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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Grass-Based Dairy Production Provides a Viable Option for Producing Organic Milk in Pennsylvania

Authors
item Rotz, Clarence
item Karsten, Heather - PENN STATE UNIV
item Weaver, Robert - PENN STATE UNIV

Submitted to: Forage and Grazinglands
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: December 17, 2007
Publication Date: March 12, 2008
Citation: Rotz, C.A., Karsten, H.D., Weaver, R.D. 2008. Grass-Based Dairy Production Provides a Viable Option for Producing Organic Milk in Pennsylvania. Online. Forage and Grazinglands. doi:10.1049/FG-2008-1212-01-RS.

Interpretive Summary: Most dairy farms in Pennsylvania remain relatively small in size, but these farms are having difficulty maintaining viable operations. The major issues faced are low profit and environmental concerns. Production costs remain high relative to the price of milk sold, compromising profitability at these smaller scales of operation. Environmental concerns are primarily related to nitrogen and phosphorus losses to ground and surface waters. Reducing these losses requires improved technologies and strategies, which often increase production costs. To reduce production costs, some are turning to greater use of pasture with rotational grazing of animals. To further improve profit, some are transitioning to organic production to obtain a greater price for their milk sold. A computer simulation study, based upon four actual farms in Pennsylvania, was done to evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of small farms using rotational grazing of pastures with either organic or conventional practices. Use of organic production increased farm profitability, but there were environmental concerns related to increased accumulation of soil phosphorus and greater potential for erosion and phosphorus runoff to surface waters. The current economic benefit of organic production may encourage more grass-based dairy producers to transition to organic, so more attention must be given to strategies that better utilize farm nutrients and reduce losses to the environment.

Technical Abstract: More intensive use of pasture and the transition to organic production are being used to reduce production costs and increase profitability of some small dairy farms in Pennsylvania. Simulation of farm production systems, supported by case study farm data, was used to compare economic benefits and environmental impacts of organic and conventional practices. Production systems using 1) all grass production, a spring calving herd, and outwintering of animals or 2) crop production, supplemental grazing, random calving, and winter confinement both showed good economic benefit for organic relative to conventional practices. Environmental concerns for organic production were 1) long-term accumulation of soil nutrients (up to 23 lb**acre per year of soil phosphorus) due to the importing of poultry manure for crop fertilization and 2) three times greater soil erosion and twice the amount of phosphorus runoff loss due to greater use of tillage for weed control. The economic benefit may encourage more grass-based dairy producers to transition to organic certification, so more attention must be given to strategies that better utilize farm nutrients and reduce losses to the environment.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
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