Study examining organic, conventional milk production

Published on June 01, 2009
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A four-year, $1 million study will examine the health and welfare of dairy cows at 200 organic farms and 100 conventional farms in New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Dr. Pamela L. Ruegg, the lead researcher on the project and a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Dairy Science, said the study will examine the effects of current U.S. standards related to organic milk production and the standards' impact on animal care, as well as identify preventive care practices that are successfully used on both types of farms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the study, which involves researchers from UW-Madison, Oregon State University, Cornell University, and the Organic Centre in Oregon.

Dr. Ruegg said the United States requires producers to permanently remove cows from organic milk production once they receive treatments not approved for animals used in organic production, while the European Union and Canada allow farmers to return cows to organic milk production after extended holding periods.

Researchers will also examine preventive medicine practices used by veterinarians and producers on organic and conventional farms to develop an extension program that could help farmers using either system improve their programs, Dr. Ruegg said.

"We're hoping to take data from these farms and develop an online customized benchmarking program for farms," Dr. Ruegg said. "So the participants in the farms will be able to basically pick out other like farms that have excelled as peers and take a look at practices used on their farms."

The first two years of the study will involve site visits and data collection, Dr. Ruegg said. The last two will involve developing an integrated extension program.