Organic dairy farmers petition USDA for drought relief funds

Dive Brief:

  • The Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition, a newly formed group of organic dairy producers in the western U.S., is requesting immediate relief assistance from the USDA due to their operations being negatively impacted by drought.
  • The farmers said they are facing a severe increase in the cost of animal feed of as much as 50%. Some producers said their operations could see a loss of $250,000 this year, with others going so far as to sell their livestock and their businesses, the coalition said in a press release.
  • Since early last year, the Biden administration has made supporting small farmers a priority. A decision to give aid to dairy farmers in states such as California would signal a continued interest in making the agriculture space more manageable for producers.

Dive Insight:

Already faced with supply chain challenges and higher feed costs, organic dairy farmers said the severity of the drought is devastating their operations.

“Farmers have survived through drought before, but the current drought coupled with inflation and other impacts are leaving dairy farmers strapped like never before,” Dayna Ghirardelli, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said in the coalition’s press release. “In my many years of working with local dairy families, I’ve seen dairies contemplating their future in tough times, but they’ve hung on encouraged that the situation will turn around. This time is different.” 

The drought ravaging the western U.S. is having a significant impact on the agriculture industry and driving up the prices of key crops. The region, which grows fruits and vegetables, including apples, tomatoes and lettuce, is facing a poor growing season because of the low rainfall. According to Wells Fargo, this year’s Thanksgiving feasts could feature fewer vegetables based on the drought tightening the supply of celery, onions and carrots.

Funds from the government could allow some of the organic dairy farms to survive until operating conditions become more manageable. The administration has previously increased its attention on organic agriculture. Last June, the USDA committed up to $300 million to help transition farmers to organic production methods as part of a bigger plan to transform the U.S. food system.

The global organic dairy market remains lucrative. Market research company IMARC Group projects the category to reach $34.8 billion by 2027 from $22.2 billion last year.