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Demand for organic outruns supply

Even as organic milk rides a rising wave of consumer popularity, supply shortages are plaguing retailers, leaving empty shelves and droves of unhappy customers.

       Boulder, Colorado-based Organic Dairy, for example, has been allocating its milk based on previous sales and has been unable to keep up with orders.

       “We are having a challenge keeping it stocked, and demand is growing across the country,” said Ann Hendricks, a spokeswoman for Lakeland-based Publix.

       The organic food market grew in 2004 by 20 percent, and there was a 34 percent increase in demand specifically for organic milk - driven, in part, by health-conscious consumers looking to avoid additives like bovine growth hormone. The industry sells about $1.385 billion worth of products each year with about $666 million, or nearly half of that revenue, coming from organic milk.

       The chief hurdle for people looking to get into the game is that the process for converting from dairies to organic milk providers is lengthy: about three years, the Organic Trade Association reports.

       Organic cows must be handled differently for at least a year before being certified organic. Cattle feed also must be certified organic and calves must nurse with organic milk. The association recognizes that it needs more organic milk producers to keep up with demand. “You have to recruit more farmers, and it’s not an immediate thing,” said Barbara Haumann, the trade association’s spokeswoman. But the rewards could be big. Interest in organic products grows by the day.

       With organic milk, the real supply problem is that it is primarily a region-specific product that is now having to meet national demand, said Marty Mesh, director of Florida Organic Growers. “It used to be the consumer voted with their dollar - buying organic foods was a reward to farmers for doing the right thing. Now, they are doing it for their own reasons, for health reasons,” Mesh said.

Excerpted from - Devona Walker, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 28 Mar 2006