Question 3: Organic fertilizer
A supplier of organic fertilizer to the growing number of organic farms in Eastern Washington reports that as much as half the manure produced by Eastern Washington cows finds its way onto organic farm fields. If the dairy farms in this part of the state went away (as some sadly are doing), it would mean a major bump in the road for the growing number of organic farms. The nutrients from the 100,000 plus cows in this part of the state would have to be replaced by another source of high quality organic fertilizer. A likely replacement would be chicken manure from Canada. But this is considerably more costly and because of needed transportation it would make organic farming less friendly to the environment. Organic farming costs would rise –– in carbon costs and in dollars. One very important reason to help make sure we keep our valuable dairy farms.
In Western Washington the percentage used by organic farmers may be lower but it still provides a strong benefit because of crop rotation with non-dairy farms. This crop rotation really matters. For example, tulips, potatoes and some other crops draw a lot of nutrients from the soil. So fields used to grow those crops are often exchanged on a regular basis with fields growing less nutrient-intensive crops like grass or corn. Those crops can actually help return important nutrients into the ground. That means some non-dairy fields growing vegetables, seeds, grains are using the cow manure from the dairies whether they or organic or not.
Some talk of today’s farming as a monoculture suggesting that is unhealthy. In reality, farming today is a tightly integrated community where a farm of one type can benefit from the by-products of another farm. We need all our farms. Farms of all types and sizes. Understanding how they work together for the benefit of you, the consumer, will help all of us work to preserve a future for our family farms.