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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on business and farm planning for an organic beef cattle operation?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on getting started in organic hay and beef cattle production.

Beginning an organic farming and ranching operation requires attention to many details, as the nature of organic hay and beef cattle production is quite complex. In addition to managing livestock health and reproduction, you need to be mindful of hayfield, pasture, and grazing management, marketing, recordkeeping, as well as organic transition requirements. Of particular importance, in my view, is forage management, which is the foundation of a sustainable operation. Pastures and hayfields need to provide high amounts of nutrients to growing and lactating cattle, and the best way to ensure this is with a grazing and haying management plan.

Business Planning

The publication Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses brings the business planning process alive to help alternative and sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs transform farm-grown inspiration into profitable enterprises. Sample worksheets lend a practical perspective and illustrate how real farm families set goals, researched processing alternatives, determined potential markets, and evaluated financing options. Blank worksheets help the reader develop a detailed, lender-ready business plan or map out strategies to take advantage of new opportunities. The publication can be ordered for $17 from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education at SARE Outreach Publications, PO Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604-0753, or downloaded from their website at

Organic Certification

Please refer to the ATTRA publications on organic certification. These publications go into detail on all aspects of developing an organic system plan and maintaining organic integrity. Of particular notice is Organic System Plans: Livestock Production. This guide will assist you in completing the organic system plan and application by explaining just what information certifiers want and why it is required.

The first thing you will need to do is to contact an organic certifier. The certifier will provide you with an application packet, which is your Organic System Plan. The plan details the practices you will use to ensure and document organic integrity and compliance on your farm or ranch. Your certifier’s organic system plan application packet will look a lot like the ATTRA publication Organic System Plans: Livestock Production.

The NOP Organic Pasture Standard (Access to Pasture Rule)

The National Organic Program (NOP) Access to Pasture Rule became law on June 17, 2010. Existing operations will have to be in compliance by June 17, 2011, and new operations certified after June 17, 2010 must be in compliance before certification.

Some of the important components of the Rule are that ruminant 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. Animals must have year-round access to pasture, roughages used for bedding must be organic, and confinement for some management and healthcare procedures and special events like a 4H fair are allowed. In addition, 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 (NODPA, 2010).

Recordkeeping is necessary for organic producers, and the ATTRA publication Organic Livestock Documentation Forms is a good resource for this purpose. Due to the new Access to Pasture Rule, organic producers also need to provide documentation of a pasture management plan with their organic system plan which addresses the following (USDA, 2010):

• Types of pasture provided to ensure that the feed requirements of the rule are being met,
• The cultural and management practices to be used to ensure pasture of a sufficient quality and quantity is available to graze throughout the grazing season and to provide all ruminants under the organic system plan with an average of not less than 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing throughout the grazing season,
• The grazing season for the livestock operation's regional location,
• The location and size of pastures, including maps giving each pasture its own identification,
• The types of grazing methods to be used in the pasture system,
• The location and types of fences, except for temporary fences, and the location and source of shade and the location and source of water,
• Soil fertility and seeding systems, and
• Erosion control and protection of natural wetlands and riparian areas practices.

Refer to the publication Pasture for Organic Ruminant Livestock: Understanding and Implementing the NOP Pasture Rule for more information on this requirement, including calculation worksheets.


NODPA. 2010. Let Them Eat Grass! NODPA's Pasture Rule Resource Page.

USDA. 2010. National Organic Program Final Rule. (select NOP Regulations from the menu on the right side of the page, then select Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR) (Standards) from the list in the center of the page)



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