McMINNVILLE, Ore. — An Oregon member of Congress heard from organic dairy cooperative members last week about what they want from the next farm bill.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., toured the newly refurbished Organic Valley Creamery and Forest Glen Jerseys dairy farm on Aug. 25 and was briefed on the co-op’s priorities as Congress works on a new farm bill.
Jake Schmitz, the co-op’s regional pool manager, and Scott Fields, the McMinnville plant manager, told her Organic Valley’s priorities include modernizing organic trade oversight by increasing funding of the National Organic Program to identify and shut down suspected international fraud and supporting a technology upgrade to better track international organic trade.
Schmitz, who used to work as an organic certifier, said that while there are many organic businesses with integrity, there needs to be more enforcement against those that cheat the system.
“We need a budget increase to employ more certifiers to get work done and monitor it all,” he said.
Also on the list is funding more organic research and maintaining conservation investments by renewing and maintaining the working lands conservation programs.
An investment of $16.5 million is needed each year to keep in line with growth of organic agriculture, according to Organic Valley. In 2016, U.S. organic sales were $47 billion and there were 24,650 organic certificate holders.
Schmitz and Melissa Collman, an Organic Valley cooperative member from Cloud Cap Dairy in Boring, Ore., also said the NOP needs to modernize its technology.
“There’s no way to upload information,” Collman said. “You have to keep track by hand. There is no modernization, and technology would make (the process) better.”
Bonamici expressed concerns she heard about whether younger generations will be taking over the farming business.
However, Schmitz told her that with the profitability of organic dairy farms, it has become a viable option to own a farm — last month he signed up two sons taking over the family farm.
Schmitz said because the younger generations are enthused by organic farming it’s important to continue research in the field.
“Organic is the golden child of agriculture,” he said.
Fields then walked Bonamici through the butter plant, showing her the process of separating the cream and the milk, which was pasteurized, dried and bagged as powder.
Fields said much of the cost of refurbishing the creamery was spent in the pasteurization room, and estimated with Schmitz that refurbishing the plant cost about $1 million, including a state grant of $350,000.
Bonamici later met with Dan Bansen at Forest Glen Jerseys in Dayton — her first visit to an organic dairy farm. She said the trip “exceeded her expectations” by seeing the creamery operating and how Bansen’s cows were raised.
“It’s helpful to meet people involved in agriculture, and now in the creamery,” she said. “I keep it in mind when I’m making policy decisions in D.C. It makes it real instead of abstract.”