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Published May 22, 2009, 08:12 PM

Organic farming takes planning, certification

On Thursday morning cold, cloudy, and windy weather conditions greeted visitors to Jon and Tracy TePoel’s dairy farm in Douglas County’s rural Maple area.

By: By Paul Stein/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram

On Thursday morning cold, cloudy, and windy weather conditions greeted visitors to Jon and Tracy TePoel’s dairy farm in Douglas County’s rural Maple area.

The visitors had come from across northern Wisconsin to discuss and learn about organic dairy farming. Sponsored by Organic Valley and the TePoel’s, guests from Neillsville, Eau Claire, Elk Mound and others huddled in TePoel’s machine shop for the presentation by Guy Jodarski, DVM, and Doran Holm, Pool Coordinator for Organic Valley Cooperative.

Dr. Jodarski presented the group with information on organic dairy practices and management. He stressed three areas of successful organic practice; soil health, stress reduction, and nutrition. Jodarski discussed the importance of the grazing regulation imposed by the FDA for organic certification.

“Good grazing management on good natural graze land will yield healthy cows and quality milk product,” said Jodarski. Jodarski also spoke briefly about homeopathic and tincture treatments for some bovine ailments, dairy cow physical structure, and acceptable supplements for both the animal and the pasture.

During a break in the presentations, Gary Loew of the Eau Claire area spoke of his organic dairy operation. Loew operates a 60 head dairy and became certified organic in 2004. He attended the forum because he is “Always looking at methods and improvements” for his operation.

That search for knowledge had him as a member of a study group organized by the University of Michigan traveling to New Zealand and Australia to learn about dairy herd management practices. Loew stated that he is a seasonal grazer, and a once a day milker. His practice of grazing leads to healthier cows with less stress on the animal, and his once a day milking leads to increased milk components.

“Volume of milk may be less than twice a day milking, but my milk product contains higher percentages of valuable milk components,” he said. “With all that taken into consideration, I am competitive with conventional dairies.”

Loew stresses that once a day milking and graze management also reduces the man hours required for his dairy operation allowing him more time for his family and leisure pursuits.

“Less rigorous schedules for the farmer and dairyman allow older farmers to stay in the business later in life, if they choose.” Loew said.

Doran Holm, dairy pool coordinator for the Organic Valley Cooperative stated his job is one of advocacy for the farmer. He said he works with prospective organic dairy farms over the three to four year certification process to not only ensure compliance with FDA and Coop regulations, but he assists the farmer set up effective and efficient organic dairy processes. Holm stated that there is a third party inspection process that assures compliance with FDA and Co-op rules and regulations. Holm also said that Organic Valley Cooperative employs more stringent rules than the FDA mandates.

Holm continued his discussion with the group saying four factors have combined to make the current organic dairy industry slightly concerned. Organic Valley Cooperative is currently 3 to 5 percent over supplied from their members. The balance of their members products, not utilized to fulfill obligations is resold on the conventional milk market at a loss.

Competition from other organic dairy cooperatives has had an impact on the Organic Valley market share. Finally, the recent downturn in the economy has had an impact on product sales. At this time, farms are not being accepted as producers for Organic Valley, according to Holm. Farms are, however, being assisted and encouraged to begin the process of organic certification due to the fact that market forecasts indicate an upturn. That means planning for the future and the need for organic milk products.

Douglas County, Wisconsin, supports five organic dairies as cooperative members of Organic Valley and the result of their labor can be seen on local grocery store.