairies.”

Changing the Marketplace — The NY Organic Dairy Initiative worked with the New York American Dairy Association to improve labeling for all types of dairy products and with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to promote the efforts of the Governor’s NYS Council on Food Policy. It collaborated with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Animal Agriculture Coalition, NY Dairy Association, and Northeast Dairy Producers Association on other efforts to broaden the marketplace for organic dairy products.

Benson and NY’s organic dairy farmers testified at state and federal hearings to help compel federal dairy policy changes. One producer responding to an impact survey indicated that NYODI advocacy to change Federal Milk Market Order rules “has the potential to add a dollar or two to the milk price which would be substantial for us.”

Learn how the NYODI values new pricing rules and a National Organic Program pasturing rule change at www.cuaes.cornell.edu/cals/cuaes/organic/projects/dairy/dairy-initiative.

For more details on the NY Organic Dairy Initiative, Benson can be reached at 607-753-5213, [email protected]