Haren: It’s time for those who produce food to have a say in food policy
March 13, 2015
The announcement is part of a trend that has become commonplace in many communities, one I call "Food Policy in a Vacuum." It takes place when the people who sell our food begin setting wide-ranging food policy without a thorough understanding of the issues and challenges faced by the hard-working folks who are producing the food we eat.
If the leaders at Natural Grocers had been willing to ask a few questions of our dairy farm families in any of the three states we serve, they might have received some important insights.
While we certainly respect their right to sell products from any supplier they choose, we must point out that the weather in our region does not support 120 days of grass feeding a year.
The grass in our microclimate grows very slowly, during a growing season of four months at the most. Further, the grass grown here is not nutritious enough, year round, for lactating cows (the ones who provide us with fluid milk).
And if the cows can't thrive purely on pasture-based dairying, how about the health of the farmers' land and business? Sadly, they would also suffer under this policy, since pasture-fed cows produce less milk that is often of lower quality.
This factor alone means it would take additional cows to achieve the same milk quality and quantity we have today to meet consumer demand.
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This factor alone also would require more land, and even more acres to supply sufficient grass. Our dairy farm families know the importance of sustainability to land, water and resources. Policies created in a vacuum cause an imbalance in sustainable use of such natural resources like water and irrigation for grassland.
So while they've received notoriety from their "only grass-fed" milk demand, I wonder if the folks at Natural Grocers might have done better by asking a few more long-range questions about the situation, or by taking up my offer of visiting one of our dairy farms and talking to our farmers to get a better understanding of the challenges faced by modern producers and the innovation our farmers are incorporating on their farms.
Milk is one of the most affordable, available, naturally nutrient-rich foods (and protein sources) around. If we're all going to have enough milk to meet demand and maintain health, then we must employ all the modern, scientific methods that have allowed us to feed ourselves, and many other parts of the world, for so many years.
If you're a dairy farmer, know a dairy farmer, or if you just enjoy drinking a glass of cold, nutritious milk whenever you like, it's time to stand up and insist that our dairy farmers have a place at the table when food policy decisions are made, and that those decisions are ones that all of us in agriculture can adhere to, in ways that keep our herds and our businesses as healthy as possible.
Cynthia S. Haren is president and CEO of Western Dairy Association.