In today’s competitive market, organic dairy producers are highly sought after and your milk prices have been steadily increasing. It’s a “seller’s market” and organic dairy farmers have power today. But that might not be true a year down the road.

The nation’s largest organic dairies, with interests in 4000- to 10,000-cow factory farms, are expanding by investing in additional factory-farm infrastructure and contracting with outside suppliers operating mega-dairies. Some processors are even financially helping more multithousand cow dairies develop. And at the same time, with conventional milk prices falling, “everybody and their brother” is now interested in organics. For example, a recent report to the Institute described a 27,000-cow operation in northern Indiana that is now in the process of converting one of its “herds” (3000 cows) to organic.

The three leading fluid milk brands (Horizon, Organic Valley, and Hood/Stonyfield) have probably signed up over 500 new producers in response to the current milk shortage and the end of the 80/20 whole-herd conversion rules (and some of these also have thousands of cows). The result of all this expansion will be to pump a greatly increased amount of organic milk onto the market. As we all know, even a small surplus will almost certainly put downward pressure on farm-gate prices.

We strongly encourage family-scale dairy producers to contact their milk handler with some serious and timely demands aimed at protecting your future livelihood:

    1) Respect our customers – no factory farm milk.2) Regardless of what the USDA does – mandate pasture for all farms.

    3) Don’t wait for the USDA – ban conventional replacement livestock from use on organic dairies.

    4) Require “reputable” certification and provide meaningful oversight of your suppliers/patrons.

    5) Demand long-term price protection.

We encourage organic dairy farmers to customize the attached letter and mail it to your milk handler. Pay price is very important and times are good in the organic dairy world. But do you trust the company or cooperative you currently ship to, to look out for your interests if down the road plenty of milk will be available at a cheaper price?

Don’t wait until there is a surplus – it will be too late! You don’t necessarily have to move your milk. Just make sure your milk handler knows you are serious about these issues and willing to make a change if necessary to protect your livelihood and the integrity of the organic dairy industry.

Whether it’s a large corporation, cooperative, or family-owned business, organic dairy farmers need to hold all milk-buyers to a clear ethical standard, whether it’s a large corporation, cooperative, or family-owned business. Don’t assume any milk buyer is beyond making compromises.

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