To all Organic Dairy Farmers,
This is an open letter to our peers in the organic dairy community who would like to know more about Aurora Organic Dairy’s practices – what we do and what we do not do.
Having recently been named CEO, one of my first priorities is to build more transparency and common understanding with other producers. Although our integrated processing model is different, we are a farmer first and depend on sustainable pay prices just as all farmers do. At times like this, however, that common thread is not enough and we must share more information to earn trust. Mutual respect among peers is critical to protect the value and strength of the Organic brand.
With this in mind, I have recently spent time with farmers in our community to share some of the facts about Aurora Organic’s business. These discussions have been positive and remind me that openness and honest conversation are not only appreciated, but powerful in the face of doubts and criticism.
Below is a list of facts that we have shared in these discussions. I am hopeful these points address some of the questions that are on the minds of producers. We are proud of our Organic integrity, practices and values that prioritize Animals, People and the Planet. I pledge to share more about these ideas, here in this letter, and on other occasions in the future.
Aurora Organic Dairy’s size and model:
• We have 9 barns in Colorado and Texas, and close to 26,000 adult cows including drys. Our largest farm has 4,400 head and our smallest currently has 900.
• We have 10,100 acres of irrigated and dryland organic pastures dedicated to grazing.
• Since 2012, our daily milk production has grown 3.5% per year. Because of the oversupply that followed shortages in 2014 and 2015, we have expanded cautiously.
• We bring virtually all our farm milk production to our own organic milk plant in Colorado for use in our packaged milk products.
• When we are long on milk, we add to our inventory of manufactured products first, and we also balance by reducing farm milk production, including reductions in our milking herd, when needed.
Compliance and Pasture Practices:
• We have taken the extra step to maintain two USDA accredited certifiers for each of our farms. In Colorado, we are certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Oregon Tilth. In Texas we are certified by QAI and Oregon Tilth. A second organic certification is a voluntary quality assurance step to ensure our farms receive more frequent inspections and measurement of compliance.
• The grazing season varies for each farm and may not be continuous due to seasonal conditions for each region. At times, we may only graze during the cooler parts of the day or night to protect the herd from heat stress. We document daily pasture access as well as exemptions when they arise (inclement weather or risk to animal well-being, pasture crop, or soil).
• In 2017, our farms grazed our lactating herds between 130 and 171 days, depending on the farm. These herds received an average of 35% of their dry matter intake (DMI) from pasture during grazing. Our farms grazed dry cows between 134 and 156 days, during which time they received 55% of their DMI from grazing.
• To demonstrate these results and our compliance with the NOP’s grazing rule, we document the daily DMI from grazing, daily rations fed and daily movements to pastures for each group of animals.
• Our other organic feeds include: organic alfalfa hay, grass hay, silages and grains. In 2017, 95% of our feed was sourced domestically. The items sourced internationally were organic soy protein, and palm oils from Canada and South America.
• Our certifiers and regulators determine when they inspect our farms. Annual renewals are scheduled with us in advance. Unannounced inspections are conducted by each of our certifiers and are not scheduled in advance.
• We have maintained a voluntary animal welfare certification with a third-party auditor on each of our farms and milk supply for the last 12 years. Our cows are milked 2 or 3 times per day.
• Most of our replacement cattle and herd growth come from Organic heifer calves born on our farms. We also transition cattle to organic as permitted by the NOP.
• Each of our organic certifications has been continuously valid. We have been investigated numerous times, as a result of complaints filed with the NOP by a single entity. All such complaints have been closed or dismissed without any findings of violations.
• We support legislation that would provide greater funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) and support rigorous enforcement of the Organic rule.
• We are on record having supported the 2010 pasture rule change, as well as the recently proposed origin of livestock and animal welfare rule changes.
Aurora’s New Milk Plant in Columbia, Missouri
• Our new fluid milk plant in Missouri will open in early 2019. Many of the organic milk products made there will be new innovations, creating new consumer demand.
• This plant will use incremental organic milk supply only as demand for its products grows. Some of our current organic milk supply will be used in the new plant as well. It may be 5 to 7 years before both Aurora Organic milk plants are fully utilized.
• Over time, we will source part of this milk supply through relationships with other organic dairy producers.
• We may also make products for other brand owners and help to provide a strong market for more organic milk producers.
• Depending on demand in Missouri, the next – and only – Aurora Organic dairy farm we are planning today is in Nebraska.
Thank you for taking this time to learn more about Aurora Organic Dairy. More information is available in our 3rd Corporate Sustainability Report, posted at www.aodmilk.com. Should you wish to reach us or share a comment, please feel free to email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chief Executive Officer
Aurora Organic Dairy