The next time you pass by your grocery’s dairy case, take a moment to stand back and marvel at the variety and choices available to meet you and your family’s needs. There’s something for everyone: an increasing number of milk, cheese, yogurt and other delicious dairy foods are available in lower fat, sodium or sugar varieties that support our health needs, taste preferences and budgets.
One of those varieties includes organic products – but what does that mean? What makes a dairy farm organic, and is the question really so black and white?
While you may be familiar with the concept of organic farms and conventional farms, it’s not as simple as that. Across the country, dairies embrace best practices that are right for them – they make different choices based on what’s right for their families and where they’re located, just like you do in making your own decisions.
Some farmers decide to produce certified-organic milk. In order to do so, those dairy farms must go through a process to become organic and then must maintain specific standards set in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Under the standards, organic dairy farmers must demonstrate, among other things, the following processes:
- Using organic fertilizers and pesticides on their crops.
- Providing cows access to pasture during the grazing season – at least 120 days per year. In addition to grass, organic dairy cows receive a supplemental feed so they can get enough protein. During the winter, when grass may be hard to come by, cows on organic farms eat the same feed as cows on other farms, except that on an organic farm, all the ingredients are certified organic.
- Not using antibiotics. If a cow becomes sick, an organic dairy farmer can try approved organic health treatments. If those don’t work, the sick cow will then receive antibiotics.
That being said, some dairy farmers also embrace some or all of these practices to different degrees; they simply may not be 100 percent organic. No matter if farmers decide to become certified organic or not, each dairy farm family carefully considers the right option for their farm, their family and their animals.
When it all comes down to it, having a variety of dairies is exactly what our nation needs. Every day we rely on large farms, small farms, organic farms, conventional farms and every type of farm in between. We couldn’t do it with only one type of farm, and the different types of dairies mean that we can enjoy a wide variety of products and options.
No matter if a cow lives on an organic or conventional dairy farm, dairy farmers take good care of their cows. Animal care is one of the most important aspects of dairy farmers’ jobs, because good cow care leads to high-quality, wholesome milk.