Friday, USDA announced details of the final regulation regarding access to pasture for organic livestock operations. This rule amends the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants.

"Clear and enforceable standards are essential to the health and success of the market for organic agriculture," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The final rule will give consumers confidence that organic milk or cheese comes from cows raised on pasture, and organic family farmers the assurance that there is one, consistent pasture standard that applies to dairy products."

The main components of the rule include:

  • Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year. 
  • Animals must obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing pasture during the grazing season. 
  • 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 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.

The final rule becomes effective on June 17. Operations which are already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions. Operations which obtain organic certification after the effective date will be expected to demonstrate full compliance.

The final rule announcement was music to the ears of the Organic Trade Association

It clearly defines access to pasture for organic ruminant livestock and sets a mechanism into place for strict regulation and enforcement, says Christine Bushway, OTA executive director.

“This will help enable producers and certifying agents to consistently implement National Organic Program regulations,” she says. “As a result, consumers can be assured that the U.S. organic program for organic livestock remains the most stringent in the world. We are thrilled that USDA has issued this final rule and that it goes into effect in 120 days, which means it will be in place for this year’s grazing season. The organic community had been eagerly awaiting this important rule.”

Source: USDA, Organic Trade Association