Or­ganic farms thrive thanks to grow­ing de­mand

The Glengarry News - Glengarry Supplement - - News - BY MAR­GARET CALDBICK

News Staff “Right now is a very good time to be or­ganic,” says Glen­garry or­ganic dairy pro­ducer Michael Krol who milks 85 cows on his farm out­side Wil­liamstown.

This at a time when the whole of Canada’s pro­tected dairy in­dus­try is un­der fire from Pres­i­dent Donald Trump’s trade threats sup­port­ing the U.S. dairy in­dus­try’s call to elim­i­nate Canada’s sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem.

Canada's sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem is based on planned do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion, pro­vid­ing bal­ance in the dairy sec­tor by en­abling Cana­dian dairy farm­ers to col­lec­tively ne­go­ti­ate price and ad­just their pro­duc­tion to meet con­sumer de­mand.

Michael Krol and his wife Heidi are cel­e­brat­ing 20 years as cer­ti­fied or­ganic milk pro­duc­ers, and are one of four or­ganic dairy oper­a­tions in Glen­garry with Ha­gen Farms in North Lan­caster, and Myr­iam and Cyril Sch­nei­der of Dameya Hol­steins and Al­bert Bot in Glen Robertson.

“Twenty years ago, 1998, is when we of­fi­cially went into tran­si­tion,” says Mr. Krol as he fin­ishes up morn­ing milk­ing in the barn’s el­e­vated par­lour.

“But, March 5, 2002 is the an­niver­sary I keep in mind which is when our first ship­ment of or­ganic milk was shipped out.”

Or­ganic dairy makes up 11 per cent of all or­ganic sales in Canada.

Num­bers from 2011/12 re­port that there were 218 or­ganic farms, a num­ber that has cer­tainly gone up with four dairy oper­a­tions cur­rently in tran­si­tion in On­tario alone.

Stud­ies show that con­sumers are will­ing to pay 15 to 20 per cent more more for or­ganic prod­ucts, which is equal to the premium paid by pro­ces­sors for rare or­ganic milk.

Af­ter work­ing on sev­eral dairy farms in­clud­ing the or­ganic Krol farm, in 2005, Michael Ha­gen per­suaded his fa­ther Josef of Glen­garry County Farm in North Lan­caster to make the switch.

Michael, now in his mid-30s and a part­ner in the op­er­a­tion, worked a high school sum­mer co-op pro­gram in the Krols’ barn be­fore at­tend­ing Kemptville Col­lege for agri­cul­ture. When he re­turned he re­sumed work­ing for the Krols.

No chem­i­cals

“When I com­pared oper­a­tions, I liked what I saw at Michael Krol’s,” says Mr. Ha­gen. “There, just ev­ery­thing worked well -the cows were healthy and there was no mix­ing of chem­i­cals which I didn’t like.”

“It’s start­ing to grow,” says Mr. Ha­gen about the or­ganic sec­tor. He was was in France ear­lier this year where he no­ticed that al­most ev­ery gro­cery store is or­ganic.

“Here we have or­ganic sec­tions, but the en­tire stores were or­ganic there,” he says.

“In the cities in Canada, many peo­ple are con­scious about it,” says Mr. Ha­gen whose mother Chris­tine gar­dens or­gan­i­cally in the fam­ily’s veg­etable gar­den.

“It’s a niche mar­ket, so even if quota goes, we al­ready have some­thing,” says Mr. Ha­gen.

Asked what he looks for in a cow, he says he likes smaller cows for han­dling and health. ”If they go down, they han­dle it, a big cow has a harder time even with a small in­jury.”

Go­ing or­ganic at first re­quired changes tran­si­tion­ing to meet the re­quire­ments of Or­ganic Crop Pro­duc­ers & Pro­ces­sors (OCPP) of On­tario cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Tran­si­tion

Tran­si­tion­ing is the pe­riod of time it takes to switch a dairy op­er­a­tion from con­ven­tional dairy pro­duc­tion to or­ganic dairy pro­duc­tion.

Steps in­cluded crop ro­ta­tions and buf­fer strips with wind­breaks to pre­vent blow-over from non-or­ganic farm­ing neigh­bours.

To con­trol weeds, the fields are blind-weeded with a har­row to get the ini­tial flushes of weeds and take ad­van­tage of the dif­fer­ence in size and sprout­ing depth be­tween be­tween crop and weed seeds.

