Organic farming can bring higher value for goods along with better farming practices. Why is that?
Theoretically, “organic” farming (and yes, the name is confusing, because of the definitions of organic, so I’ll just use it as the USDA does)…is a set of rules for producers of food. (See here for more information: https://attra.ncat.org/organic.html)
When you buy a gallon of milk in the store that is certified 100% USDA organic (see here about that: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446) you are being guaranteed that that product has no pesticide residue (or extremely negligible amounts). I don’t know what percentage of products are actually tested, but one of the reasons you see so much packaging for organic foods is that the producers do NOT want to get pesticides on their products in any way or they could get in biiiig trouble. Why is that important to sustainable farming? #1.) Chemical pesticides are mostly synthetic chemicals, often “nerve” agents that kill plants and insects (FIFRA regulations can explain that more). It’s like the frog as the indicator species…if the frog gets neurological damage from a chemical and you, a human, are consuming X amount of pesticides in your food daily…how does that make you feel? Also, most pesticides are meant to break down after a few days in UV light (time depends on type of chemical). But say you eat that pesticide before it has broke down. Now it is in your body and may get absorbed…and you don’t get the benefit of UV light breaking down the chemical in your stomach! So, you can take FDA testing that says, “Ehh, not much harm” or you can be cautious and promote what is more sustainable anyway, which is not using pesticides or promoting their use. Pests in plant and insect/animal form build resistance to chemicals, so they become ineffective over time. Kind of like antibiotic resistance.
Which brings us to part #2. ANTIBIOTICS (and HORMONES) are NOT allowed on an organic dairy. If your cow gets sick, you better hope she’s been immunized with enough to fight it off naturally. Is this 100% good? Umm, not necessarily. But it is necessary at the industrial level because of abuse of the drugs if they are allowed. Farming is the most lenient source for antibiotic use (yes, even over your dr.!) and a lot of resistant bugs are being linked to improper use at the farm level of antibiotics. I won’t ever be a certified organic producer for this limitation, but because my husband works for an organic dairy now, I’m learning a lot of alternatives that often work better than antibiotics. For example, my last calf had newborn scours. I researched online to learn it is an ecoli scour from likely improper immunity in the mother. The best treatment? A mid-day feeding of electrolytes in a water base for three days. Viola, she is up and running and doing great. No antibiotics necessary! I’m not saying I use antibiotics all the time, but it’s like this: If your kid has a nasty, terrible bacterial infection and their only hope of survival and well-being is if they are given antibiotics….you’ll probably give them, right? On a good note, our biggest use for antibiotics is mastitis, but due to breeding (genetics and conformation) that discourages mastitis and from good care and not owning many cows, I’ve never had a case of mastitis on my little farm. My oldest cow is turning 10 in June, and she’s never been sick a day in her life. 🙂
#3. Organic cows must be out on pasture as much as the year allows. You hear about “feed lot” growing, right? Pork and beef, are big culprits, but dairies are too! So organic rules say, “If the grass is green and the weather is not severe, those ladies better be out grazing!” So instead of your milk coming from a cow cooped up indoors 365 days a year, you know your milk is coming from a cow that at least gets access outside greater than 50% of the year. And if you have taken ENMT 365, you’ve learned that humans NEED nature. Well, cows do too!!
DO I RECOMMEND YOU BUY ORGANIC MILK? Nope! Well, if you’re going to buy milk in the store, your only decent choice may be to buy organic or find a local low-temp pasteurized milk. But also I encourage you to call or email EVERY organic producer you can and ask them to please, QUIT ULTRA-PASTEURIZING your milk!! That process “UHT” just fries milk. I would argue it makes it more harmful than helpful. It’s like eating ultra-refined white flour and powdered sugar versus sprouted grains and honey. There’s just no comparison for food value and health effects! One will kill you, the other will keep you healthy.
IS ORGANIC MORE EXPENSIVE TO PRODUCE??
There is somewhat of a misconception that “organic” is “expensive” compared to conventional farming. It’s not. (Ask any dairy farmer who is converting to organic, “Why are you converting to organic.” Nine out of ten will likely say something like “I get more money for my milk.” “I need to make more so I can afford to keep the family farm.” “I want to farm and this is the only way I can financially do it.” Yeah, it’s better for the environment, but if that was their motivation, they would have been organic a long time ago…
Here’s why it’s profitable:
Farmers lose twice as many crops from pests/disease than they did back in the 1940-1950’s when pesticides first showed up in mass production. (It’s a misconception that pesticides help. Stubborn minds!)
When organic requires that cows (and heifers, and dry cows, and bulls…) be out on pasture, that is not just for sunshine. They are also eating the pasture! So for every X amount of pasture a cow is eating, that’s a whole bale of hay times however many that field could produce that you are NOT having to buy gas for your tractor, buy twine, hire equipment operators to bale hay for you, and hire folks to haul/stack it in your barn. Instead, the luxury of dairy cows is that they are great in minimal fencing. They stick close to home. On our farm, that meant ONE strand of electric fencing on fiberglass poles that were laid out each spring into rotational grazing paddocks. We barely fed any hay all summer, just a little to keep their tummies from getting to wet! 🙂 Cha-ching!
Also, when you put more fields into PASTURE rather than CROPS (such as corn, soybeans, or wheat) you are automatically getting the benefit of less pests. Grass is “weedy” in nature in that if you keep your pastures healthy, the grass naturally stamps out the weeds. So you picture labor intensive crews of people going out and hand-spading weeds to kingdom come, that is just not the case. We would only get weeds in poor soil or where the cows couldn’t reach (or if you grew “crops” which we don’t)
Plus, organic milk and all organic products still sell for a premium. Getting $30/cwt versus $20/cwt is the difference between $2.50 per gallon or $1.50 (respectively, rounded). Our farm has quota for 1,060 GALLONS of milk every two days this summer. Non organic, that means we get $1,590 for that milk. If organic, we get $2,650. Multiply that over a 30 day month (x15) and you get $15,900 MORE than we would get if we were conventional. EVERY MONTH! I think I could hire an extra hand to pick a few weeds!! 😉 Plus, my cows are out on pasture (hypothetically) so they don’t get hoof rot and hairy warts, so I subtract copper sulfate and penicillin from my costs. I’m not baling all that hay, so I subtract that cost (seasonally). I’m not chopping it all up finely and bringing it to the cows, so I subtract the cost of my tractor and very expensive diesel. I’m not growing corn and soybeans and wheat, so I have zero fertilizer cost. (We feed baleage and haylage, which are relatives to silage but are made using only grass, not corn. Cows LOVE it. And grass=no weeds.)
So, how much production do you lose by going organic? Well, maybe 1/4 less production if you don’t buy much grain from outside sources. But remember, you’re getting 1/3 more for your milk, and that’s a lot of money. You’re probably not participating in the CWT government program, so you’re keeping your 10 cents per 100cwt (which adds up!!). You’re probably getting dividends at the end of the year, which is thousands of dollars extra bonuses that conventional farmers no longer get. Your cows are healthier, so they are living longer, producing just as well for several generations past the commercial life span of 3.4 to 4 years old (our oldest was 19, average age 8-14). You may have a bit higher cull rate for mastitis, but not if you’re a good cow vet on on your own. (Catch it quick, my husband can save almost any cow!)
And that is why people “go organic”. : ) Flat out easier and cheaper in the long run! And heck, we help save the world while we’re at it!!