Cindy Conway on Wellness Wednesday today on WNRB was talking about organic dairy farming, among other things. It seems to me, as I have stated before, that organic and sustainable farming practices are pretty much the only thing that can save local, small scale agriculture.
Organics are a value added product and although it might be possible to "factory farm" in some kind of sustainable way, organic production methods lend themselves to smaller scale operations and the higher income from organics can support smaller operations. There are several tremendous hurdles for farmers who want to go organic though.
The biggest hurdle and one we as a community need to work on is the waiting period. For a dairy operation, the farm must be operated organically for 3 years before it can be certified organic. What this means is that the farmer is operating organically, and probably sustaining lower yields — but cannot yet charge the higher organic price. Ouch. This is a bit like hand making furniture but only being able to sell it at the X-Mart "furniture in a box" price.
The chamber of commerce types, extension types, farm bureau types and we the consumers and community need to find a way to support farmers that are making the transition to organic farming techniques.
One way would be to create a middle level of certification for farmers who are using organic practices, but have not yet completed their waiting period. Perhaps "Certified Sustainable" or "Organic Pending" could alert consumers that the farm products justify a higher price than "ordinary" produce. This would help level out the farmers income and encourage more farmers to go organic. Two other possibilities are strong support for farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture. Moonshadow Farm is already certified organic, but it is easy to imagine a CSA offering "sustainable" produce, herbs and such while they were in the process of getting certified.
There is quite a bit of good help for farmers wanting to go organic on the web. Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service is located in Lacrosse and their page is chockful of publications, links and ideas for farmers and consumers. If you are farming or know someone who is and is looking for new ideas, you might want to pass along the "Help Wanted: Organic Farmers" packet that MOSES has put together.