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New Farm Bill makes transition to organic dairy farming easier


For farmers in upstate New York, going organic isn’t easy. But one farmer who’s made the switch is happy that the new Farm Bill will make it easier to transition from traditional to organic farming in the future.

Ben Simons has been a dairy farmer in Remsen for two decades. Two years ago, he decided to convert his operation over to an organic dairy.

"Because I did not want to expand my dairy anymore," Simons says. "It was very difficult to stay a small family farm and compete with conventional milk.”

And it’s been a learning experience. For small farms to make the switch, it’s hard because it takes a while before there is any payback.

“It’s very, very expensive," Simons explains. "We had to take out a mortgage to transition, because for three years you have to buy all the inputs and manage your farm organically before getting the organic price.”

Simons says the whole management of a dairy herd is different. For example, when a cow gets sick he used to get a prescription for antibiotics, but that’s not allowed in an organic dairy.
“It’s a different mindset," he explains. "You just don’t reach for a bottle of penicillin anymore. You have to go and find out what works homeopathically for whatever the ailment is for that animal.”

He's also managing crops in different ways, and the whole proposition is more expensive than a traditional farm.

But he says he's happy that the new Farm Bill includes help for farmers who want to make the switch.

“Because there are many young farmers out there who have smaller farms, who want to go organic, but it has been very expensive and overburdensome on rules and regulations," Simons says. So with the Farm Bill, there’s a bridge there. And as you know walking through the grocery store, the aisles for organic are getting bigger. So the demand is there, it’s just a matter of getting the farmers to convert to organic.”

So for Simons, even though he missed out on the Farm Bill perks, was it worth it?

"There are times I wonder if it was worth it, but at the end of the day it seems we’re producing a product that people want," he says.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.