cows in field

Regional Roundup from Organic Dairy Farm Families

Jack Brigham

Jack and Heather Brigham
Northwestern Vermont

Spring finally arrived and things greened up slowly. Maple sugar season was successful. The cows went out on May 14th; pastures have been good. It started out dry for most of May with the hay crop being kind of short. Since the first part of June we have had a tremendous amount of rain. We have only cut a small amount of hay. The fields and pastures are getting very wet. It will take a lot of sun to dry the land out and the hay crop is no longer on the short side. Milk is 35.47 cwt for 4.7 bfat, 3.43 protein, 186,000 SC. Grain is $653 per ton for 12%. Have a great summer.

Leon Corse
Southern Vermont

NODPA Regional Round Upleoncorse

Milk price, May milk: $ 36.57, 3.8 BF, 2.9 P, includes quality premium based on 1000 Raw 10 Past. SCC 122,000, 10% Pasture Pellet $687/ton

Cows went to pasture May 22 about 10-15 days later than normal due to a late, dry, spring so there was no pasture earlier!

Have haylage mostly done, the first 3 AG-Bags [about 150 tons/ bag] took more acres to fill than it took to fill 5 bags in 2013. 2014 took about the same acres for 4 bags, so this year is worse than last year. About 1/3 of the cows are dry, another 1/3 will be going dry in the next month. Starting about July 10, we have 3 or 4 due every week until late September.

Started pasturing land we harvested earlier on June 22, and can already see a positive effect on production.

George and Linda Wright
Northern New York

NODPA Regional Round UpLinda&GeorgeWright

The month of May was incredibly dry and as a result the grasses did not grow well, plus around the 20th of May we had a killing frost that killed all of the older stands of grass. Alfalfa, clover and newly seeded timothy survived but grew at a slower pace. I might add that I’ve never seen a frost in May do that much damage and I believe it was because of the severe dryness we were experiencing at the time. Along comes the first of June and our dryness was over. By the 9th of June we had 6 inches of rainfall, 2 of which we got in 2 hours on June 6th.

We expect that the first cut forage is going to yield a little less than half of normal when it dries out enough to finish cutting it. So it could be a tight feed year come winter. A lot of forage that was planted and came up before May 20th got frosted and has had to be replanted, such as soybeans, corn and sorghum/Sudan. Replanting has been difficult because of the wet ground we now are working on.

Cows are actually milking quite well considering the pastures got dried up a lot faster than usual. We had to give a little extra pasture that we usually reserve for later in the year but with the abundant rainfall we expect to be back on track before long. All in all, I think it will be an average year with feed being a little short in some areas bar any real disasters, weather-wise. Without a few challenges, farming wouldn’t be any fun!

Liz Bawden
Northern New York

A dry spring was great for getting the field crops in, but was dry enough to slow the growth in the hay fields dramatically. Rains came in early June, but the start of the haying season was delayed on most farms in this area.

Roman Stoltzfoos
Southeast Pennsylvania

NODPA Regional Round UpRomanStoltzfoos

Seasonal dairy and seasonal changes: We had less rain in April and May here in our corner of Lancaster County than we had the first few days of June; a total of less than an inch in May and never more than a quarter of inch at a time. It seems true what my dad used to say, “one extreme follows another.” In spite of the dryer weather we had surprising amounts of grass and good quality pasture with peak production per cow being just a bit better (2 pounds) than last year. Our first cutting of hay was just a bit on the light side because of the few rains we missed in our corner. Weather has been cool and wet since June 1st, with some very high humidity and less sun that we would have liked.

Our no-grain dairy herd looks good for the most part with good flesh on the cows, and breeding is going as good or better than expected. This is our fourth season with no grain but the first with no sprouts either. Much as I hate to admit it, shutting the sprouting operation down was a good move and after more than a year without them, we are slowly recovering from the drain that it was to us, financially. With barley seed, electricity, and labor it cost around $12,000 a month to operate the system. With no measureable increases, we did not see it feasible to continue and feel like taller grazing is a much better move for most Northeast farmers!

Rodney Martin (Lancaster Ag)
West Central Virginia

This is where the organic, grass dairy movement is centered and it’s been a land of Paradise so far this year. A little dry in a few places but a very good growing season overall. We have field corn higher than your head.
Organic Valley gives good market support to the farmers here and it’s only a matter of time until there is a load of grass-milk rolling out of here. There are several grain-free farmers already.

Steve Morrison and Sonja Heyck-Merlin
Central Maine

The dryness of early spring reduced first crop baleage yields by roughly 30%; however, with the recent rains we are optimistic about the quantity and quality of second crop. Given last year’s shortage of organic hay, a few farmers have already contacted us in an attempt to lock in their supply for next winter. Summer is fast and furious here with each day being an opportunity to get ready for the next cold season.

