What are some resources for developing a whole farm plan for organic beef cattle production?

M.R.ArkansasAnswer: 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 developing a whole farm plan for transitioning to organic beef cattle production.In this letter I have provided some of the best resources for farm planning and organic transition that are available. These materials will help you evaluate your organic beef enterprise, develop a farm management plan, and prepare for organic transition. Whole farm planning allows you to evaluate your resources and formulate a management plan to use those resources to generate income on your farm. Expenditures to manage resources are based on the return on investment of each expenditure, and must be evaluated for each specific management scenario. Evaluation is based on monitoring the response of the natural resources to expenditures and necessitates matching the livestock enterprise to management of the resources, both natural resources and management resources. How well you evaluate your resources, formulate an action plan with the information, and monitor resource use will determine the success of your farm.The ATTRA Beef Farm Sustainability Checksheet provides you with a starting point, and will help you focus on those areas that need attention to move you toward your goals. Remember that every year is different and monitoring of the whole farm from season to season and year to year is important in order to see those differences. A whole farm assessment and the development of a whole farm plan involves critical analysis of the following aspects of the beef operation:1. Farm Goals ? including income, retirement, family goals, and lifestyle2. Farm Management ? including business planning, recordkeeping, and marketing3. Cattle Program ? including reproduction, health, breeding, genetics, animal selection, and nutrition 4. Forage Program ? including soil fertility, forage species selection, grazing system planning, harvested forages, and weed controlFarm Goals and ManagementTo help in the creation of a holistic business plan rooted in personal, community, economic and environmental values, I recommend a look at Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses (MISA, 2010). It can be accessed online at http://www.misa.umn.edu/vd/bizplan.html or you can obtain a copy for $17 by calling the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture office at 612-625-8235 or 800-909-6472. Cattle ProgramThere are many good resources available to assist you in evaluating your cattle program, including extension resources in your state. However, information on organic beef production is much less available, so I offer several publications that deal specifically with organic beef. Cattle Production: Considerations for Pasture-Based Beef and Dairy Producers, ATTRA 2006Overview of grass-based cattle production, with information on health, feeding, organics, and includes and extensive resource list.Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA). 2008. Information on utilizing pasture as the primary source of nutrition, including the nutritional aspects of grazing livestock with minimal use of concentrated supplements.Livestock Behaviour, Design of Facilities and Humane Slaughter. Grandin Livestock Handling System, Inc. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. http://www.grandin.com/Temple Grandin is a recognized leader in the design of efficient and effective livestock handling systems. This site includes publications on handling system design and the how-to of proper livestock handling.Forage ProgramPasture is the basis of sustainable beef production, and there are some very good resources available to assist you in planning your forage and grazing program. Pastures: Going Organic. ATTRA, 2006.Pasture & Range Information, The Samuel Roberts Noble FoundationExtensive research-based information on forage and pasture management in the Oklahoma-Arkansas-Missouri-Texas region.Publications Relating to Pasture and Hayland, USDA-NRCSTechnical notes, plant guides, articles, research, and other valuable publications from the NRCS.NRCS Grazing Landshttp://www.glti.nrcs.usda.gov/Publications, economic tools, practice standards, all for use by grassland managers and graziers.Southern Forages, 4th Ed. International Plant Nutrition Institute, 2007.Practical and reliable source of information on modern forage crop management.Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs, Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative Publication, 2008.Strategies that can be used in some or many areas to extend grazing and reduce stored feed needs, thus increasing profit.Grazing Systems Planning Guide, The University of Minnesota Extension Service. 2003. Highly recommended for developing a grazing system and pasture management plan. Includes worksheets and recordkeeping forms that are valuable for graziers.Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2005.Detailed instructions and diagrams on building electric fencing systems for graziers.Watering Systems for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2006.Detailed instructions and diagrams on building livestock watering systems for graziers.Organic TransitionThe holistic principles of organic agriculture are derived from two complementary perspectives. First, organic agriculture is characterized as a biologically-based production system based on natural principles and demonstrating a high degree of sustainability. Second, it is a system that endeavors to preserve the integrity of organic production from contamination with prohibited substances and commingling with non-organic products. In order to meet the biological and ecological demands that define organic agriculture, and to ensure compliance to laws and regulations that serve to foster organic system integrity, conversion to organic production requires the development of an organic system plan. Organic certification of the land requires a transitional period of three years from the last application of a restricted substance. However, yearly inspections and updated applications must be performed to remain in compliance. Some recommended resources for organic transition are listed below:National Organic Program, USDA-AMS.Organic Certification Process. ATTRA, 2005.Organic System Plans: Livestock Production. ATTRA, 2006.NCAT’s Organic Livestock Workbook ? A Guide to Sustainable and Allowed Practices. NCAT, 2004. Organic Livestock & Grazing Resources, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. 2007.