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Manitoba organic milk finally hits store shelves

“Consumers want it so why not provide them with it?”

– HANS BORST

My name is Conrad and I want to be your dairy farmer.” The friendly crowd chuckled as enthusiastic milk producer Conrad Zacharias took the podium during the official launch of the first organic milk produced and sold in Manitoba.

Zacharias and his wife Val own one of just two dairy farms in the province to be officially certified organic. The other is owned by Larry and Sue Black of Deloraine.

If you want food traceability, nothing is more traceable right now than organic milk in Manitoba, Zacharias joked.

Last week’s event at the Organza Natural and Organic Market in Winnipeg culminated three years of work by organic producers and Dairy Farmers of Manitoba to bring homegrown organic milk to Manitoba grocery stores.

Organic producers operate under the regular quota system and are subject to the same regulations required of all other dairy farmers. But organic milk is pooled and transported separately. A creamery in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba processes it apart from non-organic milk to avoid commingling.

The product is available in one-and two-litre jugs of skim, one per cent, two per cent and 3.8 per cent milk.

The milk is marketed through Organic Meadow Inc., a co-operative in Guelph, Ontario. It is produced by the Manitoba Organic Milk Co-operative (MOM’s), chaired by Zacharias, who farms near Winkler. Three other producers are in various stages of certification and hope to join Zacharias and Black in the production chain.

Organic milk has been available in Manitoba for several years. But it was produced and processed in other provinces.

Making local organic milk available to consumers is “a victory for the people and farms of Manitoba,” said Ted Zettel, Organic Meadow chairman.

Attendees at the event hoisted commemorative glasses of organic milk and Zettel led them in a toast to “dairy farmers and the people who support them by drinking their milk.”

Organic milk serves a small but growing market. It’s estimated nearly two per cent of fluid milk consumed in Canada is organic.

Hans Borst , Dairy Farmers of Mani toba vice-chai rman, cal led the arrival of local organic milk in Manitoba significant.

“It’s an alternative product,” said Borst. “Consumers want it, so why not provide them with it?”

Zacharias milks 40 cows in the village of Reinland south of Winkler. He, Val and their four children live entirely off returns from their dairy herd, which produces 1,000 litres of milk daily.

DFM pays organic producers a net premium of $18 a hectolitre.

Zacharias said his daily production is actually a bit lower than it was when he was non-organic. But because his 350 acres of land are organically certified, his input costs are lower as well.

And because he feeds grain and a mixed haylage of 16 different forage and grass species, his butterfat content is four per cent, up from a pre-organic level of 3.2 per cent.

His somatic cell count is a respectable 260,000 and he hasn’t had one case of mastitis since becoming organically certified in August 2008. [email protected]

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