News And Events

Drought Relief for Organic Ruminant Livestock Producers

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The drought of 2012 is the most serious to impact U.S. agriculture since 1988.  As of August, 15, 2012, Secretary Vilsack has designated 1,670 U.S. counties as natural disaster areas due to severe drought.

While these severe conditions affect all farms in these counties, organic ruminant livestock operations--unless their pasture has access to irrigation--may not be able to meet the organic pasture requirements in the USDA organic regulations.

In addition to USDA's other drought relief efforts, AMS Administrator David Shipman is granting a temporary variance in affected counties to support Secretary Vilsack's efforts to provide relief to affected farmers during this challenging time.

Organic ruminant livestock--such as cattle, sheep, and goats--must consume at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake (on average) from certified organic pasture.  The rest of their diet must also be certified organic, including, hay, grain, and other agricultural products.

Due to the severe drought, USDA is granting a temporary variance from these requirements (Sections 205.237(c) and 205.240 of the USDA organic regulations) with the following restrictions:

  • This temporary variance applies only to organic ruminant livestock producers located in counties declared as primary natural disaster areas by Secretary Vilsack.
  • This temporary variance applies to non-irrigated pasture only.
  • Producers must supply at least 15 percent of their dry matter intake (on average) from certified organic pasture.
  • This temporary variance applies to the 2012 calendar year only.

Temporary variances from the production and handling requirements of the USDA organic regulations may be granted by the Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator for the following reasons:

  • Natural disasters declared by the Secretary
  • Damage caused by severe weather or other business interruption,
  • Practices used for the purpose of conducting research in organic production or handling.

For more information, please visit the USDA National Organic Program's website at