The Organic Center (link no longer available)

New calculator estimates the quantity of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals absent from organic dairy farming

BOULDER, Colo. – A calculator has been developed to help consumers, dairy farmers, and food companies estimate the avoided environmental, public health, and animal welfare impacts associated with shifting dairy cows from conventional to organic management.

The “avoided impacts” stemming from applications of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides, and several classes of animal drugs can now be estimated for a single milking cow, a given herd of milking animals, across all cows in a region or all farms shipping to a given dairy processing company, or even for a gallon of milk.

There were about 120,000 milking cows on organic dairy farms in 2008 that followed USDA organic certification guidelines. Using the Microsoft Excel-based calculator, these U.S. dairy operations avoided the use of an estimated 40 million pounds of fertilizer and 758,000 pounds of pesticides on the 761,000 acres of farmland now used to grow organic feed or organic pasture.

In addition, cows were administered more than 1.7 million fewer treatments with animal drugs. These treatments (usually injections) included antibiotics, hormones used as reproductive aids, and a genetically-engineered hormone to boost milk production.

“This calculator gives us the means to uniformly measure the extent to which organic dairy operations prevent toxic materials from entering our air, water, soil, and in some cases, our food and drinking water” says study author Dr. Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist of the Organic Center. He points out that some of the animal drugs and pesticides used to support milk production have been linked to cow health problems, and in humans, developmental problems, miscarriages, the onset of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, allergic asthma and more.

The tool, developed by the Colorado-based Organic Center, is available free of charge in the form of a Microsoft Excel-based calculator so farmers and others can determine their own avoided impacts based on input data specific to their farm or region. The tool is available free of charge at www.organic-center.org.

According to USDA organic standards, no artificial hormones or antibiotics are allowed for use on organic dairy farms. Organic regulations also prohibit the use of toxic and persistent chemicals for growing and maintaining pasture and in the production of grain and forage-based feeds. Energy intensive synthetic chemical nitrogen fertilizer is also prohibited in organic farming.

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