What can you tell me about converting to organic dairying?

J.Z. KansasAnswer: The demand for organic dairy products is growing, opening up opportunities for dairy producers all over the country. Organic dairying is more common on the west coast, upper mid-west, and northeastern parts of the U.S.; however it is spreading to other parts of the country. While I am not familiar with your current operation, there are probably opportunities for you to move to organic production. Incorporating an organic dairy segment into your current operation may prove to be difficult. This is due to the requirements of separate management of the cows, different feed (certified organic), separate bulk tanks for organic and conventional milk, etc. Unless you have two separate locations, it is much easier to be all organic or all conventional. Several ATTRA publications outline organic standards and the process involved in becoming certified organic. ATTRA’s forthcoming Annotated Organic Dairy Resource List will provide you with resources on a variety of topics related to organic dairy. Another forthcoming ATTRA publication, Organic Standards for Livestock Production, outlines the National Organic Program’s regulations for livestock production. If you have any questions about the National Organic Program or organic certification, please contact ATTRA.If you do decide to transition to organic dairy production, it is very important that you have a market for your milk. Many coops are starting organic sections, so if you are currently selling your milk to a coop you should check with them to see if they are buying organic milk. One obstacle organic producers face is finding organic processing facilities. This is especially true in areas where there is not a lot of organic production taking place. I was not able to find a listing of organic processing plants in your area. One option to find plants would be to contact the Kansas Department of Agriculture (www.ksda.gov). The Dairy Inspection department (785-296-3511) will know of all the processing plants they inspect and may know if there are any certified organic plants.Another obstacle you may encounter is locating organic feed. Certified organic feed is often hard to find, and it is much more expensive than conventional feed. So while the price for organic milk is higher, so is the cost of feeding grain. There are several resources in the Organic Dairy Resource List that discuss the economics of organic dairying. One solution to this problem is to raise your own feed. If you are raising certified organic field crops to use for cattle feed, this can greatly reduce your feed costs. You will probably find it beneficial to contact others involved in organic production in your area. There is a list of Kansas organic producers. You can contact Carole Jordan at 785-296-4172 or cjordan@kda.state.ks.us for a copy of the list. This list may provide helpful contacts. A listing of Kansas Cooperatives includes some involved with organics. I would suggest contacting the Kansas Organic Producers Association to find other organic dairy producers in your state. Your local or state Extension office may have additional resources for organic dairy production. Finally, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s Organic Program certifies operations in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas, and may be able to put you in contact with organic dairy producers and processors.Resources:ATTRA Publications

Annotated Organic Dairy Resource List (Draft) Organic Standards for Livestock Production (Draft)

Coltrain, D. and Barton, D. 2000. Kansas Directory of New Generation Cooperatives and Other Producer Alliances. Kansas State University. 5 p.Also see “Links to Kansas Cooperatives” at www.agecon.ksu.edu/accc/links/kansascoops.htmKansas Organic Producers Association information. 5 p.Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, & Forestry: Organic Food Section. www.oda.state.ok.us/food-organic.htm. 2 p.