Pastures: Going Organic

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Pastures: Going Organic

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  • 1. ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic A Publication of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy George L. Kuepper This publication is an introduction to regulations related to organic pasture and rangeland in the Unitedand Alice E. Beetz States. Organically certified land is described under The National Organic Program, including activitiesNCAT Agriculture and materials that are allowed or prohibited. Fertility, weed, and insect pest management issues areSpecialists briefly addressed. Organic integrity is discussed, including records required to demonstrate compliance© NCAT 2006 with the National Organic Standards. References and resources follow the narrative.Introduction ..................... 1 Introduction TWhat Does “Organic”Mean? ................................. 2 his publication covers the major con-Organic as a Biological cepts and issues associated with theSystem ................................ 2 organic management of pasture andOrganic Integrity .......... 14 range. The focus is on compliance withConclusion ...................... 18 U.S. National Organic Standards that gov-References ...................... 19 ern use of the word “organic” in relation to pasture or range. A brief explanation ofFurther Resources ........ 19 the biological basis of organic pasture/range management is followed by specific informa- tion about materials that can and cannot be used. The organic integrity section outlines Dense, diverse pastures produce healthy animals. how to ensure that a pasture is not contami- Photo by Linda Coffey, NCAT. nated with prohibited materials and how to document measures that ensure this. The National Center for Appropriate Tech- This publication does not contain every- nology (NCAT) offers an Organic Livestock thing one needs to know in order to man- Workbook, available through the ATTRA age a ranch or pasture organically. There is Project. It offers a more detailed treatment much more information that will be impor- of what is required and recommended for tant to specific circumstances. More infor- an organic pasture or range operation. mation on how to manage livestock, pasture Readers are encouraged to obtain a copy. and range is available from many other The Workbook is a guide to all aspects of sources, including several ATTRA publica- livestock production that must be addressed tions listed within. in order to comply with federal regulations. Definition: Pasture The National Organic Standard defines pasture as land used for livestock grazing that is managedATTRA - National Sustainable to provide feed value and maintain or improve soil, water, and vegetative resources [section 205.2].Agriculture Information Serviceis managed by the National Cen- Land is not pasture when any of the following are dominant characteristics:ter for Appropriate Technology(NCAT) and is funded under a • It is a drylot • It is denuded of vegetation • It is overgrazedgrant from the United StatesDepartment of Agriculture’s Ruminants must have access to pasture, according to the Organic Rule [section 205.239(a)(2)],Rural Business-Cooperative Ser- and managers have the responsibility to maintain the ecological integrity of the pasture resourcevice. Visit the NCAT Web site with proper grazing management. Certified organic hay is appropriate if the animals must be(www.ncat.org/agri.html) for more informa- off pasture for management reasons. See the National Organic Standard for more information.tion on our sustainable www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexNet.htmagriculture projects.
  • 2. A large portion of the workbook is dedi- contamination of that system by prohib- cated to pasture management. Emphasis ited substances, either in the field (pro- is placed on biologically and economically duction) or in the marketing and handling sustainable systems. process. Preservation of the identity—and integrity—of organic products means that What Does “Organic” Mean? organic products must not be mixed withRelated ATTRA any conventional products from the farm.Publications As of October 2002, the definition of Both of these objectives are important.Organic Farm “Organic” has been established as partCertification and of federal standards for organic agricul-the National Organic ture. The National Organic Program (NOP) Organic as aProgram defi nes organic production as: “A produc- Biological SystemPreparing for an tion system that respond[s] to site-specificOrganic Inspection: conditions by integrating cultural, biologi- The Soil Food WebSteps and Checklists cal, and mechanical practices that foster The Soil Food Web is a recently coined cycling of resources, promote ecological term that describes the marvelous, intricateForms, Documents,and Sample Letters balance, and conserve biodiversity.” (NOP underground ecosystem that includes earth-for Organic Producers 205.2 definition of Organic Production). worms, fungi, bacteria, insects, and manyNCAT’s Organic Crops The word organic is now legally defined by others—both plants and animals—that makeWorkbook the National Standard as published in the up a living soil. These are the regenerative Code of Federal Regulations. It is now ille- agents that build soil. Their basic food isNCAT’s Organic organic matter and the mineral nutritionLivestock Workbook gal to market any agricultural product as organic or to advertise a farm as organic bound up in organic matter.National Organic unless the producer is in full compliance These soil organisms provide countlessProgram Compliance with these regulations.Checklist for Producers services that benefit the plants growing Contrary to popular myth, organic agri- above the ground.Organic LivestockDocumentation Forms culture originated in the early part of the • They recycle the nutrients in plant 20th century, not in the 1960s. The peo- residues and animal wastes byOrganic Marketing ple who founded and promoted it were con-Resources converting them gradually over time cerned with a wide range of agriculturalPastures: Sustainable problems, including a decline in soil fertil-Management ity, increased erosion and pollution, and anNutrient Cycling in increase in degenerative diseases in societyPastures as a whole. They believed that the growing use of soluble fertilizers and chemical pes-Assessing the PastureSoil Resource ticides would not only fail to address these problems, but would only make them worse.Rotational Grazing These founders established a core philoso-Dung Beetle Benefits phy that is fundamental to organic productionin the Pasture today—that people cannot be healthy unlessEcosystem they eat healthy food, and healthy food canMultispecies Grazing only come from healthy, vital soil. For a soilA Brief Overview of to be vital and healthy it has to be alive withNutrient Cycling in biologically active, organic elements.Pastures Proponents of organic agriculture rec-Pasture, Rangeland, ognize two interrelated and interwovenand Grazing objectives of this type of farming. TheManagement fi rst is that the farming or ranching system Earthworms, insects, fungi, nematodes, bacteria, works on natural principles. The second interact with each other as well as with plant roots objective is to ensure prevention of and soil components to create the Soil Food Web.Page 2 