Nutrient Testing-Pasture Based Dairy Products
Our farm operation consists of 180 acres of pasture on which we milk 70 dairy cows. We raise about 50 dairy replacements. We typically buy all our grain for feed and have not raised corn or soybeans since 1996. We were certified organic in 2003. We make and market cheddar cheese from our pasture based milk. Before receiving this grant we carried out many sustainable practices, management intensive grazing, composting winter manure, fencing cattle out of stream banks, leaving wildlife habitat areas, no herbicides or pesticides. We did not make cheese as a cooperative prior to this grant.
Project Description and Results
1. Our Project Goals were:
a. To measure the CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and fatty acid profiles of pasture based milk over the course of a growing season. We originally hoped to measure the vitamin A, D, B 12, E and K content, but did not have enough funding to measure those items in all samples.
b. To report the findings in an effort to show how pasture based milk is different from conventional dairy cow milk.
c. To use the findings if significant to help market cheese from the Wisconsin Dairy Graziers Cooperative.
2. How did we accomplish our goals?
Process and People: Measuring CLA and fatty acids: We sub-contracted with Dr. Debra Pearson at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay to conduct the analysis. We five farmers collected milk samples each week through the summer of 2001 and submitted them to her lab. Dr. Pearson spent several weeks training and emulating Dr. Michael Pariza’s UW-Madison food science laboratory in order to create duplicate testing conditions in her lab. This process and lab set-up took until January 2002. During 2002 the samples were analyzed.
We also made cheese from bulk milk that was picked up from our farms. We made cheese weekly and manufactured nearly 70,000 pounds from July through October. Cheese from various seasonal dates was also analyzed by Dr. Pearson. In addition Northland Labs of Green Bay completed a nutrient profile acceptable for use in labeling our cheese- for vitamins A,E , total fat, calories, cholesterol, sodium and calcium.
The farmers’ role in this project was to submit milk samples and help distribute the results. We all reported in detail our farming practices so that the paper’s results could reflect CLA and fatty acid profiles as dependent on farming practices. We reviewed the manuscript and the co-op administrator collaborated on writing the research paper. Each farmer has had several field days and been part of many discussions in which they had data from the study available to share with other farmers.
CLA levels climbed significantly over the summer months, peaking in September (from an average of 7.5 mg/g of fat in July to 13.3mg/g in September). Grazing farms were significantly higher than conventional dairy farms (average 13.3 compared to 4.90 for conventional farms in September, for example). CLA level profiles varied among grazing dairy farms due to several factors. Favorable fatty acid ratios were found in grazing farm milk compared to conventional farm milk.
Another very interesting result was that the Cholesterol of our cheese was 20 mg/g compared to the average cheddar of 30 mg/g . That’s one-third less cholesterol!
This grant allowed the quantification of CLA fatty acids and other nutrients. The results were better than expected . We were pleased that our CLA ,fatty acid profiles and cholesterol looked so good. We felt confident about using the results to help people understand this key concept: farming practices make a difference in food’s nutrient content.
An electronic version of the research paper can be requested by contacting Dr. Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com.
Using The Findings To Market Cheese
Using the results of our testing has been very rewarding. We label our cheese based on its average CLA content. We found that our cheese has at least two times more CLA than conventional cheddar cheese. We were able to use this measurement of nutrient content very effectively when making presentations to buyers for retail stores and cheese distributors. It clearly helped distinguish our cheese from other artisan and farmstead cheeses. We garnered a fair amount of press from measuring the fact that we had more CLA. We used the CLA numbers in our marketing literature. We’ve been flattered to have other farmers use our reported CLA levels when marketing their cheeses –even though they really need to measure their own levels since grazing farms do vary, another finding of our study. We even had a Rhodes Scholar from England make a special trip to one of our farms because she was researching how farmers market their dairy products. She told us that we are the only company in the world marketing on the basis of the measured values of CLA.
Out Northern Meadows brand of grazing cheddar is selling well and we are proud to show that its nutritional value is higher because of pasturing. We have added value to our grazing milk, purchasing it at $16 purchasing it from ourselves as coop members rather than at the $12 conventional market price. The grant funds had a very real and practical impact on our ability as farmers to market our cheese based on measured nutrients.
The grant results also help boost the image of grazing in Wisconsin. In addition to farmers, who already suspected the nutrient benefits, now consumers, food industry people, chefs, policy makers and others are aware that grazing is a win-win practice. When we market the cheese we are able to educate people from all walks of life about the other benefits of grazing, such as less soil erosion, less fossil fuel use and better animal health. Testing for CLA and fatty acids has allowed us to open doors to conversations about land and animal stewardship as well as the economics of sustainable farming and the price of milk. Because of this grant we had a key tool (factual numbers) that we needed to be able to tell people that grazing is good for the land, the animals, the economy and the consumer. Thank you USDA!
In 2003, after the grant period officially ended, we contracted with four grazing dairy farms to use some of their milk for our Northern Meadows grazing cheese. We needed an alternate milk supply because of drought conditions on three of the coop farms. We bought milk from these grazing farms as well as our own at $16.00/cwt. Over 2001-2003 we bought a total of 8000 cwt of milk at the higher value resulting in an additional $32,000 of income to farmers.
In addition we converted 800,000 pounds of milk into 80,000 pounds of cheese. The costs for this value added project include milk hauling, cheese making, warehousing, cut and wrap, labeling and printing, artwork and design, and marketing. Our costs were $1.30 per pound not counting the milk. This project generated an estimated $ 104,000 of economic activity in addition to the extra milk value.
The Wisconsin Dairy Graziers Cooperative has provided at least one half-time job to administer the cooperative for the last four years. This has resulted in an additional income of $26,000 to farmer, Valerie Dantoin Adamski. In 2005 we hired a marketing person and expect to pay a salary of approximately $20,000 this year.
So between the milk value, the value added economic activity, and the labor, the total economic impact is estimated at $162,000 from 2001 through 2004. In 2005 we expect to sell the final amount of cheese in our inventory that was made during the grant period, so the economic impact of the project to test the cheese for CLA and fatty acids will continue at least through 2005.
One final “impact” note. Marketing on the basis of CLA, fatty acid profile has required a huge amount of farmer investment in educating consumers. The test results would not have had much impact and the project would have been considerably less successful without the stepped up marketing and outreach.
(Editors summary of outreach):
1. Research paper submitted to the Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry in August,2004.
2. Dr. Pearson presented the paper at a poster session in 2004 at the a Conference in Washington D.C.
3. A shortened version of the research paper was presented as an extra session at the Wisconsin Grazing Conference attended by approximately 500 farmers and agents in Wisconsin Dell.
4. Ms. Dantoin also planned to submit an article about the cheese coop marketing efforts, for publication in the Stockman Grass Farmer in the future.
5. Early releases of data were the subject of several newspaper and magazine articles.
6. Interviews and presentations given including one on Wisconsin Public Radio.
7. 15 journalists from the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources visited . For copies of stories generated by this group please contact Peter Annin, Associate Director, IJNR, (608-278-8005) or www.IJNR.org .
8. The “five farm families” in the coop included the research results at pasture walks on their farms. From 2002-04 CLA and fatty acid results were the subject of approximately 50 talks given to various groups by coop members.
9. A summary paragraph of the research findings can be found at www.EatWild.com.
10. Two minute video-story that ran on most Wisconsin T.V. stations may be available from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board by calling 1-800-373-9662.
[The report for this project includes many tables that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request.]