ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Exception to Organic Shortages: Coming Glut in Milk

I should have made clear in the previous post that there is no shortage of organic milk, or there won't be soon. A record number of farmers started to transition last year to organic production and will be done within a year, producing a glut. The Burlington Free Press had the story last Saturday and the New York Times caught up with it today.

The Times story makes clear that the rush of dairy farmers to transition to organic was largely the result of a lawsuit brought by Arthur Harvey, a Maine blueberry farmer. (He won the suit for stricter dairy regulations that will take effect this June). In the article, Nancy Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm called the jump in organic milk supplies "a gift from above." Considering how much the organic industry spent to fight Harvey and his lawsuit, which I discuss in my book, Organic Inc., I found this quote highly ironic, to say the least. But the fact is, Stonyfield and others needed milk. At one point last year, Stonyfield CEO Gary Hirshberg said he could increase output of organic yogurt by 100 percent if he could get the milk. (As it turns out, Stonyfield is now buying 48 percent more organic milk this spring).

What neither story mentions is that this farm conversion is going to lead to a severe shortage of organic livestock feed in the fall of 2007 and into 2008 -- so any farmers out there might want to investigate this issue. Organic Valley is suggesting farmers take land out of conservation reserves (where it has not been cultivated) and putting it into organic production immediately. A press released issued by Organic Valley and the grain co-op OFARM states:

The growth of organic livestock across the country over the last two years has been estimated to be 50 percent, while organic feed acres have increased by only 8-10 percent. This rate of growth, combined with the increase in conventional grain prices, has meant that on farm prices for organic goods have continued to stay strong.

"For those farmers new to organic methods, taking land coming out of CRP (the Conservation Reserve Program) and putting it into certified organic production is an easy way to enter the organic marketplace," said Organic Valley CIEIO Geoge Siemon. He noted that land must be free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for a three year transition period in order to be certified organic. CRP land usually qualifies immediately and provides the organic premium to the grower in the first year of production.

Next winter, after all, the newly converted cows will need to eat and the lush pasture grasses they graze upon during the growing season won't come up until the spring.

- Samuel Fromartz