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 3. back into soluble forms available to plants. • They fi x nitrogen from the air. • They create a host of natural antibiotics, vitamins, and other compounds that add to plant nutri- tion and help control soil pests and diseases. • They also create organic acids that release even more nutrients from the parent rock material of the soil and subsoil.Natural, Conventional, andOrganic Approaches toPlant NutritionThe organic approach builds healthy soiland provides nourishment to crops. This Healthy, living soil produces forages that in turn support healthy livestock.approach is based on an understanding Photo by Alice Beetz, NCAT.of how plants are fed under natural condi-tions. Under natural conditions, plants gettheir necessary minerals from the action ofthe whole complex of organisms that make through adjustments to soil pH. In addi-up the Soil Food Web. tion, organic farmers and ranchers avoid the use of pesticides, anhydrous ammonia, andConventional fertilization attempts to bypass other materials harmful to the organisms thatthe Soil Food Web by providing nutri- make up the Soil Food Web.ents already in a soluble form. When thisapproach is taken, the activity of the Soil Additional benefits of the organic approachFood Web often declines, because it needs include balanced plant nutrition (not justto be fed through additions of organic mat- nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium andter. (Ingham, 2004) Pesticides and many the other few elements that synthetic fertil-conventional fertilizers are also directly izers may provide), reduced nutrient leach-toxic to soil organisms, which reduces their ing, and a natural pest control.populations even further. Organic farming is often described—byThe soil’s humus content also declines as those not familiar with the National Organicdoes its ability to provide nutrition to the Standards—in terms of what is prohibited.crop. As the soil loses its natural digestive It is identified as farming without syntheticcapacity, the system becomes increasingly fertilizers and pesticides. This presents adependent on soluble fertilizer to function. false picture. From its beginnings, organicAdditional consequences of a depleted Soil farming has been a deliberate approach toFood Web and reduced humus level include agriculture that focuses on soil manage-poor soil structure, poor drought tolerance, ment. You can sum up the strategy in aincreased erosion, and increased pest and phrase that organic farmers have used fordisease problems. decades: “Feed the soil.” When they talk about feeding the soil, they’re talking aboutIn contrast, organic farmers and ranchers feeding the Soil Food Web.work to enhance and build the Soil FoodWeb. The health of the Soil Food Web is Many descriptions of organic culture areimproved primarily by feeding it with organic based on vegetable or grain crop pro-matter, by providing deficient nutrients, and duction. Some of them translate well towww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 3
  • 4. systems to compensate for these losses, Crop Production Standards Apply humus levels will decline along with the vol- to Pasture ume and diversity of the food web. Because Pasture is a crop whether it is harvested by ani- pasture systems receive little or no tillage, mals through grazing or made into hay, silage, they do not face this problem. baleage, etc. All the standards relevant to crop production apply to pasture. These include: A well-managed organic pasture enjoys not only the benefits of a Soil Food Web undis- • Crop production standards (NOP Sections rupted by tillage, it also receives regular 205. 200 - 205.206) and substantial inputs of organic matter • Organic Systems Plan from various sources. • Land requirements: transition and buffers Plant residues from root dieback and from • Soil fertility and crop nutrient management surface accumulation are important. Good rotational grazing practices create cycles • Crop rotation of growth and dieback for the extensive • Pest, weed, and disease management grass root systems, contributing greatly to • Seeds and planting stock soil building. After each grazing period or hay harvest, some of the forage roots die, • National List of allowed and prohibited materials (Sections 205.600 - 205.603) becoming food for the organisms in the soil. • Recordkeeping (Section 205.103) Good grazing management—which also serves to create a dense stand of for- age—contributes to soil humus building in another way. Pasture plants are known pasture-based production; some do not. to contribute as much as 25 percent of the When it comes to managing organic matter, carbohydrates they produce through pho- pasture based systems have a great advan- tosynthesis as root exudates. These exu- tage over tillage agriculture. dates, in turn, feed the soil organisms so Tillage over-stimulates the Soil Food Web, that they can provide more of the benefits causing humus to oxidize and “burn up” listed above. (Ingham, 2000) Therefore, more rapidly. Unless a considerable vol- more plants growing on the pasture means ume of organic matter is supplied to tillage a better-fed underground ecosystem. Contributions of Organic Matter to the Food Web in a Pasture Leaf and stem residue Manure and bedding Growing plants contribute 25% of forage plants & weeds waste from barns of photosynthates as root exudates Root residue Manure from dieback deposits from due to grazing grazing stock and mowing Limited tillage Recycling of favors the soil micro- accumulation organisms and of humus their wastes Dairy cows on pasture. Photo by Linda Coffey, NCAT.Page 4 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 5. the organic matter to meet the needs of a healthy Soil Food Web. Nitrogen in Organic Systems As in conventional farming, nitrogen is usually the limiting nutrient in produc- tion. Nitrogen is supplied in agricultural production from a wide variety of natural and human-controlled sources. However, in conventional management, a great ten- dency is to rely on synthetic ammonium, nitrate, and urea fertilizers for all the nitro-High stock density followed by adequate rest contrib- gen required.utes to root growth and dieback cycles that build soil.Photo by Alice Beetz, NCAT. Imported nitrogen is falsely believed to be the only way to get needed quantities. Some producers try to buy up all the manure theyGrazing livestock also contribute manure can fi nd and apply it at levels designed toas organic fertilizer. Since this manure is meet their nitrogen requirements. This cangenerated on-site from the pasture itself, it lead to overloading the soil with phospho-is really a form of nutrient cycling or recy- rus, potash, or other nutrient elements.cling. Some organic operations also import In the mid-South, for example, this prac-manures, compost, or other organic-rich tice has created water quality problemsmaterials from other farms in the region. because of phosphorus buildup from con-When reasonably priced, locally available tinuous use of poultry litter on pastures.manure can be a terrific resource. Once The most economical source of nitrogen inestablished, however, a well-managed pas- organic systems is homegrown legume nitro-ture-based system should grow on-site all gen. If your goals and circumstances allow, Inoculation with Nitrogen-Fixing Rhizobium Bacteria Rhizobium species of inoculants are commonly used to legumes. For example