A new report makes the case that organic milk is not only better than conventional milk for the health of the earth, the cows and anyone who drinks it, it’s also better for the economy.
To begin with, organic dairy farming has provided an alternative to many small dairy farmers who have refused to “get big or get out.” By making the conversion to organic, they have been able to stay in business and make a reasonable living. “The organic dairy sector, virtually nonexistent just two decades ago, has become the most prominent market opportunity for smaller pasture-based dairies to remain in production,” reads the report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). While sales of organic milk have slowed significantly since the start of the recession in 2008, they are still at $750 million annually.
The UCS report draws on financial data from Vermont and Minnesota — two states in which organic dairy is big business, though not as big as in some other states. In 2008, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Wisconsin had the greatest number of organic dairy farms (479), followed by New York (316) and Pennsylvania (225).
Economic performance of the organic dairy industry in Vermont and Minnesota was assessed by UCS based on 4 metrics: output, gross state product (output minus input), labor income and increase in employment. (See the report for a detailed explanation of each metric.)
The report found that Vermont’s 180 organic dairy farms contribute $76 million in output, 1,009 jobs, $34 million in gross state product and $26 million in labor income to the state economy. Minnesota’s 114 organic dairy farms contribute $78 million in output, 660 jobs, $32 million in gross state product and $21 million in labor income.
UCS also forecast the impact on the state’s economy that an increase in dairy sales would have, comparing the impacts of the organic and conventional dairy industries given an equivalent hypothetical increase in sales of $5 million. In Vermont, the scenario would result in a 3 percent increase in the state’s output, a 39 percent increase in labor income, a 33 percent increase in gross state product, and an 83 percent increase in employment relative to conventional dairy farms. In Minnesota, the increases would be 4 percent, 9 percent, 11 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
According to UCS, this “report is the first to calculate the economic value associated with organic dairy farming, and it reveals the potential for that sector to create opportunities and jobs in rural economies… [O]rganic dairies offer greater regional economic impacts than conventional dairies.” Federal policies, however, provide far more support to conventional dairy operations, and UCS believes that has to change. At the very least, revisions should be made to level the playing field, though, really, organic dairy farming should be conceded the advantage, given how much better it is for our health, the environment and now, apparently, the economy as well.
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