The Progressive Landscape of Organic Dairy Farming in Wisconsin
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Wisconsin is known for its historic dairy industry, with the farms serving as a longstanding, crucial cog in the state’s economy and a key aspect of the state’s culture as well. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century and accelerating particularly in the past few decades, the dairy industry in Wisconsin has become increasingly consolidated, with smaller farms being incrementally pushed out of business as large scale farms with thousands of cattle have progressively become more common. However, the organic dairy movement emerged in Wisconsin beginning with the advent of Organic Valley in the late 1980s, with more and more farmers rejecting industrial dairy practices in favor of more environmentally friendly practices that also allow farmers to sell their products at premium organic prices. While still comprising a small percentage of overall dairy farmers in Wisconsin, the number of organic producers in the state has rapidly increased, largely due to co-ops such as Organic Valley providing organic producers with support and a consistent buyer for their product. Environmental issues weigh on the minds of farmers and the communities they provide for as well, as their practices have direct consequences on the greater ecosystem. Mega-farms with thousands of cattle are responsible for a series of environmental issues across the state in just the past decade, and these issues are becoming more frequent as these large scale farms become more common. Organic dairy farmers are much more environmentally responsible, and can produce dairy products in a way that is healthy for their cows and healthy for their land as well. Organic farms are subject to more stringent regulations than conventional farms, which can discourage some farmers from making the switch, in addition to the lack of long-term research done on organic operations and the minimal options for insuring organic crops.
Organic Dairy Farming