Organic Dairy Farmers Hit by California Drought
Organic farmers in California face unique issues in this devastating drought, leading some to bow out … or sell cows for hamburger meat.
By Kristina Johnson
February 21st, 2014
San Joaquin Valley organic dairy farmer Tony Azevedo’s business has dried up—literally. Because of the record-breaking California drought, he has nothing to feed his cows except what he has stored, and he expects that will be gone in about 100 days. “It’s a desert out here,” he says.
With their pastures barren, organic cattle and dairy farmers in California are either spending thousands of dollars to truck in supplemental organic feed from states as far away as Arizona, or like Azevedo, looking at bowing out of farming altogether. In some cases, operating costs have tripled. Last weekend’s storm, which dropped as much as 4 inches of rain in the Bay Area, still won’t be enough to alleviate the worst drought since the state started keeping records in 1849.
So will organic food prices jump in response?
“Right now supplies are steady,” says Louise Hamstead, Chief Operating Officer at Organic Valley, a cooperative that is the nation’s third largest buyer of organic milk. “But that could change once temperatures start to rise.”
If the drought persists, consumers in California may find shortages of organic milk at the grocery store, Hamstead said. In 2011, California farmers made $127.2 million on organic milk sales, according to the most recent USDA figures.