Demand for organic food is on the increase and some farmers in Eastern Ontario have jumped on the dairy train, getting into the market of producing hormone, antibiotic and pesticide free milk. Some farmers have turned their traditional operations to organic and some are even going so far as adding robots to take over milking duties, including Josef Heinzle of St-Eugene and Albert Bot of Glen Robertson.
“It used to be unheard of that organic farmers had robots,” says Donald McCrimmon of Boreraig Farms south of Vankleek Hill. McCrimmon milks about 50 cows and has supplied the non-organic sector for over 50 years.
“Organic farmers have to let their cows out to pasture so many hours a day and that usually doesn’t happen when you have a barn with robots. That’s why it’s so unusual that these guys are going robotic.”
Heinzle explains that he’ll be installing two new Lely milking robots this summer to improve production, to decrease time in the barn and increase cow comfort. He’ll continue to ship organic milk from their 80 mixed herd of dairy cows as well as selling 300,000 liters of their Pinehedge yogurt made on the premises and sold at the farm gate. “I’m building a barn with many doors so cows have access to pasture most of the day,” the Austrian-born Heinzle explains. “ Though there’s less work milking, we’ll now have more to do maintaining pastures and trying to keep production stable. It’s more manageable when cows are in the barn all the time and their production is easier to monitor.”
Heinzle and wife Laila are convinced that organic is the way to go and that the addition of robots will be beneficial for both them and their customers. Though organic dairy farmers don’t receive much more money for their produce that is regulated under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), they receive many more incentive days than traditional dairy farmers.
Incentive credits are available to all dairy producers when they ship outside their quota. The allowances vary per month, but according to McCrimmon many more are given to organic farmers, making the industry more enticing. “There’s less investment needed because we need less quota. It’s easier to start in organic,” explains Heinzle. “But again, there’s more work. We cultivate seven to eight times more often than the average farmer because we can’t use pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.”
Photo: Heinzle Farm Gate gate near St-Eugene where Josef and Laila sell 300,000 litres of organic yogurt and produce organic milk.