Dairyman Perry Clutts with one of his organic milk producing jerseys
More small farmers are turning to the production of organic meat and dairy products. But a looming shortage of organically certified animal feed might be limiting the expansion of the organic market.
On a central Ohio dairy farm, 20 jersey cows stand patiently inside the milking parlor.
“So all the milk is coming down that pipeline from the cows,” says dairyman Perry Clutts. “It goes from the cow into this big pipeline here. It gets chilled and every other day the milk truck comes and picks the milk up. It’s a special dedicated milk truck; organic milk only.”
Clutts is a former North Carolinian who returned to Ohio and the family farm near Circleville. Clutts designed and built a modern dairy parlor that can milk 100 cows per hour. While they’re milked, the cows munch on certified organic feed.
“They always get organic feed which means no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, no added hormones to make them produce more milk,” Clutts says.
Converting to organic farming is a lengthy process. So is obtaining organic certification. But there’s a new challenge facing producers. As Clutts and others scale up production of organic milk and meat they face a looming shortage of organic animal feed. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association – known as “OEFFA” – is an Ohio based group that does organic certification. OEFFA’s Eric Pawlowski says there are too few acres devoted to growing organic grains and other feed components.
“Right now the demand exceeds the supply here in Ohio. We have more of a demand than what our producers can grow,” Pawlowski says.
Take the 3 million acres of corn that are grown in Ohio to feed livestock. Pawlowski calculates that less than 100,000 of those acres is certified organic.
According to another dairyman, the demand for organic feed is driving prices up.
“If you’re willing to pay the price at this point in time you’re able to find feed. It is a lot more expensive. It is getting harder to find,” says Ernest Martin.
Martin runs a 55-cow dairy farm northwest of Mansfield. He says that several years ago, there was not much of a price difference between organic and conventional hay. But that’s changing. And as feed becomes more difficult to find, Martin says he’s had to search for suppliers outside the Mid-West. And there’s yet another problem, says Martin.
“There’s been a reduction in organic acres which has hurt dairy or any organic livestock producers.”
It makes sense, then, that organic meat and dairy producers raise their own organic feed. Again Eric Pawlowski.
“They have seen a greater challenge of sourcing as they have been trying to grow their business if they aren’t already producing their own feed for their livestock which the vast majority of our farmers do, they view their farm as a complete organism so that the less that they have to input from off their farm the more stable their business model is,” Pawlowski says.
Dairyman Ernest Martin says he sees a bright spot in the not-too-distant future.
“I think that it’ll eventually straighten out again. With the feed prices as high as they are right now it’s a little hard to make a profit but I think that if we’re steady at it, I think things will turn around again. I think things will look better in the near future,” Martin says.