pea/vetch inoculant is a different spe- increase the effective nodulation of legume crops and cover cies from alfalfa inoculant. Rhizobium bacteria can be pur- crops, including clovers, alfalfa, peas, vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, chased as an inoculant, usually in a small bag with peat moss and others. as a carrier. It is very important to keep the inoculant cool. The refrigerator is a good place. Bacteria are living, and they These bacteria are often present in the soil naturally. How- ever, inoculation is probably worthwhile for a specific legume will die if they get too hot. The inoculant is usually applied planted on a new piece of ground not recently planted with by mixing it with the seed—either wet or dry—right before that crop. It’s a small cost and can help increase legume plant planting. That way, the bacteria will be near the plant roots productivity. with which they will form a symbiotic relationship. Legumes and rhizobium bacteria develop a mutually benefi- You can tell if the nodules are effective little natural fertilizer cial relationship through formation of root nodules. Through a factories by digging up a plant, finding nodules, and check- biological process inside these nodules, nitrogen gas from the ing the color inside. If you see pink tissue when you cut open atmosphere (N2 , a form of nitrogen that cannot be taken up by a nodule, that’s a good sign. The red color indicates the pres- plants) is converted into ammonia (NH4+, a form that plants can ence of leghemoglobin, whose function is similar to the hemo- use). The bacteria in turn get sugars that the plant produces globin in animal blood. It helps maintain oxygen flow to the through photosynthesis. The plant gets available nitrogen from bacteria so they can fix nitrogen. this arrangement, something it can’t make for itself. Genetically modified inoculants have reached the market. There are many species of rhizobium bacteria, and each is Before you buy inoculant, get written documentation of its non- adapted to form this kind of relationship and make good, GMO status to protect your organic certification eligibility. Be productive nodules with only one—or a small group—of sure that the one you buy is a naturally occurring bacteria.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 5
  • 6. Maintain legumes as about 30 percent by weight of the pasture byadjusting pH and soil minerals. Graze so that grass doesn’t shade To establish a new legume, coat the seed with the correct inoculum,out the legume. Photos by Linda Coffey, NCAT. but be sure it’s approved for organic production. manage pastures to promote legume pro- legume growth. Soil tests indicate calcium duction. It is a giant step toward sustain- levels and will also show whether to adjust able, organic management. the pH with lime to be more favorable to legumes. Lime is very important since most Legume Nitrogen high-value legumes like alfalfa and the clo- vers need calcium. Tests also indicate the If you don’t have existing populations of presence of other essential nutrients that desirable legumes, over-seed or even re- legumes need to thrive. The lack of phos- seed pastures with these plants. Legume phorus and sulfur can limit good legume root nodules can capture nitrogen from growth in certain soils. the air for their own use. Seed inoculation may be necessary to establish a healthy For best pasture quality for grazing ani- population of rhizobium bacteria appropri- mals and optimal renewal of soil fertil- ate to the species of legume you wish to ity and health, a good goal is that legumes grow. These bacteria grow in root nodules be 30 percent (by dry weight) of the for- and are able to capture nitrogen from the age population. At this level, legumes pro- air and convert it into a form the legume vide plenty of nitrogen to their neighbor- can use. Producers benefit enormously by ing forage plants. Keep the grass grazed inoculating seed, particularly under the short enough that it doesn’t shade out the following circumstances: legumes. If the legume is an annual, it must be allowed to reseed each year—or at least • The pastures have not grown every other year. legumes in several years • The existing rhizobium species are Managing Manure in not of the same inoculation class as the one needed by the legume being the Pasture over-seeded Finally, optimize the recycling of nitrogen. Manage the manure resource well, so that • Current legumes show poor the nitrogen you grow stays in the field and nodulation is available to the growing plants, even if it To develop a legume-based pasture system, cycles through the livestock fi rst. Animals you must manage for legumes. Soil fertil- tend to gather and rest in favorite areas, such ity and grazing must be managed to favor as near a water source, by the minerals, orPage 6 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 7. from conventional confinement operations. Manure does not have to come from organic animals. However, if a certifier suspects a high level of contamination with prohib- ited substances, you may have to have the manure or other material tested, and fur- ther use may be denied. That is a judgment call on the part of the certifier. Managing Phosphorus, Potash and other Essential Nutrients As pointed out earlier, organic management is designed to accelerate natural chemical and biological processes in the soil, makingMoving minerals and water sources around in a pad- nutrients from the native soil more available.dock prevents manure buildup in these popular areas. These processes include recycling nutri-Photo by Alice Beetz, NCAT. ents, and making the pasture as self-suffi- cient in fertility as possible. Some organicin the shade. Try to keep from transferring farms are quite successful in reaching or atand concentrating nutrients from the field least approaching a closed-loop fertility sys-to these favorite spots by moving the miner- tem—especially for nitrogen. Most farms,als to different areas in a paddock. Moving however, need to supplement soil nutrients,the water source and the shade provides the usually because of soil type, the intensity ofsame advantages. Refer to ATTRA’s publi- production and export of nutrients, or thecations on nutrient cycling (see the ATTRA effects of prior management. Soil and foragepublications list on page 2) for a more testing can be valuable tools in this effort.thorough treatment of the subject.Supplemental Nitrogen FertilityTo supplement nitrogen fertility, find a nat-ural source of nitrogen for organic produc-tion. Be aware that almost all syntheticnitrogen sources are prohibited in organicproduction. This includes synthetic urea,ammonium sulfate, and liquid synthetic for-mulations such as 9-18-9. Sales people maytell you these are easy on soil organismsand they’re possibly right, but the prod-ucts are also “synthetic” and are thereforeprohibited. However, some liquid fertiliz-ers like fish emulsion and compost tea aremade from natural ingredients. While theseare allowed in organic production, they areprobably not very practical or as cost-effec-tive for pasture production as other sourcesof nutrients.Manure and composted manures are themost common sources of imported nitro- Use soil and/or forage tests to monitor and bal-gen. You may use manure and composts ance soil nutrients. Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 7
