cows in field

Transitioning to Organic

While NODPA encourages farms to consider the benefits of organic production, it is important to understand the whole picture before investing too much time and money. The following list of guidelines is designed to help interested producers considering transition.

  1. Visit other organic dairy producers in your area to learn first-hand about the different practices that are required in organic farming which will influence your planning for the future, as organic dairying requires learning new techniques for care of livestock and the land.
  2. Attend conferences and workshops about organic practices and dairying, plus sign up for the Odairy list-serve.
  3. Get used to farming to meet organic standards / management practices ahead of time. There are many ways to start managing your land and cows to be in compliance with the certification standard ahead of the actual certification process without increasing your costs of production. This will help you realize what some of the challenges in crop and livestock management may be while still having conventional practices to fall back on.
  4. Secure a market for the milk. It is the individual producer's responsibility to make arrangements with a processor to purchase milk before certified. Certification does not ensure a market! Note: Processors may have their own standards and visit requirements in addition to the requirements of the certifying board.
  5. Create a transition and business plan for the farm with a time line. The time line could be developed by anticipating a date for certification and working backwards to establish dates of significance for the transition process. Note: Some certifiers only do certifications specific times of the year.
  6. Understand the organic milk market. Understanding important issues such as organic milk pricing keeps the market sustainable for both producers and processors. In the case of milk prices, settling for a lower price would hurt the organic milk market for all producers. Note: NODPA is advocating a floor price of $32/cwt to maintain a stable market. There are and will always be other such issues that are important for producers to stay aware of. NODPA hopes to supply the means for which such information can be collected and disseminated.

While this list offers some information, it is not a complete guide for organic milk transition. NODPA encourages interested producers to contact their organic dairy neighbors, their NODPA state representative, certifying organizations and all the major processors before signing any contracts.

Transition Articles:

Making the Leap to Organic Dairy Production By Kathie Arnold, December, 2007

More information in PDF files.

Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP)

TOPP is a network assembled by the USDA’s National Organic Program to support transitioning and organic producers with mentorship and resources.