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New NOP Pasture Regulation Meets Expectations of Organic Community
This article was first printed in the March/April 2010 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
In a valentine to the organic community, the National Organic Program released the long awaited clarification to the pasture requirements for ruminants on February 12, 2010. After five listening sessions around the country and over 100,000 comments addressing the need for uniform pasture regulations, this rule provides a clear mandate that ruminants must be allowed to express their natural grazing behavior. The changes to the pasture regulation incorporate quantifiable measurements into the regulation, resulting in a mandate for pasturing of ruminant animals during the times of year when grazing is possible. These stronger standards should strengthen consumer confidence in the organic label, which has been somewhat eroded in the past few years due to the abuses of a few dairies who confined their dairy animals in feedlots rather than providing them with pasture as required in the organic rules. The loopholes in the earlier rule that allowed these abuses have been closed by this new regulation.
When Will This New Rule be Enforced?
The NOP has also stated that if environmental or other conditions do not allow for a farm to meet the requirements of this rule, then certified organic livestock can not be produced at that location. The NOP has researched and found that there will be minimal economic cost to producers to comply with this rule. In some scenarios the cost of organic milk production will decrease when the farm switches to a grazing based system.
Basic Requirements of This Pasture for Ruminants Regulation
There are some specific documentation requirements to allow for this requirement to be verified by the inspector and certification agency. Many certified organic farmers already provide this documentation, so there should not be a lot of new paperwork for those who already have a complete organic system plan. The documentation necessary includes a description of the total feed ration for all ages and types of animals on the farm, including all feed produced both on and off the farm, the percentage of each type of feed and feed supplements fed to each age of animal (corn, small grains, beans, forages, pasture etc.) in the total ration, and changes to the rations made throughout the year in response to the use of grazing as part of the ration. This 30% dry matter intake from grazing for 120 days in a calendar year is the minimum, organic farmers can choose to have higher numbers than these when managing their organic ruminant livestock.
Feeding Areas During the Non-Grazing Season
Organic Bedding Required
Dairy calves may be confined up to six months of age, and after that must be on pasture during the grazing season and can no longer be individually housed. During that six month period the confined calf must have freedom of movement within their confined area, no tethering where they could not lie down or move about freely. Fiber animals such as sheep or angora goats can be confined for short periods to enable the producer to perform shearing activities.
Regulations for Finishing Beef –
60 day public comment period
Pasture Management and Recordkeeping
While European and Canadian standards have stocking rates for each class of animal, our regulation has not done this, in recognition that various climates and management strategies can have higher or lower stocking rates and still meet the minimum requirements for sufficient feed and a healthy environment. The proposed rule section requiring fencing to protect streams is not present in this final regulation, but producers still must rotate their pastures and/or upgrade their stream access areas to protect water and soil quality.
Each pasture location needs to be identified in the organic system plan with maps, similar to all crop fields. The plan and maps should detail the type of grazing (mob, rotational, etc.) used on the pastures, the amount of pasture per animal, the duration of the grazing season, as well as all permanent fences ( moveable or temporary pasture fences not included), shade areas and water sources present. Protection of natural wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas should be described in the operator’s pasture plan. A description of the feed ration and the grazing aspects for all ages of animals should be included, as described earlier.
Origin of Livestock
The NOP has also made it clear that organic honeybee products can continue to be sold in the marketplace with the certifier’s specific standards reviewed by the NOP during their accreditation. Organic apiculture standards are on the work plan for the National Organic Standards Board, to bring more consistency to this area of “livestock” production.
Lastly, since there are new terms added to the regulation that have not been present in the text before, 15 new items are added to the definition section of the regulation: Class of Animal, Dry Lot, Dry Matter Demand, Dry Matter Intake, Feedlot, Graze, Grazing, Grazing Season, Inclement Weather, Residual Forage, Shelter, Stage of Life, Temporary/Temporarily, and Yards/Feeding Pads.
Resources to Learn More
Harriet Behar is the MOSES Outreach Specialist. She was an organic inspector and inspector trainer for many years and has an organic bedding plant and vegetable operation with her husband in Southwest WI.Return to TOP