  • 8. very often, but do so often enough to know whether a micronutrient is deficient or at an excessive level. High levels can present a risk of toxicity; low levels can cause forage or animal health problems. Another reason soil testing can be important is nutrient balance. The mineral wheel (see above left) presents a visual concept of how each nutrient affects others. The soil is a liv- ing thing; imbalances have consequences. For this reason, many organic livestock pro- ducers use soil laboratories that provide a full cation nutrient profi le. They use a sys- tem known as the Albrecht approach. It is not in universal use in organic production, but it is a popular way to monitor and man- age soil nutrients. Soil Amendments and the Organic RuleToo much or too little of any mineral affects other nutrients as well as forage and As previously mentioned, most conventionallivestock health. fertilizers are considered synthetic andFigure from: Holliday, R.J. “Let your animals teach you nutrition.”Organic Broadcaster. May–June 2002. are prohibited in organic production. This includes ammoniated fertilizers, super phos- phate, nitrates, and common blends such as It is wasteful to purchase nutrients your soil 13-13-13, 9-18-9, and so forth. Ash from may already have in abundance. manure burning is specifically prohibited as is the use of sewage sludge. Organic mate- When supplemental fertility is neces- rial that has been contaminated by heavy sary, nutrient needs can often be met with metals or other materials is prohibited. manure or compost—assuming it is suffi- ciently rich in the minerals your pastures This issue can arise with the use of manure need. Natural rock powders are the next from factory-scale and factory-style pro- most valuable input. As with anything you ductions. Contaminants may be an issue use on your pasture, you should identify with poultry litter anywhere throughout the and document the sources in order to show country. Most conventional poultry produc- it is natural and not synthetic. For exam- ers use arsenic as a feed additive to control ple, natural forms of lime are allowed as parasites and stimulate growth. Much of the a soil amendment. Hydrated lime is a syn- arsenic passes through the birds and into thetically processed product and is there- the manure. fore prohibited. Natural mined gypsum is Other materials applied to poultry litter to allowed, but recycled gypsum wallboard is prevent volatilization of nitrogen can also not. Potassium sulfate is allowed if it is from cause problems for organic producers. a natural mined source; the synthetic form Hormones used to supplement dairy ani- is prohibited. mals can also be an issue. These manures Document the source of any mineral you may be seen as contaminated with a pro- use. Wood ash is allowed if it is from natu- hibited material for organic production. ral untreated wood, but not if plastics and Though not routinely done, a certifier may other synthetic materials were also in the require testing of manure if there is rea- fi re. Micronutrients are often overlooked. son to suspect unacceptable levels of con- You probably don’t need to test for them tamination. These are especially importantPage 8 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 9. considerations if the producer seeks inter- phosphoric acid. The amount of acid shallnational certification to export products not exceed the minimum needed to lowerto Europe. the pH to 3.5” (NOP 205.601 (j) (7). This acid solution helps break down fish byprod-Finally, genetic engineering is also prohib-ited in organic production. Genetically engi- ucts and makes nutrients more available inneered seed, inoculants, or soil amendments fish emulsion. The National Standard per-are regularly marketed. Obtain documenta- mits the use of these materials in the pro-tion that no genetically modified organism duction process, but not to “enhance” the(GMO) or GMO-derived matter is contained products with synthetic fertilizers or otherin your sources. Note that the prohibition on prohibited substances.GMOs has practical limits. Unless otherwise You are not likely to be using it on pastures,contaminated, there is no regulation against but sodium nitrate is a natural mineral thatusing manure from animals that have been is restricted to no more than 20 percent offed genetically engineered crops. a crop’s nitrogen requirement. There areA few synthetic materials are allowed in some forms of muriate of potash that canorganic agriculture with specific restric- be used. They are hard to fi nd. You cantions. Each of these is listed in the National assume that most widely available commer-Organic Standards section 205.601 with cial grades of potassium chloride are pro-specific annotations about how they may hibited forms.be used in organic production. Micronu- Be careful about what you buy. There aretrients are one example of allowed use of loopholes in our fertilizer laws that allowsynthetic materials in organic production. materials with any nutrient content to beOnly certain forms of micronutrients may sold as micronutrient fertilizers. Some arebe used. These are listed in NOP section being sold as fertilizers, even though they205.601(j)(6) and a need for them must be might actually qualify as toxic waste underdocumented by testing (soil or tissue tests). EPA classifications.Fish emulsion, seaweed extract, and humicacids are commonly believed to be natural Organic Strategies andproducts. While the basic ingredients in Considerations for Weedthese products are natural, the process bywhich they are manufactured may involve Managementsynthetic materials. The regulations artic- For most organic cropping systems, weedsulate the specific applications for which are considered the greatest challenge tocertain synthetic materials are allowed. production. Unlike vegetable and row crops,For example, “Liquid fi sh products—can pasture systems have a higher tolerance forbe pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric, or weeds. In part, this is due to the fact that Keeping Pastures Healthy - Self-regulation and sustainability in pasture systems are best accomplished through the following weed management strategies: • Improve the soil organic matter • Graze several complementary livestock species • Understand the causes, life cycle, and feed value of the weed • Introduce biological weed control agents • Increase species diversity in the pasture • Mow, hand weed, and dig to remove weeds • Graze during the time of a weed’s maximum mechanically palatability • Use flame weeding or other forms of heat • Practice high-intensity grazing and high frequency destruction of grazing • Rotate into annual cropswww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 9