An­nual weeds are most sen­si­tive to dis­tur­bance from the mo­ment they ger­mi­nate un­til emer­gence.

Get­ting in and break­ing con­tact be­tween the tiny roots and the soil are ef­fec­tive at killing most weed seedlings.

Last year’s wet sea­son was a chal­lenge for all lo­cal farm­ers.

Blind cul­ti­va­tion works best in loose soil in good con­di­tion and af­ter the crop has emerged.

Josef Ha­gen, who un­der­stood what the chal­lenge was, re­calls wor­ry­ing while the farm was first tran­si­tion­ing how the op­er­a­tion would deal with weeds.

“It’s not so much not us­ing fer- tiliz­ers at first, but the weeds. But now that we have the equip­ment and we un­der­stand how to go at it, we can kill a lot of seeds be­fore we plant,” he says.

At the Krol farm, there is lit­tle con­form­ity in the herd where sev­eral small bossy Jer­seys are blended into the Hol­stein herd and cows dif­fer marginally in height and weight.

“We breed for health, pro­duc­tiv­ity and but­ter fat,” says Peter Krol, Michael’s 25-year-old son who grad­u­ated in agri­cul­ture from Kemptville.

“And def­i­nitely the com­po­nents are higher with or­ganic in­clud­ing the Omega 6s and 3s,” he says.

“In the win­ter we were av­er­ag­ing a 4-6% but­ter­fat and now that they are out on pas­ture, we av­er­age 2.5 % which is still quite high.” Asked if they breed for tem­per­a­ment, Peter says he can’t say that they breed specif­i­cally for bid­dabil­ity. “We have pretty calm an­i­mals,” he says.

Asked about foot health, Peter says the farm has “al­most zero per cent hoof prob­lems."

“And we don’t have to hoof trim at all, ex­cept for the very rare one with an is­sue, be­cause of the amount of walk­ing they do in the pas­ture.”

There is one milk­ing cow that the Krols point out, Man­i­fold An­drée who av­er­ages over two kilo­grams of but­ter­fat a day.

Help­ing with the milk­ing in the Krol barn the day we vis­ited was herds­man Tom Ha­gen, an­other of Josef and Chris­tine’s sons.

Con­sumers are sup­port­ive

This year, the Ha­gen farm cel­e­brates 10 years as cer­ti­fied or­ganic. He men­tions the new cam­era-di­rected row crop cul­ti­va­tor that weeds with ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion, even at high speeds.

The dairy in­dus­try in Canada is un­der­go­ing more in­vest­ment than in over a decade thanks to in part the ris­ing de­mand for but­ter which con­sumers in­creas­ingly view as a healthy part of their diet.

De­spite the thorny NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tions, or­ganic dairy pro­duc­ers (and pro­ces­sors) are part of an ex­pan­sion in the Cana­dian dairy in­dus­try.

And ac­cord­ing to a re­cent in­de­pen­dent Aba­cus Data poll, the large ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans (92%) are happy with the range and qual­ity of dairy prod­ucts avail­able in Canada, and two thirds are sat­is­fied with prices.

MAR­GARET CALDBICK PHOTO

CALM CAT­TLE: “This way girl,” Michael Krol re­peats in a calm, low voice, some­times placing his hand on a cow’s back to point her to which side of the milk­ing stalls to en­ter. Michael and Heidi Krol, and fam­ily, milk 85 cows on their cer­ti­fied or­ganic dairy farm out­side Wil­liamstown. “We have pretty calm cows,” says son Peter.

MAR­GARET CALDBICK PHOTO

PROMIS­ING FIELD: Michael and and his fa­ther Josef Ha­gen stop at the calf pen at their or­ganic dairy farm in North Lan­caster af­ter the morn­ing milk­ing. Michael did a co-op pro­gram at the Krols' or­ganic dairy op­er­a­tion out­side Wil­liamstown dur­ing high school and re­turned to work there af­ter study­ing at Kemptville. He was im­pressed by cow health on the farm, sug­gested go­ing or­ganic to his fa­ther, and in 2008 fol­low­ing tran­si­tion, the Ha­gen farm was cer­ti­fied or­ganic. Right: In­side the ven­ti­lated 108-foot by 196-foot dairy barn at the Krol farm, cows wait to en­ter the milk­ing par­lour. In the back­ground calves and dry cows have pas­ture ac­cess; milk­ing cows are also re­leased to pas­ture.

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