Focus on organic dairy: An integrated program for Pennsylvania producers

2007 Annual Report for LNE05-234

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $149,277.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Leslie Zuck
Pennsylvania Certified Organic

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 individual 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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

We were very pleased meet and/or exceed all projected milestones and targets.

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.


(Note to the reader: attachments referenced below are available from Northeast SARE. Request appendix materials for LNE05-234.)

Year 3 of PCO’s “Focus on Organic Dairy Program” saw a large increase in dairy farmers becoming certified organic. The change in the National Organic Standards for transition of dairy animals went into effect 6/9/07. In order to qualify to be certified organic, dairy animals must be fed 100% organic for a total of 12 months after this date. This created a push to receive certification before 6/9/07.

Milestone 1: Two hundred Pennsylvania dairy producers will hear about PCO’s organic dairy program.

The organic transition specialist, Patty Neiner, was kept very busy speaking on transitioning requirements and one-on-one with dairy farmers interested in becoming certified organic. Patty or another transition team member spoke with farmers at 22 workshops, field days or agriculture events. These events generally had an attendance average of 75 people for a total of 1575 people in 2007 alone. The events mentioned are listed below.

1/9/07-1/11/07 Keystone Farm Show, York County, PA
1/9/07 PA Farm Show, Women in Agriculture Day, Dauphin County, PA
1/31/07 DMS Dairy Meeting, Lancaster County, PA
2/3/07 PASA Conference, Transition to Organic Dairy, Centre County, PA
2/6/07-2/7/07 Eco-Farm Days, Lancaster County, PA
2/9/07 Homestead Nutrition Dairy Information Day, Lancaster County,
2/19/07 Wayne County Dairy Day, Wayne County, PA
2/20/07 Northwest Grazing Conference, Clearfield County, PA, presented on Transition to Organic Dairy
2/23/07-2/24/07 Farming with Values Conference, Westmoreland County, PA
3/3/07 New & Beginning Farmers Workshop, Butler County, PA
3/9/07 SW PA Regional Dairy Day, Mercer County, PA
3/10/07 PSU Extension Alternatives in Farming Conference, West-
Moreland County, PA, presented on Transition to Organic
4/11/07 PCO Spring Certification Meeting, Lancaster County, PA
6/13/07 Managing Weeds and Soil Quality Organically Field Day, Centre County, PA
7/17/07 Grazing School for Transitioning to Organic, Snyder County, PA
7/18/07 Grazing School for Transitioning to Organic, Tioga County, PA
7/25/07 Grass Based Value Added Dairy Field Day, Centre County, PA
7/24/07-7/25/07 Lancaster Ag Customer Appreciation Day, Lancaster County, PA
8/14/07-8/16/07 Ag Progress Days, Centre County, PA
10/22/07 CROPP/OV Dairy Meeting, Juniata County, PA
12/4/2007 PCO Annual Meeting

Milestone 2: One hundred twenty dairy farmers will attend at least one of the workshops or field days.

PCO was directly involved in educating farmers, agricultural professionals, consumers and inspectors about the organic dairy certification process through several events sponsored or co-sponsored by PCO. The first of these events was the Penn State Field Day on “Managing Weeds and Soil Quality in Crop Fields.” PCO-certified dairy farmer Kore Yoder and PCO-certified crop farmer Carl Schmidt spoke of the impact of weed management on raising crops for dairy animals. Approximately 70 people attended this event. See attachment 1 for field day agenda and photos.

PCO collaborated with Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Organic Valley Family of Farms to offer two on-site presentations for “Managing Grazing Quality Forage” with Sarah Flack. These events were held on the farms of PCO-certified Todd Hackenberg and Kress Simpson. These events offered farmer-to-farmer sharing as well as hands-on management tools. See attachment 2 for program descriptions.

PCO’s annual meeting addressed dairy issues with a presentation from Dr. Kathy Soder, USDA-ARS on “Understanding Grazing Behavior.” Dr. Soder spoke directly to the grazing behaviors of dairy animals. Of the 100 people attending the animal meeting, approximately 50 people attended this presentation representing a high dairy involvement. See attachment 3 for annual meeting brochure.

Milestone 3: One hundred organic dairy producers will either read dairy resources or contact PCO’s transition specialist.

In an effort to reach more farmers, PCO collaborated with Organic Valley Family of Farms to publish a monthly organic page titled “Organically Speaking” in the premier agricultural newspaper for a tri-state region, Lancaster Farming. This newspaper has about 54,000 paid subscribers, the majority of whom are conventional farmers. Through this publication, PCO was able to expand exposure substantially and reach farmers who may have been interested in learning more about organic but didn’t know who to contact. This publication replaced the bi-monthly "Organic Dairy Matters" for 2007. See Attachment 4 for copies of “Organically Speaking”.

PCO also continued to address dairy-related issues within their newsletter "Organic Matters," which was published twice in 2007. This publication is distributed to transitioning and organic dairy farmers. It is currently sent to 792 subscribers, approximately 225 of whom are certified or transitioning dairy farmers or dairy professionals. Dairy related topics are included in attachment 5.

Milestone 4: Forty farmers from conventional or transitioning operations will request information.

