Organic Milk Production in Jefferson Co. and NYS

Agri-business column by Jay Matteson

Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010.  That is a lot of milk!  All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.

                We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.

                Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.

                We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production.  This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.

                In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important.  Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk.  The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.

                For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products.  Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.