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You are here: Home >news >US organic dairy farmers cry out for aid as drought and inflation sour prospects “like never before”

US organic dairy farmers cry out for aid as drought and inflation sour prospects “like never before”

2022-12-08

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Several organic dairies in the US expect a severe financial loss at an average of US$250,000 this year, as flagged by the Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition. The newly formed group warns this is threatening the viability of the organic dairy farming sector in the future, with farmers now needing to “innovate to survive.” 

Financial loss is expected in 2023 if the drought and inflation continue.

 

Some farmers have had no choice but to shut down their businesses this year, impacting regional milk and food supplies and rural communities’ economic stability.

Hay feed supplies are dangerously short as the regional drought persists.

The coalition stresses that dairy farmers in Western states are now at a turning point, and if relief does not come through, it could change dairy farming and consumer food choices far into the future.

“Farmers have survived through drought before, but the current drought coupled with inflation and other impacts are leaving dairy farmers strapped like never before,” remarks Dayna Ghirardelli, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“In my many years of working with local dairy families, I’ve seen dairies contemplating their future in tough times, but they’ve hung on encouraged that the situation will turn around. This time is different.”

Despite the USDA having long-standing farm assistance programs for dairy farms facing a financial crisis, the coalition concedes these programs are not enough to save organic dairy farms confronting a “dire” situation. 

“Farmers need immediate aid to survive,” states the organization. “Stricken by the unprecedented drought, rising feed costs, and feed shortages, some farmers are already selling off their milking cows and going out of business.”

Several organic dairy farmers predict they may be compelled to shut down their farms in the next few months.

Farmers must “innovate to survive”
US farmers are less than two percent of the country’s job force and family farms provide approximately 85% of the country’s food supply. Slightly more than 10% of California agricultural land is farmed organically, and it is barely more than one percent nationally, according to California Certifiers of Organic Farmers (CCOF). 

Organic land management and regenerative agriculture are said to strengthen pasture productivity, make grasses more drought-resistant and improve water quality and soil health. 

“If we have to continue to farm with these challenging climate conditions, then farmers will need to innovate more to survive,” stresses Albert Straus founder and CEO, Straus Family Creamery. 

Organic land management and regenerative agriculture are said to strengthen pasture productivity, make grasses more drought-resistant and improve water quality and soil health. On Albert Straus’ organic dairy farm he indicates that 2021 was “one of the best pasture years,” despite the drought. This year, the Straus Dairy Farm exceeds the USDA Organic Pasture Standards. This is a result of organic agriculture, carbon farming practices and rotational grazing to stimulate pasture growth and carbon sequestration.

Feeds in short supply
Climate-positive farming practices offer dairy farmers a more sustainable, viable business model. Large-scale producers have led such initiatives with relative ease. However, the coalition makes it clear this can be economically challenging to implement if smaller farmers are only trying to survive.

Hay feed supplies in the West are in “dangerously short” supply as the regional drought persists. Some conventional dairy producers are now purchasing a limited supply of organic alfalfa hay, potentially leaving organic dairy farms without enough feed for their animals in the coming months.

“Local family farms and ranches are essential to West Marin’s community,” says Stefan Parnay, who serves as Marin County’s agricultural commissioner. “These farms and ranches feed us fresh, healthy food not only in Marin County but throughout the entire state and other parts of the country.”

On behalf of the coalition, Straus Family Creamery is currently engaging with state and federal politicians and agricultural agencies. “The coalition is organizing meetings and sending letters to seek emergency aid to help save organic dairy farms,” the company maintains.

Correlated economic and environmental headwinds are similarly felt elsewher across the globe. At the recently concluded SIAL 2022 event in Paris, France, Stephane Brudi, commercial director of cheese and trade at Lactalis, told FoodIngredientsFirst that while the demand and supply of milk remain steady – rising in parallel about 2% per year – there are some headwinds for European dairy companies, as access to fat is increasingly difficult.

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