In 2007, 97 dairy producers requested and received information packets about organic certification representing 26% of the total 374 information requests. Another 75 information packs were provided to dairy company representatives from Organic Valley, Horizon Organic, and Dairy Marketing Services to distribute to their potential clients. The number of phone calls from transitioning farmers rose in the first half of the year to 10-15 daily phone calls. This number dropped to 5-10 daily phone calls after the rule change went into effect in June 2007.

2007 saw a dramatic imbalance in certified organic crop farmers in Pennsylvania to supply the 194 PCO-certified Pennsylvania and 28 certified New York dairy farmers. PCO used its Organic Advisory Panel by enlisting five certified dairy farmers, three certified crop farmers, two veterinarians, two weed ecologists at Pennsylvania State University, and various milk company representatives. Two organic consultants assisted transitioning farmers through the process. The Organic Advisory Panel was very effective in answering questions directly from transitioning farmers on the issues encountered with herd health, weed management, record keeping, locating organic feed, and other areas that create great challenges to transitioning farmers.

Milestone 5: Thirty-five transitioning farmers will request and receive a transitional farm visit.

The demand for one-on-one education persists as evidenced by the organic transition specialist receiving requests from 17 producers for on-site visits. One of these visits was for a gathering of 15 farmers for a total of 32 people addressed through the on-site visit program in 2007. An additional four farmers came to the PCO office to meet with the organic transition specialist for education about the organic regulations and certification process. In combination with the 11 visits logged in 2005 and 23 visits logged in 2006, a total of 70 people have had one-on-one meetings with the organic transition specialist since the program began in April of 2005.

Milestone 7: Thirty transitioning farmers will submit paperwork for organic certification.

PCO received 22 applications for organic dairy in 2007. Together with the 14 organic dairy applications received in 2005 and the 35 in 2006, the total organic dairy applications received is 71. This total far exceeds our projected goal of 30 new dairy applications.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Performance Target #1: Thirty Pennsylvania dairy producers will complete the transition to organic production by the end of the project’s four-year period.

In 2007, 27 Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware dairy farmers submitted applications for organic certification. PCO issued organic certifications for 73 dairy farms in 2007, 46 of these were from Pennsylvania. A big challenge for dairy farmers in 2007 was an overabundance of organic milk due to the rush to get certified organic before the rule change in June 2007. Numerous dairy farmers had to wait to transition their dairy herds until milk processors could safely project supply and demand. Because these farmers didn’t have a milk market, ten organic certificates were issued for the crops of dairy farmers who were waiting to complete or start their herd transition.

A total of 108 dairy farmers have become certified since the project began in April of 2005.

• 7 dairy producers became certified organic from April 1, 2005 to December 31, 2005

• 28 dairy producers became certified organic from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006

• 73 dairy producers became certified organic from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007

With the 46 Pennsylvania dairy farms certified in 2007, we have exceeded our Performance target of 30.

Performance Target 2: Of the 120 organic and transitioning dairy producers in Pennsylvania, 40 will improve their knowledge of production standards and practices.

A survey was conducted in cooperation with PCO board members and the PCO education committee to assess the increase in knowledge from the PCO annual meeting. Of the approximately 100 people receiving surveys, 46 returned completed surveys for a 46% return rate. (See attachment 6 for the results of this survey.) The survey was divided by specific presentations. For the “Managing Grazing Quality Forage” presentation, 20 returned the survey. The results show four greatly increased their knowledge of grazing and diet selection, 11 had a moderate increase of knowledge, 4 had a slight increase and only one remained the same.

Also at the PCO annual meeting, there was a producer panel consisting of a certified organic dairy farmer, a certified organic crop farmer, a certified organic vegetable farmer and a certified organic processor. These producers spoke to the challenges and benefits of organic production and then answered questions from the audience. Of the 46 returned surveys for this presentation, 35 answered the survey for a return rate of 76 %. Thirty-one of the 35 farmers stated they had an increase in knowledge for a rate of 89%. We can conclude from these figures that 45 farmers have increased their knowledge of standards and practices. With percentages like the aforementioned, we can extrapolate that to the 1575 people who have attended events in 2007 in which a PCO staff member or certified farmer spoke for over 800 people who would have increased their knowledge. This is an example of the great success of this program.

Another indicator of the increase of knowledge has also been noted through the number of dairy applications that did not need to be returned for additional information or clarification of farming practices. For many farmers, the extensive record keeping and reporting requirements needed on an organic dairy operation is daunting. Typically, PCO must return over 90% of these applications due to incomplete information resulting in delays and frustration of the farmers. Since this program began, PCO staff has noted that more than 85% of all dairy applications have shown an increase in the information recorded pertaining to the organic regulations. This has been attributed to the organic transition specialist being accessible to the farmers by phone, email or events.


• Attachment 1: Managing Weeds and Soil Quality in Crop Fields agenda and pictures
• Attachment 2: Managing Grazing Quality Forage announcements
• Attachment 3: 2007 PCO Annual Meeting announcement
• Attachment 4: Copies of “Organically Speaking”
• Attachment 5: Copies of articles from “Organic Matters’ referring to dairy issues
• Attachment 6: Copy of survey results from 2007 PCO Annual Meeting