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California Drought and Straus Family Creamery

California Drought and Straus Family Creamery

Cows Coming Home for Milking, Straus Dairy, February 2014

Posted on February 18, 2014 by Straus Family Creamery

Dear Friends,

Last week’s rainfalls were a great relief, but there is no doubt that we are still in the thick of the worst drought California has seen in a century. Straus Family Creamery has received many emails and phone calls from friends, customers, vendors and retailers who have asked how the drought is affecting the creamery and the dairies we work with in Marin and Sonoma Counties, including my own dairy. Thank you for your heartfelt concern.

With the recent rains, the situation is still extreme, but less dire. During this difficult time, we at Straus Family Creamery, and the family farmers at the dairies are working together and are creating a strong support network within our community. We have many tools at our disposal to ensure the well-being of the dairy animals, the continued stability of the dairies, and the steady supply of our organic dairy products.     

Every farm‘s water supply is different, coming from natural or artificial ponds and from rainfall. Since January, we have been meeting regularly with our dairy producers to discuss the drought’s impacts on their resources regarding water, pasture, crops, and feeds, and to work as a group to ensure adequate supplies. 

As of mid-February, all eight dairies reported having adequate water supplies for the near future. Because of the lack of rain, we have already lost 30 or more days of pasture-growing season. Silage crops already planted have grown more slowly and will likely have a lower yield than normal. Purchased feeds, such as hay are already in short supply and will continue to be.

The care of the dairy animals is our highest priority and is at the center of organic integrity. At this point, none of the dairies expects to have to sell off any animals for lack of resources.

Because of the drought, the farmers are seeing increased prices they must pay for feeds. Whether this will affect the prices of the creamery’s products, or by how much, is yet to be determined.  

Farmers follow pasture-requirement rules that are part of the national organic standards. Under normal conditions, certified organic cows must receive 30% of their dry-matter intake (i.e. grasses) from pasture during a minimum of 120 days per year. At this moment in time, there is still practically no pasture at about two months into the growing season.

The Agricultural Commissioner of Marin County Stacy Carlson, and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) have submitted official requests to the USDA National Organic Program for a variance on pasture requirements for organic dairies.  A variance would lower the dairy-cow nutrition requirements coming from pasture for the year 2014. 

In response, the USDA granted a temporary variance on February 12, stating that February and March 2014 are exempt from the pasture rule. The variance applies to producers of organic, ruminant livestock, that are being raised in the California counties, which were designated as primary and natural disaster areas by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack on January 14, 2014.

The collaborative and mutually accountable relationship with the family farmers who supply us with organic milk is very important to our Creamery’s way of doing business. It is our practice to visit and to meet with all the farmers frequently to discuss their needs, to explain current market conditions and, together, to find solutions to challenges they face.

The California drought gives us reason to think about global warming and the resulting erratic weather patterns we are now experiencing so close to home. This is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to support family farms through action, and to increase our understanding of how to work toward a sustainable food system.

In Gratitude,

Albert Straus

Additional reading:
ClimateWire, February 3, 2014
As record drought intensifies, organic dairy farmers are the first to face financial crisis http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059993888

San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 2014
California drought: North Bay organic dairies desperate http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/California-drought-North-Bay-organic-dairies-5229822.php