Organic Dairy Farmers Need Emergency Relief

Organic Dairy Farmers Need Emergency Relief

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Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition started this petition to U.S. Department of Agriculture The Honorable Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack

November 3, 2022

The Honorable Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack –  

We, the Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition, and our supporters are writing to you on behalf of the organic dairy farming community. The organic dairies in the Western United States need emergency relief due to the historic drought that has created a dramatic increase in feed costs, feed shortages, and drought-related operating costs. Organic dairies in California are expecting an average financial loss of $250,000 this year and are at imminent risk of going out of business. 

As a coalition of organic dairy producers and brands, local government, feed suppliers, and local farm bureaus, we have a vested interest in the viability of organic dairy farming and the food supply in our local and regional communities. We are seeking immediate funding to help avoid a devastating loss of organic dairy farms throughout the Western United States in 2022 and 2023 and a future collapse—impacting regional milk and food supply and rural communities’ economic stability. 

Without emergency financial assistance from the government, we may lose many agricultural producers indefinitely. These multi-generational farming families, who bring us nutritious and healthy, local organic food, are a vital component of our farming and food system and rural communities. Organic dairy products consumers enjoy every day – milk, cream, yogurt, butter, ice cream, cheese – could become scarce and certainly more expensive if the drought persists and no emergency relief is given to these farmers.

Many dairy processors and brands have increased the milk pay price for their organic dairy farms. However, given the scale of the feed price surge, the increases have not been sufficient to help sustain the dairy farms in crisis. The situation is dire. In June 2022, Organic Valley gave congressional testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture detailing challenges. Robust cost of production data from dairies and industry experts have helped us quantify the financial story of this emerging and ongoing crisis: 

·         The cost of production for organic milk could reach up to $42.00+ per hundredweight for some dairy producers, well above the average pay price range of $29.00 - $35.00 per hundredweight. 

·         Between January 2020 and October 2022 data shows that organic dairy farms in Northern California observed a 30% average increase in cost of production. This increase was primarily driven by increases in outside feed costs (50%) and operating costs (20%). 

·         Some organic farms reported a 50% increase in off-farm feed costs. In particular, organic alfalfa hay prices have notably increased from $350/ton in Jan ‘20 to $475/ton in Oct ‘22. 

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. Several organic dairy farmers predict they will need to shut down their farming operations in the next several months if the challenging financial situation remains. Closures could total up to 15 percent of the organic dairy farms in California. A significant number of dairies are already selling off animals in a final effort to generate cash to cover expenses. 

United States farmers are less than two percent of the country’s job force and family farms provide approximately 85 percent of the country’s food supply. Slightly more than 10 percent of California is farmed organically, and it is barely more than one percent nationally, according to California Certifiers of Organic Farmers (CCOF). In California, the 100 remaining organic dairy farms in the state are facing severe financial losses that could result in a future partial or total collapse of the organic dairy sector. 

Organic farmers share a commitment to cultivate and protect the land and communities for generations to come. Organic land management and regenerative agriculture can strengthen pasture productivity, make grasses more drought resistant, improve water quality and soil health. 

The climate crisis is an urgent concern for businesses and agricultural communities around the world. A new United Nations Climate Change report shows countries are bending the curve of GHG emissions downward but emphasizes that these efforts remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise by the end of the century. The report notes that climate action needs to be strengthened, more ambitious, and implemented now to reach 2030 goals.    

The Biden administration is paying close attention to agriculture, both for its role in creating emissions and its role in mitigating them. Science is focusing on regenerative farming (also known as carbon farming) practices that focus on reducing carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon back into the soil and reducing methane emissions through manure management. Carbon farming is recognized globally as a solution to fight climate change.

The pasture grasslands of an organic dairy farm are an ideal environment to implement carbon farming practices. In addition to reversing climate change, carbon farming practices also work to improve crop and pasture productivity. When soils have more organic matter and provide proper nutrition, they naturally increase the volume of pasture production; and with increased pasture production, cows have more nutritional-rich grasses and farmers can reduce outside feed costs.

Organic farming practices are building a resilient food system and offering farmers a more sustainable, viable business model. This evolution of a vibrant local community of farmers, ranchers, growers, and producers is unique in the United States. Few regions have emerged from the difficult post-WWII industrialization of agriculture with viable family farms in place. We have seen dairy farms decline from 4.6 million in the 1940s to less than 30,000 today. Organic dairy farmers in the Western states are at a turning point, and if relief does not come through, it could change dairy farming and consumer food choices far into the future. 

Our organic dairy farming and food system is at risk. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how the USDA can support dairies through this unprecedented drought-fueled crisis we are facing. One short-term targeted solution is to find a source of state or federal funding to offset the feed price premiums for hay and grain. It is imperative that we mobilize funding assistance as soon as possible before it is too late for the organic farming community.  


On behalf of the Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition and supporters

Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition (Updated 11/30): The coalition was formed in August 2022 to address the unprecedented dairy crisis, prioritizing helping organic dairy farmers, their farms, and animals. The coalition includes Western organic dairy producers and brands, local government, feed suppliers, and local farm bureaus—Straus Family Creamery, Clover Sonoma, Cowgirl Creamery, Alexandre Family Farm, Bar Ale, Danone North America, Darigold (Northwest Dairy Association), Hunt & Behrens, Inc., Mount Rainier Creamery, Neutral, Organic West Milk, Rumiano, Organic Farmers Association, Western Organic Dairy Producers Association, California Certifiers of Organic Farmers (CCOF), California Farm Link , Community Alliance with Family Farmers, County of Del Notre, County of Humboldt, County of Marin, County of Mendocino, County of Sonoma, and Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

CC: CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Western States’ Governors. 

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