Organic dairy program doubles herd

Uploaded by UniversityofMinn on 04.06.2009

There's only one place in the country, where a research university is trying to move
from a conventional dairy farm, to an organic operation.
"And of course, most farmers who are going to be transitioning
to organic are coming from a conventional background."
Which is why the work being done at the University of Minnesota's West Central Research
and Outreach Center in Morris, means so much to farmers in the Midwest, and around the world.
"There are many farmers in Minnesota that are organic farmers and just don't know it
and could be certified without a lot of muss and fuss."
Researcher Dennis Johnson has a herd of dairy cows living the organic life,
which includes spending the summer months eating straight from the pasture,
using all-natural feeds and not receiving antibiotics.
The organic herd is kept alongside a conventional herd,
giving the researchers a life-sized laboratory.
"We're measuring economics, we're measuring the health of the animals,
we're trying to document everything we can that's likely to happen
to a dairy farm that's moving from a conventional to an organic production system."
Organic products bring farmers more money, because some consumers prefer the health
and environmental benefits of organic food.
That's one of the reasons why U of M researchers like Johnson, are taking a close look
at what it takes for dairy operations of all sizes to make the switch.
But farming is only part of the story.
"Another rule that's of great interest, is that antibiotics cannot be used except
to relieve pain and suffering of the animals."
"It's no surprise that research
on organic farming is a big deal for the agriculture industry.
What might surprise you, is that research being done here,
is also big news for the health care industry."
"A huge percent of the antibiotics that are produced and used
in the U.S. are used in livestock."
Timna Wyckoff studies antibiotic resistance at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
The transition from conventional to organic dairy gives her the opportunity to study
if bacterial resistance goes down when antibiotics are taken away.
In other words, would organic farming, which uses no antibiotics,
make all other antibiotics more effective, because bacteria has less of a chance
to develop resistance to those antibiotics?
Wyckoff says the results are very preliminary, but ...
"bacteria from the organic cows tends to be more susceptible to antibiotics."
So, healthy, organically managed cows ...
"You're feeding a higher amount of forage, fewer grains, the animals get more exercise
so they probably have a very healthy environment."
...could lead to healthier humans, by way of giving us more effective antibiotics.
"And we really have to think about the population of bacteria on a farm as being part
of the population of bacteria everywhere."
Which is great news for farmers and everyone they feed.
For the University of Minnesota, I'm Justin Ware.