Local farms claim organic dairy standards create uneven playing field – WCAX

WHITINGHAM, Vt. (WCAX) – Organic dairy was first pitched as a way to make Vermont dairy farmers more competitive by adding value to their product. Many transitioned and found success, but the national landscape has changed and has left some farms financially strapped.
“The initial incentive was financial. We began to see there were other benefits,” said Leon Corse with the Corse Farm Dairy in Whitingham.
Corse says his cows have always been close to organic. The switch in 2006 was a no-brainer, with the idea of higher revenue, healthier animals and taking better care of the land. Corse says over time, as more tapped into the organic milk market, he noticed a concerning trend.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that the certifiers do not hold all of the farmers to the same level of pasturing requirement,” he said.
Corse serves on Organic Valley’s pasture committee. Vermont Organic Farmers, also known as VOF, is part of NOFA Vermont and handles dairy certification in the state. To be certified organic, farms have to comply with specific food and rules for raising livestock, as well as comply with set pasture times and other standards. Farmers track all of this in records, submit those to VOF, and then are subject to routine inspection of records and on-farm conditions.
According to the USDA, the National Organic Program is the only federally regulated food label in the country, meaning everyone is certified to meet the same standard. It’s a public-private partnership where the USDA defines the standards and groups like VOF check for compliance.
“The inspection is really the key piece for verification of compliance,” said Kyla Bedard, a VOF certification specialist.
But some dairy farmers in our region say despite the national requirements, not everyone is up to par.
Bedard understands the concerns but says how certifiers read the rules is what makes the difference. One rule that recently gained more clarity is over the origin of livestock.
“Our interpretations, we have always interpreted that origin of livestock rule allows for a one-time transition,” said Bedard.
But what did that change do and what else are farmers, lawmakers and officials asking for? Tonight on the Channel 3 News at 6 p.m., our Kevin Gaiss finds out what is needed to level the playing field for all organic dairy producers.
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