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Constant change is standard at organic dairy

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 07/14/2011 12:06 PM

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LANSING, Iowa — Mark and Marcia Kruse's organic dairy farm at Lansing has been evolving since they acquired it in 1977.

The couple recently hosted a pasture walk. Mark discussed his pasture conversion experiences, his rotational grazing system, organic pasture management and manure management.

The event was sponsored by the Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District, Organic Valley and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.

They farmed conventionally when they started, Mark said. After attending an organic farming meeting hosted by organic pioneers Bill Welsh and his son Greg, at their Lansing farm in 1987, they decided to switch to organic.

"They gave us the run down on going to organic," Mark said. "I told Marcia that's what I wanted to do, and we started going that way. We stopped using chemical fertilizer and anything on the soil that was not organic. At that time there was no market for organic milk so we bought conventional corn and protein, but we farmed the farm organically. We did that until 1994 when Organic Valley got big enough that they came across the river looking for more milk."

The Kruses became the first organic dairy in Iowa for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley.

"We've been members of Organic Valley ever since, and they pay a premium for every drop of milk that rolls off the driveway," Mark said.

Due to increased pasture requirements under organic rules, and from his own interest in grazing systems, Mark decided to convert 56 acres of cropland to rotationally-grazed pasture in 2004. He worked with LuAnn Rolling, NRCS district conservationist in Allamakee County. She helped him with plans and applying for cost-share funds as Mark converted ridge top fields, previously in corn, small grains and alfalfa, to a timothy, orchardgrass, brome, clover and alfalfa pasture.

The Kruses raised five children on their dairy farm.

Marcia is a school improvement facilitator at Keystone Area Education Association in Elkader.