We kept the grain scoop at 4#/per cow this winter and it is our second grazing season without grain although we feed corn sileage during milking. When the pasture quality is high and the weather cooperates, our herd of small-framed Jerseys seems to average about the same with or without the grain. Cutting off grain during the grazing season helps our bottom line.
MOMP (Maine Organic Milk Producers) annual meeting in April was well-attended with a presentation on robotic milking in the Netherlands by cooperative extension agent, Rick Kersbergen, who recently spent part of his sabbatical investigating portable milking parlors and robotic milking systems in the Netherlands.

Wolf’s Neck Farm, located in Freeport, is establishing an organic herd with a grant funded by Danone/Stonyfield. The farm will serve as a training ground for potential organic dairy farmers and is currently working with the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, based in Wisconsin, to recruit students with an interest in organic dairy production.

Henry Perkins
Central Maine

NODPA Regional Round Uphenryperkins

This is a busy time of year even if I don’t milk cows any more. I still have land to work and hay to cut and fences and machinery to fix. The weather has been ok, a bit cool and dry, so I can’t complain about that. Of course, it wouldn’t help anyway.
What I’m hearing from everybody is that the Margin Insurance Program for milk is not working. Wonder how long it’ll take and how many farms will be lost before it’s scrapped. Makes me glad I’m not milking cows now.

Dave Johnson
Northern PA

Milk prices are holding steady with improvements over last year. OV’s component prices are advantageous to some producers with high components. Processors are looking for more milk, but other than the grass milk demand, prices are not enticing new dairy startups or a surge in production. Feed prices are steady with most producers being very conservative, further limiting milk production.

It was a slow start to the pasture season with extended winter weather and very cool March and April temperatures. Early May turnout was common in the north with early April in the south, about 3-4 weeks later than typical. May was rather low in precipitation and higher than normal temperatures for Northern PA while average in the south, so pasture growth was further delayed in northern areas. Mid to late May, 1st cutting was short.

June has changed the game. It’s been hard to find 2 sunny days in a row; cloudy, cooler than normal temperatures with frequent precipitation, torrential rains, and wicked thunderstorms have been the norm. Some places in NY and PA have seen 4 inches of rain over a few hours or days. Many locations have had no opportunity for haymaking and even haylage harvesting has been a challenge, with no dry hay put up. We are expecting forage quality of 1st cutting to be low due to the excess rain, sunless days, and late harvest. Did I mention pugging? The floatation vests on the cows sure help!

Another newsworthy note: Organic dairies in PA now have a meat plant in Loganton accepting organic cattle and paying a premium over conventional channels. They are offering weekly pickup in the Lancaster area. Good news for dairies selling those culls cows. There are also at least two buyers paying a premium for grass fed beef in the NY area.

Pam Moore
Twin Tiers Region of NY/PA

Pasture growth this spring got off to real late, slow start. We added half our hay fields into the grazing rotation because May was so dry. The extra pasture and rest resulted in re-growth of good quality. Recently (late June), we’ve gotten some decent rains and are seeing more clover and good response to our mob grazing practices.

Short term prospects for organic dairy in our area look good, with increased competition driving up milk prices and MAPs – but that can quickly change when milk is no longer in short supply. There are at least 7 or 8 buyers in New York right now, and we know several farmers who’ve changed markets.

There are at least two 100% grass-fed markets sourcing organic milk in our region: Organic Valley with one route in NY; and Maple Hill Creamery with four. Both have raised their prices since February and have trucks within an hour of our farm. A third buyer, New England-based Dahlicious, was prospecting in NY for their new line of 100% grass-fed Indian-style yogurt drinks, but we haven’t heard whether or not they ended up sourcing directly from farms.
There are also new markets and buyers for organic cull cows. Hosking Sales in New Berlin, NY, became the first certified organic sale barn in the country. We got $1.00/pound for the two open cows we sent to their monthly organic sale in April. Cull cows that went to nearby (conventional) sales in Bath and Dryden brought $1.06 (for a fat one), and .76 and .94 for a couple that weren’t in great shape. Nicholas Meat LLC of Loganton, PA announced they’ll be buying organic cull cows at all three of those markets, but we weren’t able to get any details about their program when we called a few weeks ago. Newborn bull calves brought $4.05 to $6.65/lb. for black & whites averaging 85 pounds, and $1.50 to $3.70/lb. for jersey crosses. Four heifers brought $270 to $300 each. We also had a bunch of private sales, both organic and conventional.

Things are looking up for organic dairy in New York. Rising prices for organic milk, and declining conventional prices are attracting more people into the business. I can think of over a dozen young people right off the top of my head who have or are in the process of starting organic dairies. Some are second generation organic who’ve taken over the family farm, others transitioned from a conventional background, and still others are completely new to farming. One inspiring 23-year-old operates his own organic dairy even though he works on and plans to take over his parents’ organic dairy one day.