USDA-Funded Study to Research Organic, Conventional Dairy Practices

May 6, 2009 07:00 PM

Three universities have launched a four-year study that will examine the impact of organic and conventional management practices on the health of dairy cows.


Researchers from Oregon State University, Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will look for correlations between management practices, disease incidence and the amount of milk produced. They'll use the data to develop recommendations for keeping dairy cows healthy while optimizing income and the quality of the milk.

The study will observe 300 dairy farms in New York, Oregon and Wisconsin. USDA is funding the project with $987,048.

"There's not much data about the health of cows on organic dairy farms in the United States," said dairy specialist Mike Gamroth of Oregon State University (OSU). "So, this study will answer a lot of questions."

Researchers will spend the next two years visiting each farm to make observations, review farm records and administer a questionnaire. In April, they visited their first dairy, in Wisconsin. In New York, the first farm visit will take place later this month. Researchers will visit their first Oregon dairy in June.

"There's a lot of speculation about the difference between organic and conventional dairy farms," Gamroth said. "We always automatically say if you're organic you won't be able to produce as much milk. I'm not sure that's true. We need to put some real numbers on that. Also, some conventional dairy farms think that if you're organic, disease is going to be a problem. We don't know that for sure.”

Earlier this year, the universities mailed invitations to dairy farms, asking them to participate in the study. They'll conduct research on 100 organic dairy farms and 50 conventional ones in Wisconsin; 75 organic and 25 conventional farms in New York; and 25 organic and 25 conventional farms in Oregon. The dairy farms must have at least 30 cows and no more than about 500 to participate in the study.

Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at

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