  • 10. such as multispecies grazing. Several spe- cific suggestions are listed in the standards for weed management. Cultural Practices for Weed Management Good organic soil management and a healthy Soil Food Web result in weed con- trol benefits. Some weeds are favored by tight anaerobic soil conditions, extremes of acidity or alkalinity, or low organic matter. These species will be discouraged on well- managed organic soils. Weed seed viabil- ity is also reduced on biologically active, organically managed soil, according to recent research. (Anon. 2000) Learn about the weeds. First, considerManaged grazing prevents many weed problems as livestock learn to eat weeds in whether the “weed” is really a problem intheir young, palatable stage. Photo by Linda Coffey, NCAT. your grazing system. Some weeds have very deep taproots and bring up nutrients that livestock need. If these plants are palatable, many weeds have nutritional value and are consider them a valuable part of your for- palatable at some stage in their life cycles. age system. If the weed truly is undesirable, It’s worthwhile to rethink which plants you learn as much as you can about it. Where consider to be “weeds.” did the seed come from? Can you prevent Organic Standards (NOP 205.206) describe further infestation? What conditions does pest management (including weeds), in terms this weed prefer? Can these conditions be of three main approaches. First, cultural changed? Try to identify the point in its life practices prevent pest problems at the sys- cycle when it is most vulnerable, and target tems level. For instance, rotational grazing your efforts to that time. Many weeds are provides a system effect of improved weed palatable during early stages of growth, and pest management. Second, mechanical and grazing keeps them from going to seed. biological responses can be used to manage A mixed-forage pasture provides more pests. Examples include the use of physical protection against weeds than a single- or mechanical practices, such as flaming to species pasture. A diverse pasture uti- control alfalfa weevil, and biological controls lizes all the available space, nutrients, and water at various levels both above How Do Weeds Get Started? ground and below ground. Mixed stands When grasses are grazed, a portion of the stay weed-free longer than pure stands root mass dies and decays. This process has because of the increased ecological diver- some ecological benefits in that it allows sity. Nature always tries to restore species underground nutrient cycling and opens complexity, a concept known in ecology as passages for water and air to move freely to succession. For instance, a field planted to supply other plants with nutrients and oxy- alfalfa, orchardgrass, and timothy is bet- gen. However, if a plant is grazed repeatedly ter than a pure stand when it comes to and has no time to re-grow, it loses more root mass than it can tolerate, and plant health weed suppression. Clover, birdsfoot trefoil, and vigor decline. This situation gives other, alfalfa, or other legumes as a 30 percent often unwanted, plants a chance to germi- mix with two or more grasses provides a nate and take root. higher nutrient content than pure stands. It also offers a longer grazing season.Page 10 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 11. Good grazing practices—especially rota-tional grazing—go a long way to discourageweed competition. The rhythm of grazingand rest creates lush, dense pastures withlittle space or light for weeds to becomeestablished. See ATTRA’s publicationsRotational Grazing and Pastures: Sustain-able Management for a more complete treat-ment of this subject.High stock density encourages animalsto graze the pasture more uniformly thanlightly stocked pasture. “Weedy” speciesare grazed at the same intensity as “good”species. Because the growing points ongrass plants are located below the normalgrazing level, high density stocking favorsgrass growth. The growing points on broad-leaf weeds are higher and are grazed off.This sets up a competitive advantage for A healthy, weed-resistant plant community consists of a diverse group of speciesgrasses. Broadleaf weed populations tend to occupying all the niches (sites) and using all the resources in the system, keepingdecrease under intensively grazed systems. them from weeds (Sheley et al., 1999). Photo by Alice Beetz, NCAT.Since legumes and some other desirable for-ages are broadleaves, special effort must betaken to preserve them in the pasture mix Mechanical Means of Weedas you work to eliminate weed species. ManagementBe careful not to introduce new weed seeds Although more expensive than culturalinto paddocks that don’t have them. If you practices, mowing, brush-hogging, pull-feed hay on pasture, be sure it doesn’t con- ing, and hoeing are traditional mechanicaltain viable weed seeds. Similarly, livestock means of weed control. Flaming, a newermoved from a weed-infested paddock can method of burning out the undesirablecarry weed seed and deposit it with manure. plants from an area, can be accomplishedEven equipment can carry seeds from pad- either with backpack or over-the-top equip-dock to paddock. ment. These are all allowed practices in organic settings. Each may be appropriate for specific applications, depending on the weed species and the extent of its spread. For further information see the ATTRA publication on flame weeding. Finally, rotating to an annual forage or crop that requires tillage presents the oppor- tunity to completely renovate a pasture that has been invaded by toxic or noxious weeds. You will be able to choose among new, improved varieties of the forage spe- cies you want in your grazing system. Tra- ditional farming systems include long rota-A few years of pasture in a crop rotation interrupts tions that plan for several years in pasturethe life cycle of weeds that have adapted to either theperennial or the annual system. Intensive grazing between annual cropping cycles. Tillage,favors grasses and discourages broadleaf weeds in however, comes with risks to the soil eco-the pasture. Photo by George Kuepper, NCAT. system as well as opportunities for furtherwww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 11
  • 12. Buying and releasing these biological con- trol agents can be costly. In addition, they usually require several years to establish in an extensive pasture or range situation. Even when effective, they are usually considered one of several tools in a weed management system. Further information about insects for biological weed control is available from ATTRA or your Extension service. Forage Diseases and Insect Pests Compared to row crop and horticultural sys- tems, pastures typically have a limited num- ber of insect and disease problems. Under good organic management, a high degree of biological control is seen and many poten-Mixing types of animals that prefer different forages helps control weeds, breaks tial problems simply do not emerge.parasite cycles, and increases potential profitability.Photo by George Kuepper, NCAT. When they do, they can often be tolerated. Sometimes, however, pest problems can’t be ignored. The three-level approach: 1) weed invasion, so focus fi rst on improved cultural control practices, 2) mechanical grazing management if the pasture is not methods, and 3) biological agents should be already in such a long crop rotation. tried before considering the application of a material for control purposes. Biological Control of Weeds Only when the cultural, physical, and bio- Multi-species grazing offers several ben- logical defenses fail is it time to consider efits, including weed management. Goats, allowed pesticide materials. Materials are a for example, are good at cleaning up brushy complement to—not a substitute for—good weeds. Sheep prefer broadleaf forages to management, and they usually add to the grass, graze closer to the ground, and can cost of production. Materials may be used be grazed on the same pastures with cat- only when other methods are not effective tle. Because of their different forage prefer- and when the conditions for their use are ences, small ruminants can often be added to a pasture system