Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It isn’t Easy Being Green

That is what Kermit the Frog said. I think that is true of most farmers today. How can we compete on a conventional grass-based dairy farm when the government allows major corporations to control everything? We are transitioning to Organic. The forms are long and tedious. Nothing is on computer. Everything has to be filled out by hand. I have decided that Organic for dairy cattle has become “Can we make it farming like they did in 1920?” It isn’t about antibiotic withdrawals or any herbicides or helping the environment. It has become so much more than that.

For the first time ever, we have almost had to buy grain from Cargill. We always support more independent local feed mills. With Organic, you have to be careful about quality and our cows will not eat grist. With $12/hwt for milk during the last three months of transition, we had to consider Cargill. I found it odd that when I was conventional, we never had to consider Cargill. We found another regional mill.

My husband feels deeply about the care of his cows. We just had to treat an older cow for pneumonia after her last calf. The weather would go up to mid 70’s and dip to 20 or lower then go back up. The stress sometimes causes pneumonia. She is dry. The air in our barn is good. She is clean. My husband rang and organic dairy farmer locally to ask what he’d do. After listing a number of herbal treatments and suggesting sugar for milk fever, he didn’t feel comfortable. You’d use sugar for ketosis, not milk fever he said. It bothered him for four days until I rang a friend. It use to be that you’d double the withholding or one month, which ever was longest. Now we’d have to treat the cow conventionally and ship her. We only milk 20-30 cows.

We do a lot of conservation on our farm. We started that when we were conventional. We didn’t consider organic then. We are developing a wetland. We have buffer strips along waterways. My daughter and I encourage cliff and tree sparrows and make butterfly habitats. We also cleaned up old farm dumps and hauled our old metal and debris.

My head is spinning. We always considered ourselves Beyond Organic. Beyond the confinement farms in Colorado that ship to Horizon or the ultra High Temperature Short Time pasteurization of the organic milk. Beyond the whole shipping of organic grains and produce from other countries. We bought local. We supported local people as best we could. We are going Organic and I have to consider suppliers in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, soybeans from Brazil, Cargill…

The cooperative told us that they lost money because the consumers aren’t buying cheese like they use to. Cheese prices have increased from 11.3/# annual consumption per person to 31.2# annual consumption per person. The cooperative now sells more than 20% of our cheese to WalMart. The farmers know why we are loosing money. It isn’t the consumers. The consumers are telling our cooperative what they want. They are not listening to the farmer owners or the consumers.

The newspapers tell us there is too much milk on the market. That is why the milk price is going down so low. We have had four markets conventional and organic stop by our farm in the last two weeks asking for our milk. Sign on bonuses, no hauling charges, three milk checks per month instead of two, quality premiums… There is a market for everything. Why isn’t the cooperative pooling non-rBST milk like we asked them to last fall.

CWT was suppose to help our milk prices. We paid $.05/hwt for the program. So far our milk prices have been at 30 year lows twice and there are more cows and more milk. I thought we hired our staff to work together to make the farmer’s money. Seems the retailers are making a lot of money and the farmers are paying $.10/hwt for record milk production. Nice to offer a subsidy for all-in-all-out confinement farms that are contributing to the problem. This isn’t working. Take it out of the CEO’s salaries. Not mine, I cannot pay for health insurance or groceries.

We are transitioning to Organic even though we think that it is a temporary fix. Cargill is selling Organic grain now. What is going to happen next? I think we’ll milk goats. I hear a Greek outfit is opening a yoghurt plant up north of here…

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