cows in field

From the NODPA Desk

It’s that time of year again. The 19th annual NODPA Field Days are upon us. The Field Days are scheduled for the last week in September, as they have been for many years, and we hope that as many of you as possible will join us in New York. When the NODPA Field Days started there were few educational workshop and farm tour opportunities for organic dairy producers. These days, there are many excellent workshops and organic dairy farm tours by many non-profits across the northeast and Pennsylvania. Our Field Days have many good workshops and two excellent farm tours; one family will have to rush back from a large Amish wedding to give the tour; but at NODPA we hope we give something more.

At many farmer meetings the actual discussion and participation does not happen until folks reach the parking lot and lean on their pickup or buggy. At the Field Days we try to give as much opportunity to gossip, exchange ideas and complain to each other within the meeting. The emotional release to be able to talk to our colleagues and peers in a comfortable setting is as important as any educational presentation. USDA Secretary Perdue recently made a joke about ‘whining farmers.’ This highlights his disengagement from the reality of 21st century small to mid-size farm family operations. Farm families battle to stay in business by every means possible against a backdrop of international trade, ineffective and inconsistent regulatory enforcement, false marketing and the ever present economies of scale that cut the cost of production while undermining the environmental health of the world. We hope to see you at Field Days and especially at the producer meeting on that Friday morning when we decide the future of NODPA.

We saw incremental change with the actions of the National Organic Program against the Texas Department of Agriculture when they settled violations of federal organic rules by agreeing to a compliance review and not to accept any new livestock clients until the NOP gives its approval. The NOP said the Aug. 15th settlement agreement is in response to non-compliances identified with their organic livestock program. Sustainable Food News reports that the terms of the settlement included:

  • Resolve outstanding noncompliances generated during NOP’s August 2018 livestock-focused site visit
  • Have livestock inspectors and reviewers complete an additional eight hours livestock training by the end of 2019 in addition to training already done
  • Conduct at least one unannounced inspection of each of its livestock operations by the end of April 2020
  • Confirm that inspectors have the knowledge and experience needed to inspect assigned operations
  • Conduct a program review of its livestock scope, and provide NOP the report and corrective actions

These are all very basic requirements for running an organic livestock certification program and yet nearly ten year after the publication of the pasture rule we still have certifiers that do not carry out the basics of applying the regulation. None of the operations they certify have yet been decertified. Of course we should ask: why not? One of the operations they certify is Natural Prairie Dairy Farms LLC, one of the nation’s largest organic dairy farms with a 14,000-cow operation in northern Texas. If you let your mind wander, perhaps dream a little, then there are approximately 280,000 organic dairy cows in the US. The Natural Prairie Dairy Farm has approximately 5% of that total. Making the believable assumption that with the little grazing they do they will also have a great total mixed ration giving a yield of about 18,000 lbs. of milk a year, approximately 1½ times more than most organic dairy cows and probably double most Grass Fed herds. This one herd could believably be producing about 8% of the organic milk in the US. Decertify that herd because they have never met the organic regulatory requirements and we are a big step forward in solving the milk surplus and increasing the integrity of organic milk. There is no need to change the regulations, just apply them consistently.

USDA Under Secretary Ibach appeared in front of Congress to give his opinions on the benefits of Genetic Engineering/Gene Editing in organic, and how big is better. He was taken to task by many of the politicians for his comments, especially when it comes to the publication of the Origin of Livestock Rule. He has never been a friend of organic, especially organic dairy, so his comments were not a surprise but guess who makes the recommendations for who serves on the Organic Standard Board? His desire for a more representative Board will translate into a Board that will recommend more materials that undermine the basics of organic production, and increasing the dollar volume of organic products without the subsequent benefit to the environment. Organic production does make a beneficial contribution to addressing climate change but we need to maintain the integrity of the regulations to ensure it continues. More practically, we need a program that has a high level of veracity, that is not seen as just another USDA rubber stamp for standards that aren’t accountable, in order to maintain even the smallest price differential in the market place.

The USDA has said that the Origin of Livestock Rule will be published this fall. Hopefully, at a minimum, it will be the 2015 Proposed Rule, hopefully with some additions from comments made. When the Rule is published we will be ready to analyze and assess it. We will very definitely be looking at the updated economic study to ensure that the economic impact on organic dairies of all sizes of not having the regulation in place will be accurately portrayed. Many of you will remember that some of those that were against the Pasture Rule made a lot of noise about the harmful effects it would have on many dairies. That never materialized.

Secretary Perdue, responding to questions from the Bloomberg News about the inequality of application of the regulations and how large scale operations were ruining the integrity of the Organic seal said, “If you believe in socialism, you probably ought to export your operation somewhere.” That bias has been very evident with this administration, so be prepared to defend the integrity of organic certification with the publication of the Origin of Livestock. See you in Canastota, NY at the end of September to help plot our future activities.