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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Organic Dairying Comes to the Valley

Dairy Pipeline: December 2005/January 2006

Alan Grove
Dairy Extension Agent
Rockingham County
(540) 564-3080 email:

There has been a lot of talk about organic food production in the news recently. During the first week of November one dairy in the Shenandoah Valley became the first to produce organically certified milk. To produce organically certified milk requires the producer to maintain accurate records and takes about four years. The first step is to have your farm land certified. This procedure requires three years with no commercial fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides or genetically modified seeds on the land. At the end of three years the producer will have his farm and records inspected by a certifying agency. Once the farm land is certified it takes another twelve months to certify the cattle. No hormones or antibiotics can be used on the cattle (vaccines and biologics are okay), and current regulations require a minimum of 80% organic feed be fed the first nine months of transition, and 100% organic feed the last three months of transition. Cattle must also have access to pasture.

So what is in organic dairying for the farmer? Several possible rewards include higher milk prices, less cost for fertilizer and chemical inputs; fewer vet bills, healthier work environment, and more profits from the sale of organic heifers. Since most organic dairies are grazing operations, they can also expect more lactations per cow, and less overhead costs for equipment.

So, is organic the way to go? Just like any change in your farming operation you must weigh the positives and negatives and make a decision based on your farms' strengths and weaknesses. At this time the market for organic dairy products is growing rapidly and the pay price is up to $26.00/cwt. (hauling included), with another $2-3.00 in quality incentives available. However, organically certified feed will cost more.

By this time next year there may be six or seven more dairies producing organically certified milk in the Shenandoah Valley and perhaps then we can determine the profitability of this relatively new market.

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