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The Journey to Organic: Dairy edition

1 Dec

The gray sky casted shadows into the dairy barn, sprinkled onto the floor are the expensive out of state gold organic hay. Working as a team the three women of the organic dairy, bundled in multiple layers of Carharts jackets and sweatshirts, scurry back and forth accomplishing the day’s chores before the rain soaks them to the bone.

The Organic Dairy Farm is ran by a team of Chico State students that run a herd of 85 cattle with organic and sustainable farming methods.  The local organic dairy provides for 157 families, and provides research on groundbreaking organic and sustainability methods. After its conversion from a traditional dairy in 2007, the Chico State Dairy has overcome some massive changes. Although what does the term organic really mean when dealing with dairies?

“For organic pasture, as far as the land quality and the soil quality, not using pesticides or herbicides does make the actual nutrients of the soil last longer” said Chico State Agriculture Student and Organic Dairy owner Hannah Bucher. “The soil will actually be healthier. In reality the milk quality as far as conventital organic the nutrients are basically the same. What it comes down to, on the consumer side, is a preference. But as far as the land aspect, land which is certified organic will be healthier.”

Switching to Organic

Organic agriculture is one of the fast growing facets of agriculture according to the United States Agriculture Department. The dairy segment of the Organic food sales is the second largest sector, following closest behind fruit and vegetables.

“Actually a lot of dairies have gone into organic to save their dairy” said Samantha Herd a fourth year Animal Science student who works at the Chico State Dairy. “You got milk prices at three dollars per a gallon, and you have organic milk at five. So organic milk gets a première premium, that 20 cents or whatever it ends up being can actually end up saving a dairy.”

“Why do you think I am still enrolled at college, it because we converted to organic” joked Bucher.

Bucher family converted her dairy from a conventional dairy to a organic dairy in 2007. Converting the diary dairy took her family five years to transfer the herd of 700 dairy cattle to certified organic. The Bucher family slowly convert the herd by treating the land as organic, and only using abiotic that stemmed from natural ingredients and where approved by the Organics board.

“It really depends on your property” said Herd as she explained the different ways of converting dairies. Chico State’s Dairy sat dormant for three years as they “sold off all their cows, built up their soil, took those years to get certified organic, got a herd donated, and then transition that herd into a organic all at once.”

Just cause your organic doesn’t mean your sustainable.

However despite the “more paperwork then you can imagine” and numerous inspection Bucher states that the hardest thing was finding feed that suited organic standards.

“We were getting corn or almond hulls, which we had to get some organic matter from Argentina” explain Bucher. “And we had to get hay from Nevada, and the carbon foot print of that truck hauling it from Nevada to here was ridiculous.”

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(Organic Calf at Chico State Dairy)

Because the farms have to have feed that is certified organic they often have import foodstuff from other states because of the lack of organic food that is availed in the local area. Chico State usually imports their hay from a family that lives in Oregon, but because of the drought (which limited amount of foodstuff that farmers in California was able to grow and created a shortage) they had to import form Ohio.

However Herd was quick to point out that there was ways to make up for having to truck feed across the country such as irrigating with solar pumps, and reusing manure as fertilizer in the fields. “So its saying that they are not sustainable at all” said Herd. “its just saying that they are less sustainable then they could be if they had these open markets of having the hay closer. “

“When people ask “why are you getting from all the way over there” its because we have no choice, we have to feed our animals” said Bucher. “Farmers will do anything for their animals, and sometimes it not the sustainable choice. But you got to do what you got to do.”

*edited December 1st because of typo’s