Organic and Sustainable Dairy: How It Impacts the Dairy Industry in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

The dairy industry has been under the microscope in recent years due to its environmental effects and its role in climate change. This has caused many farmers to go back to traditional dairy production, not because they don't believe in organic products, but because of its economic aspects, according to Tom Schaub, president of Westby Cooperative Creamery in Westby. Small family farms have had difficulty staying afloat due to the growing demand for milk, while large commercial dairies are becoming increasingly common in the state and are the ones that contribute the most to the industry's environmental impact. In order for the organic industry to keep growing, investing in infrastructure such as processing and storage facilities is essential.

Companies must also opt for more sustainable practices to make dairy production greener. In the early 20th century, 90 percent of Wisconsin farms had dairy cows and by World War I, the state was leading domestic butter and cheese production. However, Elizabeth Rich, a Plymouth lawyer and president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund Foundation, noted that this number is not large when considering the high costs of equipment, machinery, feed and operating expenses. The number of industrial dairy farms in the state has increased 55% in less than a decade, to 279 farms, according to figures from the Department of Natural Resources.

Domestic consumer trends have shifted away from Wisconsin's heritage. Tom Schaub, an organic dairy farmer with 60 cows at Jewel View Farms in La Crosse County, believes this is unfair competition. The state has more dairy farms than any other in the country and is number two in milk production in the United States. The mentality that has led farmers to continuously grow is one of the reasons for overproduction that has reduced milk prices and forced people to close their businesses, said Darin Von Ruden, a dairy farmer from Westby, Vernon County, and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not exempt from the national trend toward corporatization of agricultural and animal production. At the same time, foreign markets for U. S. dairy products have shrunk due to tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on foreign steel and aluminum.