Focus on organic dairy: An integrated program for Pennsylvania producers
“Focus on Organic Dairy: An Integrated Program for Pennsylvania Producers” is a four-year SARE-funded project designed to fill an “organic knowledge” gap that often dissuades would-be organic dairy producers from taking the big step of transitioning to a new system of farm management. Led by an Organic Transition Specialist from Pennsylvania Certified Organic, the project provides information and knowledge through guidance materials, newsletters, intensive workshops, hands-on field days, one-on-one phone and email assistance, interaction with an Organic Dairy Advisory Panel, transitional farm visits and trained support staff.
Significant follow-up contact encourages continued participation by farmers and allows us to track our milestones and performance targets, which focus on two groups of beneficiaries: organic and transitioning dairy farmers. For transitioning organic farmers, we expect this project to result in an increase in at least 30 producers successfully meeting the requirements for organic certification. Once a farm is certified, the project will continue to educate and support the farmer with the expectation that at least 40 farmers will improve their knowledge of organic standards and practices, thereby increasing the likelihood of ongoing success.
Performance Target #1: Thirty Pennsylvania dairy producers will complete the transition to organic production by the end of the project’s four-year period.
Performance Target #2: Forty organic and transitioning dairy producers in Pennsylvania will improve their knowledge of organic production standards and practices.
Work on PCO’s “Focus on Organic Dairy Program” began in the spring of 2005 with a search for an Organic Transition Specialist to coordinate the project and to be the “someone” producers could contact for answers. PCO hired Patty Neiner to serve as the project coordinator and assembled several other staff members to serve on an organic transition team. Several hundred dairy producers heard about PCO’s organic dairy program through articles in PCO’s newsletter Organic Matters, the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association’s NODPA News, the newsletter and field day calendar of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable (PASA), and Lancaster Farming newspaper. PCO also spread the word through e-mailings and listserves, postings on the PCO website, a postcard mailing, and public presentations. (Milestone #1)
Project Coordinator Patty Neiner has attended 9 events since the project’s start date (April 1), where she presented information about the program and answered questions about the process of transitioning to organic dairying. Average attendance at each of the following events was approximately 20 people for a total of approximately 190 people (Milestone #1):
7/21/05 Penn State University Pasture Walk, Paradise, PA
8/12/05 NODPA Annual Meeting, Nichols, NY
8/16-18/05 Ag Progress Days, Rock Springs, PA
8/25/05 Organic Valley/CROPP Field Day, Belleville, PA
9/16/05 Penn State University Pasture Walk, Bird-in-Hand, PA
9/22/05 Penn State University Pasture Walk, Quarryville, PA
9/28/05 Penn State University Pasture Walk, Loganton, PA
10/6/05 Penn State University Pasture Walk, Oxford, PA
11/5/05 New & Beginning Farmers’ Training, Harrisburg, PA
All but one of the pasture walks were held on certified organic dairies.
PCO also educated farmers, potential inspectors, and others about organic dairy production through several workshops and on-farm field days. (Milestone #2)
On May 17, 2005, the PCO organic dairy program specialist and a PCO inspector led a 3-hour “Introduction to Organic Dairy” workshop in Crawford County, PA. This workshop was co-sponsored by the French Creek Project and Penn State Cooperative Extension. Approximately 35 people attended this workshop.
On August 11, 2005, PCO held a 2 ½-hour on-farm field day entitled, “IPM Fly Management in Dairy Operations” at the farm of a PCO-certified dairy producer (Spring Wood Farm in Lancaster County, PA). During this field day, the “Fly Guys” from Cornell University (veterinary entomologists Dr. Donald Rutz and J. Keith Waldron) showed participants how to put IPM principles to work on the dairy farm. The event, with approximately 45 attendees, was co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).
On October 18-21, 2005, PCO worked again with PASA to present an intensive “Organic Dairy and Crop Inspector Training.” While the workshop on organic dairy standards and techniques was held at the Midway Mennonite Center in Lancaster County, the training also included tours of certified organic dairy farms in the county. Twenty-one (21) attendees participated in all four days of the training (which included 2 days of inspector training with the Independent Organic Inspectors’ Association). Six (6) attendees participated in only the first 2 days of the organic dairy training. Thirteen (13) of the participants were farmers and 15 took the test that would allow them to act as organic dairy and crop inspectors.
Organic or transitioning dairy producers have learned about organic production and certification by reading PCO’s Organic Dairy Matters newsletter, by examining PCO’s informational packet, or consulting with our dairy/organic transition specialist. From August – December 2005, the specialist logged 70 phone calls with dairy farmers interested in transitioning to organic and spoke with approximately 50 such farmers in person (at events or farm visits). PCO mailed out approximately 150 copies of Organic Dairy Matters to producers and other interested parties in October, November, and December. Since April 15, 2005, 77 dairy farmers have requested and received PCO informational packs (4 from New York; 1 from New Jersey; the remaining 72 from Pennsylvania). (Milestone #3)
The transition specialist has begun to assemble the Organic Dairy Advisory Panel, from which farmer/advisor relationships will evolve. (Milestone #4)
Eleven (11) transitioning farmers requested and received a transitional farm visit in 2005. (Milestone #5)
Mail, phone, or e-mail surveys regarding the program’s effectiveness are still in development, but a written survey of participants at the October workshop indicated that most intended to “make a change in my farming operation, business or community as a result of something I learned at this field day.” (Sixteen (16) agreed with the statement; 9 had no opinion; 0 disagreed.) Written comments about what practices they intended to change included, “find different source of sweet feed,” “better recordkeeping,” and “start composting.” Many participants indicated that they had a better familiarity with the NOP standards after the workshop and that interaction with others involved in organic production (dairy farmers and veterinarian) was among the most valuable parts of the workshop. (Milestone #6)
Since the start of the program in April 2005, 14 dairy farmers have submitted paperwork with PCO for organic certification. (Milestone #7)
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Since April 1, 2005, seven (7) Pennsylvania dairy producers have completed the transition to organic production and have become certified. (Performance Target #1)
We estimate that approximately 150 organic and transitioning dairy producers have improved their knowledge of organic production standards and practices through phone contact, direct mailings of info packs and Organic Dairy Matters newsletters, or attendance at educational events. Outcomes will be verified and quantified over the coming year through mail, email, or phone surveys. (Performance Target #2)