With our rich soils, temperate climate and lush river valleys, Washington has long been a center of dairy farming, and over the past two decades organic production has become an important part of the industry.
In 2011 there were 33 certified organic dairy farms in Washington with a total of nearly 11,000 cows (about 2.5% of the state’s dairy herd). That number is down from a high of 46 organic dairies in 2008, just prior to the recession. With the economic downturn, some dairy farms were forced out of business and high prices for organic feed forced others to switch back to conventional production.
Demand for certified organic dairy products, however, remains strong. According to the most recent Washington State University data, organic dairy products have grown to 6% of the national dairy market, and the trend is likely to continue.
The Washington Dairy Products Commission notes that consumer demand for organic milk is relatively high in our state compared with the rest of the nation. They report that organic milk represents 10.5% of all milk sales in Seattle (#2 in the US) and 5.5% of all milk sales in Spokane (#11 in the US).
Purchasing certified organic dairy products is your assurance of purity and environmental sustainability. To be certified organic, dairy farmers must give their cows with access to pasture and provide them with 100% organically grown feed, and no synthetic hormones are allowed.
A dozen Washington dairies are members of Organic Valley, a national farmer-owned cooperative. Cowlitz Meadows Dairy in Lewis County was one of six farms in the country honored with Organic Valley’s 2011 “Cream of the CROPP” award, and six other Washington farms received Organic Valley’s 2011 Gold Dairy Quality Awards: Alpine Dairy and Styger Family Dairy in Lewis County, Hopewell Farm in Whatcom County, North Fork Dairy in Snohomish County, and Austin Family Farm in Grays Harbor County. Profiles of several Organic Valley member farms are included at the bottom of this page.
The dairy industry includes more than milking cows. In 2011 there were 26,823 acres of certified organic forage crops in Washington, representing 30% of the certified organic farmland in the state. About 8,000 acres are in certified organic pasture and the remainder is in grass and alfalfa hay. In addition to organic feed, several farms also raise replacement heifers for organic dairies.
A distinguishing characteristic of organic farms is that they are highly diversified, and organic dairies are no exception. In addition to maintaining lush pastures, many dairy farms raise field corn, small grains, fruits, vegetables, and other livestock.
One of the most diverse dairies in our state is Pete and Dorene Dykstra’s Hopewell Farm near Everson in Whatcom County. On their fourth generation, 400 acre farm includes as 16 acres in certified organic blueberries and 40 acres in mixed vegetables in addition to their dairy operation. Dykstra Farm in Burlington was the first in Western Washington to go organic and had been using organic practices for many years before that.
The prized products of Washington’s organic dairies include this highest quality artisan cheeses. Roger & Suzanne Wechsler’s creamery near Bow in the Skagit Valley produces award winning Samish Bay Cheeses, including Gouda, Ladysmith and Mount Blanchard. They also raise organic beef and pork that is processed by Island Grown Farmers Cooperative.
Profiles of Organic Valley Member Dairies