cows in field

From the NODPA Desk, January/February 2020

Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

In 2010 we welcomed the Access to Pasture Rule with the promise of an Origin of Livestock Rule to immediately follow it. We had high expectations and hoped that both of the regulations would preserve the integrity of organic dairy and reestablish a level playing field for all organic dairies.

Now, in 2020, pay price is as low as it was in 2010 and USDA is under instruction by Congress to have an Origin of Livestock Final Rule by June 2020. The Federal Government is not known for its speedy actions or equal enforcement, nor is organic dairy known for its fair distribution of profits to the benefit of producers.

The Access to Pasture Rule was a result of the organic dairy industry working together with the USDA to create a strong and enforceable regulation, which unfortunately has never been enforced consistently across the country. The deadline for the publication of the Origin of Livestock Final Rule is a result of a crash of the supply side for organic milk which brought many personal disasters to organic family farms. The harrowing examples of the effects of the oversupply did have the emotional pull to influence advocacy groups, politicians and even certifiers to push for regulation to provide consistent implementation of the transition of conventional dairy animals to organic, close loopholes on exemptions, and ensure one consistent standard that is easy to implement and honors the expectations of consumers. We print NODPA’s comments on the Proposed Rule in full in this issue to highlight how the situation has worsened since the Proposed Rule was first published in 2015. The delays in publication of a Final Rule from 2008 onwards highlights the detrimental effect that poor enforcement of regulation, inconsistent certification standards, political bias of different administrations, and poor oversight by USDA NOP has on organic producers and their families that follow the spirit and letter of the regulation. The certifier’s job is not to find the best interpretation of the regulation for their clients, whether they be small startup dairies or large conglomerates. The NOP regulations are littered with inconsistent implementation and enforcement; at the moment, the most remarkable one is that despite the common practices of intensive greenhouse growing using many herbicides, pesticides and liquid feed, the operator can just switch from conventional growing to organic without any waiting period or, it seems, any Standard Operating Procedures to ensure any cross contamination with excluded inputs. Organic dairy has learnt the lesson that enforcement must be consistent and effective to protect both the producer and the consumer.

All the signs are indicating that the recovery of the supply side of organic dairy market will be slow and painful. The number of organic herds and milking animal for sale has increased, clearly shown by more ads for organic cows for sale on the ODairy listserve and phone messages to the NODPA offices. Many producers are making tough decisions, including ending their production of organic milk. Even those that diversified and moved into bottling their own milk have decided that they need to move away from organic milk to other products. Milk buyers are not making life any easier. As we detail in the Pay Price article, those producers supplying organic milk to Danone North America for their Horizon brand have been informed of the outsourcing of procurement to a small regional organic brand. Danone has not replied to requests for more information and comment on their plans for the future but we understand that this model will be used widely and most of their field staff have been laid off or retired. CROPP cooperative is reportedly downsizing their operations in the west, and some of their field staff has left the company. At the time of writing, they haven’t published their 2020 pay price but hopefully they will continue to set the example for other organic dairy buyers and publish their pay price that can be used as the basis or future planning. At this time, we need as much transparency as possible about the future demand for organic milk and what buyers will pay for it to allow organic dairy farm families to make informed decisions. At least the conventional market is looking better, which should make balancing organic supply less costly.

NODPA’s annual fund drive continues to be successful and we most sincerely thank all our contributors. Remember it is never too late to respond to the fund drive and we get money drifting in year round as folks find they are able to send their dues in. We also recognize and thank all of our Field Day sponsors and NODPA News advertisers for their support in these tough times. We appreciate all donations and make very good use of them. In these times when there are more requests from organic organizations for support and less money to go around we understand that you are making difficult decisions on who to support.

Don’t forget that NODPA Field Days will be on September 24th and 25th this year, so save those dates and discourage others from having their events on or near those days! As soon as a site has been selected, we will let you know.