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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #209473

Title: Grass-Based Organic Dairy Production Systems in Pennsylvania

item Rotz, Clarence - Al

Submitted to: American Forage and Grassland Council Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/20/2007
Publication Date: 6/22/2007
Citation: Rotz, C.A., Karsten, H.D., Weaver, R.D. 2007. Grass-Based Organic Dairy Production Systems in Pennsylvania. American Forage and Grassland Council Conference Proceedings. Elmhurst, IL. CDROM.

Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.

Technical Abstract: The current market demand and price for organic milk is encouraging dairy producers, particularly those on smaller farms, to consider organic production as a means for improving the economic viability of their operations. Of particular interest in this region is a low-input production system relying on perennial pastures and out-wintering of animals. To characterize this system, extensive production information was collected from three organic dairy farms in Pennsylvania. Based upon these farms, a whole farm simulation model (Integrated Farm System Model) was used to compare four production systems representing organic grass, conventional grass, conventional crop with grazing, and conventional crop with confinement production systems. The performance of each was simulated over 25 years of central Pennsylvania daily weather using the same 250 acre land base, Hagerstown silt loam soil, and herd size of 100 cows plus replacement heifers. Simulation results indicated that farm level accumulation of soil P and K may be a concern on organic grass farms where poultry manure is often the primary crop nutrient source. Whole-farm budgets using prices that reflect recent conditions showed an economic advantage for organic over conventional production. A sensitivity analysis showed that this economic advantage was heavily influenced by the difference in milk production maintained by herds using organic and conventional systems and dependent upon a higher milk price for producers of organic milk. Factors found to have little effect on the relative profitability of organic over conventional production included the differences between organic and conventional prices for seed, chemicals, forage, and animals and the overall costs or prices assumed for organic certification, machinery, pasture fence, fuel, and labor. Thus, at the current organic milk price relative to other prices, grass-based organic production systems seem to provide an option for improving the economic viability of dairy operations of the scale considered in Pennsylvania.