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New Federal Funding Aims to Offset High Feed Costs for Organic Dairy Farms

By Hope Kirwan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is rolling out a new program to help organic dairy farmers deal with increased feed prices and other production costs.

The Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program will provide producers with a one-time payment to cover at least 75 percent of a farm's projected marketing costs for 2023. The total is calculated based on items like transportation, quality testing and other costs to get milk from the farm to a processor.

The USDA first announced the new program in January, saying small producers have faced higher costs that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and drought conditions that impacted many western states over the last two years. 

Adam Warthesen is senior director of government and industry affairs at Organic Valley, a national cooperative based in La Farge. He said the main driver of higher production costs has been organic feed. He said international trade tensions with India impacted the availability of organic soybeans. The war in Ukraine also significantly affected organic grain supplies, first disrupting exports to the European Union which caused ripple effects across the world market.

"We saw livestock producers and dairy faced with costs that had more or less doubled, in some cases tripled," Warthesen said. "And really, what were their options here? They were really up against the wall."

Matt Severson is CEO of Premier Cooperative, which operates an organic feed production facility in Westby. He said the price of organic soybean meal has been significantly higher over the last 18 months. With little organic soybean production in the area, Severson said his business and others in the state are dependent on transporting the product from states to the west.

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