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Supporting Wisconsin's Organic Dairy Pastures

Photo: June is Dairy Month, and the University of Wisconsin Extension has teamed up with the nation's largest organic farming cooperative, Organic Valley, based in La Farge, Wis., in a project to make pastures as productive, nutritious and sustainable as possible. Photo credit: UW Extension
Photo: June is Dairy Month, and the University of Wisconsin Extension has teamed up with the nation's largest organic farming cooperative, Organic Valley, based in La Farge, Wis., in a project to make pastures as productive, nutritious and sustainable as possible. Photo credit: UW Extension
June 8, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – Pastures are critical in America's Dairyland, and not all of them are created equal. Some are much higher quality than others.

Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in the number of organic dairy farms, so the University of Wisconsin-Extension teamed up with the nation's largest organic farming coop, Organic Valley, which is headquartered in the Badger state.

Erin Silva, a UW-Extension specialist, says the goal of the joint venture into pasture research is to benefit all farmers.

"Being able to reap the benefits of more productive pastures season-long, and having that carry over then to better livestock management and livestock productivity with respect to the dairy herd as well as the beef herd," she explains.

Organic Valley, headquartered in La Farge, has more than 640 farmer-members in Wisconsin and another 1.100 across the nation.

In cooperating with Organic Valley, Silva put together a team of UW-Madison experts to help organic farmers get more out of their pastures in a sustainable way.

Changes made to federal regulations governing organic dairy operations spurred the need for more efficient and productive pastures.

Silva says one of the first steps was to get input from farmers, to get good data.

"To best design that research program to be relevant to farmers, to address farmer needs, and to really make a good strong impact on the agricultural economy of Wisconsin and our farmers across the state," she states.

Organic Valley had more than $1 billion in sales last year.

Some of the results of the pasture study were not surprising to Silva and her team, but in the past, they had only anecdotal data, not real, scientific studies to go on.

"There's a lot of factors that can come into play with respect to quality of pasture and productivity of pasture, so due to that complexity in management it wasn't necessarily surprising that we were seeing a lot of diversity in quality and productivity," she says.

Silva adds the research, and best management practices that come from it, will help farmers across Wisconsin and the upper Midwest, because they all face similar issues.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI