On Friday, February 12, the USDA issued its final ruling for Access to Pasture organic certification requirements for all organic livestock producers. The National Organic Program (NOP) began in October of 2002, and up until the present was designed to ensure that pasture and ruminant animals received adequate access to pasture grass, (for ruminants) the primary food their bodies are designed (by nature) to consume. Unfortunately, the requirements were interpreted by some operators in ways that clearly undermined the ability of these animals to receive the necessary amounts of outside access to pasture; these new rules directly address those earlier deficiencies. For those wishing to see a side by side comparison of the existing rules and the final rules may download this PDF prepared by the USDA.
This new ruling will ensure among the following key requirements as outlined on the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance website:
- It becomes law on June 17, 2010. Existing operations will have to be in compliance by June 17, 2011. New operations certified after June 17, 2010 must be in compliance before certification.
- Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year and obtain a minimum of an average of 30 percent dry matter intake over the course of the grazing season.
- Roughages used for bedding must be organic.
- Temporary shelter is OK for some management and healthcare procedures and special events like a 4H fair.
- Producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for the grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality.
- Livestock for meat are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.