September 13, 2004

Cornell Researchers Study Organic Farm Transitions

Print More

What’s the difference between organic dairy farming and conventional dairy farming? That’s exactly what lead researcher Linda Garrison-Tikofsky, senior extension associate of Quality Milk Production Services, is trying to find out.

Cornell scientists, including Ruth N. Zadoks, research associate, food science, Prof. Ynte H. Schukken, veterinary medicine, and Prof. Kathryn Boor, food science, will observe five farms in New York and Vermont that are transitioning to organic farming. They will sample milk from all of the cows every three months for a three-year period.


“We will be analyzing the milk samples focusing on the bacteria and microbes present, but also analyzing the flavor and chemicals,” Boor said. In particular, they are also looking at the presence of the bacteria that cause mastitis, an infection of the mammary glands.

“Our goals are to identify the challenges farmers making the organic transition may face and trying to develop intervention strategies to help future farmers,” Garrison-Tikofsky said.

According to Garrison-Tikofsky, some of the incentives for switching to organic dairy farming are a more natural farming approach, getting a premium price for organic milk, staying in buiness and being competitive, especially for smaller farms or family farms.


She explained that transforming a conventional farm into an organic one is a three-year process. The first two years require changing the soil and crops and the final year is the transition for the animals.

“There is a lot of demand right now for organic milk, there is a steady, premium price for organic milk,” said Kathie Arnold, an organic farmer in Truxton, N.Y. She said that while a large percentage of cows on conventional farms never see a pasture, cows in organic farming have access to a pasture which provides important nutrition. Other requirements of organic farming are using organically produced feeds and not treating animals with antibiotics or hormones. She cited challenges of more paperwork, keeping better records and finding alternative health-care products for the cows.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension will be in charge of releasing the findings from the study to the organic agriculture community.

“Dairy farming is important to New York state as it ranks third in milk production in the U.S.,” Garrison-Tikofsky said.

“There might be a small demand at Cornell, but in the amount we have to process, organic milk wouldn’t really be worth it.” said Bonnie Hart, manager of the Dairy Store and Dairy Bar. Cornell Dairy produces 40,000 lbs of milk each week. She also said that switching to organic milk would require special labelling and promotion, more pipes to transport the milk, new milk cartons and label approval by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Staff Writer