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Continued: Was Target's organic milk just regular?

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 29, 2007 - 9:51 AM

Heath disagreed, noting no change is planned with its milk supplier. She said the company plans to expand its organic offerings, in large part because customers have asked for it.

A 2007 survey coming out next week from the Organic Trade Association says organic dairy sales, which include eggs, were 4.07 percent of total dollar sales at grocery stores last year, double that of sales in 2002. All organics, meanwhile, were 2.8 percent of grocer's sales.

The rise in demand has brought a counter-intuitive drop in sale price this year, in part because so many organic farms have come online in the last year, creating a glut of organic milk where there was once a shortage. The industry now pays farmers about $25.50 to $30 per hundred pounds of raw milk, or hundredweight, for organic milk, and $21 to $22 per hundredweight for conventional, said Edward Maltby, a milk pricing expert based in Massachusetts. A year ago conventional milk was closer to $14 per hundredweight.

The rapid rise in number of organic dairy farms -- some people estimate as many as 1,500 in the country today -- has outpaced the ability of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to regulate it, argued Theresa Marquez, chief marketing executive for Organic Valley, a farmer's co-op based in Viroqua, Wis.

"They are really stretched out and don't have enough funding," she said.

That's a real problem, said Barth Anderson, the Research and Education Coordinator at the Wedge Food Co-op. "The organic system needs to have a system of checks and balances to see what the certifiers are doing, because the certifiers have a tremendous amount of power."

And if larger farms skirt the rules it could dilute the industry's marketability, Kastel. "They are squandering the goodwill that real farmers and real organic business people have built over the decades."

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329

Matt McKinney • mckinney@startribune.com

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