Organic dairy thrives on Weld’s high plains

EATON – Boulder’s Aurora Organic Dairy has expanded its High Plains Dairy Complex east of Eaton with a new dairy that has the capacity for 3,200 more cows. It is the latest expansion for the growing company which has a dairy herd of 22,000.

Aurora Organic, which produces organic milk and butter, has expanded nearly every year since its start in 2007, said spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele. The new expansion known as the High Meadows Dairy comes as parts of Northern Colorado’s dairy industry expand to produce milk for the Leprino Foods cheese plant in Greeley.

Weld County has 73,000 dairy cows out of a total of 535,000 cattle. The dairy industry cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, even has shifted its operations from the Denver area to Northern Colorado for the expanding industry.

Aurora Organic’s expansion, however, has nothing to do with Leprino; the dairy doesn’t sell its milk to the cheese processor.

“We continue to see consumer demand in organic dairy products grow,” Tuitele said. “We wanted to grow our operation and our production and processing capabilities.”

In fact, organic milk sales grew to 77.9 million gallons from 74.9 million, a 4 percent increase during the year ending June 16, said Jerry Dryer, editor of the Dairy & Food Market Analyst, a weekly newsletter for dairy marketers.

“That’s a pretty impressive growth rate,” Dryer said.

By contrast, nonorganic milk declined by 42.6 million gallons to 1.6 billion gallons during the same period, a 2.5 percent year-over-year decrease.

At an average of $7.38 per gallon nationwide, the high price for organic milk can become expensive for families, Dryer said. Nonorganic milk sells for an average $3.70 per gallon.

Still, Dryer believes organic-milk sales will see an annual growth rate of 5 percent to 7 percent.

“I don’t see any real obstacles to that category continuing to grow at that rate for quite some time,” he said.

Despite expansions in Northern Colorado, the industry has faced challenges such as high feed prices. Aurora Organic has taken steps to address that problem.

As part of its expansion this summer, Aurora Organic added 4,000 acres of farmland and pasture. That acreage includes farmland where Aurora Organic grows organic corn and alfalfa used in cow feed, helping the company lower its costs.

“Organic feed is one of the most costly inputs on an organic dairy farm,” Tuitele said. “Growing more of our own feed, when we can, allows us to lock in supply and have more predictability.”

The increased acreage also gives dairy cows greater access to pasture. Organic regulations require that at least 30 percent of an organic dairy cow’s food comes from pasture during grazing season.

Aurora Organic’s new facility includes a milking barn with a rotary milking parlor, which is a carousel where cows are milked. The dairy employs 35 people and expects to have 3,200 cows once the new facility is fully operational. With the addition of the dairy, Aurora Organic’s total herd has reached 22,000.

Last year, the company added a dairy farm to its calf-raising facility, the Little Calf Ranch in Eaton. The dairy at the calf-raising facility, the new High Meadows Dairy and two Gill dairy facilities make up the company’s High Plains Dairy Complex.

Employing nearly 525 people, Aurora Organic has a raw-milk processing center and a small adjacent dairy farm in Platteville. It also has two dairy facilities in Texas.

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