Assessment of regional organic alternative dairy management practices

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,225.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Hubert Karreman
Penn Dutch Cow Care


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: livestock breeding, preventive practices, grazing - rotational

    Proposal abstract:

    Since the inception of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990, the sale of organic foods has increased at double-digit rates every year (OTA, 2004). This trend for organic food sales has prompted a dramatic increase in the number of certified organic dairy farms in the U.S., especially over the last five years. One of the reasons for the recent surge is the greater and more stable milk price received by organic dairy farmers compared to the very volatile milk price received by non-organic dairy farmers. And, while this greater and more stable milk price ($21.50/cwt for dairy farmers in Lancaster County, PA) has in most cases increased farm income, there seems to be a decreasing trend for milk production per cow on organic dairy farms in southeastern Pennsylvania (Karreman, personal observation). If this perceived downward trend is true and continues, then organic dairy farmers in the region face a developing problem on how to sustain farm income and remain competitive in the dairy industry. As a result, there is an immediate need to determine the current trend for milk production per cow on organic dairy farms in southeastern Pennsylvania and identify the factors driving this trend. This problem is important because milk production per cow is directly related to dairy farm income and long-term profitability.

    We are proposing to use DHIA records from certified organic herds in southeastern Pennsylvania to determine the current trends on a month by month basis for numerous production parameters that directly relate to farm profitability, and then, identify farms that significantly differ from the trends for those parameters. Those differing farms will be surveyed to determine what management practices during that time period may have contributed to those differences. Information, both good and bad, on these alternative management practices will then be disseminated to other organic dairy farmers. Overall, this year-long month-by-month analysis should provide a method for anticipating seasonal downturns in milk production and other herd performance parameters as well as indicate potential alternative management practices that can be used by certified organic herds to combat those downturns. Using similarly-sized conventional dairies as our control comparison group will level out downturns associated with weather as all farms should experience similar conditions. Using DHIA records during this retrospective study provides a common medium through which this type of research can later be conducted in other regions across the U.S.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of the proposed project is identification of viable organic dairy management practices that will sustain or enhance milk production per cow per year on organic dairies in southeastern Pennsylvania. The proposed project will achieve this goal by meeting the following three objectives:

    1.) Using DHIA records, determine the trend for milk production per cow per year for certified organic dairy farms in southeastern Pennsylvania.

    2.) Using DHIA records, determine monthly trends or changes in milk production, milk components, milk quality, and reproductive performance parameters for certified organic dairy farms in southeastern Pennsylvania.

    3.) Using DHIA records, on a monthly basis, identify certified organic dairy farms that have significantly different trends or changes as compared to those determined in Objective 2, and determine what management practices were in place on those farms that may have caused those differences, positive or negative.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.