Friday, March 13, 2009
Mooooo! Raw milk, no-till, and other notes from the farm...
I've had my head stuck far up a dairy cow's butt for the past six weeks or so.
Ok, not really...although I did witness artificial heifer insemination. Twice.
In case you haven't been following along at home, I've been working on a few stories related to the dairy industry. The first was a story on small raw milk producers in Colorado. (I just pitched it to Women's Magazine and they want it -- yay!) Yesterday a story on the NY Times popped up about possible revisions of raw milk laws in Connecticut (one of the few states that allows people to sell raw milk commercially in stores. California is another, and the LA Times recently had a story on the raw milk debate).
Another piece I am working on is a profile of Colorado dairy farmer Jon Erickson. He runs both a 200-cow commercial dairy and a raw milk dairy. It'll be a microcosm profile of how farmers (not just dairy farmers) are looking towards smaller business ventures to supplement the losses incurred by more traditional industrial farming.
Erickson emphasizes that farmers face a lot of complex issues, and often, when you solve one problem, you create another.
Technology itself is a problem, because as farms because more efficient and productive, they also drive market prices down.
Land use is another complex issue. When farmers are ready to retire and -- as increasingly the case -- their kids don't want to go into farming, some of them want to sell their land. But in places like Colorado, which is actively trying to control growth, a lot of that land gets designated as open space. That means that farmers can't sell their land for development, even though they've been there for decades and, some could claim, have that right.
Another issue is migration. Another is water. And yet another is tillage practices.
Erickson says that his father tried reduced tilling practices back in the 70s, when it was new and hip. It's had a resurgence again because of global warming, and its touted ability for carbon capture. But one thing many people didn't bring up about reduced tillage is that it often requires increased herbicide use. Turning the land over less means more weeds grow.
Which brings us to yesterday, and an article in the Christian Science Monitor on organic no-till farming. This practice seems to address the herbicide debate. But Erickson and his father raise another question about it:
What about people who have been using practices like reduced tillage or no tillage for decades? They can't apply for rebates for carbon sequestration because for them it isn't new. Is this fair? Just because they got a jump on what could be considered more "sustainable" (and the idea of "sustainable farming" is a whole discussion or two or ten in itself), does that mean that the government shouldn't reward them for it, like it is people that are just coming to it?
Update! (9:55 am) I also meant to link to this story about the "slow money" movement from NPR's Real Money show. The example of a slow investment they examine is...investing in a dairy farm!!
Image from flickr user karlfrankowski shared with a Creative Commons license.