without decreasing the Related ATTRA Publication cattle stocking rate. Farmscaping to Enhance Even noxious, introduced weeds can be Biological Control controlled and eventually eliminated by This publication contains information about repeated, intensive grazing through spe- increasing and managing biodiversity on cies such as sheep or goats. These ani- a farm to favor beneficial organisms, with mals have mouth parts that can graze emphasis on beneficial insects. The types of close to the ground, and they exhibit broad information farmscapers need to consider is forage preferences. The ATTRA publication outlined and emphasized. Appendices have information about various types and examples Multispecies Grazing offers a further of successful “farmscaping” (manipulations of exploration of this option. the agricultural ecosystem), plants that attract Some weed species have parasites or pred- beneficials, pests and their predators, seed blends to attract beneficial insects, hedgerow ators that have been developed as weed establishment and maintenance budgets, and control options. Among these are some a sample flowering-period table. thistles, leafy spurge, and the knapweeds.Page 12 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 13. described in the producer’s Organic SystemPlan (OSP) as approved by the certifier.Sorting out what commercial pesticide prod-ucts you can and can’t use is even more dif-ficult than it is for soil amendments and fer-tilizers. The more you can avoid pesticides,the better off you’ll be. But if you shouldneed to include such inputs, here are thingsyou need to know.The National Organic Standard describeswhat may and may not be used as a con-trol agent. Allowed natural materials typi-cally fall into three classes—minerals, bio-logicals, and botanicals. Among the fewallowed synthetics are mineral formulationsof copper and sulfur, and insecticidal soaps.It is unlikely that these would be used in Learn which products are approved and discuss your Organic System Plan witha pasture situation. There are a few natu- your certifier. Photo by Ann Baier, NCAT.ral materials you are NOT allowed to use.These are listed in NOP 205.602.How to Tell What Is Allowed and indexed three ways—as materials, by company name, and by prod-What Is Prohibited uct name. Clearly, use of the WebRemember that the heart of organic pro- site is free. OMRI also publishesduction is not so much about materials as a Generic Materials List which isit is about management. Nonetheless, when very useful and available for a fee.materials are used, understand what isallowed and prohibited under the standards The OMRI list is not static. Newfor organic production. Sometimes it is dif- products are added all the timeficult to know whether a product is natural and some products drop off—eitheror synthetic, allowed or prohibited, espe- because the manufacturer hascially if it contains inert ingredients that changed the formulation or becauseare not disclosed on the label. There are they chose not to reapply to havethree approaches to determine whether a a product listed. (The OMRI sealcommercial product you plan to use is an on a product indicates that it wasallowed material. “OMRI Listed” at the time it was produced.) OMRI reviews products • First, read the pertinent parts for use in organic production, and of the Regulation. This is your its seal is an excellent indicator of best option if you know all the mate- acceptability. However, OMRI list- rials and whether they are synthetic ing is a fee-based service and only or not. The Web site of the National companies that pay for it are listed. Organic Program (www.ams.usda. Many acceptable products have gov/nop/IndexIE.htm) includes the never been reviewed by OMRI and complete standards. are not OMRI listed. • Second, look at a current • Finally, consult your certifier Organic Materials Review Insti- anytime you are uncertain whether tute (OMRI) Brand Names list. a substance can be used in produc- The OMRI Web site (www.omri. tion. According to the standards, org) offers its Brand Names list materials you plan to use must bewww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 13
  • 14. in the Organic System will immediately be recognized as tran- Plan (OSP) that you sitioned to organic. If you acquire new submit to your certi- property, clear documentation of its land fier. This plan must be use history and all materials used in the approved by your cer- previous three years must be obtained. If tifier. Keep your plan you don’t have such documentation, that up to date. If you plan distinct piece of property will need to to use a new product go through a transition period of its own or material, submit an before it is considered organic. updated OSP to your certifier and be sure Fencing use of the material is approved before you Fences have already been mentioned; use it. A few certifiers however, fence construction has not. The provide lists of allowed National Organic Standard prohibits the use and prohibited prod- of treated wood in organic production where ucts. But such lists are it can contact organic soil, crops, or live- rarely comprehensive stock. This affects new installations. If you since so many new are transitioning to organic production and materials continue to you have old treated wood fencing, most cer- come on the market. tifiers will readily allow that and prohibit theTreated wood is prohibited for new fencing in use of treated wood for new or replacementorganic pastures, but existing treated wood fenc- Ask questions before uses. (See ATTRA’s publication entitleding is often allowed. Photo by Ann Baier, NCAT. you develop and submit Organic Alternatives to Treated Lumber.) an OSP to your certi- fier. Also, verify with your inspector that the materials you list in your plan are allowable Transition Period when you review it at each annual inspec- The period of organic transition is 36 tion. Never use a material without fi rst add- months from the last time a prohibited mate- ing it to your OSP and having it approved rial was applied, until harvest of the fi rst by your certifier. crop as organic. In other words, the pas- ture forage is not considered organic until 36 months have passed. Organic Integrity This publication began with a focus on organic production as a biologically based Soil Protection system. Now we begin to concentrate on We briefly discussed organic approaches to matters that deal more with organic integ- soil fertility above. No matter what actions rity. A discussion of land requirements for or techniques you use, the soil resource certified production serves as kind of tran- must not be depleted. The Standard sition; both faces of organic production are requires that you do some form of moni- addressed here. toring to ensure that organic matter and nutrient levels are maintained or improved Land Requirements under your management. Likewise, ero- sion must be controlled, and the land must To begin with—and this is probably obvi- be managed in a way that prevents pollu- ous—any field or farm you seek to certify tion. The levels of manure you add must must have distinct boundaries. You must be agronomic rates and cannot contribute submit a map to your certifier as part of to runoff or leaching problems. your organic system plan. Certification is tied to the land as well as to your manage- ment and record-keeping as a producer. Maintaining Organic Integrity You may sell or rent