July 2012 Organic Advisory Council Meeting

Click here for the agenda of the July 23, 2012 Organic Advisory Council meeting: July 23 2012 Agenda

Click here for the approved minutes of the July 23, 2012 Organic Advisory Council meeting: DRAFT July 23 2012 Minutes

MADISON Impacts of the drought on organic farmers was one of several topics discussed at the July 23rd
Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council meeting on Monday, July 23 in Dodgeville. The drought has exacerbated existing feed shortages and high prices for organic grain and forage. Wisconsin leads the country in numbers of organic dairy, beef, and poultry. In normal years, many organic farmers here keep costs lower
by producing their own feed. This year, yield reductions resulting from the drought will require these farmers to purchase feed. “Price and availability will both be issues,” said Mike Schulist, Council member and marketing manager for the Wisconsin Organic Marketing Alliance, a cooperative that markets organic grain and feed. “I’ve heard of prices as high as $17/bu for organic corn and $30/bu for organic soybeans. One bright spot is that small grain yields have been relatively good this year”

Another aspect of the drought is its effect on pasture production. The organic standard requires that 30% or more of the cows’ ration during the growing season come from pasture. For farmers like Council member and Walworth County dairy grazier Altfrid Krusenbaum, whose ration averages more than 50% pasture, meeting the pasture requirement will be less of a problem than sourcing hay for winter. Many organic dairy farmers are feeding hay that they’d normally save for winter use.

Organic farmers can apply for a temporary variance if they cannot meet the 30% pasture requirement. To apply for a variance, organic farmers need to document they are affected by the drought with feed records, photos, or newspaper articles. The variance is requested through their certifier.  The USDA organic regulations do not allow variances to the requirement that 100% organic feed be provided to organic  livestock.

The Council discussed the potential of the USDA releasing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for grazing and haying. Many acres of CRP may be eligible for organic certification if they have been managed for three years or more with no synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.  Since the meeting, the USDA Farm Service Agency has released CRP acres for emergency forage in most of the southern half of Wisconsin. Farmers must get approval from their county USDA Service Center before harvesting forage and there are restrictions and payment reductions involved. “Organic farmers must also get approval from their certifier to bring additional acres into their organic system plan, whether they are on their own farm or on another property,” said Steve Walker, the Council’s certification representative from Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA).

For more information about the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council, contact Laura Paine, DATCP’s Organic and Grazing Specialist, at 608-224-5120 or laura.paine@wi.gov.