Linda L. Garrison-Tikofsky, DVM
Quality Milk Production Services (QMPS), Cornell University

Priority: What are the management strategies and costs of transition or conversion of row crops to productive and sustainable grazing lands and soils?

Priority: Evaluate the production and management aspects of pasture-based animal products for their human health benefits and assess their market potential.

What work are you (or others) doing to address this research need?
QMPS is beginning a three year study of herds transitioning from conventional dairying methods and inputs to organic production. We plan to have five participating herds and currently have three enrolled. Goals of this study are two-fold:

a. To describe the impact of transitioning to organic methods on milk quality (somatic cell counts, bacteria counts components), production, udder health epidemiology, food borne pathogens, antibiotic resistance, and value added potential of milk as a functional food (e.g. conjugated linoleic acid). All participating farms will begin with common conventional management systems (lower forage rations, dry cow and lactating antibiotic therapy, other conventional health practices).

b. We will use participatory methods to engage the producers and to develop management strategies as problems as and issues arise and ultimately will develop a management guide for future farms in transition.

An additional current yearlong project will look compare CLAs, Vitamin A and E, beta-carotene, and milk quality parameters among three management systems (organic, conventional grazing, and conventional confinement). We are enrolling 10 organic farms and 5 each of the other two management systems for a total of 20 farms.

Given the expected results from the work described in response to question 1, what future research (and/or extension) needs remain?

  • Given the challenges to animal health/milk quality identified in the study, what management strategies/interventions can be implemented in a timely manner to minimize their impact?
  • What alternative therapies are cost-effective and beneficial to the maintenance of animal health?
  • What ration/management changes can be implemented to increase the level of CLAs in milk, particularly on a year round basis? If CLAs or other beneficial fatty acids are consistently higher on pasture based diets, what can be done to market this to the consumer?
  • If antimicrobial resistance changes based on removal of the selection pressure of antibiotics, where are these changes occurring (change in bacterial species or strain type, down-regulation of resistance mechanisms, mutations?)
  • What mentoring and information transfer methods work best for the transitioning farmer?
  • Considering foodborne pathogens, does the safety of milk change during the transition?
  • Since there is much interest in the consumption of raw milk, what are the levels of foodborne pathogens in organic milk? What strategies can be used to minimize risk to the consumer?

Given your knowledge of existing research capacity, what additional resources (funding personnel, institutional strengthening, etc.) may be needed to accomplish future research?

I am in agreement with Nat that we need to have committed sources of primary funding that are not from for-profit companies. Having said that, I think there are companies out there that have a genuine interest in supporting sustainable agriculture so refusing their support would deprive us of valuable dollars. This private sector funding should be secondary but still be considered.

Given the limited number of dollars available for research and extension in this area, more efforts should be directed at developing cooperative relationships among institutions so that there is not a duplication of efforts. I would like to see an annual cooperative meeting where research can be discussed, research priorities set, and collaborations among the participating institutions can be encouraged in an open forum.

How do we set up lines of communication among the groups?