organically certified The Rule states simply, “Any [organic] field land to another party and that property or farm…must: (c) Have distinct, defi nedPage 14 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 15. boundaries and buffer zones such as run-off diversions to prevent the unintended Timeline for Transitioning aapplication of a prohibited substance to thecrop or contact with a prohibited substance Ranch Operationapplied to adjoining land that is not under LANDorganic management.”Organic integrity is about ensuring that the Prohibited 36 months Certifiedproduct you are raising organically stays materials Organicthat way until it is in the hands of the con- last applied Pasturesumer. With organic pasture, the greatestthreats to organic integrity typically come in Organicthe form of pesticide drift from neighboring Slaughterfarms, from road and utility maintenance, Conception Birthor—if you have a split operation—from your First 2/3 Last 1/3own conventional enterprises. If you are Gestation Gestationentirely organic and are adequately isolated ANIMALSfrom conventional chemical farming activi-ties, you really don’t have an issue. This timeline illustrates how to coordinate organic pasture certification withIsolation is the best insurance for organic organic livestock feed requirements. The 36-month requirement must be met by the time that the mothers reach the last third of gestation. The Rule states thatintegrity. Most, however, will not be isolated they must be eating only organic feed from that time on.and may need to buffer production areas.That is easier said than done. If a neigh-bor does a lot of spraying or other chemi- one of those things that will require clearcal applications, you may need to set your communications with your neighbors andborder fence back from the field edge. The with your certifier.Regulations do not specify how wide such Other measures may be needed if a neigh-a buffer must be, only that contamination boring farm’s runoff crosses your property.must be prevented. Twenty-five feet used tobe customary, but that probably isn’t ade- Water that drains from conventionally man-quate if a neighbor aerial sprays. This is aged land onto yours must be kept from organically certified pastures and live- stock. You may need to put in some sort of diversion, or perhaps create a flow-through grassed waterway that is fenced off so that it can’t be grazed. Water that leaves your land should run clear and show no signs of eroding soil. Usually the best way to handle these issues is to establish effective lines of communication with your neighbors when- ever possible. One can also put up “do not spray signs” along roadsides. Working with your neigh- bors or with utilities through some combi- nation of notification and communication is one of the best things you can do. If you don’t have a chip on your shoulder, people can be remarkably cooperative. In the case of utilities and roadside maintenance, youKeep livestock out of ponds for good quality drinking may need to assume responsibility for mow-water that supports better livestock health. ing some weeds, but that seems a reason-Photo by Linda Coffey, NCAT. able trade-off.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 15
  • 16. Producers must previously discussed, manure from conven- decide whether they tional sources may be applied (unless there would rather lose is concern about contaminants as discussed land from produc- above). Manure may be deposited directly tion or harvest and on the land by grazing conventional ani- sell buffer crops as mals, as long as the land is managed organ- conventional. The ically. Obviously, you would not be allowed answer may depend to place conventional pesticide dust bags or on whether the buf- backrubbers on an organic pasture site, or fer area in question do anything similar that could lead to con- is ten feet around a tamination of the land with prohibited sub- one-time spot treat- stances. Animals should be removed from ment of herbicide the pasture for any treatments with conven- on a thistle on your tional medications. neighbor’s side of the fence, or a 25-foot swath the length of Seed and Planting Stock a quarter section. As Under the National Organic Standards, pro- long as the organic ducers must use organic seed and planting crop is protected, stock if it is commercially available. Oth- producers can usu- erwise, you must use untreated, non-GMO ally decide whether seed, and demonstrate (document) a good it is worth their trou- faith attempt to find organic seed and plant-Work with road maintenance crews to prevent over- ble to clean or purge ing stock. Finding organic seed and andspray on certified organic land. equipment (such as planting stock is not always easy. The box onPhoto by Ann Baier, NCAT. balers), and separate this page suggests some resources to try. the crop from harvest If the variety you need or its equivalent is through transport and sale, documenting not commercially available, you may use the sale of that crop as non-organic. conventional seed—if it is not treated with a Another question that is sometimes raised prohibited substance. A variety can be con- is whether grazing conventional livestock sidered not commercially available if you affects the status of an organic pasture. As cannot locate an organic supplier. If there Resources to Help Producers Find Organic Seed 1. ATTRA’s Suppliers of Seed for Certified Organic 2. OMRI Certified Organic Seed and Production Planting Stock List <www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/altseed.html> This is <www.omri.org/OMRI_SEED_list.html> These items an online list of seed sources. Producers need to get are unquestionably certified organic. However, this list further verification of organic certification of seeds represents only a small fraction of the seed suppliers on this list. who offer organic seed. ATTRA takes the suppliers’ word and doesn’t require 3. Save Our Seed’s Certified Organic Seed Sourcing proof of organic certification. In light of this, please Service ask for documentation—such as a current organic cer- <www.saving ourseed.org/pages/sourcing.htm> This tificate—when you place your order. free online service lets producers know if a particular organic seed is available. Producers fill out a simple It is clearest and easiest to verify organic status if the form with type of plant (e.g., clover), variety (e.g., ber- supplier lists the seed as organic and includes the seem), and quantity (e.g., 50 lb.) needed. A response is name of the certifier on the invoice or packing list. If mailed within five days with documentation that would the seed is not organic, see 2 and 3. be acceptable to any certifier.Page 16 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 17. is an organic source, it might still be com-mercially unavailable if the supplier can’tprovide the quantity or quality needed.Quality can be considered substandard ifthere is seed-borne disease, very low ger-mination percentages, high noxious weedseed content, and the like. The higher costof organic seed and stock is NOT consid-ered an argument for not purchasing avail-able organic seed.If you need to use non-organic seed, youmust demonstrate that you tried to sourceorganic. Although the regulations do notspecify a number, most certifiers willexpect reasonable documentation that youcontacted three seed suppliers likely to Finding sources of organic seed can be a challenge, but