Where is all the organic milk? If you haven’t noticed yet, there is a nation wide organic milk shortage. The New York Times recently ran an article on the subject. Many of the stores I frequent have put up signs talking about the shortage.
One of our Twitter followers said this:
FoodFightersUS I’ve just been reading @ the organic milk shortage. Had not noticed much until today-I checked 2 DC Whole Foods & found zero organic cream?
This isn’t just an Organic Valley problem, or a regional problem, it is a complete shortage of organic milk from every brand nation wide.
So what is the deal? There is a shortage of feed. We don’t have to look far to know that this is the truth. On our farm we raise about 40% of our feed needs and buy another 60%. In our urban area there isn’t much land to go around. We would love to grow more, but it is a constant battle to rent enough ground.
Currently, conventional crop prices are record highs. This is due partly to demand (ethanol and overseas markets) and partly low supply (drought in the South). Growing organic crops is tough. It is more paperwork, more fees (organic certification costs) and a lot more work. I completely understand when crop farmers switch back from organic to conventional. Why would they want all the hassle when conventional corn is very profitable?
So when conventional crop prices are high, organic land gets switched back to conventional, lowering the organic crop supply and raising organic crop prices. Also, when crop prices are up, more land that would normally be put into hay is put into grain. Again, lowering organic hay supply and raising organic hay prices. Once land goes back to conventional it is at least three years until it can be organic again.
In farming we always talk about margins: what is our net, what will be left after we pay all the bills. Even though our pay price per hundred weight of milk (how milk is priced) is higher than conventional, our margins are lower. ie It takes more money to produce a gallon of organic milk.
So why don’t the organic milk company’s raise pay price? Good question. They are. Organic Valley farmers voted to raise pay prices this fall. But we walk a fine line. Higher pay prices for farmers usually equal high retail price. My mom said Organic Valley milk is at $7.99/gallon at her local grocery store. How much higher are customers willing to pay? We are just recovering from one of the largest economic downturns. Also just under a year ago, there was an abundance of organic milk. There was so much milk, many regions were still on a quota (only could produce so much without a penalty).
On our farm, we are feeling the shortage of feed. Currently, we are selling cows. Thankfully, beef prices are high right now. That means we are culling (selling for beef) our low producing cows. The goal is to try to make the herd as efficient as possible on the feed we do have. Also, our steers are not being fed organic feed. We have never certified them as organic, but they usually eat the same organic feed as the cows. We cannot afford it now. Saving all the quality organic feed for our cows is a priority. We don’t want to loose our certification.
I think many organic farmers are doing exactly what we are doing. Heavy culling is taking place and the hunt for feed is wide spread. Jon and Tim have been searching for affordable feed since late summer, when we realized we would have a shortage.
So the moral of the story? Keep buying organic milk when you can. If consumers continue to signal that they are willing to pay the price, cooperatives will be able to raise farmer pay price, then more farmers will continue to milk organic cows, which will entice more grain farmers to grow organic grains and hopefully lower organic grain prices.
One our Facebook fans wrote this on our page:
I believe that part of consuming responsibly is understanding that you can’t always get what you want when you want it. Everything is cyclical – there are periods of abundance and periods of scarcity, and if we could get back to an acceptance of that, perhaps we could solve some other problems as well. Hope all is well on your beautiful farm!
We thank everyone for their loyal support! It is you that make farmer owned cooperatives like Organic Valley continue to thrive. Hopefully this organic milk shortage will not last long and the milk, cream and cheese you are looking for at the store is always in supply.