November 10, 2010

The Organic Center: “A Dairy Farm’s Footprint.”

Wonderful! Proper research that demonstrates conclusively that organic dairy farming is better for you, better for me, better for our beautiful cow cousins, and better for our planet. Are you, or is anyone you know, still skeptical about ‘organic’ vs traditional farming? If so, show ’em this! ~ Ben Ralston, for elephant journal.

Findings of New Study Released:

Grass-based Organic Dairy Farming Promotes Cow Health, Enhances Milk Quality, and Lightens the Environmental Footprint of Dairy Farming.

Via our elephriend, Mia, of Neighbor Agency:

“Evaluating the Impacts of Conventional and Organic Farming Systems.”

A first look at a new research report showing that organic dairy farming systems promote cow health and longevity by placing less stress on cows and feeding them healthier forage-based diets, while also improving the nutritional quality of milk.

Led by Dr. Charles Benbrook—chief scientist of research institute The Organic Center and former executive director on the National Academy of Science’s Board on Agriculture and the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture—the research report, titled “A Dairy Farm’s Footprint: Evaluating the Impacts of Conventional and Organic Farming Systems,” compares milk and meat production and revenue earned, feed intakes, the land and agricultural chemicals needed to produce feed, and the volume of wastes generated by representative conventional dairy farms and organic farms.

Key findings include:

* The average cow on organic dairy farms provides milk through twice as many, markedly shorter lactations and lives 1.5 to 2 years longer than cows on high-production conventional dairies;

* Because cows live and produce milk longer on organic farms, milking cow replacement rates are 30% to 46% lower, reducing the feed required and wastes generated by heifers raised as replacement animals;

* Cows on organic farms require 1.8 to 2.3 breeding attempts per calf carried to term, compared to 3.5 attempts on conventional farms;

* The enhanced nutritional quality of milk from cows on forage based diets, and in particular Jersey cows, significantly reduces the volume of wastes generated on organic dairy farms; and

* The manure management systems common on most organic farms reduce manure methane emissions by 60% to 80%, and manure plus enteric methane emissions by 25% to 45%.

A team of dairy specialist worked with The Organic Center to build the “Shades of Green” (SOG) dairy farm calculator used to make the projections summarized above. The Center also plans to release the SOG calculator, the full model results comparing the representative farms, and a 92-page report providing detailed documentation and user instructions for the SOG calculator. The principal funding for the development of the SOG calculator and this report was provided by a grant from the Packard Foundation.

An expert on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues, Dr. Benbrook has been at the forefront of confronting topics such as health issues (e.g. autism, diabetes, obesity) related to pesticide exposure, especially among young people; drastic increases in pesticide use on genetically engineered crops and associated environmental impacts; nutritional value of conventionally versus organically grown food; organic farming and food imports from China; among other areas. He is frequently quoted in national news media including NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg, TIME, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, among others.

Grass-based Organic Dairy Farming Promotes Cow Health, Enhances Milk Quality, and Lightens the  Environmental Footprint of Dairy Farming

Reproductive health problems on high-production, grain-based dairies lead to fewer and longer lactations, increasing costs and cutting lifelong production and revenue.

Reducing methane emissions is a critical goal for all dairy farmers because this greenhouse gas is 25-times more potent than CO2 in global warming potential. The report also notes that gross milk and meat sales revenues are about 50% higher per year of a cow’s life on organic dairy farms, largely because of significantly greater milk revenue. Over the last five years, organic dairy farmers have received, on average, a premium of $10.98 per hundredweight of milk (average of $26.82 per hundredweight of organic milk compared to conventional average price of $15.93).

Klaas Martens, a farmer in New York and one of the 14 report co-authors, predicted that, “This report and the SOG calculator will help all dairy farmers better understand how to improve both cow health and their bottom line, while also doing a better job reducing the environmental impact of dairy farming.”

The principal funding for the development of the SOG calculator and this report was provided by a grant from the Packard Foundation. This Critical Issue Report, the SOG calculator, and the user manual are available at www.organic-center.org/SOG_Home.

About The Organic Center

The Organic Center is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education organization whose mission is to advance scientific research on the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming, and to communicate those benefits to the public. All of The Organic Center’s research reports, publications, consumer guides and videos are available free of charge on our website, www.organic-center.org.

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