ATTRA’s Web site has toolscarry organic seed. You should also be pre- that can help. Photo from the OSU Forage Information System Web site.pared to document that non-organic stockis not genetically engineered. As men-tioned, be certain you are using untreatedseed. Most conventional seed treatments i nter pretat ions, a nd you r cer t i f ierare prohibited. will decide how you must deal with these situations.A few additional comments should be maderegarding seed and planting stock require-ments. The requirement for organic seed Documents to Keepapplies to any kind of seed—whether it is The kinds of documents you need to retaincrop, cover crop, or pasture seed. Legume for organic pasture record-keeping are theinoculants must be non-GMO. Buyer same as for other crops. Activities affectingbeware. Get written documentation if there the land, materials used on it, and monitor-is any question about whether seed has ing must be documented. You will need abeen treated or if seeds or inoculant might running field history, especially if you havebe genetically modified. rotation pasture with permanent paddocks.Finally, if you are sprigging a pasture—as is You will probably already be keepingcommonly done with bermuda grass—or are records on when animals enter and leaveinterplanting comfrey or some other peren- each paddock. Keep track of other fieldnial, the standards are not especially clear. activities like mowing and the dates of thoseBe certain to ask your certifier how such activities. Such records are useful for yourplanting stock is classified. Annual trans- own information on your farm managementplants must be organic. Perennial plant- as well as for organic compliance.ing stock must be organic if commerciallyavailable. If not commercially available, it You will want the same sort of record ofmust be managed organically for 12 months any materials applied for fertilization orbefore harvest. pest control purposes. Because seed isYour certifier will determine whether there also an input, keep any documents relatedis a need to delay grazing, and if so, for to seed and planting stock you use, includ-what period of time. A certifier can also ing labels or packets, invoices, documen-offer guidance on sufficient documen- tation of your searches for organic seed,tation for any of the above issues. The if you used conventional seed, as well asNational Organic Standard on this subject documents that show it is untreated and(Sect. 205.204[4]) is open to several not genetically engineered. If you usedwww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 17
  • 18. inoculants for legume seeds, the purchase Conclusion records should also be kept. In order to manage a pasture organically Save your labels and purchase receipts for you must pay very close attention to soil any fertilizers or pest control products you and forage plants. This publication does buy. Keep all soil and water test reports. not go into the details of what this skilled And of course, keep harvest and sales management entails. Rather, it outlines the records. Harvest records are important boundaries within which you must operate as evidence of the source of organic feed. to comply with the National Organic Stan- These should include the field location, har- dard. If you produce livestock for eventual vest quantity, and date. export, the requirements might be differ- ent. International regulations vary only slightly on most issues except in the area of what is allowed regarding manure from “factory farms.” Your certifier can help you learn more if you are considering pro- ducing for the international market. Many other ATTRA publications address the nuts and bolts of managing cropland and pastures sustainably. Grazing systems, soil and weed management, and market- ing resources are the subjects of publica- tions available cost-free to farmers, ranch- ers, and those who work with them. Many can be downloaded from the ATTRA Web site (www.attra.ncat.org) and all can be obtained by requesting them with a call to 800-346-9140. The Organic LivestockGood grazing management averts many pest problems for both forages and Workbook is especially recommended.animals. Photo by Alice Beetz, NCAT. The ATTRA publication Organic Certifi- cation Process orients the user to the pro- cedures for certification. Preparing for an Organic Inspection: Steps and Checklists, reminds producers about all of the docu- ments needed to meet a commitment to maintaining pasture as organic. Sample forms and letters have also been devel- oped. These are available on the ATTRA Web site or can be obtained by calling 800-346-9140 and requesting a copy. Clearly understand that the certifier makes the determination when there is a ques- tion about any material or activity related to your certified organic pasture. Choose your certifying agency carefully and work with staff as cooperatively as possible. The certification office staff and your inspectorThese dense pastures provide excellent nutrition for healthy animals and good can help you understand the standards asmilk production. Photo by Linda Coffey, NCAT. they apply to your operation.Page 18 ATTRA Pastures: Going Organic
  • 19. References certifying agencies; consumer information; NOP Reg- ulations (standards) and guidelines; producers, han-Anon. 2000. Boosting organic matter in soil may dlers, processors, and retailers; and state programshelp create ideal soil conditions for weed-suppress- and cost-share opportunities. www.ams.usda.gov/nop/ing microbes called deleterious rhizobacteria (DRB).Quarterly Report of Selected Research Projects indexNet.htm(Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Certifying Agencies in the United StatesAgriculture). July 1 to September 30, 2000. p. 14. A list of USDA-accredited certifying agents. www.ams.Ingham, Elaine. 2000. The Vermicompost foodweb: usda.gov/nop/Certifying Agents/Accredited.htmlEffects on plant production. Oral Scientific Sessions,The Vermillenium (Conference). Kalamazoo, MI. Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)September 21. A nonprofit organization that reviews substances forIngham, Elaine. 2004. Biodiversity just under our use in organic production, processing, and handling tofeet. The Fire of Creation, Episode 3 of Sacred ensure compliance with USDA National Organic Pro-Balance TV Series. www.sacredbalance.com/web/ gram standards. www.omri.orgdrilldown.html?sku=82 Save Our Seed’s Certified Organic Seed SourcingSheley, R.L., T.J. Svejcar, B.D. Maxwell, and J.S. Service. A service to help producers find documentedJacobs. 1999. Healthy Plant Communities, MT199909 organic seed or alternatives, if organic seed sourcesAG. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension. are not found. www.organicseedsourcing.comFurther Resources Lindemann, W.C. and C.R. Glover. 2003. NitrogenNational Organic Program Fixation by Legumes, Guide A-129. Las Cruces, NM:A site that includes considerable information on New Mexico State University Extension.Noteswww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 19
  • 20. Pastures: Going Organic By George L. Kuepper and Alice Beetz NCAT Agriculture Specialists ©NCAT 2006 Paul Driscoll, Editor Karen Van Epen, Production This publication is available on the Web at: www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/pastures_organic.html or www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/pastures_organic.pdf IP297 Slot 293 Version 011607Page 20 ATTRA