Organic Valley Coop reps speak with regional dairy farmers

By Cheryl Petersen
Representatives from the Organic Valley Cooperative recently spoke to regional farmers interested in a future of organic farming.
Attendee and Arkville farmer, Sally Fairbairn said, “Our farm has been in my husband’s family for 100 years. We graze dairy heifers and I wanted to look into the option of going organic.” After the meeting, Fairbairn added, “Twenty years ago, organic dairying would be very difficult, but this information shows that a support system has been set up to make it workable.”
Fairbairn also came as the “ears” for a neighboring farm in Halcott Center, Crystal Valley Farm. “I attended the meeting to learn what Organic Valley has to say for both our operations,” said Fairbairn.

Lots of potential
The meeting was instigated last January at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Conference in Saratoga Springs. David Hardy, Northeast Region Pool Manager for Organic Valley, met Beth McKellips, Farm to Market Manager at Watershed Agricultural Council, based in Walton.
“Beth sees the potential for organic dairy farming in this region and asked Organic Valley to present this informational meeting,” said Hardy. The meeting was hosted at the Watershed Council building in Walton.
Kristan Morley, Pure Catskills Coordinator, helped with scheduling. Also presenting with David Hardy was Guy Jodarski, D.V.M., Staff Veterinarian for Organic Valley. Jodarski travels from his home in Wisconsin to recruit and help members of the Organic Valley Cooperative (CROPP).
CROPP was born in the 1980s when United States agriculture was facing yet another farm crisis. After the price for milk fell below production costs, farmers formed the coop to provide superior quality dairy products and give wholesome care for the environment. CROPP is committed to offering a stable price for farmers.
Organic farming is a certified crop and livestock production system regulated by the National Organic program (NOP) under the United States Department of Agriculture. Organic agriculture uses a variety of biological practices to increase soil fertility, manage pests and weeds, and foster healthy livestock through high-forage diets and proactive herd healthcare.
“We are here to show that going organic isn’t as complicated as it sounds,” said Guy Jodarski, a veterinarian for 26 years. “The last eight years, I’ve specialized in animals in organic environments,” said Jodarski.

Different motivations
“Farmers enter the organic production for different reasons: a new future, the stability of price per milk weight, or to live a healthier lifestyle. And CROPP is designed to offer support.” Jodarski sees attainable possibilities for organic dairying in the outer Catskill area.
“Grazing is a key factor is organic dairying, and when I was driving to Delaware County, observing the landscape, I saw a huge potential for grazing here,” said Jodarski. “The pasture availability suits this new future for family farming.”
Jodarski joins other professionals in the fields of Herd Health, Ruminant Nutrition, Animal Care and Soil Agronomy. They are available to help farmers improve the production, profitability, and health of CROPP member farms.
“We teach natural remedies, using garlic, aloe, of homeopathy, but find that a healthy pasture improves the herd health naturally,” said Jodarski. “Emphasis is put on soil health.”
As for animal health, it has been found that problems are the same whether organic or conventional methods are used. “Mastitis is the number one culprit, however organic farmers build up the soil with sufficient calcium and minerals, and the health of the cows improves naturally,” said Jodarski.

Not overnight
Transitioning to organic takes time. Organic Transition premiums are offered by CROPP to offset some of the additional costs experienced during the transition period. Educational support is consistent and regional pool managers are set up around the nation to answer questions and work with the farmers.
David Hardy is Pool Manager for a part of the northeast. “The co-op consists of 1,830 farms in the nation,” said Hardy, who is a farmer himself. “My family started farming in 1999, milking 45 cows,” explained David Hardy. “We became certified organic in 2003 and now milk 90 cows. My older son runs the farm in the Herkimer area.”
An appealing factor of CROPP membership is a reliable income. “The co-op price for milk is $29.80 per hundred weight. Farmers whose cows produce superior milk components are paid higher returns,” said Hardy.