Organic dairy farming focuses on the use of organic feed, pasture-based grazing, and minimal use of antibiotics and synthetic hormones. This results in dairy products that are perceived as healthier and more natural, free from synthetic chemicals and additives. Modern consumers often prefer organic dairy products due to perceived health benefits. As Richard Ghilarducci mentions, organic dairy farming standards also prioritize animal welfare by providing animals with access to pasture, outdoor spaces, and more natural living conditions. Ghilarducci is the President and CEO of Humboldt Creamery, which is the oldest dairy cooperative in California. It has seen more than 30 of its 50 member families convert to organic dairying from conventional in the last couple of years.
Richard Ghilarducci provides a brief overview of organic dairy farms in northern California
As people drive through the red wood country of Northern California, they would be greeted with an inspiring sight. To the east, one is likely to find dark forests that often make it seem as if the sun is falling away. However, to the west, one can find swells that have crossed the Pacific slam into the coast, and are veiled by almost constant fog and mist. By itself, the valley comprises of expansive, green fields that flow for miles and is dotted by scattered cows, few towns and even fewer people. This area is popularly known to be a pasture country, and many dairies in Northern California are well suited to produce milk for the organic market.
People of California have majorly benefitted from drinking the highest quality, most nutritious milk in the nation since the 1960s. This state, in fact, has been the nation’s largest milk producer since the year of 1993. It is considered to be among the leading producers of butter, ice cream, nonfat dry milk and cheese in the nation. There are more than 1,100 family dairy farms standing at the center of the state’s vast and growing dairy industry. Humboldt Creamery is a member cooperative association that is owned by 50 Northern California dairy families. It is the oldest active dairy cooperative in the state. Richard Ghilarducci is the CEO of this creamery.
Much like various other production and business models, organic dairy farming also has its own pros and cons. The challenges in this industry can be either production oriented or political. The biggest challenge is on the supply side, being able to procure the feed to produce the milk. Another major challenge is the complexities of meeting the strict, national organic standards. However, even with the challenges involved, on the whole, organic dairy production does make a lot of sense, particularly in northern California. It is a natural fit for the cool-season, as well as the coastal, pasture environment prevalent in the area. Dairies here are pasture based and may grow most of their forage in an organic manner. As a result, the bulk of its feed is something the dairies have complete control over. Today many growing dairy companies are moving to dry, western environments where they can milk thousands of cows very efficiently. But dairymen in the northern part of California milk hundreds of cows, not thousands, so it makes sense for such smaller dairies to focus on the niche market of organic dairy.